Why am I A Seventh-day Adventist?

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A friend of mine recently told me that a preacher came to his church and asked the youth why they were Adventists. One of the youth replied, “Because I love Jesus,” to which the preacher replied “Yeah, well the Pentecostals love Jesus too. Next!”

Some where undoubtedly impressed by the preachers candid approach. Frankly, I was disappointed. However, this experience was certainly good for one thing: It encouraged me to ask myself the question, “Why am I an Adventist?”

I know why I am a Christian. It is because I love Jesus. And I “love him because he fist loved [me]” (1 John 4:19). But all sincere Christians, regardless of denomination, love Jesus – so is this a good enough reason to also be an Adventist? Or am I supposed to have a more profound and eloquent response? Is the cross not good enough grounds to be an Adventist?

So why am I an Adventist? First, allow me to share the reasons that do not influence my decision to be an Adventist. These reasons may be offensive to some and exhilarating to others. But as I share these, it is not my intention to be harsh or absolute. I am simply sharing what my journey has been like. So here I go. Why am I an Adventist? Totally not because of the people. From time to time I find myself having to get away from Adventists because more often than not they get on my nerves. Not all Adventists of course. There are amazingly loving people in our church. But in my personal experience this hasn’t always been the case. Is it the church structure? Not at all. I have never been much for politics. And while I don’t despise our structure ( it has really good elements) at the same time there are parts of it that frustrate me. Is it our culture? If there’s one thing that erks my nerves more than anything its Adventist bubble-culture. What about our history as a denomination? Its interesting for sure, but full of chapters I wish weren’t there (1888 anyone?). And speaking of 1888 I find the Adventist church’s adulterous affair with mistress legalisma to be one of the most appalling chapters in our historical narrative. While all of this is gradually changing for the better its no secret that we have a long ways to go and the journey there is not always a pleasant experience.

So why am I an Adventist? One reason and one reason only: Our God-story. This conclusion will be likewise offensive to some and exhilarating to others. Once again, I can’t help it. I began by stating that I am a Christian because I love Jesus. But is that a good enough reason to be an Adventist? Yes. It is. I am an Adventist because I love Jesus as well. I love Jesus for one reason only: He loved me first. It is that love for me that prompts me to tell others about Jesus. I want the whole world to know how loving God is and have not found a God-story that shows me the love of God quite like the Adventist church understands it. Not only that but I have not found a God-story that is more emotional than this one. Though the theological lens of Adventists theology I have come to see God in such a loving way that it never ceases to amaze me. Time and time again I have found myself moved at the revelation of his love and mesmerized at deeper revelations of his grace. To this day I continue to experience newer and richer insights into the love of God I never thought were there. I have tried to look at God through the lens of other theological glasses but all of them fall short of lifting up Jesus in the same way that true Adventism does.

So why am I an Adventist? I’m an Adventist because I am a Christian. I am a Christian because I love Jesus and I am an Adventist because I love Jesus. His love has so captured my heart that I want to tell others about it, and the God-story of Adventism captures that love closer than any other theological system I have found. Is our God-story perfect? Do we have a flawless theology with no room for improvement? Not at all. We have much to discover. But I do believe, in the most politically incorrect way, that Adventism approximates the biblical story of Gods love, grace, and work for mankind in a much finer way than any other theological system around.

Note: This article was originally published at www.pomopastor.com

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Christ’s Metric Alone

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Ever heard the expression “Numbers don’t lie”?

I put that line in the same file as “…but names will never hurt me”.

The truth is that numbers can tell more than one story. Take Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Both are “followed” by tens of thousands on Twitter, but only 60% of their Twitter followers are believed to represent real people. On the social media surface, it may seem they are winning the popularity battles because they enjoy the highest number of followers.

But if we judge the success of a movement or a cause only by the numbers, we may not discover the whole story.

Speaking of numbers, Seventh-day Adventists are a people founded on numbers. We were founded on the belief that Daniel’s prophecy of 2300 days/years would end about this time of year – October 22, 1844.

If you have belonged to this movement for even a year, you know many important numbers—7, 12, 70, 490, 1260, 1290, 1335, 2300.

Seventh-day Adventists are known for other numbers as well. One of us is running for president – Ben Carson. We live longer than the rest of North Americans—an average of 10 years. We are the largest not-for-profit Protestant healthcare provider in the U.S. We are the most diverse religious group in America.  Last but not least, we have been known in recent years as the fastest growing denomination in the United States. Two people join the Adventist Church every minute.  Each day, Pentecost-worthy numbers—3000+–join God’s last-day remnant.

It would be convenient to end here, with a “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but honesty prevents it.

From October 8-13, the Seventh-day Adventist Church held its Annual Council.  Leaders from around the world met to discuss plans and share ideas for the next year. During this event, newly-gathered research data and statistics were shared by Dr. David Trim, director of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR).

It’s hard to see these numbers as other than grim.

Remember that actual number of “real” followers of Trump and Clinton – 60%?  It appears as that the retention rate of the church for the last 50 years is almost exactly the same.

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Based on the chart below, supplied by the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, in 2014, the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church added 1.28 million new members during the calendar year through baptism and profession of faith.  At the same time those “lost” by being dropped from membership or registered as “missing” through standard church processes or division-wide memberships audits (a process that is still on-going in most divisions) totaled 950,000. That equates to a net gain of only 330,000 members in 2014, a 1.7% net growth rate.

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Numbers like these should lead us to say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

If baptized members are the metric of “success” on which we focus, we will almost inevitably lower the standard of what constitutes readiness for baptism—and thus count those inadequately prepared persons as new members. This is natural enough:  If your boss is pressuring you to meet the “quota” at work, you do what it takes to meet the quota. If incentives and opportunities for professional advancement in ministry and larger responsibilities are based—even informally–on numbers of baptisms, then why wouldn’t a gifted ministry professional reach for celebrities, musicians, and media coverage that could help achieve those results?

It isn’t cynicism that notes the reality of these pressures and the systems that develop because of them. Speaking honestly about the potential for misuse of a system should never be interpreted as faithlessness. Leadership expert Max de Pree has reminded us, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

Why would a minister or layperson work diligently to ensure that a baptismal candidate agrees with nearly 30 unique beliefs—knowing that at least a few of these will step on their toes and infringe on their lifestyle—if the metric is not discipleship, but baptismal count?

This circumstance isn’t far-fetched. Here’s a testimony:

JT took $10,000 to the mission field to build a church. He preached for three weeks, laboring to convince individuals who believed in thousands of other gods that the One god JT was there to tell them about was worthy of all their trust and devotion.

But JT told them more about “truth” than the one who called Himself the Truth. Both are vitally important, but the order in which they are presented is even more important. Accurately representing Jesus—the Truth—often requires acting as He did—loving as He did—and not only echoing His teaching.

