Time for a Family Meeting
by Dean Waterman
By Dean Waterman, April 15, 2014
I love my church, but just like any family member, I at times get very exasperated with our actions. The latest source of frustration is the expected/unexpected cancellation of the web-series The Record Keeper. By now many of you are probably aware of this series, the recent reluctance of the General Conference to move forward with production and release of the series, and the final press release through ANN this past week to account vaguely the series has been canceled due to “theologically inaccurate matters.”
Hence the source of my frustrations.
It’s 2014. An organization can’t just say they made such a controversial decision for a vague reason, they need to explain carefully, thoroughly, and respectfully why they have a made a decision that not only affects the director and writers of this series, but supporters of this project. Additionally, the series has been viewed by many in pre-release form and has found great acceptance, and even led to 50 baptisms in one church in Maryland, as documented by NAD Ministerial Associate, Dave Gemmell. All of these individuals have been blind-sided by this decision from the General Conference, and countless others will never feel the impact this series has had on so many thus far. To say the series, which has been guided by the hands of the GC, White Estate, and other individuals with influence in the church, is canceled for theological reasons is disingenuous and disrespectful to those who have put so much time into this project. To add further insult, while suspending this project, the General Conference has agreed to “explore the possibility of supporting similar creative outreach projects.” After this decision, and the lack of transparency in making it, I don’t think anyone would believe them.
I am old enough to be raised by parents who demanded obedience and who didn’t quite care for me questioning their authority. When I would ask them why they were demanding I do something, or why a particular decision had been made that I disagreed with, they would respond, “Because I am your parent and I said so.” That was to conclude the argument in our house (which I never quite took as a cue to be quiet) and to leave the distinct impression of who was in charge. I can’t use that same practice on my kids, ages 8 and 12, as they just aren’t buying it anymore. When my wife and I make a decision in our home, we need to explain what brought us to the decision, and what we feel the consequences would be if we had made the decision differently. Our kids don’t agree with it every time (okay, most of the time) and they still dialogue (complain) with us, but in the end they know what we struggled with in making the decision, and why we felt it was in the their best interest to decide as we did. Likewise today our culture and generations want the truth, and they can handle the truth. They might not like our decisions that affect them adversely, but they will respect us more for sharing how we came to that decisions.
I’ve been a part of the Adventist Church for 42 years. I have been a pastor for the church going on 10 years. While the culture in the world has changed, often times it feels the church has not. I am fully convinced the leadership of our church is sincere and desires to serve God to the best of their ability. Where the breakdown comes is when the church functions like 1950 in 2014. It appears tone-deaf at times, which frustrates my generation (Gen-X) and those younger than me. The process of decision making is done in committees, and at glacial speed. Things that seem obvious to the majority of us under 50, like women’s ordination, have required hundreds of hours of meeting time to arrive at conclusions we still generally disagree with and the general population considers outdated reasoning. The top-down model of leadership commissioned over 100 years ago seems very disinterested in what the local congregation and current generations have to say. Yes, there are invites given to young adults to share with church leadership, but the frustration mounts as those who take time to speak feel they were heard, but not listened to. The decision to suspend The Record Keeper series is the latest example of many voices speaking in unison, but church leadership not truly listening to what is being said.
If we are going to make strides as a church in keeping our generations under 50 connected, we need to do a much better job of hearing what they have to say. Conversely, those with passionate thoughts and opinions need to be kind in their conversation and understand the difficulty our leadership faces in trying to keep all people happy, all the time (Thank A. Lincoln).
My final conclusion, and request to our church leadership, is this: please take time to explain this decision about The Record Keeper. It’s time for a “family meeting.” Be deliberate, thorough, and transparent. Let us talk back with you in the process so we can dialogue and understand. This complicated, and seemingly unfair decision doesn’t make sense, but you as the leadership can help us make sense of it. If you don’t take time, quickly (within a few days would be nice), to share the thought process behind the suspension, you risk credibility with others who want to “think outside of the box,” as they won’t trust you ever again. Worse, and perhaps even more importantly, a generation of our church family will be left out of many other crucial conversations we must have. Either because they were frozen out or they walked out. I love my church family too much to see this be the final result. Like family, you may exasperate me, but I will stand by you through all of it.