Two Models of Church: Which One You Choose Makes All the Difference

Every Seventh-day Adventist has their own particular ideas about “how to be church.” The collective mental model a congregation adopts becomes the foundation for the values and priorities their church pursues. That mental model determines both the personality and culture of church life. It is therefore crucial that each member carefully examine their thinking to make sure it aligns with scripture.

The following graphics and text present my understanding of two of the most prominent mental models of church within Adventism: 1) the “Information Model” on the left and 2) the “Love of God Model” on the right. Which one you adopt will result in dramatically different dynamics within the local congregation.

Look over this first graph and then read the description and analysis that follows. Please refer back to this first graph as you read.

At present, many Seventh-day Adventist churches are operating under what I call the “Information Model” of church. This model, or way of thinking, says that the main purpose of our church is to teach correct biblical information around the globe. It says that the central reason our church exists is to make truth known. We often hear this expressed as, “The fundamental mission of our church is to spread the Three Angels’ Messages.” That is the root thinking that is in many people’s heads when you ask them what God’s overarching purpose is for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in these last days.

And out of that Root model and perspective flow a number of Fruits or consequences. There is a cause/effect relationship. Each consequence leads logically to the one above it up the sequential chain.

In this model, correct biblical information is given highest priority. It is central.

If information is primary, then we tend to depend more and more on programs and media for outreach because they can get the information out the quickest to the most people.

If information is paramount, then we will tend to focus almost exclusively on reaping. When you present information, people need to either accept it or reject it. There is little, if any, middle ground. They need to make a decision. Such decision-making is the very essence of reaping ministries.

Reaping ministries tend to rely on very few Spiritual Gifts, mostly those of evangelism and teaching. Members who don’t have those Gifts will feel as though they don’t fit in. They feel that their particular Gifts are not nearly as valuable.

If information is central, members will tend to rely more and more on the professional clergy, because the pastors have been to seminary and know how to explain the information best. Average members will often avoid sharing the biblical information because they feel anxious that they might get it wrong or mess it up.

If ministry is more and more in the hands of the professionals, then the members will become spectators.

Because the members are not utilizing their Spiritual Gifts in ministry, the work of the church falls mainly on the pastor, who races around reacting to need after need. As a result, he/she is not able to fulfill their biblical role as an equipper.

All of these “fruits,” all of these consequences, flow quite naturally, and tragically, from people’s root understanding of church. Does this description of church life sound at all familiar to you? Perhaps you can now understand better where it all comes from.

The scriptures actually present an entirely different model of church, which I call the “Love of God Model.” It says that the main purpose of church is to build people who can live God’s love. It focuses on collectively revealing, as a community of faith, what the Godhead is really like. Very different fruit or consequences flow from this root understanding and church life changes dramatically.

In the “Love of God Model” people are central. Building people is at the heart of our mission.

And if we are going to build people, relationships become very important. By contrast, building close relationships is seen as “extra” or “optional” in the Information Model.

If we are going to grow all kinds of people, then we need to be able to meet all kinds of needs, not just reaping.

If we are going to try and meet all kinds of people needs, we must utilize all the Spiritual Gifts. They all have an important and special place.

In order for the members to activate their Spiritual Gifts, they need to understand that they are all ministers, what the bible calls spiritual “priests.They may not have the gift of pastoring, but they are gifted nonetheless. Their calling is just as important as that of the pastor.

If we are focused primarily on building people, then we will give disciple-making high priority.

Now that the members are involved in ministry, the pastor is freed to focus on fulfilling his/her biblical role as equipper.

The dotted lines on the graph above indicate which fruits or consequences relate to one another. In every case, they are quite different in the two models.

It is very important to realize that you cannot simply go from one of the “fruits” on the left side of the graph directly across to the corresponding fruit on the right side. For instance, you cannot go directly from “Few Spiritual Gifts” to “All Spiritual Gifts” simply by holding a Spiritual Gifts Seminar. You must first change people’s root understanding. There are no shortcuts. Without changing the root model in their heads, any change will almost always create unnecessary resistance and confusion.