The reality came home as I (JT) met with 70 sincere individuals baptized as Seventh-day Adventists after patiently listening to my preaching for three weeks. When some of the newly baptized revealed that they still were holding on to their symbolic representations of their many gods, and would adhere to old practices to appease Vishnu, I was confused—and shaken.  (Insert jaw drop)

What went wrong? It may be that I didn’t adequately introduce them to the One from whom all truth comes. I introduced 28 compelling beliefs and lifestyle changes, and I naively expected them to be ready to make a complete spiritual U-turn after three short weeks.  Years later, I was told that the church structure I had put my hard-earned money into building was now a barn. I had sought success, measured by persons responding through baptism to my preaching.  Perhaps I should have built them a barn or a business, helping them by demonstrating love applied to their life circumstances.   When they experienced success in meeting basic life needs, they would have been more ready to hear what I was preaching.   They would have had their own reasons to build their own church building, and almost certainly valued it more.

I didn’t know Christ’s metric.

I think the metrics of success are key to determining if we are doing the will of Jesus, or as Picasso observed, on the road to sterility.

I believe with all my heart—and my wallet–in the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I still believe that the Church’s best days are just ahead of us. But it’s time to reconsider what lasting success as defined by Jesus will look like.

Does public evangelism have a part to play in the proclamation of the everlasting gospel?  Both Scripture and experience resoundingly say “Yes!”  Millions of men and women are won—lastingly—to Jesus Christ through a process that includes public preaching and public responding. The apostle Paul preached powerfully in the cities of Asia to large crowds of interested hearers with Spirit-blessed results. Scripture teaches us to believe that the Holy Spirit is present and working with people before we ever mingle with them, befriend them, or act kindly toward them. God may prepare people for our witness in a variety of ways. The Spirit is not limited to any one method of witness. But is numerical success through public evangelism the metric we should be emphasizing at this moment in the progress of God’s remnant church?

The answer—respectfully, but clearly—is “No.”

We can do this simply and effectively by applying a new metric to measure mission success.

What if, instead of stressing out pastors and conference workers with numbers of baptisms, we changed the metric?  What if we asked, not “How many did you baptize?” but “How engaged are your members in outreach, community service, health seminars, Bible studies, practicing pure religion to orphans, the hungry, the discouraged, and the imprisoned?

It’s called user engagement.

As an entrepreneur, marketer and Adventist “brand evangelist”, I’ve been digging into what makes for a successful social media strategy. The answer from the data is unmistakable: It’s not the number of likes or followers, but user engagement! How engaged are your followers with your organization? Do they actively share the information you are sharing with them? Do they engage when you share new information with them? Do they bring new followers to you?

Counting total “followers” is a hollow metric, for it cannot measure the depth of engagement that is crucial for any successful business, cause or movement. When a “follower” is engaged enough to invite someone they care about to share the experience with them, you have the first and most obvious metric of loyalty and true mission success.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has some truly valuable assets. We have an understanding of Bible prophecy more comprehensive and biblically-reasoned than any other faith. We understand more about the great controversy between Christ and Satan and all of the angels than many do. We have a message of health and wholeness that is poised to bless the world in both community health and improved personal lifestyle practices.  We are increasingly good at marketing our message through attractive and well designed media—handbills, billboards, TV, radio, websites, podcasts, and apps.

How well are we succeeding at the mission Jesus has given us?  The numbers recently shared with church leaders illustrate a stark reality that has been trending for decades.

WWJM:  What Would Jesus Measure?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess at which metric Christ would use—and does use.  In fact, He tells us in both Matthew 25 and Isaiah 58—and in many other passages of Scripture—the exact metric He will use in the judgment.

 “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matt 25:34-36).

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,

and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Why would we be measuring anything different?

“Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God” (Desire of Ages p. 638).

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” (The Ministry of Healing p. 143)

Both “Christ’s method” and “Christ’s metric” must somehow connect people with people. If we really thought our product and mission was to share information with the world to usher in the endtime, we would likely sell all assets and buy global airtime to give one sermon, believing we had fulfilled our calling. Sharing high-quality information about Jesus and His teachings can never be a substitute for introducing men and women around the globe to a Saviour who seeks a personal relationship with them over time.   While warning the world of the soon coming of Jesus will always be a part of the mission, we have not achieved success or responded to Christ’s metric by merely warning seven billion human beings. Will people know us for our warmth or our warning?

Do we think the gospel is a 70-minute sermon rather than a 70-year life?

If sharing information was the mission and simply hearing the metric, Jesus could have preached the Sermon on the Mount, leaving a high-water mark on ethical content, and an implicit call to decide about His claims. But the reality brought to life in the Gospels is that He spent time—amazing amounts of time—mingling with men as one who desired their good.

Apple and the Evangelist

Mark Kawano, formerly Apple’s User Experience Evangelist, recently shared some common Myths about Apple. One of those was particularly profound.

Myth #1 – Apple has the best ___________!

Business leaders commonly believe that to achieve success, you must employ the best people. There’s pragmatic wisdom here, but Mark Kawano’s interview revealed that this wasn’t the “secret sauce” of Apple. The secret, he said, was in the corporate culture and organizational structure, specifically the embedded focus on design in every division of the company. Every employee had a common goal in mind as each thought about their particular piece of the project. This common goal?  The end design and user experience with the product are supreme.

What can we learn from Apple in relation to sharing the gospel?

While the church will always seek to employ more talented and consecrated preachers, evangelists and witnesses on every level, human talent won’t be the secret of mission success. Shouldn’t we better measure the manner in which the gospel is received—the user experience? If the goal is to find, develop and mature men and women as faithful disciples of Jesus who become engaged in the same mission that reached them, shouldn’t we ask better questions about both Christ’s methods and His metrics?

Did the world need an iPhone?

No.

Did the world want an iPhone?

No.

When asked why he didn’t put more resources into market research, Steve Jobs would say that “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

People didn’t need a smartphone until they saw how much better their life could be if they had Apple’s product in their lives.

Today do people need the gospel?

Yes.

Do they think they need it?

Not really.

In fact, some think they have seen the product of the everlasting gospel and they don’t want it.

So how do we take our product to the world in light of this? Though we aren’t accustomed to taking gospel pointers from Steve Jobs, one of his is pertinent: Show it to them.”

Consider these statements from a century-old volume, The Ministry of Healing:

The world needs today what it needed nineteen hundred years ago—a revelation of Christ… it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished. (The Ministry of Healing p. 143)

So how do we share Christ—and specifically the grace of Christ that leads to a total transformation—with the world? There is—there can be—only one successful method.  It was demonstrated in the life of Christ, and in the succinct phrasing of Ellen White’s The Ministry of Healing, it is known as “Christ’s Method Alone.”

We begin to assess mission success in a new way.  We adopt a different standard to determine whether disciples—as individuals or as the Body of Christ—are, in fact, following the One they have pledged to follow.  We ask new questions of a church that needs new energy and focus: “How much is this church?—How much is this pastor?—How much are these members engaged with the method announced by Jesus?”.

This is the new metric. This is #ChristsMetricAlone.

This is the secret sauce of faithful Adventism and biblical Christianity.

“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

#1 – This is the only way to have long term, enduring effects on a person’s life. This was His method to reach people with the good news of the kingdom of God, and it will be the method of all who claim His name.

“The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good.”

