“I Do Not Fear for God’s Church”

Randy Robinson, treasurer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD), recently spoke with Kimberly Luste Maran, an associate director of communication for the NAD, about his role, and how the division is functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview was conducted entirely online.

Question: I’m thankful that we’re able to talk through cyberspace as our office family serves virtually. This is a time of great uncertainty, change, and adaptation. How are you doing?

Answer: By God’s grace, so far my wife Denise and I are well. We are communicating regularly with Denise’s parents, to make sure they are OK. They live just a few minutes from us. We also touch base with our two sons and their wives, making sure everyone is well where they live. These are very interesting times! I appreciate much more now the ability to move around freely since that privilege has been significantly restricted. I pray that all of our members are well and safe, and I am grateful that so far, my family is safe.

You are the treasurer for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. In a nutshell, how do you analyze the finances of the division; what criteria do you use in figuring out the financial health of this organization?

Before I get into a detailed explanation, I want to say my job sits on two foundational realities. First, I am responsible to God for how I do my job. And second, I would not be here without the faithfulness of God’s people and their investment in the Seventh-day Adventist Church!

Getting current, accurate, and regular financial reports is the critical requirement. The NAD treasury team does an awesome job of providing me with that information. I evaluate the financial health of the NAD on a monthly basis. That includes digesting the monthly interim financial statements, comparing actual performance with the budget, and recommending adjustments as necessary. Without getting into the financial weeds, there is one metric that I pay particular attention to: the number of days of cash we have on hand. That is an indicator that tells us, if all income stopped today, how long can we do business. I recommend that every organization know that indicator, and monitor it on a regular basis. If that is healthy, it will prove invaluable when difficult times come, similar to what we are facing now. By the way, the NAD indicator is currently healthy!

Randy Robinson sits at his office desk at the NAD headquarters.

Share with us the division’s financial picture as of December 31, 2019.

As I mentioned, our cash reserves are in a good place, and overall we are healthy financially. At the end of 2019, the North American Division is strong financially — thanks to the generosity of it’s amazing members and God’s abundant blessings!

The true health of an organization is tested when times are challenging. Some people ask why we store cash away or plan to have reserves intentionally. They may ask, why not spend all the cash and resources for mission rather than save it?

It is times like these when we find the answer to that question. Someone once said, “There is no mission without margin.” I strongly subscribe to that position. Cash on hand and a strong balance sheet, which the NAD has, gives us the chance to operate successfully through a downturn, and to maintain support of the mission we are called to. We can continue to provide needed appropriations to our organizations that depend on them. We can continue to pay employees. We can find ways to creatively operate outside the office. We may even be able to provide some assistance for struggling organizations.

As the first quarter of 2020 draws to a close, how have you seen the COVID-19 pandemic impact tithes and offerings in the division? Or is it too early to tell? We know that this time of upheaval and unease is affecting our members who have been so faithful.

First and foremost, I know this is God’s church. He will absolutely care for His people. It may be uncomfortable and uncertain from our perspective. But I trust in Him to carry us through. On that foundation things are, admittedly, unclear. I anticipate a tithe drop from two points of view. First, our churches are closed, and second, many of our members are losing their employment due to this situation. These factors will undoubtedly have an effect and we really won’t know what that is until the April tithes and offerings are accounted for across the division.

Because of the current financial health of the NAD, we have the opportunity to sustain normal operations as well as continue regular appropriations to our member organizations for up to six months, even if we sustain significant tithe losses.

I think our faithful members will continue to be faithful. They may need just a bit of time to adjust to giving in a way other than placing funds in an offering plate. That is not an option now. But I know they will find a way.

One great option is AdventistGiving, an online mechanism that makes it easy to continue giving through a person’s own local church (if the church is one of the many on the www.AdventistGiving.org platform) straight from their bank account, debit card, or credit card.

My church is not meeting on Sabbath right now due to state restrictions, so I cannot give at church. My wife and I went to AdventistGiving and returned our tithes and offerings to our local church in Ellicott City, Maryland. It really is easy. I hope church members try it!

What might the pandemic mean for the NAD’s local churches, conferences, unions, and other entities in the next few weeks/months?