You must first take people, in their hearts and minds, from the “Information Model” to the “Love of God Model.” You need to change the mind before you change the method. Otherwise any changes you make will simply be like a stretched rubber band that will snap back into its original form once you let go.*

This does not mean that correct biblical information isn’t important. Our doctrines are very important. Truth is vital, but it is not an end in itself. The main purpose of our doctrines is to help us understand God’s character of love and become a more loving people. The more truth the more potential for love.

Information is, in fact, part of the larger “Love of God Model.” The two models are not an either/or choice, they are both/and. They need to be integrated in the proper way as the following graphic indicates. The dashed line around “Information” indicates that it flows into the larger “Love of God Model.”

Jesus taught us about the proper relationship between truth/information and love. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He then goes on to say, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40 RSV).

Our Lord reveals that all the information in the “law and prophets,” a typical Hebrew phrase designating the entire Old Testament, has one over-riding purpose: to enable us to love.[1] The stories, admonitions, laws, prophecies, psalms, and proverbs in the Old Testament were never intended to become an end in themselves. They were given to provide us with the insights and understandings we need in order to love like Jesus loves. The same could be said for the New Testament as well.

The Spirit of Prophecy goes so far as to say, “If the truth we profess to believe does not change the heart and transform the character, it is of no value to us.”[2]

Of course the Adventist church is given the sacred responsibility of shining a bright spotlight on the Three Angels’ Messages. But to think we have accomplished God’s intention by simply preaching external facts without exploring their deep connection to how we live is to do them a sad injustice and reinforce the Information Model. They must be placed within the context of God’s larger, holistic, relational purpose.

That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV). That is why Ellen White wrote, “The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.”[3] Note that she is not talking here about simply sharing information. She continues that statement by saying, “The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them.”[4]

It is vitally important that we put aside our preconceived ideas and preferences and make time to carefully and deeply understand God’s model and plan. Such understanding comes not only as a cognitive exercise. We can’t learn about how to love simply by reading about it. That’s like trying to learn how to swim by taking correspondence courses. We also learn about love relationally, as we interact in meaningful ways within our family, our church, our workplace, and our community. From a biblical perspective, the most important goal any Adventist congregation can aspire to in fulfilling its end time role is to take all that we know and utilize it to become, by God’s grace, experts in love.

*The “Spiritual Body Building” small group lessons were specifically designed to take people from the “Information Model” to the “Love of God” model. See (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists).

Notes & References:

[2] Ellen G. White, “Brotherly Love Needed,” Review and Herald, October 31, 1893.

[4] Ibid, 415-416. Emphasis supplied.

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 (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Ever had something gnawing on the back of your thinking and not be able to identify just what it was? Well, Kim: thank you for your work on this. Now I know. As someone (I think it was Eugene Peterson) observed regarding Stephen’s presentation to the Sanhedrin, he pointed out that law was unable to keep Israel from idolatry. No difference for us: Law/information hasn’t gotten us into the kingdom yet. It is time to broaden our understanding what it is we’re here to do: make disciples of Jesus…THEN teach them.
Again, thanks for the article.


If one visits around the average SDA church [small AND large congregations] the
church community is organized TO BE the “information congregation.”
For SDA churches the BUILDINGS are NOT designed for the promotion of the
“love model.”
There HAS to be weekly socialization at church each week among the members.
Usually there is NO PLACE allowed for members to sit down with/without drinks
and snacks to talk, to meet each other, and get to know each other, and talk about
So RELATIONSHIPS are not developed very easily. Members of ALL SDA churches
are ENCOURAGED to arrive just as services begin, and to LEAVE right after services
are concluded. NOT to sit down at a table, and hang around to visit.

