When we think of the exponential growth of the early Christian church, we naturally think of great preaching, focused church planting, and the evidence of signs and wonders. These activities were crucial. But extensive research by sociologist Rodney Stark shows how selfless love and care for the community also fueled the growth of the early church. At the time, respect for human life and the dignity of all was totally foreign to Roman thinking. The idea of God loving the world, Stark says, “would have puzzled an educated pagan.”
Stark points out that during times of plague and sickness—pandemics like COVID-19—pagan priests would flee the cities to the safety of the countryside. However, Christians remained to help the sick and suffering. The second-century Christian writer Tertullian is quoted as having stated: “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving-kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!’ ” (The Apology, 39). The emperor Julian, known as Julian the Apostate because he renounced Christianity, was disgusted with the pagan priests. He wrote, “[T]he impious Galileans support not only their poor but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”
Of course, the early Christians were merely following the example of their Lord, who looked on the crowds with compassion (Matthew 9:36). He mingled with people, showed them sympathy, ministered to their needs, won their confidence, and bid them follow Him (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, 143). This method of ministry continues to serve as the blueprint for the church’s Global Mission initiative, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.
When the General Conference Session established the Global Mission initiative in 1990, the church had just over 5 million members worldwide. Today, there are more than 22 million. In 1990, there were some 33,000 established churches. Today the number is closer to 90,000. In the past 30 years, we’ve seen many new territories entered, new people groups reached. We thank God for this tremendous growth, the phenomenal record of Global Mission’s church planting, and millions of changed lives. We thank God for gifted preachers and missionaries, our educational and health work, our publishing and media ministries, and so much more. But most of all, we’re grateful for church members who make it their daily way of life to put Christ’s method of ministry into practice. That’s what grew the early church, and that’s what grows the church today.
As you read this edition of Mission 360°, I hope you will be inspired and challenged by what you read. And I want to personally thank you for your continued prayers and your faithful giving to mission offerings and to Global Mission. As you’ll see in this edition, you are making a difference!