We really do not know quite yet. At the division, we anticipate a downturn, but right now it is hard to say how we will be affected. We are preparing ourselves financially by reducing our spending, encouraging our members to continue their faithfulness, and praying for the grace of God to guide us through this difficult time.

I am so encouraged by the reports I am getting — and by my own experience in my local church. How creatively we are staying together! The other day, our church had a drive-thru prayer event. We drove into our church parking lot, the pastoral team and elders placed their hands on our cars, and prayed for us! What a great way to minister! We kept our distance, and still were ministered to. We also receive regular short video clips from our pastor encouraging us. We participate in a virtual worship service every Sabbath. We are so blessed even during a difficult time!

"I am trained to be financially conservative. I do my best to place God’s church on a sound financial footing. As important as that is to me, it is secondary to my belief that this is God’s church," says Randy Robinson.

In what ways have you seen technology help in both our service to the field and in giving?

Actually, this has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. The office closings came so fast that we barely had time to figure out what to do. But we were able to transition our employees to their homes and continue to operate the organization. This same thing has happened across the division! Phones are being answered, important meetings are continuing via Zoom, bills and employees are being paid. The mission of the church is going forward. God has provided us with technology to pull this off and amazing information and technology services (ITS) teams to help us through! I did not think the organization could do it so successfully, but by God’s grace, ingenuity, great people with great minds, technology, and flexibility on the part of our employees, it happened and continues to be successful.

How do you see technology playing a part in the future of the church, its services, and its finances — both in the local context and at the division?

I think we learned a lesson through this experience. We can do much more business in a virtual environment. There will always be a need for face-to-face meetings and travel. But we have learned that much of that travel can be curtailed or eliminated. That can be applied to every level of the organization. I have participated in Zoom meetings successfully with nearly 300 people online. Trainings are happening, board meetings are conducted, and classes are being taken successfully online. This is a huge takeaway for me, and I hope we do not lose sight of it once things get back to “normal.”

We know that times will continue to be challenging for everyone. How long do you foresee the church in North America being able to function as it currently operates?

Policy states in most cases that an organization should have between three and six months of liquid reserves. The NAD has very close to six months. I hope and pray that we do not have to face the possibility of employee reductions, however, that may be a reality for some of our organizations, depending on how long this situation lasts and what kind of toll it takes on our members’ employment.

I want to again thank our members for their faithfulness, even in difficult times! I am amazed at their generosity, and it creates in me an obligation to use those resources in the most efficient way possible. But we do have to face the reality that some of our members may lose their income and thereby lose the ability to return tithe. We do our best to plan for it. We cut back on our expenditures and as a last resort, organizations may be faced with looking at personnel adjustments. That is evaluated organization by organization and may look different depending on individual circumstances. There are mechanisms in policy that help us do that as carefully as possible. We try our best to create a situation where the affected personnel land on their feet. But of course, that possibility is one that is difficult and one that we hope to leave as a last resort.

NAD treasurer Randy Robinson works at his office desk.

Small businesses and those people with income instability will be receiving government help. Will the government help defray costs for operating our churches? How about conferences, unions, other entities, and the division — is there government support coming?

The recently passed CARES Act delivers several options for helping U.S. based businesses, including non-profit church organizations such as ours, survive this challenging time. There are loan opportunities to help organizations get through the most difficult times. There are also tax credits available to those who keep their employees on payroll. There are several other government assistance options that we are looking at. Our Canadian organizations are also exploring options from their government that may be of assistance. Our legal teams look over these types of benefits to make sure there are not unwanted strings attached that as Christians, we would object to. It appears, in this case, that there may be some opportunities for us to accept some help if it becomes necessary.

Does the church in North America have anything along these lines to help local church workers such as teachers and pastors?

The financial structure of the church has anticipated these kinds of situations — to a degree.

Some people think tithe is given to the conference, then it goes on to the union, division, and General Conference — never to be seen again. But that’s not true. Yes, some resources stay in those parts of the organization. But the largest portion by far is “repurposed” and sent back toward the grass roots to assist education, evangelistic efforts, and conferences that have less resources. There are significant sums of money that flow back through the organization and target areas that may have less financial lifting power.