#2 – Jesus mingled with broken men and women as a friend, companion, brother, teacher, mentor, and healer.  Mingling can’t be done by proxy, by email, or via an app, television, radio or satellite. Jesus was making it clear to all who shared His presence that He cared for them at that moment, not contingent on a behavior change—that He desired the best “good” for them.

“He showed His sympathy for them.”

#3 – When Jesus shared His time and attention with a new friend, His heart of sympathy for them was obvious . You can’t show sympathy for someone unless you listen to their situation and discover areas in which they are seeking help  or support. Once you listen, Christ-like compassion causes you to sympathize with their needs—even if those needs differ from the purposes you initially have to share a message of truth with them.

“He ministered to their needs.”

#4 – When we have both heard and listened—when we have allowed the needs of the other to become central to our interaction with them—we bend our efforts to actually bring the support, encouragement, or assistance that they need.  We may initially understand their need as the thing we have in our hand—the book, the Bible study, the sermon—but Christ-like other-centeredness causes us to take their prompts and enter by the door that they have opened. This is where as followers of Jesus we learn to lay down our lives and take up the crosses others bear.. This is where we learn to bear the burdens of the weak, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

“He won their confidence.”

#5 – If the relationship has been growing through the method Christ employed, you will have won the confidence and laid the foundation for a relationship. You will have truly helped them with something they consider important, and thus actually ministered to them.  The other now believes that you have their best interests at heart, that you have put them and their interests before your own. This is profound—the stuff that moves the world! They will need to know what motivates you to do this.

…Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143)

#6 – If you have discovered joy in following Jesus, it will be natural to tell another broken sinner where you have found healing and salvation.  You aren’t winning them to you, or adding to the trophies in some Witnessing Hall of Fame.  You are sharing the unmistakable delight that always moves you to both praise and gratitude.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

It is this love, this grace from Christ that allows you to invite a new disciple to share the journey with you.  “Come, follow Him,” you say to them.  “Come, walk with me, as I follow Him.”  Your commitment to walk and talk and pray with one just starting on the journey is the tangible relationship they can see as they build a friendship with the Lord they cannot see.

“There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit” (The Ministry of Healing, 143).

“When we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts” (Desire of Ages, 641)

Jesus offers us both a method and metric for assessing our discipleship.  If we insist on being disciples according to our own preferences and markers, we will miss the footprints that we claim to be following.  Tens of thousands—millions—who could be following Jesus will end up wandering on desolate paths that lead to sadness and destruction.

If we choose other ways to go about what we insist is His mission, we are on a path of our own choosing, not on the path He trod—and we will continue to lament the losses that the Spirit never intended.

If we measure other things—even good things—more than we measure obedience to “Christ’s method alone,” we are simply inventing games at which we think we can win.

It’s time we aligned our discipleship with #ChristsMetricAlone.

I would love to continue the discussion – @thurmon or jared@adventistreview.org

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Why #GChaystack Was a Success

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Biggest. Potluck. Ever.

…well, not quite.

Last week there were about 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists in San Antonio for our church’s 60th General Conference Session.  We needed 1,276 of those Adventists to show up at our attempt to break the Guinness World Record for largest potluck.  We got around 1,100 (the official final count is still being processed by Guinness officials).  So we failed, right?  Wrong.  Let me tell you why we at The Haystack are not even slightly bummed by the turnout.

1,100 people showed up to a party we threw.

Ok, so it’s not 70,000–or even 1,276–but it’s still a lot of people.  On Thursday, as I was standing in the midst of the crowd of attendees, I thought to myself, “My goodness….this is a lot of hungry Adventists.”  And we fed them all!  And not only did we feed them all, we had a ton of food left over, which brings me to my next point…

We were able to donate that ton of leftover food to a local food bank.

We made arrangements weeks before to give all the leftovers to the Salvation Army.  So just by throwing this event we (and you, if you brought food) were able to feed lots of hungry people in the San Antonio area.  It wasn’t just haystack-loving Adventists who got fed, but lots of people who might not have otherwise had access to a good meal.

We brought fellowship and unity to many people who were feeling discouraged by a divisive and polarizing vote on women’s ordination.

As silly as this whole event may have seemed, silly may have just been what many people needed to recover from the day before.  We got people focused on a common goal, we made it fun, and it got people’s minds off of the fact that not everyone there agreed on a hot topic in SDA policy.  People from all over the world, many who believed women should be ordained, many who believed women should not be ordained, many who had never even eaten a haystack before (as crazy as that sounds!), showed up to make something great happen.  That’s called unity.  We hope our world record attempt can be a mini version of what we can accomplish as a world church:  Instead of unity in potluck, despite our differences of opinions on tough issues, let us find unity in Christ and in mission and in evangelism, despite those same differences.

So because we fostered Christian unity, because we fed the hungry, because we had a huge party with loads of positive vibes, we can’t see our world record attempt as a failure.  In our eyes, it was a massive success.  Not to mention the follow up conversations and ideas it has yielded (more details to come, but keep your eyes peeled for The Haystack coming to a campus near you).

Once again, thank you to everyone who helped make this event possible and successful!  We could not have done it by ourselves and we appreciate each and every one of you who attended and contributed to our cause.  Join us as we continue to strive for Christian unity in the Adventist church.  Just like in a potluck, everyone has to bring something to the table in order for our work to be successful.  What will you bring to the table?
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Post #GCSA15: 5 things Adventist Millennials can do after the General Conference

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It. Is. Finished.

 

Now what?

 

These are 5 things that you and I can do in light of, and in response to, what has happened.

 

1) Speak up.

 

Even Twitter didn’t see it coming – the interactive contribution of SDA millennials across the globe displaying the most effective use of a hashtag I’ve seen till date.

 

If Twitterverse has told me anything during the past week, it’s this:
Millennials have a voice. And we want to be heard.

 

So speak up. Raise your voice. Do whatever it takes to shake up the status quo, either in your local congregation or community. Do so in a manner that shows the clearest picture of Jesus.

 

And lest we forget: Few millennials with a relevant message spoke up once with a passion fueled by the fire in their bones.

 

Now they are 18 million strong. And growing.

 

2) Get connected to your local church.

 

Our current demographics within the Adventist church reveal that we are not the church of tomorrow, but the church of today. In light of that fact, the gross under-representation of young adult delegation at the GC could evoke in us one of two responses:

 

1- Express angst and continue to find reasons as to why we should have been better represented, or

 

2-Ensure our representation in #GCI2020 by getting plugged in now.

 

This is what Elder Gilbert Cangy, the youth director for the General Conference, had to say when interviewed about the process of becoming a delegate at the General Conference session:

 

“The General Conference, as an entity, does not choose delegates. The delegates are chosen as close as possible to the local churches. It only makes sense to trust the leaders closest to the local churches to know the individuals who can contribute in a significant way to the (future and direction) of the church (at large). Each division of the world church ensures the credibility of its delegates by “screening” them through the responses of union presidents and local church pastors.”

 

He later went on to say that when a young adult is faithful to the principles of our faith and is an affirming, empowering voice at the local church level, chances are that he or she will be noticed by other local leaders as someone who has the best interest of the church at heart. After that, it’s only a matter of time till their name is referred for nomination.

