by Larry Downing, October 1, 2015: Some months ago a friend told me he had been invited by the North America Division (NAD) to serve as a participant on a committee that had been appointed to address the state of the churches in North America. He told me that he had been informed that nothing was off the table, and asked me to send him suggestions that I believed the committee should consider. I took him up on his invitation. I don’t know that anything I sent him was ever mentioned to the committee, much less discussed. When deleting some old computer files, I found the memo I sent to my friend, and decided to share the list.
- Conduct a conference-by-conference asset audit, including the NAD & General Conference. The audit is to include, but not be limited to, personnel and tangible and intangible assets. A personnel audit includes the function and effectiveness of each office holder or conference leader and the personnel in each conference entity. An audit of tangible assets will include real properties, their intended and real use, their condition and present market value. The audit will identify how each asset benefits the local churches. An audit of intangible items will include the purpose and effectiveness of the various departments and will identify how each entity supports and enhances the local parish.
- Authorize a board composed of knowledgeable, non-church employees to act upon the audit findings. Agreed, this is an outlandish and unreasonable suggestion. Under existing church polity, the individuals who have authority to modify or disband a department or dispose of an asset are frequently the ones who are officers in the department or have an office in the building that may no longer be needed. It is not reasonable to expect people to vote themselves out of a job or dispose of the building that houses their office.
- Much of our governance structure and polity is adapted from other religious organizations: Presbyterian, Methodist, Roman Catholics, to name a few. Acknowledging our dependence on religious organizations established before ours may take some of the steam out of those who tout that the SDA ecclesial system is divinely inspired. If the Adventist organizational structure is inspired, the inspiration came via prior denominations.
- Establish term limits for all conference, union and division officers, including General Conference personnel. Adopt a policy that limits the time an individual can hold any elected church position before he/she is assigned to a local parish for a period of at least four years. Under the present system, there are few demotions more traumatic for a conference administrator than to be assigned to parish ministry. Under the proposed system, after four or six years in a non-pastoral assignment, a person is automatically rotated back into a parish. (Such a policy has several benefits: people will have opportunity to work under the policies they create; individuals will be introduced again to real-life as it is in a parish; the local parish will benefit from the talents and abilities of those who now have little or no contact with day-to-day ministry. A disadvantage is that administrative assignments do provide placement for those who have failed in a local parish. To place these individuals in a congregation benefits neither the local church nor the individual.)
- Establish pastoral continuing education requirements designed to enhance sermonic and other pastoral skills. Establish accountability, reward and consequence into the system. It is not effective for a conference to adopt a policy that states pastors are to have a certain number of CEUs, without including rewards for fulfilling the policy and consequences if the pastor does not meet the requirements. The intent of continuing education is to encourage and enable pastors to strive toward excellence in sermonic preparation and delivery. Surveys that track why people attend worship services confirm that good preaching increases church attendance.
- Implement and promote a wide entry point that welcomes people into our congregations. Practice a ministry of acceptance, an attitude of care, love and responsible living, while recognizing there will be divergent views and conclusions related to certain doctrines, beliefs and lifestyles. Emphasize biblical principles with grace; acknowledge areas that are less defined. Learn to accept disagreement, especially on matters that are less defined. Ambiguity is not a sin.
- Give careful attention to the educational system. Numerous elementary and secondary schools are in fragile economic condition. Falling enrollments in the feeder schools impact college enrollment. The educational system may be the one segment of the Adventist church that has potential to impact the financial future of the church. Should an academy or college experience financial default, the consequences would have far-reaching effect. Local conferences own, and are therefore liable for, boarding academy debts. Union conferences own and are responsible for college or university debts, except for Andrews University and Loma Linda University, which are owned by the General Conference, and Oakwood University, which is owned by the NAD. The collective liability these institutions represent runs into the tens of millions of dollars. It is essential to the long-term viability of the church that our educational institutions are financially sound.
- Take seriously that the local church is the most reliable and productive source of revenue within the Adventist organization! If the goose that lays the golden eggs is not kept healthy, the egg production is in trouble. We church members have the opportunity and power to work with church administrators to direct financial and personnel support to the local parish. It is prudent for the future of our local churches to modify or remove those programs, departments or organizations that do not provide direct and measurable support to the local parish.
- Identify and remove blocking agencies, systems and personnel.
- Create and implement an integrated system that promotes cooperation among the various church entities and organizations. Encourage and support those who are creative and adventuresome.
The above is evidence that there will always a few individuals who are reality challenged, and are oblivious to how the real world works. This document is evidence I am a candidate for citizenship in that la la land. But dreams are cheap. And hope? Well, hope burns eternal, until reality comes along and douses that hope, and who knows? The flame may burn yet again.