Adventism at the Crossroads — Part 2

In my previous article entitled “Adventism at the Crossroads" (Part 1), in a provocative way I argued for the need for fundamental changes in the way church is done. This argument was informed by and in response to the disruption that COVID-19 has brought about in every aspect of our lives. Of course, most of Adventism is still in denial, such that whatever arrangements we have put in place, there is a sense that these are temporary, for a day is coming when COVID-19 shall be no more and church will return to what it was.

In this article, I candidly explore other areas with more focus on the structural implications of COVID-19 on Adventism and what could be our response to the changing context. But as much as COVID-19 has opened a world of opportunities for us, the greatest obstacle to change in Adventism is Adventism itself. We are and have always been a “waiting people.” It is our own addiction to the “Adventist way” of doing things, our obsession with ritual, uniformity and standardization, our fixation with policies and procedures, our inordinate love for the church building that may potentially deflate any attempt toward change. To expect that the General Conference, unions, conferences, and local church leadership will easily depart from what they are used to is a huge ask. Thus, the answer lies in members and leaders who through honest conversation at various levels can begin in simple ways to embrace a new way of “churching.”

Handing back the conversation

With the church building ceasing to be the primary center of worship, COVID-19 has ignited a more pronounced “conversation culture” among Adventists across the world. More than ever, Adventists are now more connected and engaging in conversations on anything across borders. This borderless church which is growing organically means the church is unable to regulate or influence what conversations members are having. A typical Sabbath in many churches was characterized by a marathon of programs from 9 a.m. until evening with a fixed agenda and no space for members to honestly engage on issues important to them. If ever there were questions, these were either left hanging, casually responded to, or not entertained. But with COVID-19, following the eruption of the Black Lives Matter Movement, members are gradually engaging in difficult conversations about race, identity, gender, social justice, church organization, and other contemporary issues that affect them openly.

The agenda is now in the hands of the members who through exposure and exchange are revisiting and revaluating old positions. This is significant. It places a challenge at the doorstep of leaders to engage and provide answers to these issues. Admittedly, some of the conversations are difficult and uncomfortable, but to dismiss them as baseless attacks on the church, trivial or non-salvific, is disingenuous and has serious implications for the young who are active members of the borderless church. I recall a few months ago coming across a recorded discussion on YouTube[i] on whether tithe is biblical and relevant for our time. Initially, I thought the panelists could not be Adventist because in my limited exposure I assumed that tithing issues are a done deal, and there is relatively not much to discuss. After listening for a few minutes to opening remarks from each panelist, I was dumbfounded. The depth, the nature of questions, got me unsettled and thinking of some of the difficult conversations that I had seen online among Adventists. Indeed, COVID-19 has not only handed back the Sabbath to members, but brought in a whole new experience in Adventist conversation.

The borderless church

Reflecting on the borderless church, our concept of church membership and attendance is now in disarray. Adventists now have the liberty to attend and engage in conversations across borders. There is an exchange and cross fertilization of ideas sweeping across Adventism and very soon questions that appeared to be obvious and settled will resurface as people seek a more contextual application. Regurgitating our fundamental doctrines is no longer enough; these doctrines should speak to the situation that the world is facing. With the borderless church, not only is the agenda unregulated, but new connections are formed as members across the world coalesce around issues that matter to them.

Instead of seeing this as a threat to church life, we must appreciate that the future church will not be about proximity but more influenced by genuine connections, open conversation, and relationships. In a sense, church leaders need to admit that they have lost control. Online churches have made church very fluid with exposure to diverse views and theology. The kind of loyalty associated with a particular church name or congregation is fading as options for church have increased. This means the church needs to brace for a possibility that some members will never come back. Church attendance will either drastically fall or become erratic as members embrace the idea that Sabbath worship does not need a church building or rigid program script. In parks, under trees, at home, and in unusual places church will happen. However, for some, church will be more for fellowship than anything else. Post COVID-19, leaders need to brace themselves for fluidity in attendance, especially among the young whose quest is no longer for doctrinal correctness only, but for engagement and genuine community.

Shut down or reshape

Church leaders occupy a special place in the life of the local Adventist church. Beyond the role of being administrators some have evolved into custodians of routine, guardians of orthodoxy, and facilitators of the Sabbath experience. For leaders, the church building becomes an important place where they exert efforts to deliver a memorable Sabbath experience. On the other hand, members trust that leaders will do all that is possible to give them a reason to attend. This reduces church to an event, a venue where they go to get something rather than a gathering of believers to give, connect, and engage. Departmental leaders join in to compete for space and attention on the church calendar to also “feed the flock.”