At my Sunday church we have a room with tables and chairs, a small kitchen. By 7:30am
the coffee pots and hot water pots [for tea and chocolate] are plugged in. By 8am there
are some snacks on the table. And clean up is not started until 1pm.
Members are encouraged to sit and visit prior to services and to continue a while after
services. [members supply coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, creamer, bring the snacks,
bagels and spreads, etc.]
There are quite a number of social programs that service the larger non-church
community that the members are engaged in. Most of these community programs
were begun with a few discussion needs of the community, they develop a Committee,
and bring their plan to the leadership for approval, and these Community Projects are
Member run/operated. One project began about 20 years ago with helping a school in
Haiti with $1000 a year donation. NOW it takes $50,000 to be raised to finance that
project. And it is still ALL Member operation. This money DOES NOT come out of
church budget.
We have an ART CENTER, teaching painting, ceramics, photography. Have 2
youth groups we minister to – a girl’s program, a boy’s program [disadvantaged].
Back in the 80’s began an HIV ministry with several community people and became
a housing for 55 persons.
We also have welcomed Alcoholics Anonymous on M-W-F evenings for a very long
But ALL these program began as MEMBER initiated [not pastor, or church board] and
continue as MEMBER functioning and MEMBER promotion.


The model on the right has been my thinking for many, many years. Thanks for expressing it!


This article reminds me of Jesus’ saying in John 16:12 where he articulated ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’. It is quite interesting to note that there are some truths which the Lord himself chose not to reveal to his disciples, rather, he left it to be revealed by the Holy Spirit. However, when it came to love, he held nothing back in revealing the full extent of love we ought to have for each other.

May we all strive to become “Experts in love”, for this is great height to which we have been called. Amen.


Amen! And Amen!

It dawned on me recently that our Church borders on being gnostic. Is the term
“gnostic Christian” a contradiction in terms? You tell me. Here is one definition of “gnostic” used as an adjective: “relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge.” The Wikipedia article on Gnosticism says, " Gnostics are “those who are oriented toward knowledge and understanding – or perception and learning – as a particular modality for living”.

Just today, I recycled a mailing from Secrets Unsealed. Does the very name sound gnostic? Does the definition above - “especially esoteric mystical knowledge” - seem applicable? Then there is the not-too-distant relative of Secrets Unsealed - Amazing Facts. More promise of information and knowledge - gnosis (“knowledge of spiritual mysteries”). Personally, I believe way too much of our evangelism takes this same approach of promising inside information. You will find advertising for evangelistic meetings that don’t even mention Jesus. I saw another of those just recently in my own back yard.

Now to be sure, Gnosticism had/has many theological tenets that we do not believe, but this one angle seems applicable.

As this fine article points out, we are far too frequently in the information model. I fear this model is very risky regarding progress toward Christlikeness. The focus is in the wrong place. One will surely be found in good stead with God through close reliance on and partnership with Jesus. One will not be necessarily be in good stead with God because one “knows” a lot of stuff.


Recently I was concerned to hear from my son that his pastor spoke on his “new” version of the “Sanctuary Doctrine” for two weeks in a row! The next week the pastor took time to explain why attendance has become so low. Entire pews are empty. In a church that seats 600 no more than 150 people attend now. This seemed to me to be more like the pastor teaching a college Bible class than sharing an edifying message. I find this sad.


There are two major cancers in the SDA that appear will never be removed surgically. Therefore, their malignant effects got worse throughout the years. They are:

  1. The perfectionism heresy
  2. The Lie about 1844.

Both of these have been destroying many people’s lives in church for decades, basically since the Church’s inception. Just consider the damage that the fundamentalistst caused to the Church in the past few decades. Look at the fiasco of the Desmond Ford story in the 1960s and 1970s!

I am just reading Milton Hook’s superb book, the biography of Desmond Ford. So revealing about the way the Church operates. It’s just insane! A total disgrace. @milton007 @gford1


In a nutshell… What’s the lie about 1844?