 

All this tells me that the surest path to becoming a delegate at the GC session always starts at the doors of your local church.

 

Get involved at your church. Lead a ministry. Be proactive.

 

3) Be informed

 

The GC session can be a cure for “denominational myopia.”

 

Let me unpack that.

 

As millennials, we have a high-functioning radar which detects anything from an ugly logo to an inefficient system. Scrutiny and critique can oftentimes be effortless.

 

So let me be the first to admit that it’s easy for me to get distracted by something that happens to me at church and indiscriminately color my perception of the church at large with a large, hairy, brush – all the while not realizing that I’ve haphazardly colored over some other things as well.

 

Myopia is simply being hyper-focused on what lies nearest to you that you fail to include the larger context. And I was myopic about my denomination.

 

Experiencing the GC, albeit for two days, significantly lessened this myopia by exposing me to the larger context of the world church.

 

Listening to the division reports, interacting with those from other cultures and nations, and seeing God’s activity among them showed me that the ‘church’ is more than just what happens to me in my local church.

 

The GC reminded me that the ‘church’ is bigger than its issues. The more I was informed, the less myopic I became. The more I got to know the larger context, the less I reacted to the smaller ones.

 

What we do is greatly impacted by what we are up against. Therefore the more we are informed about what’s happening in our local congregation, community, and the global Adventist community, the better we are suited to be game changers for the Kingdom.

 

4) Find a Christ-centered mentor who has your best interest at heart.

 

Nuff said.

 

5) Dig deeper into Scripture.

 

As I was scrolling through my twitter feed on the day of the big vote, I couldn’t help but wonder:

 

What if millennials were half as engaged and committed to spending time in Scripture as they were on their Twitter feeds?

 

What would that look like? How would that look like in their personal lives and in the lives of their communities?

 

Iconic theologian and author A.W Tozer once made this provocative statement:

 

“Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”

 

Boom. *drops mic*

 

Friends, we are not just millennials but Seventh-Day Adventist millennials: a special group of people who have been entrusted with the end-time message of a living Savior to be shared with a dying world.
For us to be bold in the world, we need to first be humble before God in the prayer closet. The more we dig deeper into Scripture, the more leverage and arsenal we have along with the adults and leaders of our church.

 

Our cultural relevancy is largely dependent on our Scriptural fluency. When we are well-versed in Scripture, not only are we able to speak the language of other demographics within our denomination, but we become better influencers of those outside of it.

 

A lot of hurt and frustration has understandably ensued in light of Wednesday’s vote. I am right there with those who are disappointed. I’m sure those who are at the brink of leaving have legitimate reasons for doing so. If that’s you, my friend, I appeal to you sincerely – We need you and your pain. Some of the biggest turnarounds and movements in history occurred when a small group of people harnessed their collective dissatisfaction in effective and constructive ways. If you want to move forward, these 5 steps maybe a start. If not, hit me up. Let me listen.

 

These are just 5 things. What are YOU going to do after this session? Please leave a comment in the spaces below!

 

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You’re Not Too Good for The Church

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Every family has that one embarrassing member. Well, every family has at least one embarrassing member.

— A sister who snorts when she laughs and seems to laugh more than any normal person should.
— The uncle who has that terrible facial condition known as Unconscious Glare. He thinks he’s glancing around innocently, but he’s accidentally glowering at friends and strangers. The people near you at the restaurant move tables.
— The grandma who gave up on regular clothes some decades ago and now only wears muumuus. Even to your graduation.

But some families have people in them who aren’t just embarrassing to bring to pool parties, but members who bring shame to the family.

— How do you think it felt to be Anthony Weiner’s wife?
— How do you think it felt to be Richard Nixon’s brother?
— Or Jerry Sandusky’s mother?

When someone that you’re connected with does something great, you feel a sense of pride. It’s not you out there on the basketball court, but when your team wins the championship you cheer as if it were a personal accomplishment. When you see your kid brother walk across the stage to get his college diploma, when your dad earns a special award at work, when your best friend becomes a parent, your heart is aglow with pride in their accomplishments. Even though these are their accomplishments, it’s your heart that is smiling inside.

Shame works the other way. Even though it’s someone else’s notorious deed––abusing, cheating, lying, sexting––it’s your heart aching with disappointment and grief and humiliation.

After all that God has done to love us, save us, and sanctify us, it’s not hard to imagine how He feels when we tread over His will in order to fulfill our own. It’s not hard to imagine that God’s heart hurts when, in that split-second of decision, we ignore His voice and we act as if He weren’t there or didn’t care about us.

And since God has risked it all in front of an attentive, intelligent universe (Eph 3:10), it’s not hard to imagine that God would be ashamed of us faulty, twisted, rebellious, ungrateful, inglorious sinners. Anyone who acts the way we act would be someone that a holy God should be ashamed of, someone God rightfully wouldn’t want to be associated with, someone God would want some distance from, someone God would avoid committing Himself to. And how much more shame does it cause God when those unkind, ungrateful, unloving, unrighteous people are those who take His name and call themselves Christians.

In the gospel according to Hebrews, the amazing news is this: the divine and majestic Son (Hebrews 1) was made low, “lower than the angels,” made a real and true human being, and He was subjected to temptation, suffering, and death (Hebrews 2). And then this:

Both the one who makes people holy
and those who are being made holy are of the same family.
So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
(Hebrews 2:11)

WHAT? Not in spite of the fact that Jesus took on our humanity, not in spite of the fact that the Trinity took up our humanity into Their unspoiled fellowship, but because God made us part of His family Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters, even though we are not perfect in holiness.

So here’s the amazing thing: Jesus is not ashamed to call you His. Jesus is not ashamed to claim you, to wrap His arm around you and call you part of the family. Jesus is not ashamed to publicly commit Himself to you and love you lavishly in front of all the watching worlds. You’re messed up, but Jesus is not ashamed of you. What a Savior! What a God!

*moment of praise and awestruck wonder*

Now here’s the challenging thing: If Jesus doesn’t consider himself too good to be our brother, we dare not consider ourselves too good for His other brothers and sisters.

We’re waaaayyyyy too quick to dismiss the church because it doesn’t live up to our standards (wait… Do you even live up to your own standards??) and because church-y people are disagreeable to us, making comments we don’t like, holding opinions we don’t like, and voting in ways that we don’t like. Some of us have even given the church ultimatums: Start acting better or I’ll leave you and then you’ll really be sorry!

No one has higher ideals for His church than Jesus does, and even though no one has more of a right to walk out on the disappointing Gomer that we call the church, no one loves it more passionately or with more commitment than Jesus (Eph 5:25-27).

We’re an inglorious group of sinners-made-saints. And in His mercy, Jesus let you in. So don’t walk out. Don’t be ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Jesus isn’t.
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My Perspective As A Woman Pastor

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I could not go to GC. I do not have a TV. The live streaming of “The Hope Channel” was choppy in every 3 seconds interval at best. I found out about the “No Vote” for Women’s Ordination via my aunt, whom I was calling to offer her comfort after she lost her job, which in turn tried to comfort me. I kept receiving confirmation of the, “No Vote” through texts of my brother-in-law who is at the GC and through good, ole, trusty, Facebook.

