by AT News Team
Three of the most influential pulpits in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America are in the process of losing the current senior pastor. Pastor Mic Thurber at the Keene (Texas) Church, Pastor Tim Mitchell at the Pacific Union College Church in Angwin (California) and Pastor Alex Bryan at the University Church in Walla Walla (Washington) are all leaving their leadership of three of the largest congregations in the denomination.
Bryan has been recommended by the search committee to become the new president of Walla Walla University, the institution where his church is located. He is willing to serve, according to members of the church who have talked with him, and the chairman of the university’s governing board, Pastor Max Torkelson wants him to take the position. Some board members may question his lack of previous service in educational administration, but many observers doubt that will make a difference.
Pastor Jim Pedersen, the president of the Northern California Conference, announced in his May 31 weekly letter that Mitchell “has accepted a teaching position at Mountain View Academy,” noting that he has served the college church for nearly ten years. Spectrum, the journal published by the Association of Adventist Forums, the largest organization of Adventist academics, has reported that Mitchell will be campus chaplain for the 12-grade school. He lived and pastored in the Silicon Valley before going to Angwin, so he is returning to a community well known to him. A number of the families with children in the academy knew him as their pastor when they were young.
Sabbath, June 19, after his sermon, Thurber read a short statement to his congregation on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University. “The Texas Conference administration has decided that this is the time for a transition in the leadership of this church,” he stated. “The announcement … was stunning,” reported the Keene Star a few days later. Thurber attributed the decision to the fact that he and his wife “are finishing up our tenth year of service to this church.”
He also stated that the Texas Conference leadership has given the couple as long as it takes to find the right call to a new ministry. Thurber is 57 and, according to the Keene Star may have up to a year to make a transition. The newspaper noted that he has deep roots in the Keene community, living there has a child and being baptized as an early teen in the Keene Church. He was pastor of the Pacific Union College Church before he came to Texas and Mitchell started at PUC. Jana Thurber is an associate pastor for counseling and pastoral care.
Members of the church phoned the local newspaper with complaints that the Texas Conference administration had not consulted with the elders or the church board. Pastor Carlos Craig, the conference president, did not return calls from the newspaper so they published no comment from him. “We are grateful to the conference leadership for giving us ample time,” Thurber stated.
Adventist Today has found no evidence that the three changes are linked. It is likely that they all came at the same time because this is the beginning of the summer when families and schools often make transitions. In two cases the pastors have served in their current role for ten years, and it is widely believed by Adventist clergy in their generation that the pressures of internal politics build up at about that point to a level that causes leaders to want to move on.
“That may have as much to do with perception as reality,” one veteran ministerial leader told Adventist Today. “At least we now have pastors regularly staying in a congregation that long instead of moving every two or three years.” Research has demonstrated that Adventist pastors are generally more effective after they’ve been in a congregation or district for more than five years.