Further Thoughts On Restructure of Our Divisions

This union of churches idea is interesting to me. It appears as though it simply eliminates the conference level and with it a lot of expense. There definitely seems to be an upside with what looks like a lot of cost savings.

However, I wonder about the ramifications of such a move. Will such a move effectively eliminate the voice of the layperson from directing the church. I mean now, the conference is elected by lay people and the workers in a conference. However, will eliminating the conference level leave those lay people, and workers who are not politically powerful, from the table of decision making? Is such a move the best?

It is true that the discussions and decisions have to be made on how this will work, but I do wonder about whether the average pastor and average lay person will have as much say in the leading of these Union of Churches and in the leading of their local conference.

For that reason alone, I wonder if the elimination of the Union level might be brought to the table as a cost saving device as well. How many of us even interact with out union officials. We do see the conference officials often, but the union? Division, GC?

I’m all for monetary savings and am not philosophically against restructure, but I do think we need to be very careful about how we consolidate power. If done in the wrong way, we will never be able to get it back.

The Conference Level And Re-Structure At General Conference 2010

I thought it interesting that the last Adventist News Network is reporting that

The revised Church Manual also introduces a glossary of frequently used terms, including a definition of “union of churches,” a church governance structure in which a group of local congregations reports directly to a union, eliminating the conference or mission level of administration. Delegates will approve several recently formed unions of churches at Session, as well as consider whether to expand the structure’s use.

As Samuele Thomas Sr. used to say when he preached…”Did you Get it? or Did You Miss it?”

Eliminating the Conference Level

Yes there seems to be talk about eliminating the conference level altogether. Now if you are a loyal reader of SabbathPulpit.Com, this would not have taken you by surprise. We talked about this four years ago in 2006. I discussed Harold Lee’s article on this page.

I talked about the annual council when this came up at this link. That article also has a pdf document of the different proposals for structural change.

In this article, I looked at 5 different options talked about in that document.

Finally, I talked about what structural change might mean for the regional (black) conferences at this link.

Well, it is here folks. There will be discussion about a so-called “union of Churches” which is simply a union conference. There is talk about eliminating the conference level.

Can We Afford Both Levels?

To be honest, I think that we can no longer afford nor do we need both the local conference and the union conference levels. It is a throwback to an earlier era. My only concern is that the members of the local church still retain its ability to affect and vote for its local leadership whether that be a “Union of Churches” or a “Conference.” This re-structuring cannot be a way to remove the ability of the member to participiate in the choosing of the direction of the local church and the level right above the local church.

But after having said that, there is a lot of duplicate leaders and offices that really need trimming. I mean do we really need a religious liberty director at the conference level? Don’t all the hard cases go up to the Union anyway? Do we really need the local conference Sabbath School leader? And if we do need both of them, how about a union leader and his staff, and then a conference leader and a regional conference leader if it is in the east. No we need restructuring.

I Hope This Is Not Simply A Power Grab

I suspect a lot of tentative decisions and discussions have taken place on this subject. It is my only hope that whatever happens, it will not amount to simply a power-grab by a few leaders, but it will be a principled decision for the good of our World Church by people at all levels of the church including the local conference and local church levels.

The Adventist Basics In Adventist Preaching

You know those who play Jazz music know of a concept of “standards.” These are the basic songs that you must know if you are to be an acceptable musician. They consist of old tried and true songs that have been passed down from generation to generation of musicians. Musicians don’t have to play it in exactly the same way, but they must know the “tunes” and be able to play them when called upon.

The last few months, I have been looking at some old sermon material that my father has showed me. Specifically they are the very old book Public Evangelism by J. L. Shuler published in 1939. In addition there is the book Evangelistic Methods: Step by Step by Fordyce Datamore published in 1957. And then there is God Made An Evangelist by E. E. Cleveland published in 1994.

These books primarily are “Evangelistic” sermons and methods for doing evangelism. Many of the principles are still being used, although modified, by evangelists today. There are a lot of things of interest in these materials to me, a seminary trained homilititian, and we will discuss these over time on the website.

Basic Sermons Passed Down

But one thing that was striking is the consistency of the sermons in the books. There were a number of basic sermons that seemed to be passed down from generation to generation of Adventist Evangelist. There were a few new sermons or different sermons, but in general they were the same sermons with only a change in sermon title and/or illustrations. Shuler even suggests that the great Adventist Evangelist should be always on the lookout to have modern and appropriate titles to “speak on the old-time truths of the message.”

Shuler’s Daniel 2 sermon was titled The Fate of Europe. This became simply titled “Daniel 2” by Datamore. Finally Cleveland gave it “The Great Prophetic Metal Man. Does He Live Today?” Shuler added other possible titles as “Seven Words That Changed History.” Those words were “They shall not cleave one to another.” And so on with other sermons like the Second Coming, Millennium, and State of the Dead.

Of particular interest was the Sabbath. Here evangelists would use titles like “What Day Should Christian’s Keep” and “The Missing Text” which goes through all the texts that refer to Sunday in the Bible. These sermons took on titles like Mary’s Mother’s Birthday and “The Father Didn’t, The Son Wouldn’t, The Apostles Couldn’t. Who Did.”

What is interesting though is that while the titles changed, the basic idea behind each of these sermon/lectures was a number of texts that would be presented to prove the validity of the claims of the Evangelist. These basic sermons were the “standards” or the “Adventist Basics” of the Adventist Evangelist. (note: Instead of using the term “standards” which has a specific meaning among Adventists, I will use the term “Adventist Basics” for understanding.)

Listen Over And Over Again

Daniel 2 had to be preached under whatever title. Daniel 7 had to be preached as well. The history of the papacy had to be preached. Revelation 12, 13, and 14 as well. These were the “Adventist Basics.”

And just like a jazz audience who have heard the standards over and over again, they never tire of hearing them. So the Adventist audience who have heard Daniel 2 wonder how the preacher will present it this time.

But the “standards” or “Adventist Basics” did not just include the books of Daniel and Revelation. In the 16 week meeting the preacher had to preach why the preacher accepts the Bible as the Word of God. There were also sermons on Family life like Cleveland’s “Marriage-The Secret to a Happy Home Life.” In addition, all of them had sermons on “confession, repentance, and forgiveness.”

Building The Framework of Adventism

These basic building block sermons were a solid part of the preaching in tents. They gave a solid foundational understanding of the framework of Adventism. However, in today’s world, 16 weeks 6 nights a week will not work. There are just too many nights. That meeting has been truncated to 5 weeks 4 nights a week. And thus many sermons had to be removed. Some of them were the standards. And thus now we are in an interesting position where these sermons that everyone had heard. Whether they agreed with the position or not, they at least have heard them. Now we have generations of Adventists who don’t know the “Adventist Basics.” They don’t know the basic Adventist argumentation. Now these “Adventist Basics” are hidden away in theological texts. Books like “1844 Made Simple” is simply an expansion of a Bible study that every Adventist had heard in the evangelistic meetings. It was an “Adventist Preaching Standard.”

I do not think that we can simply go back to the past. Neither do I think that we can or should attempt a 16 week, 6 night a week meeting in 2010, but we have to find a replacement for that meeting that will pass on the “Adventist Basics” to another generation.