My feelings? Kind of numb. The feeling of kind of being stuck. The looming question of, “now what?” hangs over my head. I am not angry. I am not bitter. I am not enraged. I am not disappointed. I am not shocked. I am not hurting. I am not crying. Just processing.

Some people are upset, angered and hurting for the “No Vote” and they weren’t even women pastors. Some people were pushing for the vote more vehemently than myself and women pastors that I know. However, when the decision was called for, some people are expressing their feelings, which they are entitled to, but yet, since not being women pastors, it doesn’t really affect them as how it will effect the women pastors. Yesterday’s decision put a new twist on how my future will look like. It puts a new twist on friends that I know who are women pastors and their future.

I have been oddly quiet during the whole endeavor, just really trying to see what will pan out during the whole situation. A lot of people have posted their opinions, but I am posting my perspective as a woman pastor. I am speaking for mostly for myself, I am giving my viewpoint, my experience, and what I have learned.

There are a lot of questions running through my head. Once again, I was not at the GC, perhaps these were answered already in the discussions. But I guess I can put it out there now. What are we going to do about the women pastors who are already ordained or commissioned? Will the title be taken away? Will they no longer be able to practice baptisms, marriages, child dedications, and anointings? If it is not taken away, will their work as ordained ministers be recognized now that the whole world church decided, “no”? Will other divisions and countries require a new “baptism”; a new “anointing” if they found out you were baptized or anointed by a woman? What about women elders? Since the argument has been made, and there is Biblical evidence for it, that there is no difference between pastor and elder? Why carry the pastor/ elder title as a woman? Why has the church allowed for women elders to begin with if there is so much friction about women pastors? Are we working off semantics? Should we even allow for ordained women elders? Should we even have women elders? Is it even fair now to allow women to be “pastors” to fill positions that “women are so good at”? Are these even the right questions to ask? There even seems to be a lot of confusion on what was voted on, and there are some articles going around with wishful thinking.

It almost feels that at the end of the day what women pastors will end up doing is working administratively or doing the work of Bible workers, but on steroids, with nothing to show really for being the “pastor,” there will hardly be any distinction. At the end of the day, we are allowed to minister, but being in ministry is not the equivalent of being a pastor. That’s what it seems that has been handed to us. Again, these questions may have been answered, but at the same time, right now, I don’t think there will be a satisfactory answer to all of it, because these are issues that are going to rise from it, regardless of what people say, and because it is so fresh.

Regardless of it all, when there is a vote, there will always be a happy group and a disappointed group. The happy group will always claim God’s favor and the disappointed group will always say that God allowed it. God does not always work in majority votes; God does not always work in minority votes. There is the hot topic till this day of GC 1888 to show what I mean. What is always hard in situations like these is that there are no clear, cut lines, regardless of what some would say. While not everyone from both sides may have exhibited Christ-like behavior to each other, I do know also that there were strong, God-fearing people on both sides, people who have prayed, fasted, poured over scriptures, entered into dialogue to try to understand the other’s viewpoint, and still arrived at different convictions while reading the same Bible, praying to the same God, and following the same Holy Spirit. Nothing hurts more than when someone dedicates their whole life to what God has seem to show them on a personal level, and another person comes and flippantly rubs it in their face that it was not God’s will and they were being unfaithful to God. Folks, that is nothing short of spiritual abuse and the ground preparation for a great faith crisis in that person’s walk with God.

Please don’t make the ignorant statement that if a person has a faith crisis from the “truth” being told, then they never had faith to begin with. That’s part of what makes recovering from a faith crisis to be such a difficult task to begin with, because what was once thought to be solid in your walk with God, you are finding that you now are questioning everything, from the Bible you read, to the prayers that you pray, to the church you go to, and to the God you worship, with the people that you worship. There are countless of examples in the Bible of mighty men and women of God who went through their own faith crisis while still actively holding onto God and having a relationship with Him, (Jeremiah, anyone?); Don’t be that person, the type of person who speaks before thinking in the Name of God and too prideful to realize that you made a mistake while realizing that you have left a brother or sister in Christ questioning Him. Instead of criticizing that person, please, for the glory of God, extend the hand of grace, and become a reason why you helped that person stay in the community of God, and not a reason why they left it.

I for one, and I think I can honestly speak on behalf of a lot of my women pastor friends, I did not step into the pastoral arena to push forth my authority over the men. I had no desire to showcase, “Women do it better than men.” I had no desire to uproot an established authority that God has placed on earth. What I was looking for was to help my brothers in Christ. To reach the places that they couldn’t go while still holding onto their hand. To show a hurting world that God also validates women in His work and that His hand was being extended to them. While women are being persecuted on the other side of the world because they want to learn how to read, I wanted to help them see that there is a God who stands up for us. I came because I was called. No person would eagerly put himself or herself in a position that was heated, difficult, sensitive, at times hazy, receiving insults, questioning my own faith, getting looks of surprise, having my ministry questioned from others, and my ministering considered second rate, at best sometimes, just to “help people.”

No, it usually takes a calling to get people through the difficult nights of praying and pleading with God when interceding for His people when they have been a stiff-necked people. It takes a calling to still show your face after what some would consider a humbling experience in GC 2015. It takes a calling to go and minister to a mother who has lost her job after a difficult divorce, to comfort a second mother who has received the diagnosis of breast cancer, to encourage an exhausted and broken pastor’s wife, to be the listening ear of a young woman who grew up in church questioning the existence of God, to be the arms of comfort for a young woman friend who is grieving the loss of a strong spiritual mentor after cancer and recovering from abusive parents, to offer hope to a friend who admitted to being bisexual, to tell a young teenage girl who is recovering from bulimia that God still loves her no matter what. It takes a calling.

I have gone through some difficult times on my journey being a woman pastor. Others have not had it as difficult as me; some may have had it harder than me. What I do know is this; it is not easy. And as a woman pastor who has gone through some bumps in the road, and have had to search for answers that only God could give, I just ask for a few things from my family in Christ.

1. Be understanding that not all women pastors are liberal in their theology.

For some reason, when people heard that I studied theology and that I was taking the steps to continue onto the path of pastoral leadership, they looked at me like I had three heads, and the infamous question would come, “What do you plan to do with that?” Then the next question that would come about, “What is your stance on Women’s Ordination?” And then would proceed to ask questions on trying to figure out my theological stance. It was almost a quick assumption that if I was interested in pastoral work, that I was a liberal in my theology. And while there may be women pastors who have liberal views, (by all means, I am not a voice for all women pastors), I just know that the majority of the women pastors I know, myself included, do not hold liberal views about theology or the Seventh-day Adventist church.

