Annual Council 2017, Day Two: ASI, Urban Missions & etc.
by Loren Seibold
As I said yesterday, the LEAD conference this year wasn’t exactly leadership training, but featured the Adventist Mission department and its study groups that go under the heading of Global Mission Centers. This is a well-educated, deep thinking bunch, so a lot of what they presented was more informational than you usually get from departmental promotions. I hoped to have an interview to show you with a associate in the department named Jeff Scoggins, about his using an algorithm to decide where and how much to invest in starting a new work in an unreached area. I had an amazing interview with Jeff, recorded on my phone, only to find out that my camera didn’t get all of it! (Insert annoyed emoji here.)
Gary Krause leads the missions department, and he is among the most interesting, capable people I’ve met in the GC building. He and his team, as I said yesterday, are energetic and creative—not just bureaucrats holding a place.
I’m grateful for the concept of the panel discussion, because when I was at Walla Walla College (back then, a mere college) I was asked to be part of a Sabbath School panel discussion, and the panelist I was next to was a strikingly beautiful and very interesting woman named Carmen—whom I have now been married to for almost 40 years. So I’ll forever be glad I was once asked to be on a panel!
Speaking of panels: Gary Krause led a panel today, of people who are leaders of ASI, which stands for Adventist-Laymen’s Services & Industries. This is ASI’s 70th year. ASI is about lay people initiating and carrying out ministry, and I like that part of it very much. The people on the panel (wish I’d gotten all their names) were passionate about claiming their chance to work for God.
As I listened to them, I wondered if this wasn’t a sort of indictment of the paid ministry: that we pastors have ended up presiding over private clubs of Adventists that we call congregations, or running bureaucracies. These ASI folks believe (and I want to affirm this) that much has been lost because the church is so clergy-centered. The way the church is now set up, I as a clergyman run from church to church, place to place (40K miles a year, in my setting) serving people who are already Adventists—and I really don’t know many people outside the church! Sad, isn’t it?
The panel today made a good case that “Lay people feel called by God,” but that they “don’t always know exactly what to do”. They used words like “paradigm shift,” “entrepreneurs” and “innovators”—and believe me, after seeing the pedestrian results that often come from church bureaucrats, those words sound wonderful! They quoted this passage from EGW, 9T 116:
“In the closing controversy now waging between the forces for good and the hosts of evil He expects all, laymen as well as ministers, to take part. ….”
But my experience with ASI in the past has made me think they want only a certain kind of Adventist.
I have a Seventh-day Adventist friend who has raised millions upon millions to finance both Adventist church buildings and village improvements (such as water systems, clinics and schools) for Latin America. One year she asked to have a booth at ASI. They allowed booths that advertised dodgy self-supporting schools (one whose director is now in prison) and questionable herbal and homeopathic remedies, but they turned down my friend because, someone told her, she was a “California liberal”.
It’s true that she loves Adventist Today, though I think raising money for church buildings probably qualifies her as someone committed to God’s work anyway.
Since then, I’ve wondered whether ASI was really about advancing the work by Adventist lay people, or but a front for a certain theological point of view. (I will also say these seem to be the people Elder Ted Wilson feels most comfortable with.)
The panel seemed a bit on the defensive today. Every few sentences there was a mention of problems in the past, problems with ASI groups that were “weird outliers”, groups that didn’t work well with the local people. “Independent ministries are seen as a challenge,” one said, and churches may find difficulty working with them.
I don’t know the whole history that made them need to be so apologetic, but I have attended ASI events, and found their worldview quite constrained.
Could it be that courting only the traditionalists and the extremists might have finally led ASI to seek a better balance? I hope so. One said “Our lay people many times need guidance, but they have passion, energy and resources. I want to see us write a new chapter, deal with difficulties open-handedly, and address them together” and asked for feedback.
ASI, here is my feedback: embrace all lay people who love the church, not just those who are super traditional. It will help to balance out and dilute some of these difficulties you’re referring to.
Global Mission’s Centers of Influence
I missed part of this presentation, but I did get a chance to talk to Jeff Scoggins in the office about the algorithm that he’s using to fund work in unreached areas. He has people on the ground who are trying to assess the demographics for receptivity—all over the world. Something I was impressed with: Jeff is looking for activities (any kind of outreach ministry) that will lead to discipleship, not just baptism. I like that emphasis.
Please note that this program isn’t for building churches, or maintaining existing programs or structures. It’s for breaking new ground, trying new things. These projects would become “centers of influence”. I asked him whether this was perhaps too scientific, whether it didn’t leave room for the Spirit to work. He doesn’t see a divide between good demographic studies and the Spirit leading. Nor do I. I love what Jeff is doing, and I hope to get another interview with him.
