ALL 4 Jesus
By Bob Mason
What did Jesus have in mind when He prayed, “That they may be one”? One great opportunity to experience this reality is for Adventist churches in the same community to come together in service and outreach. That is what we have done here in Lodi – a community of about 60,000 in the Central Valley of California. We have two large English speaking congregations, one Spanish congregation, an elementary school, and academy. What’s more, Lodi Community Hospital was recently turned over to Adventist Health. In other words, we have three Adventist congregations meeting each Sabbath and at least six Adventist entities generating events, seeking audiences and participants, and strategizing to reach our community.
As my family and I prepared for our move to Lodi two and a half years ago, something became obvious as my wife and I prayed and talked about the coming change. No matter what history may or may not have been before, we sensed God's call to engage not only with the congregation we were coming to serve, but to lead our congregation in pursuing united ministry with the other Adventist churches and entities God has raised up in Lodi.
We talked to other pastors and leaders in the community, and found that God's Spirit was already sparking the hunger that has opened the door for wonderful things to emerge.
The spark that set things in motion came from my wife, Stephanie. One day, thinking of other churches where we had served, she asked, "Why don't we have an evangelism committee in our church? We need an evangelism committee." My immediate response didn't sound pretty. "How stupid would it be for us to have our own committee when we have two other Adventist churches and two Adventist schools serving the same community?" Our colliding thoughts easily evoked the vision we had already shared: "Adventists Loving Lodi For Jesus--ALL4J."
Before long I was talking with our church board, and then with the other Adventist leaders in Lodi. We agreed to have an All Lodi Church Board meeting, consisting of the church boards of all 3 congregations, and representation from our schools. And so it happened. On January 22, 2015, with the 3 lead pastors, Tracy Baerg, Victor Merida, and myself co-chairing, we met with the following simple agenda:
1. Why we’re here / Prayer
2. What are the needs of Lodi?
3. What kinds of caring outreach can we do?
4. What kinds of evangelistic outreach can we do?
5. How do we move forward?
We used birthday months to sort ourselves into 6 brainstorming groups, gave each a pad of paper, and addressed each of the agenda questions. We collected the pads, sang together, and gathered for a season of prayer. It was a beautiful time of unity in our diversity, and experiencing the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ.
We ended up deciding to put together a smaller committee with representatives from the churches and the schools to digest all the ideas and condense them into actionable plans to present at our next joint meeting. We call it the All Lodi Outreach Board, and it meets several times a year, and as needed for special events. By the time of our second joint board meeting, Adventist Health was entering our community. Now they host all of our meetings.
All through this process, it has been eminently clear that this is bigger than any of us, because God is leading in that agenda that Jesus set so long ago. We have officially taken the name, "Adventists Loving Lodi 4 Jesus, ALL4J." We have adopted a branding logo, designed by Dick Hanson, and established a joint Facebook page where we post our events and news. We have our domain name and are preparing for a joint web page and integrated Google calendar, to help us work together in harmony, sponsoring joint ministry and outreach events, and fully supporting each others' individual ministry and outreach events.
We are learning that there are ministries that God has called us to do together, as well as individual ministries that emerge from each of our strengths. He has called us to reinforce, share, and strengthen each other, never to compete. We realize that something is terribly wrong if rescue boats are focused on stealing each others' passengers rather than pulling people in from the stormy sea around them.
How has this played out?
In April of last year and April of this year, we became the major source of volunteers for our local Salvation Army special Homeless Resource Fair. During this Love Lodi event, we fed the hungry, distributed clothes, gave haircuts, and spruced things up with some fresh paint.
In January of this year, we jointly shared in the 10 Days of Prayer initiative of the General Conference, dividing up our gatherings between our 3 churches, the hospital, and our schools. One longtime member said, "I've been here since 1965, and I've never seen anything like this." At the invitation of Chaplain Chris Hagen, hospital employees of many faiths eagerly submitted more than 40 requests for us to lift in prayer.
Our youth and children's ministries are building on their history of working together, filling out a summer schedule of activities, Vacation Bible Schools, and vespers, mission trips, and other events and ministries throughout the year.
We are very excited about our upcoming (May 15) "Health For Lodi" free medical and dental clinic, partnering with the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN) and Weimar Institute. Again, all 3 churches, the schools, and the hospital are fully partnering in this.
At our congregation's last elders' meeting, I put it to them straight, and no one protested. I handed out brochures for a fantastic outreach series that our sister congregation is hosting, and called for us to be all in, supporting, attending, and inviting. I pointed out that we might have the thought, "What if some of our people or friends end up liking it over there?" The answer to that question is, "Good," because we aren't called to grow our church family by attracting people who are already sold on Jesus and His message for our time. We're called to worship and minister with excellence, serving our church family members and reaching the people who don't know Him and what He's up to today. There are plenty of people to fill all of our buildings and beyond.
Under the great agenda of pointing people to Jesus, we want the people of Lodi to know these two things about us:
The Adventists of Lodi love each other unreservedly.
The Adventists of Lodi love all the people of Lodi, and are here to serve.
ALL for Jesus.
Adventists Loving Lodi 4 Jesus.
Bob Mason is lead pastor for the Lodi English Oaks Church