Richland Washington Church Follows “God’s Initiatives”
By Debbonnaire Kovacs, April 6, 2017 Every year the Richland, Washington Seventh-day Adventist church meets together in the fall for a visioning process that will inform their ministry during the coming year. Len Harms, whose title is Executive Pastor/Head Elder, described this process for me: After lunch, and after both group and individual prayer, each table of eight people identifies three to seven ways they believe “they see God working in a very obvious, conspicuous way.” A master list is created, with duplicates from different groups noted. In successive rounds of prayerful voting, the top three or four items become the next year’s ministry objectives.
Harms added, “Just to be clear – this is not a brainstorming session. This is a time we intentionally let the Holy Spirit lead in the process of impressing our minds of where we see God working so we can join Him instead of asking Him to join us. The results are amazing. Almost to a table the same final items surface. It now has become God’s plan, not ours – the security of knowing we’re on the right wavelength with Him is huge. So – that’s the core of our purpose and we don’t have to explain ourselves to anybody about why we do what we do – because it’s God’s plan.”
How, then, are these ministry objectives accomplished?
Harms explained, “There are seven ministries [see below]… Each Ministry functions under a Ministry Director. The directors make up the ‘core leadership’ team.” Harms said directors build their own ministry teams and meet monthly as the MCC – Ministry Coordinating Council.” This MCC is chaired by the senior pastor, Sergio Manente, and includes associate pastors and the head elder.
Pastor Manente’s role is key, but possibly not in the way some churches would expect. Associate pastor Fred Brunkhorst described Manente to me as “dynamic and leadership-oriented,” saying that he does a lot of training and presentations on leadership both within and outside the church. Clearly this is another pastor who sees his job as equipping the people, not doing all the work himself. And work they do. Here is a rundown of the seven ministries, with their leaders.
- Mosaic—Doug Jones. When I reached out to ministry team leaders, he is one of the first who got back to me, and it turns out that he is doing a series highlighting one core ministry leader each month on Vimeo. Here is the link to his own description of the Mosaic ministry, which is especially for the next generations—(all of them, X, Y, Z, and beyond.) This will take you to the church Vimeo page, where you can also find short videos on some of the other leaders below. Mosaic also has a Facebook page here.
- Worship—Jesse Lopez. Brunkhorst says he is also particularly reaching out to next generations in all-inclusive worship.
- Children and Youth—Amy Busto.
- Administration—Steve Bork. He gives his team’s goals as supporting onsite ministries with an “attractive, well maintained, functional venue” and ensuring planning and funding for all ministries.
- Member Nurture—Bob Howard, named to me as a long-time mentor and visionary for many other leaders within the church.
- Outreach—Terrance Taylor, part-time associate pastor.
- Discipleship—Keeni Mitchell.
Two-year member Lorraine Wilson told me that this unusual way of organizing the church was one of the things which first struck her. She believes it is much more effective for each ministry leader to build his or her own team, rather than having a nominating committee choose them. “The ministry leaders seem very empowered,” she said. “Whatever idea they have, pretty much, they can do.” She added, “We’d been there just a short time when, real casually, one of the ladies walked up and said, ‘What do you like to do? What is your ministry?’”
This was a drastic change from the church experiences Wilson and her husband, Richard, were coming from. They are retired church school teachers who returned to their home area in southeastern Washington State, where they taught for 27 years. She described the churches in her own area as “small deteriorating churches” which they “couldn’t face” attending, and said the one they attended before their move was “horribly toxic.”
“So we started searching the tri-cities [Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, WA] area about thirty miles away. We have been totally delighted with our choice of Richland SDA Church. The church is full of young people, filled to near capacity most weeks and involved in multiple ministries.”
She and her husband reached out to a local Adventist friend who had not been attending church because of her own discouraging experiences. They took her to Richland, and she fell in love with the church as well.
She told me of ministries that aren’t necessarily on the church’s website: a sports ministry that takes people to games, a “guy who has a hiking ministry,” and one outreach that involves a public school across the street from the church.
“Somebody went to them and asked them, ‘How can we be of service to you? You’re our neighbors, and we’re here, so what can we do?’”
From that evolved tutoring, breakfasts for children, follow-ups with families, and even Christmas parties and picnics.
Wilson said, “We have not been there long enough to know all that has gone in to building this organization but we do know folks that have been part of the process.”