2. Understand that we are trying to be honest, God fearing Christians, just like you.

It was almost borderline pure amusement to see all the hate comments that I would read on articles that would be for Women’s Ordination, it was to either laugh and pray for strength, patience, and wisdom, or cry and become despondent. Some of the comments were just harsh, that we have received the Mark of the Beast and being used as puppets for Satan. And while I am sure that the other camp who was pro Women’s Ordination have not been innocent of harsh comments towards anti Women’s Ordination, it doesn’t get worse than that folks, to be compared to be used by Satan. Come on guys, not a single one of us have the authority, nor the wisdom, nor the concept of correct justice, nor the full picture, to be able to pronounce those type of judgments. Once again, I speak for myself along with other women pastor friends that I know, we strive to seek the face of God, we beseech Him to show us His will, to correct us when we are in the wrong, to humble us when we have been prideful, to put us where we will be the most useful, to have us work for His glory. My desire is to do the will of God.

Being combative with each other proves nothing. Both camps will have people who stood up for either side and will claim, “Praise the Lord that ‘So and So’ spoke the truth!” We are so quick to point out what we think will divide the church that we become almost paranoid about everything. We develop champions in our minds of people who spoke up for our viewpoint that we have deemed as Biblical. We are quick to cast stones to those who do not agree with our viewpoint, and rapidly mark them as unfaithful towards God and the church because they were not consistent with the viewpoint that we had marked as truth. Please understand that this helps nobody and it certainly does not help you in your witness towards others. The will of God, in how He has portrayed it in His word, should be the will of our life, not what we think His will is, but what He says it is.

3. Be considerate and kind with your words.

As a theology student on my first week at Southern Adventist University I was standing in the presence of a classmate who told me this after he found out I was a theology student, “Wow…. Southern has really lowered their standards in accepting you into their program,” in which he then proceeded to laugh and said, “Just kidding.” I am sorry, but that is not something to joke about. That comment essentially said that just because I was a woman, I have tainted Southern’s doors. I have heard others say that we are too emotional, or incapable of being able to minister effectively. You are surely entitled to your opinion, but please, there is no godly love being shown once you begin to make comments that degrade the worth and the capability of a fellow human being.

4. Please stop saying that our ministry as women exists because men are not doing theirs.

This honestly is probably the most frustrating to me, on two sides. The first side is that women are only in the picture because the men are not doing the work. It implies that we were second picked, only the second best, because well, “Someone has to do it.” It implies that if men were doing the job, then women would not be in the picture at all. Why do we have to have that mentality? Why is almost always an “either/ or” and not a “both”? Why can’t it be the both of us, men and women, working together for the kingdom of God? Men are called to a certain position of authority, and I understand that, but at the same time can I not help that man in that position of authority? Why does it have it be, “I am only here because he is not doing it?” It seems to treat the ministry that God has given me as second best. That I am second best. I have worth in the eyes of God and I am important in His eyes, but in front of my church family, I am second place. And I am only in second place because of being a woman and that’s it.

The other side that this statement shows is the low position that men are being held at as well. It is shoving men to the side and saying, “What you are doing is not good enough so we will bring someone who can do it.” What of all the countless of men who have done God’s work in the past and in present time? Those who have lost their lives to the cause and have laid their heads down to rest to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”? Of the countless of men who still stand up to preach, to share God’s word to a people yelling at them that whatever they do is never good enough? Their decisions as pastors are never good enough, that what they preached was not good enough, that how they handled the situation was not good enough, that what they said was not good enough.

We are worse than a nagging, embittered wife to the leaders of our church. Almost always, someone, somewhere out there has a better idea of what our men pastors should have done. Well, in the words of Pastor Henry Wright, “Get some scars on your soul first and then come and talk to me about how to run a church.” It is so easy to criticize on the sidelines when you are not in the fight. And it is also detrimental to your effectiveness in your personal ministry if this is the mentality that you have of yourself, you, as a man pastor. That there can always be something more done, sure, that you can always grow more in Christ, of course, but to ridicule yourself and to put the holy work that God has placed in your life as not good enough because you are not doing enough in what you think it should look like is going backwards and not forwards.

Let our ministry work together as part of the image of Christ, not as a competition on who can do it better, who is lacking, or just because a spot needs to be filled.

5. Invite me to be genuinely part of your team.

Invite me as your team because God lead you to pick me, not because it is the cultural fad to do so. I have gone through countless of interviews with conferences where almost all of them supported women in ministry, and women’s ordination. However, at the end, I did not receive jobs from them regardless of their words of support. It is much more appreciative to be invited, wanted, and needed, than to be told of support, or just being picked up to show “progressive” movement. As a woman, I value more an invitation to join a work than a civil responsibility to get something done.

6. Don’t turn a blind eye to the abuse of women in the church.

Even though the church passed a “No Vote” on Women’s Ordination in the world church, please, don’t let this be a set back for working towards women’s rights and recognition in the world church at large. While some have played up that the vote for women’s ordination is just culture pressure on sexism and gender discrimination, it would be unwise to say that this will not have an effect on how the world church has portrayed its view on women and their importance. While I recognize that there were plenty of women who were against Women’s Ordination, I also acknowledge that there were plenty who were for it, in part to give a voice to the women.  It would be naive to turn a blind eye towards the abuse that happens in the church in the Name of God towards women because the church voted, “no” on Women’s Ordination. While some may say that I am being extreme in saying this, and that just because the church said “no” to women’s ordination does not mean that it was an abusive act towards women. I understand what you are saying, and I acknowledge that, but hear my viewpoint. The church has had a long history of abuse towards women who have been made to keep quiet because of spiritual abuse due to their husbands or the men in their lives have manipulated it in such a way that if the women voiced their concerns they are being unfaithful Christians or not being submissive wives.

I just encourage the church to be proactive in helping the women who are being abused in the church, to properly discipline the men who have abused these women, regardless of their position in church leadership and to not encourage a shame culture towards these women, which unfortunately, almost always seems to happen when a woman finally stands up to speak for herself. Sometimes in the Christian culture, we act as if someone who demands their rights as a human being is all of a sudden usurping the will of God. We play the card that because we are sinners, we have no rights, and therefore we are working off of our selfish nature instead of being submissive. And while that can be true for a good portion of the human race, we also have to remember that we are made in the image of Christ, that we have been bought at a price, that we have been ransomed, and with that comes an inheritance of being God’s children. A person who cannot stand up for their self worth does not recognize who their Father is.

As a woman pastor, I will continue to minister, however that may look like. It may look like pastoring the church as an associate pastor, it may look like a Bible teacher, and it may look like as a school chaplain. I don’t know. What I do know is the willingness of being flexible in the calling that Lord has placed in my life, wherever He takes me, and how He takes me is important. I do know that God will be faithful to the calling that He has placed in my life. I understand why the world church took the vote that they took. I respect their decision and I understand what they had to balance as world leaders. I understand it is not easy to be world church leaders in a world that differs in cultures that spans over 24 different time zones, that all voices needs to be heard, that there are things that have to be weighed that we may not even know about. If we have erred, may the Lord grant us mercy as we sought to do His will. If we were correct, than praise the Lord that we pressed forward.

