By Juleun A. Johnson, December 29, 2015: This morning I write from a position of joy mixed with pain. In total self-disclosure, I am a die-hard, Jesus-loving Adventist Christian. I have been to GC Sessions since I was a baby, camp meetings, Adventist academy, Adventist college and university. I worked on nearly every level of this church before I was 22 (in maintenance cutting grass or in facilities services). I went to Seminary. I became a pastor and pastored in three states. I was ordained. I still work for the church.
However, through nearly 15 years of service to the church I have found one cord that is strong and seems to never go away. The church seems to often discount ideas, vision, progress, and questions that push cultural and ecclesiastic norms. The three people I speak of in the title to this piece are three people whose vision would have catapulted the church eons ahead of where it is today.
Joseph McCoy, who gave me my first job in ministry, was a visionary who was tired of seeing his fellow colleagues retire with nothing and dying penniless. He decided to do something about it. McCoy also desired for scholarship inside the ranks of his pastors and sent and encouraged several to go and earn doctoral degrees and give back.
Robert Folkenberg Sr. was an evangelistic visionary who used the internet as CompuServe before the expansive World Wide Web existed. He even pushed the agenda of women’s ordination two times at GC Sessions during his tenure. I wonder what we would be talking about now if women’s ordination had passed in 1990 or 1995? Maybe we would be talking about abuse of children, women, cultural identity, or maybe a structural change that has been needed for more than 80 years.
Charles D. Joseph Sr. had a vision to create an urban center for health wellness and education in Chicago and urban centers across the country. His vision, like the one in New York City, like J.K. Humphrey’s in the 1920’s, was shot down. However, other centers like that now exist all over America and the world in what National Geographic calls Blue Zones.
You may part horses with me on how they implemented or structured ideas or plans. Fine. Am I saying the people are perfect? NO. Don’t kill the vision or the person. Sit at the table and talk; we are all human.
The thing about visionaries people don’t know is that they like seeing the idea implemented more than anything else. How it happens is not the most important thing…the most important thing is that it happens.
I know two of these men and their families well. Another I can only read about. The things I am learning about Robert Folkenberg Sr. now are astounding. A real man of vision.
There are some elements all three men have in common. All three resigned for the good of the church. All of them sacrificed and labored for the good of people. All three are and were in love with their wives and families. All three never stopped working with the church to win people for God’s kingdom.
I long for the day where ideas, questions, and disagreements with implementation and structure will be able to be challenged, accepted and implemented.
I long for the day when the organization will realize it’s an organism and alive, and move according to the needs of the culture and community.
I long for the day when a microphone at a meeting is not a threat to anyone’s personal position but a welcome sight for facilitating discussion.
I long for the day when people can separate themselves from the item they write about, realizing only God owns the keys to the church.
I long for the day when going to church gatherings will not be about agendas but about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is not restricted to one cultural expression.
To kill vision for compliance is telling the devil it’s not worth it to try anything new. Sabotaging mission and vision for compliance and mediocrity will only allow us to see the same patterns over and over again.
What will heal this chasm between visionaries and the structure and idea police? I do not have all the answers but I would like to offer a few suggestions:
- Study together – I have heard before of the great 1974 Bible Conference. I think it’s time for one of those again. I have heard it suggested before by a female colleague of mine. (Her name is not here because I didn’t speak with her before publishing this piece.)
- Connect – I think there is a deep opportunity to connect with other parts of the world on a real social level. Pentecost did not happen as a result of people’s liking each other. There were disagreements that the Spirit worked out while these people were in a room together. I say find a room with someone you don’t know or like and hash it out over lunch.
- Learn – Be open to respecting and learning about another’s cultural identity and perspective. These elements include music, worship, food, child rearing, family, to name a few.
- Make mission real – I feel we could take advantage of the idea that the world is getting smaller and make mission a regular part of worship. It’s easy now to Skype, Oovoo, or Facetime with someone from another culture (in America or the world) and learn about them every Sabbath. The mission story becomes alive and enjoyed, and friendships are developed.
- Educate and Release – Allow money to be harnessed by mission. If we educate in Adventist universities and colleges the best and brightest but limit them as soon as they enter the Adventist workforce, why are they getting an Adventist education? Why work for the church? Let’s take advantage of the minds of those who have not been tainted with the Adventist King or Queen’s mentality and use them.
- Real Discipleship – Preaching is not enough. Well-crafted sermons are not the only way to heaven. Community presence is key. Discipleship as a process for evangelism. Sowing, Keeping, Reaping.
- Reward – Reward every worker for their labor. Everyone is not a visionary; some are reapers, some are sowers, some are groundbreakers. Reward every worker.
- Get Active – Get an active devotional life. An active devotional life encourages a deep spiritual connection. The book Five Minutes on Purpose on Amazon Kindle is an excellent way to start a spiritual connection. I know the author well.
Finally, don’t stop giving ideas, or desiring more. You may be Joseph or Josephine in a pit now, but your vision will help your people far more than they ever know. Keep dreaming, keep planning, Keep praying.
Dr. Juleun Johnson is a chaplain for Florida Hospital in Orlando, an institution affiliated with the Adventist Health System. He earned the Doctor of Ministry in spiritual care and counseling from Claremont School of Theology in California. He is a graduate of Oakwood University and Andrews University, and was a pastor for 13 years. He has been published in Ministry and Insight magazine, and Best Practices for Adventist Pastors in North America. He is the author of a devotional book entitled Five Minutes on Purpose published by Amazon in Kindle eBook format.