A Dancing Treasurer, a Dynamic Panel Enliven NAD’s Year End Meetings — #NADYEM20

Who says Zoom meetings are boring? The North American Division packed some excitement into its Executive Committee sessions by addressing important societal issues, keeping their ministry reports short and to the point, and including multiple breakout sessions that gave delegates a chance to actually talk with each other.

Monday morning, NAD Treasurer Randy Robinson said if he were a dancing man, that’s what he would be doing given the tithe totals that he had to share. The year to date figures through September showed the Division’s 2020 tithe loss to be only 0.74%. Earlier in the year, when the pandemic closed churches and caused large scale unemployment, church leaders worried that tithe might go down 10 to 20%. But four of the nine unions actually showed a gain in tithe. It was indeed good news. As was the $10 million stimulus package that the Division put together for the local conferences that was matched by the unions. Employees at all levels of the Division were largely retained, Robinson said. “I stand in awe of the response from God and His people.” He also paid tribute to the institutional employees who were tremendously innovative in their response to the crisis.

Racism was the topic for a lively panel discussion Monday afternoon. Moderators Carolyn Forrest, NAD associate secretary and director of Human Relations, and Orlan Johnson, NAD director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, posed specific questions to the participants. The first went to Dr. Peter Bath, vice president of Missions and Ministry at Kettering Health, “How should the church in North America biblically respond to racial inequality? “Show up” was his response, and not just with words, with actions. He used Jesus as his biblical example. Jesus showed up with food for people, healing people.

The moderators responded, saying, “But we’re conservative.” Jeffrey Rosario, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge and speaker at Light Bearers, jumped into the discussion of what it means to be a true conservative. Noting he was the only millennial on the panel, he described conservatism as seeking to preserve something and being resistant to change. Preserving the Adventism of the past and thinking that prophecy is only about the future neglects the present, he pointed out, maintaining that to be a true conservative would call us to be original.

Dr. Bath reminded everyone that the early Adventists were abolitionists, that William Miller saw the “Babylon” of Revelation rooted in racial tension. Signs of the Times was originally an abolitionist publication. They were not just about being the remnant, they were more about the now of their time. He concluded with the familiar saying, “we don’t want to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.”

The moderators moved to a consideration of Adventist culture. Have we built the appropriate culture? Dr. Leslie Pollard, president of Oakwood University, critiqued the culture as being too individualized, as thinking we are done when we provide food and clothing. He saw the necessity for also asking why people are poor, advocating for them, and creating space for their voices to be heard.

Dr. Nicholas Miller, director of the International Religious Liberty Institute and professor of church history at the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University, agreed with Rosario’s emphasis on the present. He said that removing consideration of the present from our prophetic message had allowed our prophetic proclamation to go off the rails, to become part of white supremacy.

Dr. Ella Simmons, vice president of the GC, shared an experience she had some time ago, when at a church meeting, one of the elders told the group that we should do nothing for people, such as providing food or clothing, unless it leads to a decision to join the church. She said it hurt her to hear the statement and angered her. She admitted that there has been a little change since that time, but we need conversions to take place. “We need to find the humility and courage to be led by the Holy Spirit. To unlearn the lies we have incorporated into our culture.”

There was much more to say. Returning to a consideration of the Millennials and Generation Z, Rosario said young people don’t want to be part of a passionless church. Miller added that if I can’t speak to the issues of the day, then who needs the messages that I’ve got? (You can listen to the panel discussion by clicking here.)

Depression, another topic of significance to young people, was the focus of the report from the Health Ministries Department. Utilizing a video produced by Stanford University students called “The Manic Monologues” the issue became real as students told their stories of personally dealing with this mental health issue and the stigma that is often attached to it.

In one of the more ominous departmental reports, Gordon Bietz told the committee that he is very concerned by the long range enrollment trends in higher education which were on a downward trajectory even before COVID. He said that we must figure out ways to evolve while still maintaining our Adventist identity. He said sharing resources, loving institutions that are not in your union, and giving up parochial interests would be needed — as would collaboration. “We need a division-wide comprehensive plan.”

Paul Hopkins gave a report on one of the newest NAD departments — Big Data and Social Media. He said that setting up standards and guidelines was the first order of business. The department website, sdadata.org, also has information on how to start a YouTube channel from scratch, a checklist for using social media, and procedures to provide security for data.

AdventSource Director Brad Forbes told of free online courses and other resources available to local churches through AdventSource. He particularly highlighted the new discipleship curriculum “Deep Calling” created by Pastor Tara VinCross of the Azure Hills Church. A complete kit of materials is available featuring the eight calls of God to his people.