One significant evidence of funds flowing back is that overall, we pay ministers the same base wage. Unlike the congregational model where a large church with wealthy members can pay its ministers a large sum, our ministers are paid on the same scale regardless of the church size. That means we can have churches in large urban areas as well as smaller rural areas and still have pastoral support. Our teachers are paid on a similar basis.

That is just one example. There are several other ways funds are returned back to local areas where they would otherwise be unavailable. Again, I have to thank our members for faithfully investing their tithe dollars in the church. Without their partnership, we would not be able to direct funds in ways where every part of the field receives benefit.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I have one last question: What do you take comfort from during these times fraught with uncertainty?

I am trained to be financially conservative. I do my best to place God’s church on a sound financial footing. As important as that is to me, it is secondary to my belief that this is God’s church. I take great comfort in the statement by Ellen G. White that it will seem as though the church will fall. But it will not fall (see Selected Messages, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1958, 1980, book 2, p. 380). God will see it through!

While we now experience one of those times where things seem shaky, I am absolutely confident in God’s leading and protection. God will never leave or forsake us!

I pray daily for wisdom, discernment, and strength to lead according to God’s plan, not just for myself, but for His leaders and members all around the world. We are a family — God’s family. No matter what happens, that is solid and absolute. I do not fear for the church because it is God’s church and He will see it through!

This interview was conducted by Kimberly Luste Maran, an associate director of communication for the North American Division, and originally appeared on the NAD’s website. It is reprinted here with permission.

Main image: Randy Robinson at the NAD headquarters. All images by Dan Weber, courtesy of the NAD.

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10335
1 Like

Does anybody know of local conferences that in the past had received “repurposed” tithe assistance from the NAD?

TitheSharing1 nadtithedistribution

4 Likes

Part of the $68.40 M, I think, is always “repurposed” (invested to big secular businesses). :sleepy:

“God’s Church”…“God’s Church”… Hmmm.

I typed those words into a Biblical search engine and got zero hits! :worried:

7 Likes

Acts 20:28

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God [Ekklesia theos] which He purchased with His own blood.”

1 Like

Do you think Paul was speaking about a particular denomination? I’ts pretty clear that Randy Robinson was.

1 Like

did denominations exist during paul’s time…

did denominations exist during paul’s time…

No, and that’s my point.

1 Like

Interesting that the pie gave 68mm to the GC. That is more than 1/3 of the pie. And they repurpose it. That sounds like jargon to say that they invest it instead of using it to pay workers like it is intended to be used. Then the markets crash and the money is gone and the workers are furloughed because there is no money to pay them. Better to pay the workers and run the funds out than to save them in earthly vessels that are not saving souls.

actually, the point is that if denominations didn’t exist in paul’s time, we can’t say he wouldn’t have meant it with his phrase, “church of god”, had he been living in our time…

Sometimes, upon doing my best going about trying to save a soul by inviting a potential tither to the church of my youth, I was told something which at first glance sounds like the title of the piece.

"I almost fear GOD’S church if it’s anything like THAT one…"

If by denominations you mean sectarian Jewish factions that had different perspective on both Judaism, and subsequently Christianity… then yes. Paul even record these differences in his letters that he addresses various churches with.

More emphasis needs to be given to finding fundamental alternatives to the status quo of apathy and indifference that threatens our SDA church. We need revival and reformation, and to the extent that this coronavirus pandemic crisis, as terrible as it is makes it imperative that we work in harmony with God creatively to alleviate suffering and meet the needs of our members.

Jeremy, just wondering, what do you personally think about Christian denominations other than SDA? In your POV, do you consider them as part of God’s church? What do you personally think means “God’s church”? And in you understanding, what makes a church (or many churches?) God’s church? I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks in advance!