Now that COVID-19 has made it difficult for churches to congregate, many departments at local church, conference, union, and General Conference levels are paralyzed. Their planned programs were designed under the assumption that members can congregate in a building. Now there is a struggle to find relevance through online platforms, or some are simply waiting for that glorious day when COVID-19 will be history. The many departments set up over the years in response to the growing needs of the church are now unable to function. Since their life was centered around people gathered in a church building, which won’t be possible for a long time, the issue to consider is whether there is need to shut down some of these or reshape them to meet the needs of the hour?

Instead of filling all the local church positions stipulated in the Church Manual, churches could consider “shutting down” or merging ones which are no longer relevant and functional. This will enable directing of resources toward the real needs, realigning mission and efforts to the current situation. The same approach can be cascaded to conferences and unions where we need to reprioritize, redefine their roles, and direct efforts where the needs are. I foresee local church pastors, elders, and deacons increasingly taking on the new Testament model of roving deacons like Phillip, rather than waiting for members to come to the church building. The proliferation of home worship and small groups should not be seen as a threat, but instead an opportunity for leaders to go out to meet people — an approach that will inculcate deeper connection.

Reoriented Mission

It is quite refreshing that the General Conference launched a global mission initiative (“I Will Go”).[ii] But how aligned is it to the barriers and opportunities we now face in the context of COVID-19? Our concept of mission has traditionally largely focused on evangelistic campaigns characterized by bringing people to a certain venue (hall or tent) so that we preach to them. This is now a hard sell as fears around COVID-19 compound the situation. How then should we do mission at a time when there is a lot of competition for attention from our target audience? Online platforms are congested, so much is happening, and to use them for mission purposes requires a fundamental shift. This entails an overhaul of our approach to mission covering both the methodology and the content.

Today, our platforms have more sermons than anything, and the language and content is all Adventist. Some of the presentations are replete with criticism of other denominations, loaded with “adventese” or Adventist terminology like spirit of prophecy, investigative judgment, our pioneers, the lost, three angels’ messages, etc., which are not only exclusive but may sound condescending to those who are not Adventist. Much of what is available on Adventist platforms is “cringe-worthy” and potentially repulsive for someone without exposure to Adventism. Our world now requires us to shift from being doctrine-centered, proving the correctness of our position, to being more practical, relevant, and relationship-orientated.

How do we move from an intellectual conquest approach to mission to attracting people to Christ for who He is? Could it be that we need more presentations on topics that speak to issues communities are contending with, such as running educational classes for kids in places where schools have been closed for a long time? Such topics may appear secular but go a long way in connecting with people by talking about things that matter to them in language they understand. Sermons have their place, but in excess they can portray an insensitive detachment from reality. It’s high time Adventism starts genuinely paying attention to things that matter to people not as a church program or a way to ambush them with our doctrines.

Refreshed priorities

A related question is on whether we need to continue spending millions on large church buildings as centers of worship? In the global North this has been a recurring discussion, but in the global South this is now more relevant where resources are limited. If we are returning to the New Testament model of more home churches, then the location and purpose of our church buildings needs redefinition. We need more community friendly spaces where there is more equipping, more connection, more rehabilitation, and less sermonizing.

Since COVID-19 has meant less opportunities for our esteemed pulpit celebrities in the form of preachers, musicians, and “certified” teachers, mission is now in the hands of everyone in their small corners of influence. The challenge is finding ways to do it like Jesus by going where the people are rather than ambushing them in a church building. Maybe COVID-19 has come to disrupt our obsession with the church building so that we occupy our rightful place in the community! Sadly, many have been adversely affected by COVID-19, from job losses, to illness and death of loved ones, but what greater opportunity for Adventists to reconfigure and be more responsive. Our churchy concerts, seminars, retreats, weeks of “xyz” had their place and time, but now we need more resources geared toward adding value to the communities around us. Youth and children’s ministries, both vital arms of the church, seem to have lost their compass in the face of COVID-19. The passing of each Sabbath betrays a sense of defeat among us and if I were a prophet I would say, “a revival of true innovation is the most urgent of all our needs, to facilitate this should be our first work!”