Information collected during the various breakout sessions, committee members were told, would be shared with the Division personnel as they reworked the Strategic Plan for final presentation in February. “We didn’t want to present you with a document and have you vote it without having your input,” President Alexander Bryant said.

To conclude the meetings, he turned to Luke 11:9, and God’s promise to answer when we ask, seek, and knock. He quoted Ellen White saying that when we are connected with Christ, we cannot fail. “Let’s ask for the Holy Spirit, and let’s go. We cannot fail.”

God’s church was meeting the moment in a thoughtful, inspiring fashion.

 

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Photo by Pieter Damsteegt, courtesy of the NAD on Flickr.

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10843

Quite honestly, I am astounded at the overt expressions of the desire and intention to maintain the status quo…in every area. Apparently our administrators (I refuse to use the tern ‘leaders’) believe everything is going to go back to just the way it was after the pandemic is over. Talk about having your head in the sand!!

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I love the image of Randy Robinson dancing! If you know Randy, he is about 9 feet tall. Give or take a few.

Let me say at the outset that I like and respect Randy. He is a very able leader.

I want to build on his words to highlight an aspect of our church culture that I find problematic. This story is that tithe has stayed stronger than expected during the pandemic. “It was indeed good news.”

While it is good news, it is also lopsided news. Leaders in the bureaucracy of the church always focus on tithe. Understandably. It is their financial reference point. It keeps all the bureaucratic boats afloat. Good tithe flows mean they don’t have to wrestle with hard decisions. They can keep on doing what they have been doing - which local congregations may not care about at all.

But tithe flows tell us virtually nothing about the financial health of local congregations or their ability to carry out mission in their communities.

There is such an intense focus on tithe flows that I am sick of it. This focus creates the impression that the bureaucracy/bureaucrats believe the only important role of the local congregation is to send tithe. As long as that happens, things are cool.

We should be clear about something. MISSION IS NOT CARRIED OUT BY THE BUREAUCRACY. THE BUREAUCRACY DOES NOT GENERATE A DIME OF MONEY, UNLESS IT IS INTEREST ON MONEY WE SENT THEM. THE BUREAUCRACY IS OVERHEAD EXPENSE. THE BUREAUCRACY SYPHONS OFF OUR RESOURCES TO GROW ITSELF. COUNT ON IT; IT IS THE VERY NATURE OF BUREAUCRACIES.

When was the last time you heard a report on the financial health and capabilities of local congregations? Never? Me too.

We are upside down!

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I wish I could see our leaders discuss transparency in finances and ways to open channels for voices from the pews to speak directly to leadership.

Out identity has changed. We do not often speak of ourselves as “the remnant” or address each other as Brother & Sisters. Sabbath keeping has been relaxed to included large variety of necessary employment. We no longer disfellowship members for divorce as was my Mother who was fired from employment in the RH and her membership dropped for divorce. What changes, for the good, will the future hold?

Is there anything more loving than to place a divorced woman in the position of being unemployed as well? Kicking her out of the church is horrible too.

What did she do after that, Frank?

On paper that looks good. But if tithes are generally used for the support of the ministry and ministers are being kept from ministering to members and seeking for lost souls because of COVID-19. How will the use of those tithe dollars bless the work of God in 2020 &2021?

Perhaps they will be invested in soaring markets with the hope of growing them for God’s work until it is time to spend them? If that should happen and the markets fail, the blessings will have been squandered.

From my understanding of Bible prophetic history, we are in the little time of trouble. The BIG TIME OF TROUBLE, is just ahead. I fear that my brothers and sisters do not know where we are in prophetic history. Thus, we may see huge financial looses in the church and among its members. What could be and should be to advance the cause of God may be hindered by Satan’s knowing that his time is shorter than we may think.

“…become part of white supremacy.”

Really? We should be careful in our use of language. What a loaded term to attach to the Church.

Dr Miller may have his own post modern broader definition of this term but the generally accepted slur involved is a step to far surely. Of course there have been and are racists within the church but occasional racist acts by individuals or inadvertent, casual or even unconscious bias shown by a dominant group within any society (something programmed into everyone’s DNA for community survival reasons), whilst it should be called out and resisted, is a far cry from lumping SDA’s into the KKK.

If we have changed our prophetic outlook from expecting last days persecution as the remnant for Sabbath observance reasons to being jailed for Charlottesville type rallies, please let me know.

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