The other day I saw an article titled, “20 Things You Were Successfully Distracted From While Obsessing About Caitlyn Jenner.” It highlights what was allegedly happening while the public was busy debating Jenner’s sex change, such as: the Patriot Act expired and Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, “which is like the Patriot Act on steroids,” NBC was caught manipulating footage, and so on. Similarly, I saw another recent article titled, “While We Were Distracted With The Confederate Flag Flap, Congress Quietly Forfeited our Entire Economic Future Via Fast Track Trade.” Interesting… Then, just for kicks, try Googling “what the Ebola scare distracted us from.” Hmm….
I’m definitely not going to discuss the validity or absurdity of any of the above claims! But I do believe there’s a nugget of truth here: We can miss important things when we’re distracted. And if that’s true, then I’ve begun to wonder: could we be missing some important things going into the 2015 General Conference Session?
I have to be careful here, but leading into this GC, I’ve been hearing about pretty much one thing. Now I’m not saying that women’s ordination isn’t an important issue or that it’s just a distraction. It IS important, and I am glad people are prayerfully discussing it. But with every new comment, article, sermon, and blog I see come across my Facebook, hear referenced by a friend, or talked about at church, I can’t help but wonder: while we’re busy debating women’s ordination, what are we NOT talking about going into GC 2015? As I ponder this, here are just a few that come to my mind.
- Racial conference divides. Okay, let’s just jump from one hot topic to the next 😉 Now I understand that this may be more of an NAD issue to discuss than something that would necessarily require GC action. But in the division that is pushing so hard for the rights of women to serve, how are we STILL embracing a system of racially segregated conferences? While thinking our division so progressive, could we really be very behind? Now I understand that the system of regional conferences today is a lot more complicated than race – it would take a heavy, delicate, and painful process to change a structure that we’ve had for over 100 years. But seriously, even if we internally reason that the system is okay, what kind of witness does this give to the world? How backwards and prejudiced do we appear? While we discuss gender divides, maybe we need to look at our other divides as well.
- The aging of the church & clergy: As of 2008, the average church member in the North American Division was 51 years old. The average age of the population, on the other hand, was 36 years old. Some like Tim Floyd have even compiled data indicating that 40-75% of baptized Adventist millennials will leave the church after their last Seventh-day Adventist educational experience. I’m not going to verify nor dispute the statistics. But there does seems to be enough evidence to indicate that our church is aging. This aging affects the ministry too. In 2012 the Adventist News Network even ran an article stating that, “A recent review of pastoral demographics in the United States reveals that nearly 50 percent of Seventh-day Adventist ministers will reach retirement age within 10 years.” It then cites Denis Fortin, dean of the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, saying that the seminary was graduating about 100 individuals per year. But at the same time church leaders estimate needing 200 pastors per year in the future to fill vacancies. We see the shortage even more when we consider that the same article states that 20% of the seminary students are female (which not all want to hire as pastors) and that the NAD has policies also discouraging ordaining those who have not completed the 7-year ministerial training program (leaving out those who have been trained as Bible workers, done shorter training programs, etc.). Thus, female pastors or not, we have a need – a shortage – coming in the ministry. And we have a need – a shortage – NOW of young people in our church. I’d love to see us talk more about what to do with this.
- Cost barriers to entering ministry. Branching off from the point above, I think we should take a moment to look at what it takes to obtain an Adventist education. Praise the Lord our Andrews University seminary’s master’s of divinity program is cost subsidized! I know that really helps the training and further education of those in ministry. But a master’s program requires completion of a bachelor’s degree first. And our Adventist undergrad programs can come with no small price tag. It pains me to see young people who feel called to pastoral ministry but are unable to pursue it because of the costs of the education. It also pains me to see people graduating with $60,000 – $100,000 of debt! In fact I know of conferences who don’t prefer to hire theology graduates with large amounts of student loans. So basically, a student may have to go into debt to get the requisite training for pastoral ministry, but then they may not be hired because of that debt? I don’t have an easy solution to the cost of Adventist education. I know it’s complicated. But as an adjunct professor at one of our Adventist universities (who coincidentally gets paid less to teach a class than a student pays to take it…), I’d love to have a second lifetime to spend coming up with a solution for this cost. Male or female, theology major or other, while we’re discussing who should be ordained, I’m watching young people being prohibited from ministry or mission work by either the costs of obtaining the education or the crushing debt load they’re left with when they finish.
