I recently finished reading a book titled It by Craig Groeschel. That’s it, just It. The book is about churches that have “It” and those that don’t have "It". If you are interested in how your church can be more effective, It is a great read. One chapter really got under my skin, particularly as I look at our denominational leadership's theme of "revival and reformation".
The author describes how churches that have "It" always have a clear vision. After reading the chapter, I started asking Adventists what our church's vision is. The most common response I received was, “That’s a good question, I will have to think about it and get back to you.” Honestly, this does not bode well for our church.
At first glance it would seem as if vision and priorities are the same thing. But while they have some correlation, they are far from the same. One answers the question: What is important to us? The other answers the question: Where are we going? And more importantly, Where do we want to go? I feel as if I have a clear handle on what is important to our church or at least our leadership, but I am not at all clear what our vision is. Do we even have one? I know these are our priorities:
- A very high regard for the writings of Ellen White.
- A literal reading of the creation story.
- Avoiding being like other churches.
- The sanctuary doctrine.
- A clear prophetic understanding of end time events.
- Sabbath keeping.
- State of the dead.
In order to Identify our priorities, our defining beliefs are important. It is even a requirement if we are going to elegantly define where we are going.
However, it is going to be difficult or maybe impossible to accomplish revival and reformation without a clear vision of where we want to go. Part of the problem is that within Adventism there is a huge disconnect. Some have a vision that essentially requires a shrinking of the church, which is consistent with our eschatological teaching that as we approach the end of time, many will fall away from “the truth”. I would further propose that the priorities listed above can never be crafted into a vision statement that will propel the church toward the goal of hastening the second coming of Jesus Christ. I do believe it is possible to craft a vision for the church that would not marginalize a single one of the 28 fundamentals, but they are not the vision. We know it can be done, because it is exactly what happened in early Adventism which I define as the period that started around 1888 and ended sometime between 1916 and 1919. If we continue to focus on the fundamentals or even the subset listed above, some people may be inspired to hold on with grim determination, but it will not propel the church forward. Focusing primarily on those values will only continue to foster a fortress mentality: us against the world.
In It, Groeschel says:
Without a clear vision, a church or ministry can never expect to have it. Without a compelling vision the organization is quickly pulled off center. People get confused, distracted, and bored. Without even noticing, the original mission fades as the organization drifts.
This sounds an awful lot like the Adventist Church of today. The early Millerites had a clear vision. They knew Jesus was coming very soon. Immediately after the great disappointment, the tiny group of pre-Adventists had a clear vision needing to figure out what went wrong. As they reread their Bibles they made amazing discoveries of undiscovered truths or rediscovered truths. They began to better understand that while Jesus had not come in 1844, he was coming very soon. They had a clear vision of sharing these new and better truths. This is no longer true in Western Adventism. It has been a long time since we have had a clear vision.
Perhaps we need to start by looking at Jesus' vision. Foremost, it was to do whatever it took to save the lost. He did this by deconstructing the old, error filled picture of God and rebuilding a new and better picture of God. He sacrificed his life and asked his disciples to do whatever it took to help others come to know Jesus. He ultimately asked all but one of his disciples to also give up their lives for this vision. Because the vision was so compelling, paying that price was not something terrible, but rather a great honor. The Great Commission is the succinct statement of Jesus' vision that was passionately embraced by the disciples and the early Christian church. And it was embraced by the early Adventist Church.
Groeschel quotes Dr. Sam Chand saying “An effective vision will always be memorable, portable and motivational.” Creating this vision is something only church leadership can do. Ideally this would be done by General Conference leadership, but it is possible for divisions, conferences, and local churches to do it on their own.
It has to be general enough to be embraced by everyone and specific enough to have real meaning. Once the vision is established, it must be communicated to the body of believers over and over again, so that every single church member in the whole world can repeat it. It needs to become a part of their hearts. It needs to be powerful enough, meaningful enough, and significant enough that people are willing to give their whole lives to it. Elder Ted Wilson says his goal is to go forward, but everyone, even his strongest supporters, know and believe that he wants to do it in a “Back To The Future” kind of way. Forward to a past era of Adventism. If we are honest, it's to an era that has never really existed.
I dream of and hope for a vision that embraces the priorities of Jesus, that is crafted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and is so compelling and so powerful that each conservative and each liberal will be able to embrace it so that we can truly go forward.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3036