Leaders and Bureaucrats

As the 2020 General Conference Session draws near, the most consequential item on the agenda will be selecting a GC president. One of the most important questions that needs to be asked is, “Will the nominating committee select a genuine leader or a bureaucrat?”

There is a huge difference. One of the main ways that organizations get into trouble is when they put a bureaucrat in a position that should be occupied by a skilled leader. The Seventh-day Adventist denomination is not immune from the severe consequences of such a serious mistake. Just because we deal with spiritual things does not protect us from making bad leadership choices or from suffering the harm that such decisions cause.

The term “Bureaucrat” can be defined as:

Reliance on Rules: “Relies heavily on consistency and adherence to rules and regulations to get whatever results they seek.”1

Rigid Governance: “The emphasis is on compliance and it is ensured that their people follow procedures precisely.”2 For them, success comes from control.

New is Bad: “This type of leadership has no space to explore new ways to solve problems.”3

Stay the Course: “[Bureaucratic] leaders...believe in the status quo. In other words, what worked yesterday will also work today. Great opportunities can be lost during the process.”4 Their motto is: Forward to the Past!

Just like spiders create cobwebs, bureaucrats create bureaucracies, which are antithetical to God’s dynamic purposes.

Steven Denning equates bureaucracy to a disease and writes in Forbes magazine, “The disease renders our organizations ‘insipid, inertial, incremental and uninspiring… It discourages dissent and breeds sycophants…Bureaucracy is gripped by ‘the ideology of controlism’ and ‘worships at the altar of conformance.’”

Denning’s article concludes, “There’s no other way to put it…bureaucracy must die. We must find a way to reap the blessings of bureaucracy — precision, consistency, and predictability — while at the same time killing it.”5

Instead of a bureaucrat at the head, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination needs and deserves a capable leader who is well trained in leadership concepts, reads widely about leadership issues, and has a proven track record of excellence and effectiveness in captaining large, complex organizations. The difference between a true leader and a bureaucrat is like the difference between an artist and someone who paints by numbers.

The following are some of the most frequently sited characteristics of excellent leaders.

Captivating Vision: Brian Tracy writes, “Great leaders have a vision... They can see into the future. They have a clear, exciting idea of where they are going and what they are trying to accomplish and are excellent at strategic planning. This quality separates them from managers.”6

A true leader’s vision is positive, expansive, and energizing. Such a vision challenges the organization to be more open, flexible, and engaged with society.

Ability to Influence Others: Lauren Landry observes, “[Leadership] is all about influencing people…Influencing others requires building trust with your colleagues.”7 Such trust seeks to create an atmosphere of comradery where it is safe to be honest and transparent. It focuses on understanding other people’s perspectives and encourages them to share opinions without fear of reprisal. It is a trust that says, “I value you and have confidence in you. I am committed to your success and will do whatever it takes to make that a reality.”

Team Building: Brian Tracy again writes, “Your ability to get everyone working and pulling together is essential to your success.”8 Leaders are great listeners and communicators, making everyone feel equally valued and respected. They seek more to understand than to be understood. They are healers, not detectives or dividers. Fairness and equity are paramount.

Encourages Risk-Taking and Innovation: Leaders create a culture that makes it OK to experiment and fail. They value creativity and new ideas. They think outside the box, stretching for new solutions and approaches. For example, “Google’s innovation lab, X, offers bonuses to each team member who worked on a project the company ultimately decided to kill as soon as evidence suggested it wouldn’t scale, in an effort to ‘make it safe to fail.’”9

Models Humility: “While confidence is a very attractive trait in leaders, there's nothing like a humble character for creating a lovable persona. Great leaders admit when they are wrong and take criticism as an opportunity for growth.”10

When a bureaucrat is put in charge, all of these vital leadership characteristics are replaced with a sad list of alternatives that are debilitating to organizational life and health. It is as if the organization suddenly contracted a serious case of arthritis. To use a different analogy, installing a bureaucrat as the GC president would be like taking someone who has a deep fear of flying and putting them in charge of the space program.

In order to choose a real leader, the General Conference nominating committee will have to run counter to the prevailing culture within Seventh-day Adventism.

Culture is a powerful, unseen force that pushes and pulls in a variety of ways, both subtle and overt, to accomplish its will. It is often defined as, “What we feel is important and how we do things around here.” The culture will make sure it has the kind of leadership that makes it feel comfortable. Because of that reality, the Adventist culture will strive mightily to put a bureaucrat at the head.

Adventist culture prefers a bureaucrat because we are what I call an “Information denomination.” Preserving and disseminating correct biblical information is our denominational DNA. It is our core identity. Everything is shaped and measured in those terms.