Stating that it is a biblical doctrine, or teaching. Anyone studying the book of Hebrews will easily see that the 1844 story cannot be true.


Dwayne, just in case you can’t find it in Hebrews here is a starter: chapter 9 verse 12 “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” NO! NO! NO! the cry goes up. The atonement was only half-finished. He came out of the MHP, it used to be said, and loitered around until 1844 and then made a second entrance to start examining all the records in order to complete the atonement. George is right. It’s a lie and not a very subtle one at that.


It seems, not all “preconceived ideas,” are created equal since we are still operating from a base line that is “preconceived” - ie:

The three angels’ message defines the Gospel with a unique and preconceived definition.


Obviously the model on the right. however, it cannot survive without knowledge or proper information.There must be substance. John Stott’s influence has done much to give substance to Christsinity.without dogma in its worst form as Ted Wilson has dominated in recent times within Adventism. From Glacier View on a dogmatic purge mentality has prevailed within Adventism. Keeping the Sabbath has dominated over honoring the Lord of the Sabbath. Instead of a straight way, the administration keeps devising a straight jacket.


When I was in college, School of Theology, Brazil, class of 1972 I had one great teacher, Jerome P. Justesen. He spent 6 years in Brazil, had lots of opposition because he was teaching Justification by Faith alone. I was his student secretary for the last two years and we became friends for life. One day he told me, read the book of Hebrews incessantly. But I didn’t at that time.

Then, … I read the GV document (book) sometime in 1980, then I started reading Hebrews incessantly since.

By the way, your (very well written and documented) book is exceptionally good. I am already half way through it; hope to finish it this weekend. I should never discuss Ford again with people who didn’t read your book. Why to waste time talking to people who don’t know what they are talking about anyway? :thinking:


Kim, thank for your clear graphic. I remember a newly baptized adult member expressing to me surprise that in front of the church body he was required to assert certain expressions of belief and trying to think if he agreed with all of them. But he went ahead to be baptized. Knowing how to treat people kindly and how to love and care about them is more important than head knowledge.


Thesis and anti-thesis.

Object Relations Theory posits that the template of our interpersonal relationship is formed during our childhood years and is carried into adulthood. The images of our early interactions with primary care providers are turned into “part objects” and is interpreted by how they satisfy the infants physical needs. This childhood experience influences the way we attach ourselves to others and more importantly it is used to predict how we expect others to respond to us. For instance a child who is fed at regular and expected times interprets the mother as a “good” mother whereas a child who is inconsistently fed when hungry interprets the mother as a “bad” mother. This template becomes the bedrock of personality traits and is used in unconscious ways in developing interpersonal relationships. The essence of understanding this theory is to transform these “part objects” into “whole object” by nurturing the child in a “good enough” environment so as to help the child discover that both the good and bad parts of their environment in reality comes only from one object. By doing so, we are able to temper and accept ambivalences as we journey in life. More importantly, we are able to accept and tolerate God in ways whether we are satisfied or frustrated in life. Only then can we proceed with putting aside our “preconceived ideas and preferences” and fully understand God.


Can I add: 3. The belief that Ellen G. White (the writer who wrote many books and then told the church that it was every member’s duty to sell the books to every home around the world) was inspired by the Holy Spirit. :sob:


I’m not sure if it’s a matter of one form or the other. It’s more about stages of spiritual development. There is a need for “facts”, otherwise, where do you start…

Whenever I get frustrated - tired of this fact-based worship of the foundational pillars of the Adventist church, I have to remind myself, but for those, I don’t know where I would be today. Many of us grow out of this form of doing church - as we should. The problem is, there’s nothing to grow into. It’s like getting stuck in primary school, as your brain matures. At some point the hunger for more makes it impossible to sit through another self-congratulalory service. Perhaps we should dispense with doing “church” - raised platforms, and credentialed hierarchal “clergy” - and revert back to studying the Bible - not Sabbath School - in small groups. I might even go.


Is this an explanation ? . . .