- The falling apart of our homes: While we are debating proper understandings of headship, a 1997 study by Monte and Norma Sahlin found that 1 out of 4 Adventists surveyed had been divorced at some point in their life. And at least 272 out of every 1,000 Adventist marriages ended in divorce. Two thirds of divorced respondents in the same study had minor children at home when they got divorced – thus more single parents. This means we have many Adventist homes run by single parents who don’t even have the option of deciding who takes headship – ready or not, they’re it. And while these divorce statistics may look better than those in the general public, it’s still clear that Adventist families are under attack too. In addition to divorce, a study by Rene Drum et al. found that when it comes to adults experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships, “it appears that Adventists in North America are on par with and in some cases—particularly with male victimization—higher than national statistics.” Beyond just headship issues, the state of our families seems like it could definitely use some attention from our church about now. Otherwise while we discuss who should run our churches, the building blocks of these churches will be disintegrating before our eyes.
- Getting back to our Bibles: While we search, research, argue over exegesis, and fling spirit of prophecy references to figure out whether the ordination of women is Biblical or not, a 2012 study by LifeWay Research showed that only 19% of protestant churchgoers even read their Bibles daily. Realizing the need, in 2013 the Adventist church launched the “Revived By His Word” program with a goal of having “at least half of the church membership involved in some aspect of systematic daily Bible study,” according to Mark Finley, an assistant to the General Conference president. Praise the Lord for this. But it’s funny, I haven’t heard as much about the initiative this year – at least not near as much as my daily updates on the women’s ordination debate. I’m curious what might change if we spent more time reading our Bibles and less arguing about them.
- Mission to the Cities – what happened? At and after the 2010 GC session there was a big emphasis on evangelism and reaching our cities. President Ted Wilson preached on it. 24 cities were identified to target. “NY 2013” took on the biggest city on our country. There was a sense of mission. A sense of need. And hopefully a renewed sense of our evangelistic urgency. But interestingly, going into our next GC session, I’m hearing very little on that initiative. How did we do in reaching these cities? What will we do next? Have we inadvertently been like, “Yeah, we know we need to do evangelism, but right now we’ve got more important issues to discuss”? Okay, that may be a little extreme to say. But wouldn’t it be a different tone if our biggest topic of conversation going into GC 2015 was how we’ve done in our evangelism over the past five years and what we’re going to do to take things forward in the next five? How would it be if what concerned us the most right now was how we were going to come together this GC and discuss how we can fulfill our mission of reaching the world field for Christ?
And truly, that’s what my personal prayer is: that we not only prayerfully discuss women’s ordination this GC, but that we foremost come together to refocus on our mission and why we’re here as a church – a movement. We are in a time when our church faces many serious challenges – many that I’m sure are even more serious than the ones mentioned here, and many that we may not even anticipate yet. It doesn’t take much looking around to realize that we live in interesting times. Distracting times. End times. And I pray that whatever the outcomes at the GC this year, we rally around our mission and work together, with the Holy Spirit’s power and without distraction, to face the challenges and do the work we’ve been given. If we do, who knows how different our conversations may sound when/if we approach the next General Conference session. Lord help us.
 “20 Things You Were Successfully Distracted From While Obsessing About Caitlin Jenner.” Native Warriors, Accessed June 25, 2015. http://nativewarriors.net/20-things-you-were-successfully-distracted-from-while-obsessing-about-caitlyn-jenner.html
“While We Were Distracted With The Confederate Flag Flap, Congress Quietly Forfeited our Entire Economic Future Via Fast Track Trade Authority” WorldTruth.TV, Accessed June 25, 2015. http://worldtruth.tv/while-we-were-distracted-with-the-confederate-flag-flap-congress-quietly-forfeited-our-entire-economic-future-via-fast-track-trade-authority/
 Sahlin, Monte. Adventist Congregations Today. Lincoln, NE: Center for Creative Ministry, 2003. P. 35, 36.
 Logan, Rachel. “Lack of Adventist Community Pushes Some Millennials to Marry Young.” Spectrum Magazine, December 20, 2014.
 Oliver, Ansel. “In North America, Half of Adventist Pastors 10 Years from Retirement Age.” Adventist News Network. May 2012. Accessed June 25, 2015. http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2012-05-08/implications-of-aging-ministers-could-challenge-future-staffing/
 “Divorce and Remarriage in the Seventh-day Adventist Church: What the Divorce Statistics Say.” Adventist Family Ministries. Accessed June 25, 2015. http://family.adventist.org/home—divorce-and-remarriage-in-the-seventh-day-adventist-church.html.
 Drum, Rene et al. “Abuse in the Church.” Adventist Review, October 11, 2007.
 Rankin, Russ. “Study: Bible Engagement in Churchgoers’ Hearts, Not Always Practiced.” LifeWay Christian Resources, September 6, 2012. Accessed June 28, 2015. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/research-survey-bible-engagement-churchgoers
 “Americans Say Morality Down, but Shun Bible Reading as Solution, Survey Says.” Adventist Review, April 18, 2013.