“Hope and Wholeness.” That, in a phrase, is what the North American Division has embraced as its mission.
Friday morning the North American Division year-end meeting began with a reading of world Adventism’s current mission statement, an admirable if somewhat conventional document of about a paragraph in length. Then NAD President Dan Jackson introduced a summary version that would express, for North America, the kernel of the world church’s statement.
It is short enough to quote: The Division’s mission is “to reach North America and the world with the distinctive, Christ-centered, Seventh-day Adventist message of Hope and Wholeness.”
From the start, the substance of Friday’s morning’s business session was both curative and fresh. The church would now aim, the leadership team emphasized, not just at preparing members for the future, but also at enhancing human life today. Team members would de-emphasize top-down authority and encourage local initiative. World church initiatives would be tailored to the Division’s distinctive culture. (Consider the summary mission statement; the “Great Controversy Project,” a world church project, would here become, leaders said, the “Great Hope Project.”)
No initiative (as was declared a bit later) would be a simple “straight jacket.” The Division office would respect the wisdom and perspective of member entities.
This struck me as curative because I have felt a demoralizing drift, since the Atlanta General Conference session, toward highly assertive, even controlling, church bureaucracy. Feelings similar to mine seem to have taken root fairly widely, among leaders as well as laity. The feelings are by no means universal, of course, but they still constitute a wound on the body of Christ, and that wound cries out for healing. What we heard during the morning felt like a kind of healing. It was fresh, and it was just the kind of fresh delegates seemed to need.
Or so I felt.
Delegates also heard NAD Executive Secretary Alex Bryant report on membership statistics. The news was sobering—for one thing, we are aging rapidly in North America—but our growth rate, about 2.5% per year, is, according to one study, the best among U. S. denominations. (The unspoken truth seemed to be that in our culture Christianity as a whole is facing difficulty.)
Bailey Gillespie, of La Sierra University, presented the most recent results of the ValueGenesis research project. He said that success in the home (especially), the school and the congregation are all important for the development, in young people, of “mature faith.” He said, too, that the key to success in these places is a “warm and thinking climate,” and noted that Adventist young people feel, as they get older, that thinking is less and less welcome.
Paul Brantley, the Division’s Vice President for Strategic Planning, Assessment, and Research, introduced a strategic plan that had been, he assured us, developed over months and repeatedly vetted and revised in light of analysis from around the Division.
Shortly afterward, the Division mission statement was endorsed by vote. The delegates also voted a set of Division values: “Revival and Transformation,” “Education for Discipleship,” “Alignment within the Church,” Community Outreach and Evangelism,” “Healthy Leadership and Management.”
Then, with lunch approaching, delegates again heard leaders commit themselves to “collaboration,” and this time contrast that value with the twin evils of “command and control” and “silo/turf protection.”
Over lunch the several people I spoke with thought all this was genuine, that somehow a fresh, new breeze was blowing.
During the two-and-a-half-hour afternoon session delegates heard a report on Adventist work in Guam/Micronesia, and voted their endorsement of a proposal to “welcome” members in this territory into the North American Division. There was some of the conventional “promotion” of this program or that, but it was, for the most part, inspiring. Manny Cruz, the Division’s Associate Youth Leader, said his department’s Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal was simple: “Close the back door.” To me, that seemed both pleasing and pertinent.
The reference to business-writer Jim Collins’ famous phrase—well-known by its acronym, BHAG—was characteristic. The new team seems well versed in business-speak, and it is surely doubtful that words and phrases from this domain of language can work magic. They can themselves become a tiresome. Still, it was energizing to hear NAD leaders affirm the relevance of leadership that is at once disciplined, accountable and caring.
I even felt the balm of humility. That was energizing, too. Since everyone is broken—caring leaders not excluded—we may expect disappointments. But as I read the meeting room today, hope was alive.
Image by NAD. Dr. Bailey Gillespie of Hancock Youth and Family Ministry Center makes a presentation on Value Genesis during the morning Business Session at the NAD Year-end Meeting.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3512