Leo Ranzolin’s Response to Chapter 5 in “Where Are We Headed?” Poses Three Questions and Cites One Poet

Question: What do Alfred Lord Tennyson, Leo Ranzolin and William G. Johnsson have in common?

Answer: The Poem “In Memoriam” which Tennyson wrote and Ranzolin cited in his commentary on Chapter 5 of Johnsson’s book Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio.

Tennyson, who lived much of his life on the Isle of Wight, remains one of England’s most popular 19th century poets. Leo Ranzolin is the Associate Dean of the Loma Linda University School of Religion. A New Testament scholar, he earned his doctorate at Boston University. Also a New Testament scholar, Johnsson earned his doctorate at Vanderbilt University. After serving at Spicer Adventist College in India and Andrews University in the United States, Johnsson edited the Adventist Review for many years. He has also published many articles and books.

The title of this chapter is “Organization: Thinking the Unthinkable.” In it Johnsson argues that Adventism’s administrative structure has become too large and wasteful of human and material resources. As illustrations, he reviews the bankruptcy of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, the enormous cost of the General Conference sessions ($35 million and more), the duplication of the same department at each level of church governance, the size of the General Conference building and the number of people it employs, and the decreasing membership and financial contributions in Adventism’s traditional strongholds.

His conviction is that Adventism will downsize and that the only questions are when and how. He is among many who believe that in most matters changes in the church should be “bottom up” but that in this case it should be “top down.” “Let’s start at the top,” he writes. From there, he believes, we can work down the levels of church administration in favor of a way of doing things that is “simple, small and fair” and “lean and lithe –focused on mission rather than on bureaucracy, on the local church rather than the top.” As a starter, he recommends that we reduce the expenses of the 2025 General Conference to $5 million, or 1/7 of what they now are.

Leo Ranzolin summarized this material in a very attractive PowerPoint presentation. The many hours he had invested in preparing it were a tribute to Dr. Johnsson and a gift to the class. I think that the video is worth watching just for these “visuals.”

Those who watch the video will benefit from the discussion that followed Ranzolin’s presentation as well because in it a variety of different reactions to the chapter surfaced. Some of these related to the size and expense of the every-five-years General Conference sessions. In my own words, three different analogies were proposed. These were that they should be like (1) a business meeting (2) festival (3) or the convention of a professional society.

Ranzolin had three concerns of his own. In reverse order, they might be: (3) too much emphasis on Ellen White’s counsel at the expense of Scripture in the Church Manual, (2) too little attention to the three primary ways that the first Christians organized themselves and (1) insufficient sensitivity to how impermanent everything that we humans do actually is.

These are the lines from “In Memoriam” that he cited:

Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be: They are but broken lights of thee, And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

The Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School thanks Adventist Forum and this website for the opportunity to post reports about these sessions.

For more information, please visit bransonlegacysabbathschool.com.

WATCH: Leo Ranzolin on Chapter 5 in "Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio" by William G. Johnsson

See also:

William G. Johnsson Explains Why He Wrote Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio, The Professors Valentine Expand Upon Chapter 1 in "Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio", Laura Alipoon Highlights Adventist Diversity in Chapter 2 of “Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio”, Calvin Thomsen’s Discussion of Chapter 3 in “Where Are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio” Assails Neo-Calvinism, and Carla Gober-Park Expands “the Main Thing” in Chapter 4 of “Where Are We Headed?” by William G. Johnsson

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8143
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I did not have time to listen to the whole video, and am making comments only on the written part of this thread.

  1. In Indiana, a conference of about 6 million in the state and 6K members, there are only four officials: Presidnet, VP, Sec/Treas. Ed Superintendent and their secretaries. The other functions have been given to pastors of promise who take the SS, the Lay Activites Dept, and others. We do not have a Ministeral Sec, this is done by one of the pastors. I DON’T SEE HOW IT COULD GET MUCH LEANER.
  2. The Unions have also seen their staffs cut in size and people taking on two or three jobs.
  3. I don’t know much about how the GC is made up, but I would think that a SS Leader, Misintreal Sec. Etc would be necessary for guiding those departments for the whole world. I don’t think it could get much leaner there either. But I might be mistaken.
  4. The basic thrust of all this is to decrease the power of the GC. And especially since the vote did not go as Johnson had liked, or others interested in WO. You seem to want a more congregational style of governance. The vote was taken by the whole church in session. That is all the members sent representatives to the GC, and they took a vote. It wa snot the GC administration that voted. It was the members representative. It was democratic.

