I was preparing to leave a pastoral position in one conference to take a position as a departmental director in another. The wife of one our legendary pastors in the conference I was leaving called me and said, “ I am happy for you. The farther you get away from the people in the churches the better you off you are going to be.” I did not see the move as such then but it was an insight into what the overwhelming majority of Adventist Workers believed then and I still hold as truth today. In fact it appears to be the energy and flow of perceptions about the SDA ministry prevailing among us.
The increased size of your congregation with each assignment or the loftier titles you assume in the conference office or hierarchy of the church is the yardstick that measures your progress in “The Work.” Seldom is it the increase in real membership produced under your pastoral hand. Neither is it the measurable long-term growth impact of your visits from the conference office position on the congregations after you have served them and gone to the next church.
Certainly a huge amount of success depends on pastoral follow through. But if the pastor is absent from the room when the departmental director comes to train the church officers (or is multi-tasking in the same room) then successful “follow –through” is impossible without his participation, knowledge and consent about the instructions given.
PASTORAL ABSENCES ON SABBATHS
My current illness has caused me to become an Internet church member. Beginning on the East Coast I travel through the time zones all the way to the West Coast. In just these few weeks Senior Pastors have deferred to an associate, an elder, an intern or a guest speaker on several occasions. While the associate, guest or elder may be good preachers, the Senior Pastor’s thread of continuity is broken.
On Sundays, in the First day congregations by contrast, the Senior Pastor seldom if ever gives way to anyone and often preaches 4 times every Sunday. Yes, it is the same sermon but a different group of hearers. Often he will have a membership that exceeds his facility’s capacity but instead of building a larger “storehouse” he increases the number of services. This action reserves financial resources that are then to put into other ministries that nurture his congregation and enrich community the surrounding.
One thing that is noticeable in many cases. The longer the pastor remains with that congregation the more the membership increases. Adventist traditions are different. We assign a pastor for a few years then we move (“promote”) him. He serves that church a few years and many times nothing appreciable happens in growth terms. Even if it does, in rare cases, it is time to go to the next “larger” assignment. In too many instances whether serving as a pastor or in a conference office position, what is measured isn’t what you have done but where you have been. It is called “experience.” Too often that means the pastor has mastered the system.
“Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Matthew 15: 6-9 NIV
In this age of slowing SDA membership growth in the United States among our target population, it is time we take a look at theses things. This does not take a General Conference Executive Committee action. It will take some brave stout -hearted men of courage and resolve on the local conference level however. Stout hearts that are un intimidated by pending constituency meetings. Brave hearts leading our conferences who as a group of leaders can face the tough issues, take the proper positions, fix the broken places, refine the soul winning processes, call the faithful to full God-fearing serve and change the face and the energy of The Movement.
Things To Consider
There are reasons why the energy of The Movement flows away from the congregation:
- Ingathering / Fall Drive goals.
- Message Magazine goals.
- Religious Liberty Offerings.
- Conference Wide Development Goals.
- Baptismal goals and expectations.
- Members who prepared for full time pastoral ministry but were never hired by a conference.
- A few highly successful members who do not have their work celebrated around the dinner table each Sabbath after church (professional jealousy).
- The “incentives/perks” enjoyed at other levels of church administration.
- Earned honoraria for guest speaking engagements
There are additional reasons:
- Members who resist taking directions from pastors whose salaries are ¼ of their own.
- Members who want the preacher to preach, leaving the “driving“ to them.
- Members who see the pastor as their employee instead God’s appointed spiritual leader.
- Members who want pastoral accountability without corresponding membership accountability.
- Members who see the pastor as the only soul winner instead of viewing him as co-laborer for the salvation of souls.
Surely there are many more reasons but theses are some of the things from which most pastor’s flee, consciously or unconsciously. In my 40 years of ministry I have found exactly 4 who vigorously resisted fleeing the full service congregational pastoring; 3 were eventually persuaded to take positions in administration and are “among men most miserable.” One of the 3 pastors who went into administration served for a short time and asked to return to congregational pastoring. He eventually went back into administration but in the end returned to the congregation. One went into administration for a few weeks and “demanded” return to his pastoral assignment and has never looked back. Today he is one of our most successful pastors.
So what a few things can we learn from this discussion?
- I do not have all the answers.
- No one has all the answers.
- Someone needs to keep asking questions.
- Some brave hearts need to step up and do something different because the current growth strategies are not working too well and are working less effectively with each passing day
“The Energy Of The Movement” still flows away from our congregations and, in my opinion, as long as this continues the future growth is not too bright for the Seventh-day Adventist Message in these United States.