Survival Tactics for Visionaries

The official looking letter said that the conference president wanted to meet with me at a certain date/time. The local church I pastored in the late 1970s had been involved in some new ministry initiatives and I thought that certainly must be the catalyst for such a rare invitation.

After I drove two-and-half-hours, the president’s secretary ushered me in to what we pastors called the “Inner Sanctum.” Our tall, silver-haired, grandfatherly leader came out from behind his large oak desk to greet me.

“Well, hi Kim, great to see you,” he began. “You must be wondering why I called you in. I wanted to confirm with you personally something that I heard from others. Is it correct that you are holding Sabbath School classes that don’t use the General Conference Quarterly?”

Somewhat taken aback, my mind quickly groped for a cogent reply. Was this really the main topic? Images of our recent Sabbath School initiative flashed through my mind.

Our church had invited the conference evangelist to hold a series of meetings that were to begin in six months. Wondering how to maximize the number of people we reached with the gospel, I recalled Ellen White’s stirring analysis,

If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one. —Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, p. 189, emphasis supplied.

“That’s it!” I thought. The best preparation would be to help the church become more caring.

I strategized a way forward. I recalled Douglas Cooper’s recently released book, Living God’s Love and envisioned the impact if we could study that book together for one quarter in Sabbath School. I brought the idea to the Church Board with the caveat that one class would still study the Quarterly for those who wanted it. To my delight, they supported the idea unanimously.

After only three weeks, the results were amazing. People shared from their heart. Relationships took center stage. Many individuals spoke to me about how helpful the experience was for them personally.

After the eighth week, I received the president’s letter.

“Yes,” I told the president warily, “we have made a temporary change. Lives are being...”

He leaned forward and interrupted. “But the Quarterlies are vital. They are like a religious diet. The General Conference knows what we need to get balanced spiritual meals. One quarter is the peas, another is the potatoes, and then the entrée, etc. If you omit one of those quarters the people won’t be getting all the spiritual nutrients they need.”

Too unnerved to reply, I just sat there and stared into his narrowing eyes. Could missing one quarter’s worth of the Quarterly really be so disruptive to the cosmic religious scheme of things? It felt like means and ends had somehow gotten terribly confused.

I soon returned to my car and my eyes welled up with tears. As I drove home, something within me shriveled. Some small part of my visionary heart had been callously chipped away. Other similarly disappointing incidents would follow over the ensuing years and decades.

For most of my life I have been what I would call a big picture guy. I am also an inveterate dreamer and possibility thinker. The future can seem as real to me as current reality itself. Through many emotional highs and brutal lows, I have picked up a few ideas of how visionaries like me can survive, especially within what might be a rigid, change resistant, hierarchical church environment.

1. Understand people’s roles.

It has helped me immensely to realize that the world is made up of three types of people: 1) Visionaries, 2) Planners, and 3) Doers. They are expressions of the Spiritual Gifts, in order, of Faith, Administration, and Helps.

Unless individuals within an organization understand these roles and appreciate each other’s perspective and contribution, things can go south in a hurry. If you put a Doer on a Visionary committee, it won’t take long before they say, “All you guys ever do is TALK and never DO anything!” On the other hand, if you put a Visionary on a Doer committee, they’ll say, “You guys are very busy but you don’t have a clue where you’re going!”

Ideally, leaders would be primarily Visionaries and Planners. The tendency, however, within many organizations is to promote Doers because they look so productive. The problem, of course, is that Doers are not equipped to think in broad terms. It’s simply not who they are. If they recognize their leadership limitations, they will humbly surround themselves with a team that balances out the need for Visionaries and Planners. If they do not, then they are at risk of falling into the category portrayed in the venerable saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” They’ll tend to major in minors and pursue simplistic answers to multi-faceted issues. Doer leaders ignore the organizational GPS, the institutional radar, that visionaries provide at their own peril.

Visionaries, Planners, and Doers see the world very differently. People are not often purely one or the other, but we do have distinct tendencies. Understanding these differences helps me to not take rejection or opposition too personally.

2. Find other visionaries for support.

In my humble opinion, there are far fewer Visionaries in life than Planners. And there are fewer Planners than Doers. That can make it hard for Visionaries to find each other. When I used to teach seminars on visioning and strategic planning, I’d tell anyone who self-identified as a visionary to find others like them by watching people’s eyes. I said, “When you share the vision, watch to see if the other person’s eyes light up or if they kinda dull over. That says it all.”

