by Loren Seibold, 30 October 2017        

As I expected, today was a much less stressful day at NADYEM, and I am delighted. That means I can quickly catch you up on a few happenings, and get a good night’s sleep!

Personal note: I had a Wednesday pastoral work day and evening meeting, a Thursday pastoral work day and evening meeting, “A Pale Horse Rides” on Friday night, two church services on Sabbath—and after that left in the dark and pouring rain to drive down to Maryland for these NAD meetings—all for you, dear readers, all for you! (Abandoning all subtlety I will just say: if you appreciate it, click here.)

Items to report from Monday’s meeting:

The SDA Seminary:

  • Jiří Moskala is probably the most personable seminary dean I’ve ever met. He seems to have a genuine love for helping pastors and is warm and optimistic and not stuffy. “The best years of the church are ahead of us,” he says.
  • There are over 1000 students in the seminary right now. About 440 of them are in the standard track of the M.Div. program for training pastors. Others are on chaplaincy or teaching tracks.
  • Dr. Moskala announced a curriculum revision, to be launched 2018-2019 that is responding to the needs expressed by the field.

In 2016 for the first time ever, the NAD passed 1 billion dollars in tithe. That “billion”. With a “b”. 

The Treasury & Retirement:

  • I like the NAD treasurer, Tom Evans: dry wit, approachable, and a good explainer. The main bit of information worth remembering: in 2016 for the first time ever, the NAD passed 1 billion dollars in tithe. That’s “billion”. With a “b”.
  • The other interesting thing about money: the NAD is gradually reducing the amount being sent to the rest of the world. It was 8% in 2012, and is gradually reducing to 5.25% by 2020.
  • Is that good? I’m not sure. To be blunt: parts of the world can get a 500 new Seventh-day Adventists for the amount of money we spend to get one. Gut punch truth: I haven’t seen much evidence that anyone has any really good ideas for robustly growing, in a sustained way, Adventist congregations in the NAD in this era. (Except for immigrants and babies. How about paying Adventist people to have bigger families?)
  • Did you know that the first sustentation program was started in 1910? It was a fund for helping widows, orphans, or those with a disability.
  • There are about 11,800 retirees on various church plans in the NAD. The peak of retirees participating in church retirement programs will come in 2025. Clearly, the division is anxious about what will happen between now and then.
  • Our retirement and medical plans are not fully funded. They’re intended to be funded by ongoing contributions.
  • Apparently, many church workers don’t save money. A new “auto escalation” clause will force pastors to increase the amount they put into savings for retirement.
  • (My own take: Carmen and I started saving in our 30s, and it’s the money we put aside then that has given us a good nest egg for retirement. I don’t think it’s impossible to save for retirement on a church paycheck.)
  • Mr. Jimenez of the retirement department claimed that “Americans are retiring later, dying sooner, and are more sick in between.” He said that half of Americans 65-69 are still working. He also presented compelling evidence that while Adventists as a whole are healthier than the general population, Adventist workers are not!
  • Juan Prestol (GC Treasurer) made a joke. “I realize that some of you are very bored right now. But to some of us, this is very exciting.” (Not to me, JP, not to me.)
  • Prestol talked, as he often does, about how currency crises in various parts of the world affect GC income. Places in economic crisis, like the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, can’t move or transfer money. Exchange rates—a strong dollar—are devastating.

Gut punch truth: I haven’t seen much evidence that anyone has any really good ideas for robustly growing, in a sustained way, Adventist congregations in the NAD.

  • Juan Prestol: “It is true in the Adventist church that ‘Your hand is in my pocket, and my hand is in your pocket.’ That is almost as much ours as is the sanctuary doctrine. When it is no longer there, we don’t know how to manage.”
  • He hopes that the strong markets will last to the end of the year.
  • The Review & Herald property in Hagerstown has been a bust: thought it was worth $30 to $40 million, but now probably closer to $11 million. 

A motion:

  • That the NAD establish an advisory committee to deal with matters of membership retention. Passed

Nominating committee:

  • NAD nominating Committee brought the recommendation that Tony Anobile (Pacific Union Conference officer) become VP for Multilingual Ministries for the NAD. Passed.

