Perspective: We Need More Visionaries Like Joe, Bob and Charlie

This morning I write from a position of joy mixed with pain. In total self-disclosure, I am a die hard, Jesus loving Christian Seventh-day Adventist. I have been to GC Sessions since I was a baby, Campmeetings, Adventist Academy, Adventist College and University. I worked on nearly every level of this church before I was 22 (in maintenance cutting grass or in facilities services). I went to Seminary. I became a pastor and pastored in 3 states. I got ordained. I still work for the church.

However, through nearly 15 years of service to the church I have found one cord that is strong and seems to never go away. The church seems to often discount ideas, vision, progress, and questions that pushes cultural and ecclesiastic norms. The three people I speak of as the title to this piece are three people whose vision would have catapulted the church eons ahead of where it is today.

Joseph McCoy who gave me my first job in ministry, was a visionary who was tired of seeing his fellow colleagues retire with nothing and dying penniless. He decided to do something about it. McCoy also desired for scholarship inside of the ranks of his pastors and sent and encouraged several to go and earn doctoral degrees and give back.

Robert Folkenberg, Sr. was an evangelistic visionary who used the internet as CompuServe before the expansive world wide web existed. He even pushed the agenda of Women’s ordination two times at GC Sessions during his tenure. I wonder what we would be talking about now if women’s ordination was passed in 1990 or 1995? May be we would be talking about abuse of children, women, cultural identity, or may be a structural change that has been needed for more than 80 years.

Charles D. Joseph, Sr. had a vision to create an urban center for health wellness and education in Chicago and urban centers across the country. His vision like the one in New York City like J.K. Humphrey in the 1920’s was shot down. However other centers like that now exist all over America and the world in what National Geographic calls Blue Zones.

You may part horses with me on how they implemented or structured ideas or plans. Fine. Am I saying the people are perfect? NO. Don’t kill the vision or the person. Sit at the table and talk, we are all human. The thing about visionaries that people don’t know is that they like seeing the idea implemented more than anything else. How it happens is not the most important thing…the most important thing is that it happens.

I know two of these men and their families well. Another I can only read about. The things I am learning about Robert Folkenberg, Sr. now are astounding. A real man of vision.

There are some common elements with all three men. All three resigned for the good of the church. All of them sacrificed and labored for the good of people. All three are and were in love with their wives and families. All three never stopped working with the church to win people for God’s kingdom.

I long for the day where ideas, questions, and disagreements with implementation and structure will be able to be challenged, accepted and implemented.

I long for the day when the organization will realize its an organism and alive and move according to the needs of the culture and community.

I long for the day when a microphone at a meeting is not a threat to anyone’s personal position but a welcome sight for facilitating discussion.

I long for the day when people can separate themselves from the item they write about realizing only God owns the keys to the church.

I long for the day when going to church gatherings will not be about agenda’s but about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is not restricted to one cultural expression.

To kill vision for compliance is telling the devil it's not worth it to try anything new. Sabotaging mission and vision for compliance and mediocrity will only allow us to see the same patterns over and over again.

What will heal this chasm between visionaries and the structure and idea police? I do not have all the answers but I would like to offer a few suggestions:

  • Study together - I have heard before of the great 1974 Bible Conference. I think its time for one of those again. I have heard it suggested before by a female colleague of mine. (Her name is not here because I didn’t speak with her before publishing this piece).
  • Connect- I think there is a deep opportunity to connect with other parts of the world on a real social level. Pentecost did not happen as a result of people liking each other. There were disagreements that the spirit worked out while these people were in a room together. I say find a room with someone you don’t know or like and hash it out over lunch.
  • Learn - Be open to respecting and learning about another’s cultural identity and perspective. These elements include music, worship, food, child rearing, family to name a few.
  • Make mission real - I feel we could take advantage of the idea that the world is getting smaller and making mission a regular part of worship. It’s easy now to Skype, Oovoo, or Facetime with someone from another culture (in America or the world) and learn about them every Sabbath. The mission story becomes alive and enjoyed, and friendships are developed.
  • Educate and Release -Allowing money to be encouraged by mission. If we educate in Adventist universities and colleges the best and brightest but limit them as soon as they enter the Adventist workforce, why are they getting an Adventist education? Why work for the church? Use the minds of those who have not been tainted with the Adventist King or Queen’s mentality and use them.
  • Real Discipleship - Preaching is not enough. Well crafted sermons are not the only way to heaven. Community presence is key. Discipleship as a process for evangelism. Sowing, Keeping, Reaping.
  • Reward - Reward every worker for their labor. Everyone is not a visionary, some are reapers, some are sowers, some are ground breakers. Reward every worker.
  • Get Active - Get an active devotional life. An active devotional life encourages a deep spiritual connection. The book Five Minutes on Purpose on Kindle is an excellent way to start a spiritual connection. I know the author well.

Finally, don’t stop giving ideas, or desiring more. You may be Joseph of Josephine in a pit now, but your vision will help your people far more than they ever know. Keep dreaming, keep planning, Keep praying.