Because of our self-identification as conservators and disseminators of unchanging truth, significant change becomes anathema. Creative change and flexibility threaten the Adventist psyche more than anything else. Even when that change has nothing to do with truth, who knows where the infection of change might spread? The old adage about the camel’s nose under the tent comes into play.

From that vantage point, placing a bureaucrat at the top becomes crucial. The greatest quality such a culture desires in its president is not effective leadership but continuity and full-throated promotion of doctrine and policy. Is it any wonder that current GC leadership defines unity as the degree of uniformity throughout the denomination?

Personally, I highly value truth. I joined the SDA church because I believe strongly in biblical truth.

The problem comes when we think that believing truth is the end of the story. Trouble comes when we mistakenly think that biblical information is an end in itself. That’s like a contractor who is satisfied with simply accumulating piles of great lumber, not realizing that all of those boards are actually intended to build a home.

The fact is that Bible teachings are intended to build loving people. The apostle Paul clearly stated, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV).

Because Adventists understand so much truth, we should be the lovingest people on the planet, known for our extraordinary kindness and deep involvement in society’s needs. That is the acid test of whether what we believe matters.

The apostle Paul lifts our understanding of God’s grand vision for the church when he writes, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NKJV, emphasis supplied).

God’s glory is His character of love. Ellen White picks up Paul’s expansive theme when she declares, “Through the church will eventually be made manifest…the final and full display of the love of God.”11 We are not simply information spreaders, we are called to use that information to become Christlike lovers of humanity.

This same theme is at the heart of the Three Angels’ Messages:

“Fear God and give glory to Him” (Revelation 14:7 NKJV).

“After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory” (Revelation 18:1 NKJV).

Understanding this larger purpose for Adventism creates an entirely different denominational culture. We become more large-hearted, more understanding and inclusive, more humble and empathetic. We shed the museum model and adopt a far more generous hospital model.

Such a culture would then demand a very different type of leadership at the GC by electing people who value truth, but who also understand the purpose of truth.

The times we live in cry out for skilled leadership at church headquarters, not just in the office of president but throughout the entire top tier including the thirteen world divisions. We need people to serve in those positions who speak truth to power, refuse to play political games, and turn the traditional authority pyramid upside down. We need leaders who honor the past but are not bound by it. We need people who can lift us higher and bring us together.

I expect that the Adventist culture will do everything possible leading up to and at GC Session 2020 to insist on the selection of bureaucrats. The only hope I see for a much better result is if many thousands of members lobby Session delegates around the world to speak up noisily, urgently, and persistently in favor of a God-honoring tomorrow.

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”12

Notes & References:

8. Ibid, Brian Tracy International

11. Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1911) 9

Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10255

Now just a thought here I know it is against the prevailing wisdom on Spectrum to consider both sides but just what if the people who believe in the prevailing Adventist culture want someone that will lead in the prevailing SDA culture as opposed to dismantling it? By that standard which one would be the leader? It seems to me if you guys just look at one side of any issue you never identify with the other side. No possible harmony.


So who’s talking about dismantling anything, Ron Corson?
Sounds like someone that doesn’t read Spectrum often enough. Try it sometime.


Who is you guys?

What is the other side of the issue that is not mentioned in the article? I see two options carefully articulated: Elect a regressive bureaucrat - or - elect a progressive leader.

Do you have a third option?

Please expand on this. What triggers no possibility of harmony? What would create the possibility of harmony? How is harmony as a concept related to the topic at hand?


Regrettably, elections are often PRE BAKED by powerful men courting various constituencies who will support them.

Having attended CONFERENCE CONSTITUENCY MEETINGS in my 84 years, I find that nominating committees and elections are not truly democratic —- that is, they do not reflect the desires of the members in the pews.

The average church member is oblivious about the politics of his / her local conference, union conference, division or the GC —- maybe just as well they do not to know the petty politics and miserable manipulations involved !

A lot of machinations, manipulations, and MONKEY BUSINESS are involved, just as in DC politics.

Frankly, the only difference —- there are no smoke filled rooms!


I totally agree. I have been to several constituency meeting myself. To say that they were democratic is like saying the moon is made of green cheese. As a matter of fact, after the last one I attended, I would never waste my time going to another one.

As I have said several times on this blog…with 25 million Adventists in this world, is it reasonable to think that the son of a previous president is the best choice we could have made?

But…I’m sure it will be another rubber stamp process. I have lost any faith in this process. And I have often wondered where God is in this process. An for the Ron Corson’s, of the church. You are probably just waiting for me to be shaken out.