In all this, our conferences, unions, and divisions have also entered the virtual space by running services. As much as they benefit from a wider Adventist audience, they have the net effect of crowding out local church initiatives. The question is whether such an investment is necessary — why not equip churches with the resources and tools to effectively operate in the new normal? These administrative structures have in the past played an oversight role, but with the local church dispersed into smaller groups, what is the role of these multiple layers? The worry has been on reduction in tithe remittance which is normal especially with job losses and uncertainty. Our emphasis on stewardship in the current situation should be sensitive to the effects of COVID-19. It should balance between the needs and welfare of church workers but also ploughing back into local churches, assisting them to set up media ministries, sustaining collapsing projects, defraying local expenses, and more importantly supporting local welfare initiatives. What is worrying is that in some parts of the world the church structures would rather enter into unnecessary legal battles to address internal disputes but fail to support churches, communities, and members affected by COVID-19! Indeed, we need innovative approaches to ensure that our stewardship approach does not appear narcissistic or cannibalistic but more responsive to emerging needs among members.

The changes I am provoking do not need a General Conference Session to take place. It is upon local churches, pastors, and their leaders to prayerfully start where they are. Let open conversations begin on how to seize COVID-19 as an opportunity to sharpen and refocus Adventism for effective mission. I agree some of the propositions are radical and ambitious, but nevertheless necessary and refreshing to engage in.

The answers will not come from Silver Spring but locally where we all are members — context is key! Instead of investing time and resources in more uniformity and standardization, on the contrary, there is need for more letting go, decongesting Adventism to make it more contextually relevant for mission. As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step: one small change will have a ripple effect across all the spheres of church life given the level of interconnectedness in everything Adventist.

That Adventism is in need of a paradigm shift is indisputable, but the question is who has the WILL to make it SO? May the words in Luke 16:8 not find fulfilment in us: “… the people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than the people who belong to the light.”


Notes & References:


[i] “Is tithe biblical or relevant for our time?”



Further Reading:

Adventism at the Crossroads — Part 1


Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana where he is a humanitarian and development professional.

Photo by Raul Petri on Unsplash


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Moving forward - to the beginning; or “back to the future”, like the marquee advertised.

Finally the church invisible is making itself felt. Like the first Christians knew, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands. AND, The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. (Acts.)

There’s a sign in front of a church since the pandemic hit - “Church is open - the building is closed”.


Excellent ideas, now to go forward with them!!


I find it ironic that our local, rural congregation, having been very much nurtured and mission driven, with women providing much of the impetus, is finding itself even more so being guided, nurtured, and shepherded by the women of the church as it reshapes its programs and mission to the new reality of Covid-19.

Yes, the male pastor, is still active with the congregation but on an even more limited basis than he had been, what with his responsibilities for more than one congregation, but other than that, the church hierarchy; the conference, union conference, the NAD, and the GC are becoming increasingly redundant in their importance to the local membership and mission. This seems to be a very good development in my opinion. Maybe the sinkhole congregations have been pouring their money into for generations can finally be paved over and forgotten.


The function of Church is to be a “shule”, a school, where Pastors, using the Harkness method, are facilitators of learning, practical Christian living skills, and theology.


First, these two articles by Admiral Ncube are brilliant and right on the money. I suspect that we laypersons who feel this way will have to drag the bureaucracy kicking and screaming in the directions suggested in the articles.

Admiral is exactly right: “Of course, most of Adventism is still in denial, such that whatever arrangements we have put in place, there is a sense that these are temporary, for a day is coming when COVID-19 shall be no more and church will return to what it was”
Ncube said, “Our world now requires us to shift from being doctrine-centered, proving the correctness of our position, to being more practical, relevant, and relationship-orientated.” If we could make that one paradigm shift, it would transform out fellowship.


Thank you Admiral Ncube. You have articulated what many of us have felt. Now, what’s next?


This has been my church experience for years.
Ie in particular a supportive SS class where the official lesson is sometimes utilised but mostly not and anything is up for discussion.


Does that not paint Adventism with too broad a brush?

