By Rebecca Murdock  |  20 July 2018  |

In Jim Collins’ business book, Good to Great, he makes the simple but profound assessment that “Key, talented people bail out of a company when they are dispirited by their inability to get top management to deal with the facts.” Collins presents the cases of companies that confronted facts about their failures, made a 180-degree turnaround, and are thriving companies today, such as Walgreens, Kimberly-Clark, and Kroger. He contrasts them with companies that ignored uncomfortable facts about customer complaints, safety regulations, or changing needs of their clientele, only to close their doors in bankruptcy later. His examples include failed companies such as the Eckerd Corporation, A&P, and Addressograph. And indeed, I’d never heard of any of them.

Learning that this simple concept is one of the fundamental strategies that can make or break a great institution is fascinating. Acknowledging truth and doing something about it sounds so ridiculously simple. Like something you’d be taught in Primary Sabbath School. Yet, as can be seen by the many institutions that have closed their doors and faded into anonymity, it’s sometimes easier to embrace your demise than to face the facts.

Collins’ words hit home as I watch person after person slip out the backdoor of the Adventist denomination after failing to receive acknowledgement that something isn’t working. Increasingly, people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, young people, clergy members, single mothers, divorced people, professors, theologians, and others find that their complaints and concerns are silenced and that their ethnicities, genders, identities, or consciences are ignored or even deemed out of compliance by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Do We Need Them?

You might say, is this truly detrimental? Perhaps it is that they are not “key, talented people,” and the “company” would be better off without them? Perhaps the culture wars we are currently experiencing would be eliminated if we removed those with a different worldview? Perhaps we believe the purpose of the “company” would be more focused, without their distractions or side agendas detracting from our main mission?

And perhaps all of those things would be true, if only our company mission were something other than reaching people from all tongues and nations. Because being in the “people business,” means that when we lose people, trust, or buy-in to our mission, we are creating our own demise.

In the interest of seeking truth, it might be time to confront some hard facts—not with an attitude of dismissal or defensiveness, but with a hope to understand, grow, and be a better company of believers in the future.

  • If we really are a global church, renowned for our diversity, why do our members of color feel the need to speak out against Euro-centric Adventism and practices?
  • If we really need everyone to finish the work, why are the talents of women and youth often excluded from the administrative table?
  • If one of our highest principles is education, why are professors and theologians who explore outside of current beliefs deemed heretical?
  • If we have some of the best educational systems in America, why are we struggling so much with low enrollment?
  • If stewardship is one of our main doctrines, why are our employees underpaid, overworked, and burnt out?
  • If embracing spiritual gifts is important to us, then how come our young adults must often resort to taking their new ideas and talents into the public sector?
  • If we believe that our church is meant to minister to individuals, how come so many individuals feel most hurt by the church community?

As painful as these questions might be, they are real and problematic, and they need to be carefully evaluated if we plan to continue as a sustainable, relevant, and valuable institution to our local communities.

Living in Paradox

At the end of his chapter on “Confronting the Brutal Facts,” Collins adds that the best companies lived in a paradox of both confronting the brutal facts, and never losing faith in their ability to endure them and come out the other side, better for it. Despite the painful, uncomfortable process of listening, observing, and absorbing feedback, what the companies did with said feedback was of the utmost importance to their success in regaining the trust, buy-in, and loyalty of its members.

I haven’t lost faith in the church’s ability to confront these issues, work through them in careful partnership with its diverse member group, and come out the other side, a better community for it. However, it will take an acknowledgment from leaders that we have yet to hear. Whether the church chooses to confront the facts and work through them remains to be seen, but I believe it will be the difference between a lasting Adventist legacy to the world, and another closed church on the corner.

 Rebecca Murdock currently lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan and is working on her M.A. in Theological Studies at the Andrews University Seminary. She is interested in the areas of leadership, philosophy, culture, politics, and interfaith dialogue, and works with the Andrews University Seminary Studies journal and Undergraduate Leadership Program on campus. She and her husband, J. Murdock, will return to ministry in the Rocky Mountain Conference.  

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