The nonsense of “progressives” never ceases. To think that a “genuine leader” has a certain type of cookie-cutout-qualities backed up by particular chapter and verse bibliography does not make for a good leader. Our subjective nature should tell you as much. Why do you think God uses the most flawed people to lead his movement? I should not have to give you chapter and verse on that. The only thing I see from this article is a parallel version of TDS brought on by a group of people within Adventism trying to destroy it, thinking they know best.

Dismantling…counter to the prevailing culture. If it is counter to then it is against. So if you counter and argument you dismantle the argument. If you think you are getting two sides here on Spectrum think about when did you last see an article on spectrum from a political conservative perspective! Now it could be that when you think of both sides you think inaccurately like someone else here who wrote.

That is not two sides it is two biased terms. One is good our side the progressive leader, progressive because he or she believes as we do and the regressive bureaucrat, regressive because he or she does not believe like we do and a bureaucrat which is a derogatory term (I have used it derogatorily often enough). Though to say the President is a Bureaucrat is a pretty doubtful proposition… Strangely enough, there are all kinds of people who say they want a progressive leader and not a one that says they want a regressive bureaucrat. Yet somehow that is viewed as two sides…and carefully articulated at that!


So, you are saying that we need Mark Cuban as a GC president? :rofl:

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This is a false dichotomy. Choice of leader and the cultural direction of the church is not a zero sum game.

I think a more honest term would have been “conservative” rather than “bureaucrat”.
Ie conservative = bad and progressive = good.
These are all loaded terms and unhelpful.

As a fringe SDA who would be considered very liberal but very small “c” conservative by nature, what a disaster would a fairly progressive leading out front of what will by its nature likely always tend to attract those of a conservative bent.

I am all for change but it needs a skilled leader who seeks opportunities to move us out of the dark ages in some areas not a progressive leader for a conservative church.

If incremental change doesn’t suffice I think many on here have two options, suck it up or find a truly progressive alternative church system to join. You are riding the wrong bus or should I say spaceship that only has seating for 144,000.

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Are you implying that our current GC president was appointed by virtue of being “the most flawed person” available? You could possibly have a point.


Was not this the sole reason for the creation of the Compliance Committees? Do you support and endorse TW’s agenda of coercing “harmony?”


I would say the compliance committee’s goal as stated by the GC is unity. Unity does not always mean harmony (people can be united toward a goal but not in harmony as to how to arrive at said goal). Are you trying to tell me that compliance committees are the same as Spectrum publishing both sides of an issue? Since there is no other mention of compliance committee in the article that is what I am sensing in your comment. Of course, there are often even more than two sides to an issue but on Spectrum we rarely see even one other side, except in comment sections…and that is becoming rarer in recent times. Sometimes in the Sabbath School section we see the conservative or traditional SDA verson but that is about it. I don’t support the conservative or historic or traditional SDA views on most things but it does seem that they deserve to be acknowledged and offered a place to be published online, if for no other reason then to stop the constant misinterpretation of their positions. When they are ignored and simply lampooned and denigrated people forget that they may actually have reasons for their beliefs, Rather than making them the enemies who are destroying your attempt at progress. As not all things considered progressive are actually progress to a good goal.

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" Of course, there are often even more than two sides to an issue but on Spectrum we rarely see even one other side, except in comment sections…and that is becoming rarer in recent times."

Ron, do you know for a fact that all “Conservative” position articles submitted for publication on Spectrum have been denied? Have you asked the Spectrum Editors about this issue? It seems to me that you may be making assumptions that may not be true.

I do recall that there have been a few “Conservative” position articles published on Spectrum over the years…but they have been in the minority. I could see that some “Conservative” authors might appreciate a readership that doesn’t challenge them like on Spectrum. Why don’t you inquire more about this issue as it might be interesting?

"When they are ignored and simply lampooned and denigrated people forget that they may actually have reasons for their beliefs,"

I, for one, are very aware that they have “reasons” for their beliefs. What I have also seen is that the “Conservatives” tend to forget that the “Progressives” have equally valid reasons for their beliefs as well.

Unfortunately, the “Conservatives” tend to believe that those who don’t embrace their views are headed towards a very “Hot Place”. Now, there are those “Liberals” that can be condescending towards them, etc., but I have never heard a “Liberal” here say that the "Conservatives were bound for the “Hot Place”. Nonetheless, I have heard this sentiment from the “Conservative” side towards the “Liberals”.

I personally take less offense about being called stupid or ignorant over being told I am going to Hell. But, again…that could just be me.

"As not all things considered progressive are actually progress to a good goal."

True…but what I have seen in my lifetime of “Conservatism” in the SDA Church hasn’t been always good either. In fact, it has been quite destructive in some cases- good intentions or not.


