In 2010 five friends, all engaged in Adventist pastoral ministry, met for fellowship, reflection and prayer in Room 602 of a Denver, Colorado, Holiday Inn. After two days they looked at one another and “acknowledged again,” one of them wrote later, “that Jesus was number one.”
It was the birth of the One Project, whose third American “gathering”—the first took place in Atlanta two years ago, the second in Seattle last year—began on Monday in a hotel outside of Chicago. Shortly after 9 a.m., the worship team was teaching participants, some 700 of them organized around tables in a large ballroom, a prayer song featuring this repeated phrase: “Christ alone, / Cornerstone.”
Songs and short sermons followed by table discussion focused all day on Jesus—the “Cornerstone,” the “One,” the “totality of our faith.” “Christ alone.” “Just Jesus.” These were recurrent phrases everyone will remember and organizers hope will seep into the wider Adventist consciousness. And the One Project’s influence is already widening out. Besides the many students and other Adventists in attendance, those gathered on Monday included a well-known editor, several college and university leaders, one or more hospital administrators and one Division president.
On the centered ballroom stage, presenters spoke under four large screens while participants not only listened but also texted questions to which the speakers later responded. Alex Bryan, senior pastor of the Walla Walla University Church, was first. He held up Jesus as the “third way”—between anything-goes self-indulgence and narrow, arrogant fundamentalism. Emily Flottmann, also a pastor at the Walla Walla University Church, noted that Peter made a great catch of fish just after telling Jesus that that would be impossible. The surprise helped him shift from “haughty confidence” to “humble confession,” and reminds us to make that shift ourselves. It’s heartbreaking, Pastor Flottmann remarked, “when we speak as if there’s nothing else to learn.” Tim Nixon, chaplain an Andrews University, finished the morning with a perspective on leadership. The world is about “hierarchical systems”; Jesus, by contrast, was a “servant leader.” Being “humble” and “treating people well” are what truly matter.
Following an ample break for lunch (several restaurants were giving discounts to participants), Sam Leonor, chaplain at La Sierra University, affirmed a Jesus-centered evangelism. The beasts of the apocalypse must not come first because, unlike Jesus, they give no comfort. But mere words about Jesus are inadequate, too; words without Christ-shaped lives are “pointless.” Tim Gillespie, Loma Linda University Church’s Young Adult Pastor, having called participants to a moment of silence in memory of Morris Venden, took up the theme of the cross of Christ. All our religious language—especially familiar Adventist words like “revival” and “latter rain”—must be pressed into the service of the crucified Jesus.
There were breakout sessions following the evening break for food. At one of them Chris Blake, a member of the Union College faculty, addressed leadership of “activist” Sabbath School classes. In a nod to Adventism’s tendency to doctrinal self-assurance, he noted that “because we’re right, we stop thinking.” But then he added that being right is not, in any case, the point. Study does its job only when it motivates people into the various ministries of generosity exemplified in Christ.
Is it the One Project? Or is it the One Project? As the first day ended, it seemed clear that it really is—both.
—Chuck Scriven is president of Kettering College and chairs the Adventist Forum|Spectrum board. His last essay was A New Kind of Adventism.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5075