NAD Auditing

  • Report from NAD Auditing: You’ll remember that at the GC, 81% of the audits showed non-standard (auditor-speak for bad accounting and record-keeping) audits. The NAD figure for last year is 77%—a bit better. Most common auditing error? “Misstatement of property, plant and equipment.” No, I’m not quite sure what that means, either.

Adventist Review

  • Report from Bill Knott and the Adventist Review staff. “We believe that the Advent movement is poised to be remarkable.” Bill and team introduced new initiatives from the Review in marketing and logistics, children’s ministry (KidsView), ARTV on-demand video platform, internet UX (user design experiences), news, and a new Adventist Review delivery system.
  • The Review will be combined with a “wrap around” magazine for the NAD called Journeys, for regional identity.
  • (Seems like we may be seeing some redundancies. Can one have too much communication? Too many magazines and websites? What’s the difference between this and what the union mags, for example, are doing?)
  • Comment from a man sitting near me: “Did you notice that this is all couched in evangelistic language, but it is all ‘inreach’?”

Communications

  • Dan Weber on GC communications: We have 70 separate logos in the NAD alone. Now we’re moving to a coordinated branding strategy. By 2020 everything will be designed according to the GC’s design guidelines. Even new fonts, one called “Advent Sans.” Yes, really.
  • Observation: Why are we so fascinated by fonts and logos when there are serious foundational challenges, like whether we’re still relevant to Western culture?

Church Planting

  • José Cortez Jr. on church planting: Texas planted 21 churches, Ohio comes in second with 7. Church planting funded to the tune of $2,550,000, with $1,000,000 coming from the NAD budget.
  • There will be a boot camp for church planters in FL next year, in August.

Adventist World Radio

  • Report by Duane McKey and associate about Adventist World Radio. It was mostly about doing evangelism (much of it overseas) including giving Bible studies with your cell phone. 

Multi-ethnic Ministry

  • Ernie Castillo: report on multi-ethnic ministry. There are 15 ministry groups in the US. His goal is 15,000 small groups meeting in the NAD.

Education

  • Larry Blackmer on education: “No one has ever been cured by an autopsy.” I’m not sure that’s true, Larry—a lot has been learned in autopsies that saved other lives. 
  • NAD has a $29 million budget for education, most of which goes out to the field.
  • Why do we send our children to Adventist schools? So that they know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? No! says Larry. So that they stay in the Adventist church. He shows how much stronger the bond is for those who attended SDA schools: 4x more likely to attend church regularly, 2x more likely to stay in the church and pay tithe, 3x more likely to marry another Adventist.
  • “Adventist education is evangelism.” Evangelism makes by definition 1st generation Seventh-day Adventists. Education evangelizes for a 2nd and 3rd generation. (I’m a grateful recipient of Adventist education.)
  • Larry: “We have opened a new academy every year in the NAD for the past 15 years.” (Man sitting next to me mutters: “Yeah, but how many did we close?”)

As I hear all of this stuff being discussed, I keep wondering how much it matters to the churches in the NAD?

Take the many resources being developed. I look from one year to the next for evidence that these resources are breaking through to the laypeople. I don’t see a lot. 

I apologize for being a broken record on this matter. (My church school children asked me, when I used that cliche, “A broken what, pastor?”). But here it is: millions upon millions upon millions being spent, and doing church in Zanesville, Ohio isn’t much different than it was 30 years ago.

I sometimes think there’s too much to choose from, and not enough simple, practical resources being put to work. For example, when I have someone who’s interested in the church, I’m still turning to the envelope of Bible study lessons I’ve been using for 30 years. And they still work great! Is there something better? Probably. But I’m not up to date on how to fit it into my program, and most of my laypeople aren’t, either.

I am in awe of the talents of these people at the NAD. The production values of the communication tools are amazing. Lots of money being invested. Lots of enthusiasm. The leaders of the departments are fully committed and sincere and all around amazing people. I love ’em.

But I have my doubts if much of it is making it down to the congregations. Or maybe it’s that congregations don’t know what to do with the many, many resources available. Who’s fault is that? Are the conference presidents supposed to be taking it back to their pastors, who should be promoting it in their churches? How are these things being marketed? Is there market testing or means testing? Does anyone ask the masses of small churches what they need?

I think this is worth thinking about. Do you? Let’s discuss this in the comments.


Loren Seibold is a pastor in Ohio, and Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

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