What Drives Me Crazy about Adventist Churches

In this article I would like to share my greatest frustration about Adventist churches. I am not speaking simply as a pastor, but as a lifelong Adventist. And while there are lots of areas in which our churches could improve, here is my personal Number One.

Adventist Churches are "All Talk"

OK, definitely not all of them. But many of them. And here is what I mean:

Adventists talk a lot about spreading the gospel and reaching our communities. But for the most part it’s all talk. When it comes down to it, we don't really want to reach our communities. We only want to reach the kinds of people who will respond to our narrow methods of evangelism. We don't spend time studying the culture. We don't invest in getting to know their worldviews, their art, their language, or their value systems. We don't take time to build bridges with them and to familiarize ourselves with their world. We don't adapt our outreach and ministry efforts to connect with them and we don't recalibrate our own personal lives in order to more effectively reach them. Instead, we draw a cultural box in our own heads and unconsciously (or maybe not?) choose to reach only those people who fit into our box.

Don't believe me? Let me ask you, what would your church do if a bunch of druggies showed up next weekend? Or a couple of gangsters? How about a group of curious students from the local university who identify as LGBT+, or one of your youth brought their postmodern, skeptic friend to church? Now of course, the chances of these people turning up are slim to none to begin with. But for a moment, let’s assume they did turn up. What would we do? Would we know how to speak to them, communicate with them, and journey with them if they decided to keep attending? In my experience, most Adventists I have seen are so out of touch with the culture around them that they have almost no capacity to engage with anyone who doesn't fit into their box in some way, shape, or form.

Some would respond by saying, "I would just love them." A great start. But just loving them is meaningless if it is not accompanied by action that communicates that love. And such action is culturally defined. For example, a friend of mine who was baptized a few years ago recently confided that he has been struggling big time in his walk with God and is beginning to backslide. He comes from a gang culture, and even though he wants to follow God he has never been able to replace his gang friends because the church offers him no alternative. The people there are nice, yes. They love him and support him. But they don't understand him. And because they don't understand him, they have no idea how to show him love in the way he needs.

And why don't they understand him? Because none of them have taken the time to do so. Not one has even picked up a book on how to understand gang culture, let alone engaged him or others like him in conversation. They just assume he fits the box and must be OK. Multiply this anecdote by several thousand and you will get a glimpse of what happens in our churches all across the world.

Let's face it. Our way of doing church, evangelism, and outreach is designed to reach middle-class people who don't have too many vices and who are comfortable in a sort of old-school European kind of setting. We talk about outreach. We talk about evangelism. We talk about the great commission. But it’s all talk. The inconvenience of love — which calls us to adapt, learn, grow, think, devise, and become students of the culture — is missing in our Adventist churches. And this is the number one thing that drives me crazy about Adventist churches.

So what is the solution? I believe acceptance is number one. But this acceptance must be followed by repentance. And then, at least begin with the simple and easy step of picking up a book, watching a YouTube video, or reading a few articles on how the culture around you thinks, speaks, and relates to the world around them. But don't stop there. Step out of the box you have manufactured — the one where you can exist comfortably with all the people who think and see the world the same way you do — and begin to build relationships with the people outside that box. If all of us did this we would change the culture of our local Adventist churches and finally be ready to minister to our communities.

Here are three resources to get you started:

The book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

The World Religions Podcast by JR Forasteros

The book How to Get Along with Others by Ellen G. White

Pastor Marcos Torres is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism, and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This essay originally appeared on his blog, Pomopastor, and is reprinted here with permission.

Image Credit: Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8423
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I grew up at, and then unfortunately attended, Avondale College. Academic arrogance and social indifference is my experience with the SDA church.

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This:
“We only want to reach the kinds of people who will respond to our narrow methods of evangelism. We don’t spend time studying the culture. We don’t invest in getting to know their worldviews, their art, their language, or their value systems. We don’t take time to build bridges with them and to familiarize ourselves with their world. We don’t adapt our outreach and ministry efforts to connect with them and we don’t recalibrate our own personal lives in order to more effectively reach them. Instead, we draw a cultural box in our own heads and unconsciously (or maybe not?) choose to reach only those people who fit into our box.”

A big piece of the problem is our proud worldview that claims to have it ALL figured out. Saying, in effect, “we have nothing to learn from others.”

The current situation causes me great pain. We could use these perilous times to make friends with all sorts of people who are quite disenchanted about “traditional, Bible thumpin’ Christianity”—but no one really wants to do this. Instead, loud voices proclaim that any thing out of the “traditional” methodology is heresy. Sad and painful and disappointing—

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Hello Rohan.
I too grew up and attended Avondale College back in the 1980s.
Yes there are people there who are perhaps academically arrogant and socially indifferent, but there are also people there who are the opposite. You just need to take to take the time to seek out those persons who hold similar values and interests to yourself.

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When I was SDA I never felt comfortable inviting my friends from my 12 step group. This is so painfully right on truth. What I have also experienced after leaving the church is that no one wants to engage with me or even want to understand why I left. There is nothing that I see yet that would ever draw me back except for the few “heretics” who are actually teaching a very inclusive gospel. I wish there were some of those where I live but it’s all extremely conservative in my neck of the woods.