One of these people who were “part of the process” is Fred Brunkhorst. He has been a member of the Richland church for 40 years, and said he has seen a “dramatic change. Young families with children are calling this church their home. Millennials are getting involved and taking leadership positions. ‘You don’t have to believe to belong’ and ‘You can come as you are’ is an understood mindset. Here at Richland we are not just members of a church, we are a family of believers that support each other as we individually seek a relationship with Jesus Christ. And in doing so, we are stepping out of the box and becoming the individuals that God has created us to be. I have concluded that BEING the church is no longer confined within these four walls. Our community is fertile soil. ‘The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good and ministered to their needs.’ [A quote from Ellen White.] This is my home, this is my family,” Brunkhorst concluded.
His opinion is that the change began 12 years ago with former pastor Eric Shadle, who “brought a new way of thinking and a new level of involvement with the community.” [Adventist Today ran a feature two years ago on Shadle’s cross-country bicycle ride to raise awareness and funds for diapers for needy families. Unfortunately, I am unable to find it in our archives, but you can see how he might challenge a church’s business-as-usual thinking. They now have what Wilson called “a humongous diaper bank.”]
Brunkhorst told me he himself had taken a long journey through some serious health challenges, beginning two years into his marriage and including multiple sclerosis and two cornea transplants. This journey, he said, changed his life, and strengthened his relationship with God and with his family, which he said is stronger now.
Then, about the time of Shadle’s arrival and just in time for Brunkhorst’s 50th birthday, he was laid off from his job at a local nuclear plant. “Since I was without a job, I got to working at the church. Then Eric came, and we just kind of partnered up.”
Brunkhorst became a Bible worker and the church hired him as assistant pastor to Shadle. “We seemed to complement each other. He’s more the go-getter, I’m more the shepherd. The Lord started blessing, and we had a lot of new young families coming.”
He admitted they did have “an exodus” of people who didn’t like the change and left. But he says “one thing has transpired; I began to find myself out of the box. Being more Christ-centered, more focused on the gospel, reaching the unchurched. We focus on that even with the sermons. We are very conscious of non-Adventists or non-Christians who might be in the pews.” Brunkhorst also expressed his gratitude to having a church which loves him and even pays his salary, which comes directly from the church, not the conference.
I asked if he knew how the change in church organization happened and he told me that was several years earlier, when previous pastor Keith Hanson and the church were at a retreat at Upper Columbia Conference Camp Mivoden. They did some work on spiritual gifts and began organizing their ministries around the gifts church members had. From that came the seven-ministry model they have today.
The newest pastor, Sergio Manente, has only been at Richland about a year. Brunkhorst described him and his wife as “a phenomenal couple. God brought people who fit this church just the way we are. He doesn’t want to change us; he wants to take us to the next level. That’s what we had been praying for.”
Manente said that when he arrived he was “immediately impressed with how active and eager the congregation was.” He wanted to “keep the flame alive,” so he led the team in a several-month process to determine the WHY of their ministry because, “[k]nowing our ‘WHY’ will provide the courage, the motivation and inspiration to step out of our comfort zone and engage in fresh, new approaches that will lead us to dream God-sized dreams and attempt God-sized endeavors. So here is our “WHY:”
We believe Jesus enriches your life beyond your imagination, therefore our purpose is to accept like Jesus, serve like Jesus and love like Jesus.
Manente went on to say, “The most flattering remark we receive is: ‘Your church is so genuinely loving and intentional about everything.’ I think that about sums it up; that is what excites me about serving this church as pastor. Our slogan is ‘Come as you are, leave inspired.’”
Another name Lorraine Wilson mentioned to me was Bob Howard. “Every time I turn around I hear his name as a mentor,” she told me. She said that when a woman wanted to start a women’s ministry, it was Howard who mentored her, helping her organize the ministry, get it off the ground, and keep it successful.
Today, Howard is the leader of the Member Nurture Ministry, which includes the social committee, the visitation ministry, and the women’s ministry. One of “God’s initiatives” for 2017 is to restart a men’s ministry which has been inactive; I suspect that will be under Member Nurture’s umbrella, too.
When I contacted Howard, his response was telling:
“There is not a better feeling on this earth than knowing that you are part of an organization helping people grow closer to Jesus. From visitors to long time members, Member Nurture is focused on building relationships with each other and ultimately, with our Lord and Savior. This is accomplished mainly via the intentional efforts of the many Member Nurture groups (or sub ministries) … Just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Photo: Senior Pastor Sergio Manente tells a story.
Innovators graphic by Lauren Smith Design