“It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history, and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as the common sinner…” {GCB, July 1, 1900 par. 7}

We have little enough of Christ’s character. We need it all through our ranks, We must reveal that love which dwelt in Jesus. Then we shall keep the commandment [that we love one another], which not one in a hundred of those who claim to believe the truth for this time are keeping. . . . {7MR 389.3}


At times, when a small group of men entrusted with the general management of the work have, in the name of the General Conference, sought to carry out unwise plans and to restrict God’s work, I have said that I could no longer regard the voice of the General Conference, represented by these few men, as the voice of God. {GW 490.1}

Thus, comes the danger of forming friendships that are too social and not heavenly good.
We can fall out of either side of the boat if not cautious and prayerful in our efforts.

we are held accountable by the Lord for making the most of our opportunities to enlighten those in need of present truth. And one of the principal agencies He has ordained for our use is the printed page. In our schools and sanitariums, in our home churches…–Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 86, 87.

I must admit that I had to look that up. I agree that it looks like a great teaching method. We use it in our Sabbath School class–without knowing the name.
If people are sitting in church, we have a lecture environment.
If the same people sit around a table (round if possible), we have a conference environment where there is a lot more interchange of ideas.
If the table is removed, with people in a circle with no barrier between, we can get down to the emotional level.

I am more familiar with the 5Es method of teaching.

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All things change naturally, opposing change is unhealthy, unnatural, like binding the feet.
Leaders of our denomination are there to lead forward, not to keep us in the same place, where there is no longer any pasture, we need to move forward.
Possibilities are exciting, Adventism is a prophetic movement announcing the restoration of the Biblical Ten Commandments, so that reconciliation with our twin brother becomes possible, before the imminent return of the Messiah King Jesus.

Absolutely agree with John. Our little Calif. church was abandoned three years ago when our pastor was forced to retire. Nothing from the local Conf. we still exist to them, ONLY through the tithes that we still continue to send. Bet we would hear though, if our monthly check didn’t reach them. Actually we are very happy with who we are and are left to be the kind of Church that we want to be and meets OUR standards (along with God’s of course).

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Yes, this is a problem. Basically taxation without representation! LOL

The wife and I withdrew our tithing support when Ted Wilson instituted the Compliance Commities. We now give our tithes partially to the local church budget and the rest to the local Moose Lodge. They have a project of raising funds that go for support, education, and emergency shelter for homeless LGBT+ youth.

Scandalous, I know, but then Jesus taught us to love and care for “the least of these” so we are operating with a clear conscience. If these kids don’t qualify as being “the least of these” then no one does.


Johnny, My husband and I did the same. Bible says give your tithe, doesn’t specify to a certain Church. Since we are Leaders in our church we give the tiniest tithe we can to still qualify us for our positions. LOL The main amount goes to our own church. The rest is determined by who is the neediest for that month. But it STILL all belongs to the Lord.!


I looked it up. Here’s what it says in Deuteronomy 14, which different than what the church teaches…

Regulations concerning Tithes

Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.

Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.

For some reason, I have never heard a sermon on this from the pulpit! Not sure why. :slight_smile:


Good, great results from your research Tim. That was what the Jews and nobody else was supposed to to in those days.
Now, why don’t you go ahead and also do a little “look up” again, but this time in the New Testament and then you come back and report the results of your research? This way we will learn exactly what the NT teaches about our obligations as Christians. This could be extremely helpful.

I am trying to keep you busy so that you won’t be too bored at home during the pandemic.


It has occurred to me that the peculiar doctrines mentioned are Bible words (well, some of them) but they aren’t actually Bible teachings.

I used to give a lot of Bible studies, and I remember well people’s responses such as,“You say the spirit of prophecy in Revelation is messages God gave only to your church and only through one person? Why didn’t you tell me you’ were a Mormon?” :smile:


It is in this context that in my adult life I began to realize that church was missing the mark. It was more of an opportunity to see, on weekly basis, who was loyal to the church.

Their were no deep connections or support between members nor did anyone connect / engage in more than a superficial manner. Looking back it has always been, as the author so poignantly states, an event.

Instead of the experience that the early church members enjoyed as a result of fellowship it is a weekly regurgitation of fundamental doctrine and orthodoxy enforcement with no real connection or relevance to the lives of those attendance.

The truth is venerated but in a manner of trophies in a glass case for excellence in sports long since abandoned and the athletes long since dead. The races are run the records set with everyone satisfied that no athletic meets or changes in games are desirable or needed to challenge the past.

God is using circumstances to challenge and awaken His people to move forward and climb to higher heights of knowledge and spiritual growth. The question is who will answer the call, who will wake from the slumber, who will have oil for their lamps and who will see the hand of God urging His people move forward?


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