Let us not forget that when Jesus walked on this earth, the chosen church, His chosen church, was fragmented to many pieces, into the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Essenes to name a few. And while He was patient with all, and may have said strong words to them all, Ellen White points out that He said it with tears in His voice. It is never easy to walk the line between differing groups in the same church, but what I do know is that Christ Himself manifested love to all, took time to talk to them, to minister to them, to show love to them, and to save them. Desire of Ages tells the story of how once Christ was resurrected; many who were once enemies of Christ became His followers.

While things may be unclear on how to manage differing viewpoints within the church and the questions that come, and we beseech the Lord for His guidance; I know that this is perfectly clear: that the Lord has called us to love one another, that has never changed, to exemplify the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and that if we differ in viewpoints, just like how the Jewish Church once did, and the early New Testament Church once did, we can never err in showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). In these things, we can never go wrong, no matter what our differing viewpoints may be. Am I being too diplomatic? Perhaps, I am for some. Am I being too sensational for others? Perhaps, I am for some. This is my perspective. This has been a bit of my experience. I will respect the church, and its decision, I am still part of the church, and I will minister to and for the church, but at the same time, I answer to God and God alone. I go where He leads me. I cannot go against my conscience, and as God as my witness, so help me.
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3 Lessons for Surviving the Fallout of the Ordination Vote

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So here we are. We are living in a post San Antonio General Conference world. The vote on whether or not individual Divisions have the authority to ordain women in their field where they see it fit has failed. The vote was closer than I expected but at the end of the day, these were the results:

977- Yes votes
1381- No votes
5- Abstained

For many in the NAD and around the world, it is a sad day. I know many wonderful women who have dedicated their lives to pastoral service and this vote must come as a harder blow to them than it does to me.

As an online spectator and Twitter delegate, I couldn’t help but feel proud at times, but still overall disappointed by much of the politicking I saw before, during, and after the debate. Either way, we are now like the fish from Finding Nemo who found themselves in the ocean after passing through a very difficult time and asked, “Now what?”

Here are a few early thoughts:

1. No matter how stormy the GC session was, no matter how high the waves seem now, remember that Jesus still walks on water.

This vote does not mean that women cannot be pastors. Neither does this vote mean that there is going to be a mass purging of the women who already have been working in various levels of the church. What it does mean is that, even though they will have the same education, the church will not confer to them the full ecclesiastic authority of ordination like it currently does to men. Instead, they will still be “commissioned” (which is basically the same thing as far as tax law is concerned, but isn’t in a religious way).

While I was in favor of a yes vote, this new reality forces me to remember that this isn’t my church. It was never mine to begin with; it is God’s. Thus, I have to trust that God knows what he is doing despite my inability to see beyond our present reality.

2. We need to pray for our leaders.

I witnessed some great men and women of God in these debates who stood up and shared their convictions even in the face of a (sometimes) hostile crowd. I applaud the actions of people like Jan Paulsen, Elizabeth Talbot, Ricardo Graham, and especially Michael Ryan who did a phenomenal job at chairing a very contentious meeting. I saw role models in these people and took notice of them even while others booed and jeered at their responses.

We especially need to keep Dan Jackson and Ted Wilson in prayer. These two men, each very convicted in different positions before the vote, must now find a way to work together for the mission of the church. It’s not easy, but I want to ask that we all join together and ask that God would lead them both.

3) We need to still support women in ministry.

Again, it is important to remember that the church has not voted against women pastors. I believe that the Bible is clear of the fact that God calls women into ministry (including pastoral). However, as we saw today, there were, and still are various opinions on the matter. What the church has decided is that the whole church must move together on this issue or not at all.

So what can else I do, get bitter?  No.

I’m learning to realize that a spirit of negativity will eat away at our enthusiasm for ministry and our sense of united mission. I’m not saying that there aren’t negative elements at play all around us, but if we lose sight of Jesus, we will be in the same position as Peter was when he took his eyes off him: drowning in the ocean.

Speaking a Millennial pastor, I would urge all of us to not lose faith in the church, but rather, I pray that this experience would light a fire within each of us. God will raise up a generation that will seek his face and I’m committed to being a part of it.

Let’s not lose heart. It’s up to us to make a difference. Here is our chance to stand up, work together with those that we don’t see eye to eye with and reach those that need to be reached. That’s the mission I’m committed to. How about you?

In closing, now is not the time to plot revenge or gloat at the victory achieved. Now is a time for prayer. Now is a time for reflection. Now is a time for healing. What happens next?

Only God knows.

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God’s Crazy-Patient Grace: Thoughts on the “No Vote” at GC

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Sigh.

Disappointed.

A little heart broken.

Years of anticipation shattered.

“No.”

Wow. This is really disappointing. I thought the cancellation of the Record Keeper was bad. But this is worse. Way worse.

So what can I say? I’m not sure. I’m still trying to gather my thoughts and make sense of it all. It’s hard. Very hard.

And yet, the one thing that keeps me from becoming discouraged and enraged is the one thing that matters most above all: Jesus. Telling others about him, his love, his grace, his power and his kingdom. That alone is my passion. And guess what? I love Adventism. I love it because it is the one movement on earth that captures the narrative of scripture – its God-story – in a way that is breathtakingly beautiful. And come what may, I just cannot stop telling this story.

But what about the church? I mean, its one thing to love the Adventist narrative. But do I love the church as well? It’s administration. It’s politics. It’s “outdatedness”?

Truth is I do. Yes, it is horribly outdated. Yes, it drives me crazy at times! But I still love this church. And regardless of how disappointed I may be I will not allow a spirit of dissension and rebellion to take root in my heart. My church is not perfect. Not by a long shot. But neither am I. And yet, I can see the hand of God at work in both. I see him at work in my imperfect life. I see him at work in our imperfect church. So I hang on, not because of the administration or the structure, but because whenever I am tempted to despair I see the finger prints of God and it reminds me that this is his church and his grace – that crazy patient grace – is working still.

So I will continue to tell the Jesus-story. All of it. And I will continue to work with and pray for my sister pastors whose hearts are in this work. Let’s lose ourselves in Jesus and trust that he will guide us safely to the other side.

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Reflection: Called NAD Ministerial Convention

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Going into Called, the NAD Ministerial Convention, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew it was a convention for pastors who serve in the North American Division, and so obviously there would be a lot of pastors around (which, you can ask any pastor, this simultaneously a fun and distressing prospect). Besides that, I assumed that the days would be filled with informative but not necessarily exciting meetings and presentations. The host city was Austin, Texas, and I was excited to explore a new city–especially one so supposedly quirky and unique. These were my preconceptions. Also, I was going with the help of my conference–Wisconsin–and so I wanted to be sure to be at all of the meetings and seminars, but I was also there to represent The Haystack and to promote our World’s Largest Haystack event (happening July 9: https://www.facebook.com/events/1003952122951106/ ).

Now that the convention is over, I’m still processing the experience, but I wanted to write up a brief reflection for those who missed out on the event and for those who might be wondering what in the world it even was.