Juleun A. Johnson is a chaplain who writes from Orlando, Florida.

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A year back, a celebration of the life and vision of Charles Joseph.

visionaries may find it frustrating, but the slow pace of change in our church may in fact be an unrecognized, and built-in, safety mechanism…it may be that with institutions, like world churches, slow and steady wins the race more often than fast and erratic does…we’ve existed for only 152 yrs, on the tail end of protestantism, which makes us a lot younger than islam, catholicism, judaism, or especially hinduism…we’re doing pretty good for being so young…

Excellent article Juleun because you offer solutions instead of just analysing weaknesses. Jeremy, if Adventists believe in the fast approaching Second Coming, then they need to move forward in exactly the same manner. Decades of procrastination do not match the doctrine. Obviously, visionary ideas need to be evaluated, but this church structure is too slow for the society we now live in. Rene G.


There’s the problem: “We’re doing pretty good…”

Not really when you compare the beginnings of Mormonism and Adventism which began about the same time. Yet, how many do not know who Momons (LDS) are, and much more about them–their wonderful choirs, Tabernacle Square and Temple visited by thousands each year; their history pictured; even New York plays where they allow others to laugh at them?

Imagine such fun being made of Adventists, especially its members.
Too many their Adventist religion so seriously that it’s of no earthly good: it’s all about preparation for heaven and the sinless requirements for admission. A religion about doing the right things has no need for a savior. Just be good without religion.

When Adventists can laugh at themselves. they have sufficiently matured to reach others. But for most, this religion is too serious, which is not attractive to most.


You can expect to add your own name, Juleun, to the title of your article on Perspective: We Need More Visionaries Like Joe, Bob and Charlie, 29 December 2015 , Juleun A. Johnson said: “The church seems to often discount ideas, vision, progress, and questions that pushes cultural cultural and ecclesiastic norms.”

While I did not know any of these individuals you cited in this fine article. It would seem that the common thread in their lives was a constant battle against the bureaucracy in the church. In some ways they may have succeeded because of what some may think was failure to be accepted by the bureaucrats in our church.

“Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?”
― Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune

When bureaucrats in the Adventist church structure perceive some problem exists, such as the recent Women’s Ordination issue, they think that more rules must be created and enforced and obeyed to solve the problem. One difference between a freedom-oriented individuals and a bureaucrat in this regard is in the use rules are put to. Rules as guidelines (heuristic rules-of-thumb) for decision-making can be very helpful in solving problems. Bureaucrats think that creating and enforcing MORE rules in and of itself “solves any perceived problem.” For them, the important consideration about any problem they perceive is that “we DO something about it by creating and enforcing more rules about it.” We see this happening after The San Antonio GC session with further “clarifications” and “guidelines”, “statements” by the bureaucrats in the seat of imagined power at the General Conference.

When church bureaucrats create and enforce more rules, they feel a satisfaction in their lame job performance. “At least we’ve DONE something about it!” They feel good. Even on the rare occasions when they admit that their rule creation and rule enforcement caused more problems than they solved, they still feel they have done their jobs well because they have obeyed the system of rules that is the essence of their jobs. They feel no one can blame them - and in fact they should be given lots of credit for a job well done! - when they use their system of rules to create and enforce more rules specific to a given domain or situation.

The good feeling about their job performance arises because:
(1) Church bureaucrats believe in the cult of following orders for their own sake, so they self-perpetuate this cult by creating and enforcing more rules - and feel good when they obey their own system;
(2) Among the few bureaucrats that care about the morality of their jobs: these few believe that part of the moral good they are doing on the job arises from convincing or forcing as many individuals as possible in their domain to obey the rules they have created.

It is a never ending battle! We (definetly) Need More Visionaries Like Joe, Bob and Charlie, (AND) Juleun A. Johnson!


Add H.M.S. to your list of visionaries.

Richards’ idea to start a radio program when radio was brand new was shot down by the official church. He had the courage to push forward anyway creating ‘The Voice of Prophecy.’


a visionary is one who is innovative to advance a course or to see a train wreck before it occurs. H.M.S. Richard represents one type and Desomond Ford another type. Both found heavy sledding. The books of Daniel and Revelation do not fore see the victory of man but the Trimunph of Christ, the Lamb of God. we Are invited to share in that victory by Grace alone. 35 Years ago the church had opportunity to correct its course and blew it. Now it is head long into oblivion in the piny woods. The colleges and universities will go either that way of Weimar or Duke. The church as well as the nation has been on a downward path since LBJ, Nison, et al,Reagon, and Bush/Cheney. the Wilson era has followed suit. None admitting of being poor, blind, and naked. tom z


Just a question or two …

Is there a difference between a visionary and a simplifier?

Do the claims of the Gospel of Jesus require an advanced degree in understanding or just acceptance?

And I am really attracted to the suggestion to connect, especially with people with whom we expect to differ. If our testimony is not compelling, well, maybe it is time to listen up?

Such an inspiring read!