The premis of the book seems wrong go me. Doing all kinds of machinations because you lost is just prolonging the agony. Making all kinds of suggestions to change this or that because WO lost is silly. The whole church voted. You lost the vote. Might be best to accept it and more on.


This sounds like what Trump keeps saying Allen… you lost, move on. I would say that there is a lot more than meets the eye as to why things went as they did, in both the national election and the GC session.

The government and free press are investigating the Trump campaign to find out. Russian involvement is an established fact, no matter what Trump tries to bully, bluster, and lie his way out of. How much actual effect it had on the result, and whether obstruction or even treason happened, is what we need to discover. It is the only way this nation can move on.

Likewise, people in North American and European Adventism are vocally and publicly trying to make sense of what happened in SA 2015, because, for them, being told to just submit and get over it doesn’t work. When scholars haven’t been listened to for years on this issue, when the results of the TOSC were largely ignored, and more importantly, when the bible they read doesn’t say the same to them about issues of love, equality, and justice, as it seems to the majority, especially to those who are from cultures that vote bloc style behind their leaders, get over it and move on doesn’t work!

With that said, the issues over downsizing have been long discussed independently of WO. We have the most multi layered ecclesiastical bureaucracy outside of the RCC. The single greatest expense in our denomination is the upkeep and staffing of corporate headquarters in Silver Springs. Talented pastors are regularly promoted from the churches and kicked upstairs into denominational offices, away from the front line of the local churches. That sounds like a top heavy allocation of funds, manpower, and talent.

The revival and reformation that this president called for might just need to begin with this, a reforming of a business structure that has become massively centralized in its allocation of resources, and yes, power, and that is also over a century old. The fact that so many don’t feel heard underneath its workings could mean that its whole reason for being and structure need to be reviewed and adjusted, rather than telling people to shut up and move on.




Are we to believe the “pastors of promise who take the SS, the Lay Activites Dept, and others” are doing so on a volunteer basis, or are they paid? And why would they not be called officials? When I go to their website (http://www.indysda.org/office-staff), I find a list of no fewer than 23 officials. I have no idea whether there are additional secretaries, assistants, or other underlings.

I think anyone with any imagination could easily envision a more streamlined administration.

Say what you want, but can you really justify “$35 million or more” on a meeting that can be done through SKYPE with just as much efficiency if not more? Like without “hissing and booing.”

You may just be enabling bad behavior on our GC officers part, Allen. Time to move on.

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Democratic? At age 70 I have been a member of 6 SDA churches (if I actually transferred my membership each time) and in NONE of those churches have I had any voice in who represents me at a GC session. Maybe we should start there.

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it occurs to me that if declining or changing giving patterns means the GC will be taking in less of our money, and that this will force structural change, there probably isn’t any point in agitating for structural change now if it’s structural change we’re wanting…that is, structural change seems to be baked into our future already if we simply let things continue to run the way they’re running now…

also, i tend to agree with the commenters who stressed the pageantry value of our GC sessions…there were people who complained about the expense of the ointment in the alabaster box used to anoint jesus’ head, at least in mark’s version - that it should have been sold so that the poor could get something - but they overlooked the spiritual value of what that anointing of jesus meant to the woman, likely for the rest of her life, not to mention what jesus must have thought, and no doubt drew courage from…the tens of millions required to put on a GC session may seem like a waste of money…but can anything else compare to the shot in the arm the average adventist receives by attending such a gathering…if everyone returns home and increases their giving because they’re so inspired to have attended something they’ll remember for a long time, will this not more than recover the money spent…even watching the parade of nations on video is inspiring…why strip it down to a bare bones business meeting so that no-one feels any inclination to attend, or follow what goes on…also, the GC takes in $2 billion annually…even if san antonio cost $50 million, 2.5% is probably not an extravagant outlay for something that involves the world church every five yrs…

I don’t know that they get extra. Perhaps they do. But they do have to pastor a church or churches as well. They are defineately not full time. It was not that way in the past.

Secretaries are listed. There are only 4 full time officials.