The first thing I noticed were the ministry booths: An Adventist convention would not be complete without ministry booths. Throughout the week I made my rounds to the various booths belonging to various ministries, and honestly this was a pretty positive aspect of my experience. There were many booths, so here is a summary of the ones which stood out to me. As an SAU alumnus, I was excited to see their setup at the front and center of the ministry booth area. I was even more excited when they gave out SAU president Gordon Bietz’s brand new Parables of Fenton Forest book (my kid is going to get to grow up with those stories, and there’s just something cool about that to me). The Kettering Health network had a pretty sweet setup, highlighting their Kettering :60 campaign to reach their (increasingly non-Adventist) staff with daily spiritual messages. Andrews University had life-sized cutouts of James and Ellen White, which turned out to be a great photo opportunity for all passersby. One of the most unique setups was the It is Written booth, which had what appeared to be a hologram of John Bradshaw preaching to me as I walked by. I was both impressed by the presentation and a little disturbed because I felt like no matter where I stood he was looking directly at me. There was also a booth where pastors could claim a free special edition copy of Christ’s Object Lessons, which I made sure to pick up. All the booths put a lot of effort into their presentations and even though I can’t mention all of them here, I give props to everyone who represented their ministries at Called.

The next standout feature from the convention was the music. The musicians did an excellent job of proving, as Roger Hernandez tweeted, “you can do contemporary without crazyness [sic] and traditional without boredom.” Having driven 18 hours from Berrien Springs to get to Austin, I wasn’t quite in the mindset of worship when the first night of meetings began. This was remedied as the worship team reminded me that the Lamb is worthy and that even though I was tired and anxious that it was time to worship. Because of the wonderfully intentional atmosphere of worship the band was able to foster, I did worship with joy for the rest of the convention. Playing both new favorites, like Hillsong’s “Cornerstone” and old standards like “Jesus Paid it All,” the band managed to cover all sorts of ground, appeal to all sorts of musical sensibilities, and kept Jesus in the center of every song they led.

The morning and evening sessions were excellent as well. I don’t have time (and it wouldn’t be profitable) to address each speaker and their message, but I will not hesitate to say that everyone brought their A-game to the table. I’d like to quickly address some personal highlights, but first let me say this: Adventist pastors (and I’m sure pastors in general) sometimes have a hard time sticking to a time limit. It’s something I personally have had to struggle with and I’ve had my fair share of bretheren and sisters walk out on me because I went over my time. However, it seems to me that this event was set up for more of a “TED Talks” format and less of a “deep and exhaustively exegetical” format. The sessions were regularly too long because of this, which led me to personally feel like I never had time to go anywhere, get anything done, or (honestly) think between sessions and seminars and meetings and other business I had to take care of.

That being said, let me tell you about what a blessing I got out of the most exceptional of these talks. Wesley Knight delivered a powerful rendition of the story of the resurrection. Speaking of the skeptical and disappointed disciples after Jesus’ death, and addressing our own doubts and fears when it comes to seemingly unanswered prayer, he said “We struggle to worship a Savior who does not do what we want Him to do when we want Him to do it.” Gary Hamel gave a thought provoking message about the current state of the Adventist church and how it could stand to catch up with the times in order to reach new generations of Adventist believers. “What if the Seventh-day Adventist church in North America became the most experimental organization in the world?” he challenged the audience of pastors. Personally, I hope many take his challenge to heart. Marquis Johns followed Hamel’s challenge with a striking comparison of Eutychus (the guy who fell out of the window during the Apostle Paul’s preaching) to the youth and young adults of today. “To reach our young adults, we have to come down from our generational Adventism. We must descend so they can ascend,” Johns said with passion, reflecting on his experiences working with the Barna Group’s study of Adventist young adults.

Probably one of my favorite quotes from the entire convention was from Alejandro Bullon, in his talk about reaching people using Christ’s method alone. “We spent millions of dollars inventing methods. But the most effective method is here in the Word of God,” he said as the audience roared in affirmation. Finally, one of the most heartfelt moments in any of the sessions was at the close of Henry Wright’s sermon. He said, speaking from his own personal experiences and struggles, “For some of us, ministry is the only way we’ll be saved.” It was a powerful moment from a man who, while still strikingly human, embodied full confidence in his salvation and spoke with humility regarding his calling as a servant of God. Again, when you’ve got three or four sermons/presentations, a discussion panel, a video testimony, and more during every morning and evening session, there is too much going on to fully process and give justice to the messages we were receiving. But that does not take away from the fact that I heard some truly outstanding messages during this convention and my soul was truly fed.

I want to be brief in this next section, as I fear this article is getting a little too long, but before I close I’d like to address the seminars. Between every morning and evening session, various seminars were offered by various teachers, preachers, and professionals in various areas of expertise. There was an overwhelming number of presentations to choose from and I was pretty bummed out that saying yes to one intriguing presentation meant saying no to three or four equally interesting ones. Personally, I made it to a finance seminar–presented by John Mathews, a worship seminar–presented by Nicholas Zork, a seminar in the philosophy and practice of postmodern missions–presented by Oliver Glanz, and a seminar on current ecumenical trends–presented by Denis Fortin. I got something out of every one of the seminars I attended and I heard great things from friends and colleagues about some that I wasn’t able to make it to. In the future, I think it may be beneficial to cut down on the number of seminars offered (as it would both make decision making less painful and would guarantee better attendance to each seminar), but it seemed to be a positive and beneficial experience for everyone attending.

There is much more I could say about the NAD Ministerial Convention, for example the lunches were amazing, the opportunities for networking were extraordinary, the exposure to ministerial politics was (in my experience) enlightening as well as discouraging, and the opportunities were larger than life. Specifically, I want to give a brief mention to the ministry Shark Tank in which pastors could pitch evangelistic ideas to a panel who would then decide which ideas were worthy of financial backing. I want to apologize if there are any details I have missed and for any errors I have made in my report–this is simply the convention from my own point of view, which is flawed and has its own biases.

My final word on the Called NAD Ministerial Convention is this: I would highly recommend that you go to the next one, whenever they have it again. If you are working as a pastor or in professional ministerial work in any way, this is an opportunity for blessing. You’ll find friends and colleagues all around. You’ll learn some new things. You’ll get an opportunity to have deep conversations and make new connections. Best of all, you’ll have an opportunity to personally reflect on your own calling to ministry and you’ll be confronted with the love of the One who called you. Jesus was evident in this convention. Even amidst the flaws and the frustrating human elements I encountered, I believe I came away from the event just a little closer to Christ. That alone was worth the trip.

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GC 2015: What We’re NOT Talking About

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The other day I saw an article titled, “20 Things You Were Successfully Distracted From While Obsessing About Caitlyn Jenner.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.[6] 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.”[7] 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.

 

  1. 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

 

[1] “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

[2]“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/

[3] Sahlin, Monte. Adventist Congregations Today. Lincoln, NE: Center for Creative Ministry, 2003. P. 35, 36.

[4] Logan, Rachel. “Lack of Adventist Community Pushes Some Millennials to Marry Young.” Spectrum Magazine, December 20, 2014.

[5] 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/

[6] “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.

[7] Drum, Rene et al. “Abuse in the Church.” Adventist Review, October 11, 2007.

[8] 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

[9] “Americans Say Morality Down, but Shun Bible Reading as Solution, Survey Says.” Adventist Review, April 18, 2013.

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