1 Like

my view of church is egw’s view of church, which boils down to: it depends…if we’re talking in terms of people who are following god to the extent that they’ve had the opportunity to know him, and even in cases where they haven’t heard about him, i would say that god’s church is interdenominational and international…

but if we’re talking in terms of denominations, i would say that the adventist church is the only denomination that fits the bill…this bill, as spelled out in Rev 12:17, rests on the fact that adventism teaches obedience to all the commandments of god, and has a genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy in its midst…god had a nation in ancient times, which was israel…today he has a denomination, which is the adventist church…

as for other denominations, i believe they try to promote a basic level of morality, which is important, and they try to minister to the needy in society, which is even more important…i own a string quartet which until recently was playing for weddings in many non-adventist churches here in calgary…i’m also concertmaster of the orchestra of the oldest, most venerable cathedral in calgary, which is a united church…all of these churches are wonderful, and do wonderful things…but none of them have a prophet, and none of them teach christ’s ministry for us in the heavenly sanctuary, or the mark of the beast, or the latter rain, or the seven last plagues, or christ’s literal second coming…it’s hard to say why they exist, given all the charities and government programs that exist, and that also do very good things…

Thank you. It’s interesting that you compare nation with denomination. I have a different view, but it’s not about my view because I wanted to know and better understand yours.
It must be a great experience to be the concertmaster of a cathedral. Excellent. Kinda jealous.
Actually, just realized, on a day to day level, you live a very interdenominational way without denying your personal convictions.

1 Like

i think it’s because i live so much in the non-adventist world, with so many close non-adventist friends, that i see the value of strict adventism…there’s really nothing like it…

1 Like

If you don’t mind, can you please elaborate on this? Which values do you mean? What is it that is so appealing to you; what’s the “nothing like it” part for you?

[The context of my question: From my experience, my non-Adventist Christian friends live happier and with a better understanding of the gospel than many Adventists that I personally know. But I don’t want to generalize because I’m an Adventist myself (although not a traditional Adventist) and a pretty happy person.]

there are many forms of adventism out there now, but the type of adventism i mean when i say “strict adventism” is the kind of adventism that can be found in undiluted egw…probably the best way to get a feel for this type of adventism is through a careful reading of the 9 volumes of the Testimonies for the Church, which i believe is easily her most important contribution (it’s where she is least likely to have used the words of others)…it is also extremely necessary to read her biography at the beginning of volume 1, as this is key, to some extent, in understanding her thinking, priorities, personality, and unique style of expression…

the early volumes of the Testimonies are actually a collection of personal letters to various churches that egw constantly visited in her early ministry, much like the epistles of paul…many of these counsels arose directly from visions she had of various individuals, whom she had no prior knowledge of, but whose cases illustrated issues of general interest and concern…in general, the Testimonies contain very many insights of incredible value…they pinpoint in precise terms just what our role and responsibility in our salvation is (also god’s role and responsibility), in addition to a detailed description of many practical subjects, like recognizing evil; recognizing temptation; overcoming and actually ending a particular sin; understanding the spiritual nature we receive at conversion, and how it interacts with the natural nature we’re born with; understanding conversion itself; developing faith; understanding how to work cooperatively with god and holy angels; learning how to rest in the love of god over and above what our senses say to us; understanding our feelings; understanding our weaknesses and strengths; and learning how to reach into the invisible world for constant help to fight the battles we all must fight in order to really grow as children of god, etc., etc…

when i first started attending church again, after a number yrs of living as a non-adventist, i was warned by two ministers’ wives not to read the Testimonies (i was bringing up what i was reading constantly in prayer meeting)…i know that they definitely meant well at the time…i think they believed that these writings would destroy my walk with god, erode my faith, and cause me to lose confidence in the church…but i’ve found that exactly the opposite has happened - yes, i still read the Testimonies, and constantly come across something new…there’s nothing like a broad perspective, and the tools to always move forward in hope, no matter what, which is exactly what the Testimonies have given me…

ultimately, strict adventism to me is about understanding and effectively managing truth and reality within and without…there’s no question in my mind that adventism, when properly understood and harnessed, is the way to access the victory that god through christ has put within all of our reach…it’s the way to be the best we can be in this world, regardless of what we may have been born with, and how we may have been raised…

Jeremy, you’re kidding, right? There is a group that teaches obedience to all of the commandments of God and it’s not us. Ask any Jew how many commandments God gave and the answer you’ll get is 613, not 10.

Well, maybe He gave them 613 but only gave us the Exodus 20 commandments? That doesn’t fly either. The Exodus 20 decalogue is expressly addressed to the nation God rescued from Egyptians.

1 Like