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This article is on point. The solution is not easy. I think the ultimate solution will be found outside of the SDA church that is stubbornly unwilling to change it tactics for reaching the larger world. At some point Laodicea stops being future and must be seen as PRESENT. It quite clear to me now that others will do the work, the SDA Church is just too blind with its remnant mindset and self righteousness attitude. Very sad to see.

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Amen amen and amen. I can think of one SDA church in my country that really engages with the community, and the conference office has to both shield them from the other churches, and moderate that successful church’s efforts and energies. I left my ineffectual church. The church we now have is non SDA, and embraces the type of people described in this article.

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I think we need to be careful of the broad brush, but yes, to a large degree this is true of Adventism and Christianity in general. Though it may hurt to hear it, the examples the author points out are well chosen. Don’t believe it? Sit back and watch what happens next time it happens in your congregation. Thankfully, here and there amongst us there are shining examples of individuals and congregations who are breaking this mold by the way they live, love, and care for others, but why isn’t the denomination who claim to be “the remnant” more open to ministering to the Women at the Well, or the Syro-Phoenician Women or the Matthew Shepards of the world?

I’ve often wondered about this. The intellectuals and scholars did seem to be an ever-present force in the stories of his ministry. Whether this was reported because these particular encounters were remarkable, and thus included in the Gospel accounts, or whether these individuals were there all the time is left a mystery.

Whatever the case, the stories we do have turn out to place the intellectuals in a negative context with a couple of exceptions. Some would interpret that circumstance to promote anti-intellectualism within the church but it seems to me that the intellectuals within religion today, including within adventism, are the ones who are promoting a more “user friendly” religion; a religion more in line with the one Christ promoted during his ministry.

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GC Prez Ted Wilson basically said exactly that in his inaugural speech at the GC in 2010. The smugness of Adventism caught in this notion that “ours is the remnant church” drives it to become the reference point around which every other person must conform to. It breeds a religiously toxic atmosphere in which people who don’t fit into the culture are cast aside as “outsiders”. Who wants to join a church where “come let us reason together” has been replaced with an arrogant mantra of “we have the truth?”

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Escaping “the bubble” on a denominational level is not a true escape. You’re still engaging the world around you from a point outside of it. The article still speaks in terms of “them” and “us” - “their art, their language, their value system”. Escaping it personally is another matter.

When I began to emerge, for a long time, it was difficult to give credence to ideas coming from “the outside”. There was something foreign about these ideas. Then I began to realize it was about language more than the ideas themselves. Even the dialogue between science and theology could be less confrontational if we realize that “the big bang” and “creation” are essentially talking about the same thing - one is observational and the other philosophical, but the event is the same. Once you learn the language of the “others” it’s much easier to identify and find commonality without elevating yourself above the other. Institutionaly it “ain’t going to happen”. There is too much fear involved.

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Pastor Torres, I’m interested in your understanding of “the narrative of Adventism” and how it relates to community outreach and ministry. What do you see as “our marching orders,” if you please?

Adventist writers from George Knight to the late Herbert Douglass have emphasized that the overarching “narrative of Adventism” is The Great Controversy Theme.

For example, referencing church historian George Knight:

White Estate: The Organizing Theme In pointing to what Ellen White calls the “grand central theme” of the Bible, Knight wrote that “in such passages we find our marching orders for the reading of both the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. . . . All our reading takes place within that context.... http://www.whiteestate.org/books/mol/Chapt22.html#note7

Herbert Douglass quotes Ellen White to demonstrate that the thrust of The Great Controversy Theme goes far beyond what Christendom generally considers the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

What Do Adventists Mean by the Great Controversy Theme First International Conference on Ellen G. White and Adventist History

The plan of redemption had a yet broader and deeper purpose than the salvation of man. It was not for this alone that Christ came to the earth; it was not merely that the inhabitants of this little world might regard the law of God as it should be regarded; but it was to vindicate the character of God before the universe.
Patriarchs and Prophets 68
http://herbdouglass.50megs.com/WhatDoAdventistsMeanGCTPart2.htm

How might this seemingly stringent “organizing theme,” this “narrative of Adventism,” be communicated in culturally sensitive ways that open doors to both effective social ministry and, at the same time, warn people of their danger and persuade them to join the Remnant in the fulfillment of the Three Angel’ Messages?

Thank you.

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Lots of truth in this article. But I sense frustration as well. I don’t know if he thinks he’s the only one doing something and others are not. Evangelizing in America is Super Tough. I’m with Toby Bear. I talk religion at work and at a Jail Ministry. I hesitate to invite them to a church service. All they will hear is health talks from a broken down person, or the end of the world from a conspirator. Or we are the greatest and only true church.

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Most SDA’a could go years without having non SDA’s into their home for a meal. They make “friends” with people at work but they will most likely never really get to know them properly and keep those people at arms length.
Heaven forbid if we went to their place for dinner, they may serve alcohol and we’ll turn into a pumpkin.