3. Manage your expectations.

Don’t think in terms of “all or nothing.” Divide the vision into bite-sized pieces that others can swallow. Work with the willing rather than resenting the naysayers. Start with a small group of the most interested and expand out slowly from there. Even just one sympathetic partner can make an important difference. Rejoice in small steps. Remind yourself that it is far better to go one step in the right direction than a hundred miles in wrong direction.

4. Take time to nurture your calling and validate your purpose.

For me this happens best through quiet reflection and reading authors who resonate with my deepest longings. For instance, the following quote from Eric Stetson helps feed my visionary soul:

For whatever reason, I have always felt compelled to be a visionary…Right now, I guess I’m just trying to accept it for what it is: the way I am — and the way a small percentage of humans need to be in any generation, so that bold dreams of a better tomorrow always have a place in the human consciousness and enough advocates unwilling to relegate them to the realm of “only dreams.” —Stetsonius Redivius, downloaded 12-6-17.

Kim 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 He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I always wondered why the conference sent THREE top-level suits for a meeting with me at the church! I’m a Visionary, Planner and Doer. I am a triple threat! :joy:.

Fortunately for me, my spouse is fabulous support as a Planner and Doer. We spawned two sons who are each Visionaries, Planners and Doers. We are a Dangerous Family.

I have seen it over and over, Visionaries are not appreciated by our church and are seen as a threat.

Protect the narrative, quarantine the thoughts and keep status quo. That seems to be the operating policy.

I am glad that Dan Jackson has other plans. He must be a Visionary, Planner, and Doer. He is beautifully dangerous. Thank God.


Back in the 1980,s I was a Sabbath School teacher. My class was well attended and was one of four adult classes. In the forward of every Quarterly that introduced the topics to be discussed was the notion that the Quarterly was to be used as a “guide” but a more advanced teacher who did more class preparation could introduce expanded content into the lesson plan that would shed more light onto the topic.

I bought a set of books sold at the Adventist Book Store that featured the writtngs [sermons] of other notable Adventist Pioneers who were contemporary with Ellen White. I started to infuse what I was learning from these books into the lesson plan. Mid way into the quarter, I began to see faces of “The Establishment” who would always be in another class. Before the end of the quarter, I was summoned to the Church Board to answer for my crime of not teaching strictly form the established format of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and maybe Wednesday if you were lucky to get that far. Also, if I was to remain a Sabbath School teacher, I would refrain from using anybody BUT the Bible and Ellen White.

My spirit was crushed and after several more months, I elected not to continue as a Sabbath School teacher. I had former class members going to church board meetings asking for my re-instatement to which they and I said it was a personal decision not to teach.

Other visionary stuff I attempted would end in some of the same results which eventually led me to walk out of the Church. My Wife soldiered on and would attend by herself, but eventually walked out herself.

That was perhaps 20 to 25 years ago. Even after all of these years, I still identify as Adventist but just Unchurched. I still have a personal problem with organized religion. For every person like myself, there are people like Dan Jackson who figure out how to step up inspite of the headwinds and go on to do great things for God’s cause.


I am so sorry, Stephen. I understand what it is like to have your wings clipped. Some us were designed by God to stretch and explore.

But doing something different really does scare the powers-that-be. It is a trust issue. They don’t trust that you worship the same God they do because you do it in a different way. You don’t conform to the “set” schedule and pattern.

That’s their problem. It is their loss. And I am sad that the rest of your SS members lost out, too. I am sorry for the stabbing pain that they inflicted. We can be a mean church.

“Unchurched” isn’t always a bad thing. God is not a respecter of walls. Blessings.


i’m thinking now that history will characterize TW’s tenure as GC president as the tenure of a doer in chief…some people will think this has been good, but many people will conclude it has been disastrous…being a doer in chief would be why TW has placed such importance on uniformity and conformity to a delegate vote…it would also be why he could sit in battle creek, listening to speaker after speaker offer many things from the heart, and only muster a comment on whether time constraints were being adhered to…

correctly identifying TW as a doer in chief partially lifts his record into forgivable territory…after-all, we cannot fault someone for not being what he cannot be…being an accomplished speaker who never strays from script, who is evidently committed, disciplined and punctilious, not to mention being the son of a previous president, it is perhaps easy to see why committee persons selected and finally voted for him…

but looking into the future, i think we really do need a visionary now, and preferably someone from outside of our current GC…that person should certainly surround him or herself with planners and doers, but ultimately, he or she should be able to imagine what doesn’t yet exist, and be able to judge whether it is desirable for us to move in that direction…this person should be big picture oriented, possessing a sense of nuance and sensitivity…he or she shouldn’t be so riveted to securing details at every step…above all, there should be a sense of proportion and balance…the capacity to exploit divisions in the church to secure as policy a strongly held personal viewpoint, and not be able to see that this doesn’t achieve unity, shouldn’t be in the DNA of our next world leader…


For the most part, people with controlling tendencies are successful in their careers. They manage people, meet goals, work hard, surround themselves with “yes people” and are goal-driven. However their personal life tends to be chaotic. Friendships are volatile and tend to be constantly on trial.