Fuller Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner used to talk about concentrating our resources on receptive people groups—in other words, picking the low-hanging fruit. Salespeople do it all the time. Should we?
Ellen White on Urban Missions
This last was by David Trim, he of the excellent and admirable waistcoats. David is sort of the rock star of the GC, one of the youngest and brightest. His intention was to try to balance two contrasting principles of Ellen White. In Life Sketches p.409 she says “Out of the cities!” while in Testimonies 5 p.369 she says “Shall the prince of darkness be left in undisputed possession of our great cities?”
My own dedication to the Bible over Ellen White probably leads me to not have enough appreciation for efforts, like this one, to resolve conflicts in her writings. I think Mathew 25: 31-46 is about all the guidance we need. David’s two interpretive principles were, first, that at times Ellen White sets out principles, but at other times she was addresses a particular set of circumstances and uses figures of speech that she does not expect her listeners to take absolutely literally. And second, that she was very balanced and centrist (David helpfully inserted here “by Adventist standards”), that she spent much of her career arguing against extremists on either side. The result, he said, is that half the time she sounds as though she holds the reverse of the extreme view she is arguing against.
I fully agree that Mrs. White, could we meet her in person, would be more reasonable that many of her followers are. But when, exactly, are we to assume that she’s using figures of speech that she doesn’t expect us to take literally? Where, for example, in The Great Controversy can I say she’s “overstating to make a point” (David’s words)? Can I assume she’s overstating the fear of the papacy, for example, and not take it literally?
David says we must study EGW holistically, see her thoughts on a subject “in the round.” I agree that’s a good hermeneutic, though I’d probably go farther and say that her thoughts on cities of the 1800s have minimal use now, at least not enough to merit so extensive an analysis. It’s true that cities in the 19th century were horribly unhealthy, as David said, and that Ellen White was concerned about the morals of big cities. But in the world we live in, I’m not at all sure that cities are any less healthful than our over-chemicalized farm country, or that city life is any less moral than your computer connected to the internet.
Yet there are still people micro-analyzing EGW’s comments on Melrose Sanitarium (long since gone) about evangelizing the cities. I love Ellen White, but I find this kind of reading not especially helpful. She herself said “Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relations of things.” Yes, they do. And 150 years seems a pretty substantial change of circumstances to me.
Just sayin’: I wonder how much practical guidance we can get from someone who told us how to evangelize the cities of 150 years ago? For example, on the subject of country outposts: can we really expect to reach cities of many millions by having them travel out to the country for evangelistic daycare?
Time to quit analyzing EGW, and use common sense. Perhaps we could apply Jeff’s algorithm?
The Court Jester
G.T. Ng is frequently entertaining. A quote: “People often say, ‘We want to do this work, but will the church give us the money?’ Where is the money for missions and ministry? I say, ‘In the pockets of our church members.’”
Elder Wilson spoke briefly at the end of the LEAD conference, alluding solemnly to something that would happen on Monday, but that he hoped that wasn’t going to color everyone’s perception of the meeting, that they’d go home with something more substantial and hopeful than just that. (Really? After all the drama and conflict during the years of his presidency? No one is supposed to really notice that anything has happened at this meeting beyond passing out books and promoting programs?)
Someone slipped me some information (still officially classified as “rumor”) near the end of the meeting which might answer questions I raised in “The End of the Church as We Know It” part 1 and part 2. What’s the General Conference Executive Committee going to do, and when is it going to do it? Monday afternoon, and it may be a sort of loyalty oath that all General Conference Executive Committee members will be required to sign, or will lose both voice and vote in the GCEC. Presumably, the oath would require them to follow what is generally conceded to be a policy that no one can ordain women.
I’m assuming GCEC leaders would have to present this loyalty oath to the whole GCEC for approval before it is actually required of the members. If it succeeds, all of the pro-women’s ordination unions, meaning much of the NAD, much of the Trans-European Division, and Australia and New Zealand—if their presidents stand by their previous statements on women’s ordination—would no longer have any voice in the church’s highest decision-making body. Remember, the membership of these areas is only 13% of the church, but gives 54% of the world’s tithe.
Will the GCEC approve the loyalty oath? Will the women-ordaining union leaders stand for what they have affirmed and refuse to sign it? And how will our NAD members receive this wholesale disenfranchisement? Will their ire be against their presidents, or against the GC who forced this issue?
I think it’s likely, by the way, that we reporters won’t be allowed to hear this discussion. (One person even told me that the GCEC members not only won’t be able to keep a copy of what they sign, but they’ll have to put away their phones, so no one can take a picture of the document to which they must attach their signatures to continue to serve on the GCEC!)
At this point, we can only pray.
Loren Seibold is a pastor, and the Executive Editor of Adventist Today