Transformation begins in worship. That was the underlying message at this year’s Pastoral Evangelism and Leadership Council (PELC), held December 6-9 at the Oakwood University church. Possibly one of the longest-running events in the regional conference system, PELC has existed since 1979.
For four days 1,500 ministers and laypeople gathered in Huntsville, Alabama, to be enriched and encouraged in their spiritual walk and their ministries. With messages such as the one Dr. Dedrick Blue, dean of the School of Religion and Theology at Oakwood University, delivered on “worship that leads to change,” we were reminded to praise God for what we have rather than complaining about what we do not have. Blue pointed out that “the little oil we have in our jars is enough for God to do great things.”
This year’s theme, “Elijah 3.0: Ready. Restore. Reap.” could not have been more appropriate for our pastors and church leaders. According to the PELC website:
Elijah was one of the most prominent figures in the Old Testament. He is remembered for his bold defiance of wicked political leaders and his determined effort to draw Israel back to God as he did on Mount Carmel. PELC 2015 utilized the legacy of Elijah, as a reminder of our mandate for ministry and our responsibility to continue the work with the same passion and Spirit given to Elijah.
Elijah felt alone; he struggled with fear; he believed there were none who remained faithful to God; and he was exhausted—much like what many of our pastors experience today. Yet God told Elijah, just as He told the pastors at PELC 2015, that there are 7,000 others who remain faithful.
The honest discussions about ministry and the unique challenges facing pastors were refreshing and uplifting to all the attendees I spoke to. The numerous seminars were all relevant, ranging from “Moving People Through Change,” presented by pastors William Joseph and Daryl Spivey, to “Retention: Closing the Back Door” with Pastor Sherwin Jack.
A new North American Division initiative caught the laypeople’s attention: Festivalofthelaity.com is an online resource that serves to equip all for ministry in the twenty-first century, moving people from membership to discipleship, primarily through personal ministries, Sabbath school, and prison ministries.
Three Powerful Events
Throughout the week, there were three definitive events that particularly moved and impressed me:
1. The first was the testimony of a freshman student at Oakwood: Tavonne Dillon from Detroit. He met his neighbor Toson Knight in rather unfavorable conditions, after Toson called the cops on him because he was gambling in the neighborhood. Toson went on to become his mentor, taking him from the dangerous path he was headed on to getting his GED and eventually applying to Oakwood University. As Tavonne put it, he went from “doing nonsense” to studying social work at Oakwood so that he can help others the way Toson helped him.
More exciting still, after three months attending the university church, Tavonne was baptized. Now not only does he want to make a difference in other young people’s lives, but God is making a continuous difference in his own life. This inspiring story perfectly illustrated how one kind act and one opportunity can lead to such great changes in a person’s life.
2. On Monday night, “When We All Get to Heaven” rang through the sanctuary, bearing the concept of worship that transforms in song. As the choir went a cappella, our minds were lifted to heaven and to Christ’s soon coming!
Dr. Marcus Cosby, senior pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, shared that evening, bringing all those in ministry a timely reminder that we should often revisit the moment when God assigned us our divine appointment—when He said, “I want you.” It is that defining moment when you heard God’s voice and said, “Yes, Lord”—that moment when nothing could deter you from serving Him. Cosby accurately asserted that if we forget that moment, we may just lose our passion and our purpose in ministry.
Beginning in Isaiah 6:1-3 (KJV), Dr. Cosby explained that for Isaiah, his defining moment came the year King Uzziah died. Verse 1 says that the same year the king died (a time of unrest and no doubt chaos), Isaiah “also” saw the Lord sitting, high and lifted up. God’s position, seated on the throne, is a position of authority and control. He reigns supreme and almighty in the midst of any chaos or situation.
It was a necessary admonition to all ministers that when everything else is out of control and we witness the dreadful deeds that take place outside of the sanctuary, as Isaiah did, God is still in control, still seated, high and lifted up, and His glory fills the house.
How important it is for us to be mesmerized by God’s majesty once again! We need to be wowed by God. Unfortunately, as professional church people, we often come to a point where we are not wowed by the things of God anymore.
From verse 3 to the end of the chapter, Cosby unpacked the power of praising and lifting God up before the world. The angels exalted Him and God moved; in Cosby’s words, “While we are hoisting God—praising Him—He begins to throw His weight around for us.”
Cosby appealed to us to praise God in the midst of any situation and lift Him up through all things; to be willing to serve Him until we see Him. We were reminded that trouble does not always last, that God is still high and lifted up through all things. May we indeed heed his charge to “fill our house with the glory of the living God.”
3. Finally, one of the most compelling and refreshing seminars that I have heard in a while came via the director of Light Bearers ministry, Ty Gibson. “The Essence of Adventism” took us into the roots of Adventism and the depth of who God is.
Working from Galatians 5:5-6, Gibson shared that in righteousness by faith, only one thing avails: faith working through love. Faith that is energized by love and love alone. Focusing on God is in essence to focus on love, and when harnessed in our own experience, it leads directly to transformation without us even thinking about it or realizing it.
Gibson elaborated that “justification or righteousness by faith” is equivalent to “rest in Jesus.” He further explored this idea in light of the Sabbath, which is the antithesis of legalism, as we rest in God and all He has done on the blessed Sabbath day. The Sabbath is a memorial of resting in Jesus, to remind us that all things are accomplished in God and His works alone.
We discussed how Adventism boasts biblically true doctrines, yet alone these are void of any power; they must be “centered in Christ” for them to have any strength. Likewise we looked at how the law has no saving power; it serves only to show us our need for grace, bringing us to the Cross where grace can be found.
It was wonderful to see that Adventism has the raw materials to reveal the most irresistible picture of God to the world! If only we could grasp how significant Christ’s sacrifice for us was—that He would rather die forever than live without us. That He was willing to cease to exist so that we could live and be saved.
Lift Up the Cross
As leaders and ministers of the gospel, we must never neglect the Cross. Failure to keep it as the central theme in all we do weakens and casts a shadow upon our efforts.
In Ellen White’s book The Faith I Live By, p. 50, she writes: “There is one great central truth to be kept ever before the mind in the searching of the Scriptures—Christ and Him crucified. Every other truth is invested with influence and power corresponding to its relation to this theme.”
As we understand the significance of “Christ our righteousness,” we can see what Mrs. White meant in Testimonies to the Church, vol. 2, p. 135, when she said, “Love is power.” She added: “Whatsoever is done out of pure love, be it ever so little or contemptible in the sight of men, is wholly fruitful; for God regards more with how much love one worketh than the amount he doeth.”
With these thoughts firmly impressed upon our minds, may we strive to worship God always, putting Christ first and foremost in all that we do. In doing so we will find our ministries enhanced and our spiritual lives refreshed as we serve the Lord while awaiting His soon return.
[Photo by author: Singers lead the PELC congregation in worshipping through music.]