How does one develop controlling tendencies? Parenting plays a significant role in that parents are not attuned to their children’s temperament. Love was conditional and achievement based and tasks were valued over relationships. Nurturing was inconsistent and unreliable so the child learned to be suspicious of others and be independent instead.

Instead of fostering cooperation, these individuals demand compliance. When denied they turn to punishment and vindictiveness. When conflicts arise, these individuals develop unhealthy defense mechanisms such as paranoia and distort reality to remain in control.

Tips for controlling individuals include softening their approach, fostering cooperation and tending to relieve their anxiety by participating in cognitive behavioral therapy with the likes of Dr. Tichy @GeorgeTichy and Kim @cincerity

Prayers become more successful when these individuals understand the dynamics of their behaviors and develop appropriate and socially adaptive defense mechanisms.


this is really interesting, elmer…i’m sensing that you think the TW phenomenon is his parents’ fault…

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Welcome to the Spectrum Club of Visionaries!.. :laughing:


In the spring of 2010, I attended a nice Sabbath lunch with friends and met Alberto Timm, the personable and talented Seventh-day Adventist Church leader in Brazil. We talked about how Ted Wilson could be a successful GC president. (We both knew at that time that he would be elected GC president). I suggested that Ted should surround himself not with pastors but with people who have skill sets and life experiences that are varied and much different than his own. Alberto was favorably receptive to my suggestion.

This conversation still remains in my mind as I think about the last eight years and the many opportunities that have been squandered. What might have happened if what I casually suggested in that social gathering had been implemented by Ted? I think we can agree that he has done the best he can. Though he is limited in various important ways, he does have some impressive strengths. But he plateaued a long, long time ago. And the Church has suffered as a result.


Thanks for sharing your tragic story. I am very sorry that you were another victim of those black suited saints that appear to believe that people literally belong to the Church. But it’s not true, we don’t belong to the Church, we owe ARE the Church. But those Pharisees and Sadducees are mesmerized by their “ecclesiastical authority!” This explains their rogue behavior!


Such arrogance and hubris, it is as if this Quarterly is the answer to all the learning requirements of the brethren. This is uniformity with everyone everywhere on the planet doing the same thing at the same time and doesn’t address practical issues of the life of a believer, but is orderly and is bureaucrats dream come true. This ‘Quarterly’ will not reinvigorate the spirit of discovery in Present Truth, but instead has the effect of lulling the reader to sleep by having everything laid out so one no longer need think or study. My conclusion is that current use as a one off solution for addressing the needs of the believers has been a disaster.

The gathering of the disciples and later converts to Christ was never about studying a ‘Quarterly’. It doesn’t address the weary or hurting who after a week of life experience show up hoping and wishing they can receive healing and strength to face yet another week. The weekly gathering that could be such a blessing to address the weary soul for comfort and solutions to problems in life becomes a piety ritual and reading club.

This Pastor and others are better served to address to peoples needs as Jesus did:
a) for those who wish provide structured study of Bible themes and I can see the quarterly fulfilling that purpose

b) advanced thematic format which is more structured to explore doctrines by examination of Bible topics using their contemporary context as we know it today from historians and various writers thoughts throughout history (yes EGW and those before her relied on non-SDA resources), ect. As an example my son, who is attending Keio university (famous college in Japan i.e. Yale) , wrote his practice thesis on the validity of the sabbath for Christians in his 3rd year History major class. It was great to see how it turned out and the process for getting sources, critical thinking, logical comparisons, and lack of biased approach. Something like this which challenges the group to prove their faith and explore ideas by evidence not tradition and assumptions.

c) practical Christianity ministry which addresses issues for those who need help in life situations

d) any other ideas?

The dry, repetitive and instantly forgettable services we have now must change in order to get out of Laodacea, apathy, and tradition embracing death of church going.