So these are very good rationalizations…not good arguments. First I said we rarely politically conservative views published on Spectrum. No one came back and said not true we have this one and here is another and another. Because they are not there. The same is true for the the conservative SDA views, they are not there either. Your come back is have conservative articles been denied. Well, they probably have but the point is is that if something is never published people will not submit them. Once a side has shown they have a decided position on one particular side writers will not submit to that site if their view is never represented. That is why you don’t see conservative writers published on the Daily Kos. But the big difference is that the Daily Kos does not claim in its title to be a spectrum of opinion and conversation.

You say you can recall a few conservative articles published over the years. How many years are you talking about? 10 maybe, that is about the last time I wrote one for Spectrum. It was a rarity back then today…well I don’t know what is next after rarity. I am sure it might be interesting what spectrum editors might say. I wish there was a comment section where they could say things! It is not like I am the only one that has brought this up before. It is not like at one-time spectrum actually tried to show different sides.

That is simply what about ism. look at the other sites see what they say they are so mean! There will always be some other site with mean people saying mean things. Certainly, not all of them are doing that. Then again much of the time it is just people who have made assumptions such as this one earlier here:

Certainly, that is nothing I ever said. I have a pretty long history on the internet and if that person wanted to know I don’t even believe in the Adventist myth of the Shaking, it is not even found in the Bible it is an Ellen White assertion. When people assume the worst of someone it does not make it true just because they assume it. But there is power in being afflicted by the “others”. In Progressive Politics, we see it called intersectionality. Where the most sympathy and power should go to whatever group that can make it seem like they are dumped upon more.

I personally take more offense about being called stupid or ignorant then being told to go hell. People have no ability to send me to hell so it does not bother me.

The same can be said of Progressivism. I am not claiming that any one side has it all right, I am saying that there should be discussion from both sides.

There is one more thing, I don’t seek to publish anything on Spectrum anymore because I know I don’t fit inside Adventism anymore. My beliefs became Universalist a few years ago so I don’t believe that any of this Progressive or conservative etc has any effect on salvation. ( https://atoday.org/universalism/ ) But it has a lot to do with how people think and act toward others and that is something that we can change here and now. Let us have a spectrum of opinion, encourage the discussion between the different sides on one site regardless of what the other websites do. I would like to see Spectrum come back to what it was.

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Well said, there’s a plethora of websites of all hues decrying the bubble many now live in, polarisation etc but few that are centrist enough to allow diverse expression.

"Let us have a spectrum of opinion, encourage the discussion between the different sides on one site regardless of what the other websites do. I would like to see Spectrum come back to what it was."

As I said before…have you actually talked with the Editors and/or Board about this? If you actually do- please share.

For the record, I have been a commenter on Spectrum for 8 years but was a Lurker for a year or so before that (since you have asked). I personally haven’t seen a huge change over the years but maybe some of the Old Timers might see it differently.

"I am not claiming that any one side has it all right, I am saying that there should be discussion from both sides."

Good to hear because there is no “right” side. :grin:

" …so I don’t believe that any of this Progressive or conservative etc has any effect on salvation. ( https://atoday.org/universalism/ ) But it has a lot to do with how people think and act toward others and that is something that we can change here and now."

I do agree with everything in this statement except it being something that we can change substantially- because not everyone desires change. I simply don’t have that kind of idealism. However, I will be interested in your efforts to effect change.


Andrew, I am “Centrist” politically and strongly lean towards a simplistic form of Christianity (not SDA). I haven’t noticed that my “Centrist” stance has made conversations here any more productive.

Generally speaking, most people don’t live/believe in the “middle” but rather on the “Conservative/Liberal” divides in both religion and politics. It is mostly human nature to do so. Both types of people far outweigh us “Centrists” and this is how it generally goes in life.


I am pretty sure why Spectrum is doing what they are doing. I have made no secret about what they are doing at Spectrum and Adventist Today. You can read the last several articles on my blog and find out. As for talking to the editor and board, they don’t really seem to talk to anyone other than themselves. Here is an interesting article where I tried to get Bonnie Dwyer to answer on something she published on Spectrum. I recount it here.

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“Unity does not always mean harmony” but harmony always mean unity. Enough of housekeeping.

I went off on a tangent wanting clarification if your statement of “No harmony” was along the lines of TW’s coerced harmony through his Compliance Committees. I was misguided.

Good point. Even our good friend George @GeorgeTichy will agree that since behaviors are basically defense mechanisms, every one has “reasons for their beliefs.” Like you, mental health providers never ignore, lampoon or denigrate people for their reasons. We link how their beliefs influence their cognition, emotions and behaviors, hoping for personality changes that would better their lives.