Please do not think I am insinuating that “TW phenomenon is his parents’ fault.” All I’m saying is parents have an influence and contribute to how personality traits are developed in their children. What exactly TW received from his parents, I really do not know.


interesting concept Jeremy, However; sometimes perhaps God gives us a set of parents that almost hinder our personality development rather than encourage it. God gives us each a set of trials and opportunities perfectly tailored to our unique personality and circumstances so that HIS likeness can be made perfect in our imperfect state. Having seen the inside of the ‘inner sanctum’ more often that i would have preferred i sympathize with the author of the article!!!


#11 David1 Re. studying the Quarterly
“… with everyone everywhere on the planet doing the same thing
at the same time …”
Somewhat reminiscent of the story of a past French Minister of Education
who turned to the visitor in his office and said:
“At this moment every student in class X will be doing Mathematics and working
on the set problems on page 126 of the textbook.”


I would agree with you for the majority of cases but there is a segment of this population who fail to broaden their perspective and feel they are tasked to continue with their skewed upbringing. It becomes a problem when these individuals attain positions of responsibilities is secular and parochial institutions and the ghost of their past influence their agenda. Then everyone pays the price of their childhood struggles.


Like you, I taught adult SS for many years in several churches, since I moved around a lot. I NEVER taught out of the quarterly - didn’t even have the teacher’s edition. I would get up early (4 or 5) and write my own lessons. I would use, either the title of the lesson, or the “memory verse” as my jumping off base. The two seldom made sense together; and I have always disliked “memory verses” since they are disjointed, without context, and give us a patch-quilt concept of the Bible.

I stopped attending church, altogether, when it became counterproductive to my spiritual journey. I returned once, attending Sabbath afternoon study group. After a back-and-forth discussion about “righteousness by faith”, an old time member replied, “Have I been keeping the Sabbath for nothing all these years?” I realized then, I couldn’t do this any more.

I had learned from the best. While attending college, Roy Branson, while attending Harvard, used come on campus on Sabbaths and always taught a SS class. When he wasn’t there, several of us took turns filling in - great learning experience.


Yeah I remembered that you mentioned that before and it made an impression on me.

IMHO, the Quarterly and SS in general, indeed most of religion is the odd practice of perpetually relearning the basics of something that is claimed to be of vital importance and utility in life, which fact, more or less clearly shows that the substance is actually the opposite: It is worthless and not useful in your life.

How many people on a quarterly basis revisit the things they learned in grade-school or HS in order to keep functioning in life? We don’t sit down in weekly classes as adults and recite the alphabet, chant multiplication tables, do fractions, review the rules of grammar, etc. Those things all have utility in life, so we retain a functional use of them, even if some things are forgotten.

Retaining knowledge of whether the Gods did three forward flips followed by was it one or two somersaults then a handstand on the other hand has no utility, other than claiming to know so is part of group identity, and helps you define whether your neighbor is in or out of your group, because he thinks it was one somersault, not two, like you do. Thus retaining knowledge about all the things that the Gods are purported to do up in heaven must constantly be relearned, it being allegedly of great importance, but no actual utility in life. If it was actually useful, you would remember it just like you don’t forget how to talk.


A number of years ago, one time the Sabbath School teacher did not show up.
An old-in-age member of the class turned around and told me to teach. I did.
After that I was on the once-a-month schedule.
I would bring in handouts that I considered expanded the topic material. And
sometimes give handouts to take home, read Sabbath afternoon.
After about 6 months I was no longer scheduled. someone else took my week.
It was close to 1 whole year later, I had arrived early. Was sitting in the back of
the church meditating. The Sabbath School leader came and ask if I knew WHY
I was replaced. I said, “No”. He said it was because of the handouts. Several
of the members complained that the handouts were NOT ALWAYS by SDA authors.
So I was essentially – FIRED.
When I taught in Academy for about 20 years, in my classes I would always present
expanded materials. [They could read the book, WHY just re-read in class. I thought
that way about the Lesson Quarterly each sabbath. To me it is boring to re-read
what one went over all week, word for word, line by line.] So I was teaching the Bible
S.S. class on my week the same way.
Foolish me! Thinking the Adults in my Bible Study community would enjoy that.


David –
On another Spectrum topic, several Brethren from Africa discussed how
North America has continued to control the church there.
Perhaps the World-Wide Lesson Quarterly is ONE OF THESE controls.
They are prepared, closely edited by, printed by, distributed by the General Conference
Office of SDA in Silver Springs, MD, USA.
Perhaps EACH DIVISION might come up with its OWN set of Sabbath School Materials
and NOT be controlled by the General Conference Sabbath School MANDATES.

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