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Agreed. It is difficult to reach secular some young people. The words they use to express themselves we would consider vulgar. Their music is not harmonious to our ears, their food is not to our taste. Their sexual and social morals of inclusion free from judgment is difficult for almost all believers. We want to define things as right and wrong or as sin. Most of all their view of the law is not always positive but often negative. I don’t think a good stating place is the sacredness the Law of God or how one day is more holy then another.

The other day in my English classroom, at a public High School, I was playing soft instrumental music. Not one student could tell me if the song was a Christian hymn or not. A 17 year old female told me about one song I was playing was good for her heart. I asked her if she had ever heard the tune? She replied no, nobody else in the room had any idea either. It was “Nearer my God to Thee.” This lack of basic Christian teachings is more wide spread then we have any idea.

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I can look back on a SDA history sinvce the 1850ies - I owe the script of a sermon one of my ancestors delivered to the littlle split - off lay congregation on August 18, 1848 - - the group then heard about Sabbathkeepers in Swizerland and contacted Erzberger.

Then private Bibe study groups - Konventikel - were the attraction. War after war came -and preople were eager for catchhing some hold, since the Lords and Kings suddenly were - off. - - - And Adventists tried their best to be established as petty bourgeois, a little back in the history - see the great glasstaied window “Rosette” in Friedensau.-
and of course the organ. Times went by, new communkation media, new technologies, new Saturday Night fever epidemies - - new vacation places. and styles.

And the help - no , “help” came from the West. Just behave, obey and copy what is our big success. , so tent meetings in an area with little halls, large halls, domes - - and the public accepted Mc Donalds and Coke, but not
the evangelistic shows - -

-Times went by. -

My little local church , fouded 1933, : The maiority of members are young ones, having come from the street ! _Yes, we accepted them,So seing that for worship you are properly, festively dressed - they then came with outfits, somehow derived from the Beatles - - -ok, the Saville Road does not mark the lines of our dresscodes ! - - And then watch their weddings !! Unusual, but a joyful, happy day !!!

And now, in the suburb, we offer mother / babe - days,parents / teens - days - - but right across a first class health food supermarket and everybody crazy about wellbeing, wellness, body care, and a one hunderd percent social insurance system - please NO HEALTH EVENTS !

They share Bible studies, share heir probems of how to cultivate a Biblical family life, how to cope with their “worldly” problems . - and are eager to organize new attractions for mission ! No, not my taste, not something that would attract me - but it is fo a vey new generation !

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These agonized complaints get more difficult to read each passing decade. In my own experience, we care very little or not at all for the many scholars, intellectuals and thoughtful people who ask questions that possess no easy answers. And when some of our evangelists and administrators believe that they must keep their minds purified of false ideas by reading only the Bible, Ellen White (or in some cases, other Adventist books), under this pose of “purity” and “sanctification” they turn the Advent message into something simplistic and indefensible in the court of thoughtful opinion. It is significant to me that when hundreds of Adventist theologians and biblical scholars annually convene with 10,000 other scholars from around the world for the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, almost no administrator or evangelists ever attend (not even the SDA meetings alone). We seem not to care whether the “message” gets to them or not. Yet in the time of Jesus, the gospels are filled with his encounters with the learned of his culture as well as the common people. Perhaps we fear that the learned will be more difficult so give up, something Jesus did not do with Nicodemus or others.

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This is so simple that most completely miss it. This article used many words to say what I am going to say in one sentence.


Love is only known by concrete actions that are perceived as love.


Unpacking that sentence is several books. In that regard, the above article is helpful. I want to second the above motion. Adventist churches for the most part do not “demonstrate love by concrete actions.” Words? I didn’t say anything about words. Get the memo.

Look at Christs life. More time healing? Or more time preaching. Many mistake many of Christ’s conversations. Those are not teaching. Christ was trying to heal a mind that was way off track. So when you count, be certain to count with clarity on what is healing.

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I would hope, Pastor Torres, you’re modeling in your congregation what you expect to see happening in Adventism - reaching out to the larger community out there… Better than the average layperson you are in an ideal position to effect change. Right?

The real problem is Adventism is an oddball faith that is hard to explain to “outsiders.” No SdA would walk unannounced to anyone and say, “Hi, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.” Casual church visitors aren’t easily welcomed because they invade the place where being oddball is the comfortable norm. They become oddball invaders into this sanctuary. No comfort level for either group of oddballs. I speak from experience as a former pastorl

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We do need to spend more time in our communities. We need to be seen, showing the love of Christ. Paying the bill, feeding those in need. Visiting those in prison and in the hospital. You are so right. And when they are finally sitting next to us as family members, we need to make sure that we help them to integrate with their new family members. Bible studies. Pot lucks. Time of sharing, Wednesday night prayer meetings. And get together’s at each others homes.
But what we make sure that we don’t do, is compromise truth in order to “save them”. There are many churches, who are kind and considerate and will do all they can to “bring them in”. Up to and even changing biblical standards to make people feel at home. But God’s church, (of which ever denomination) as long as they are attempting to live up to the truth they know, need to stop catering to members and only telling them the things that please them. All the while leading them by the hand into the kingdom of darkness. That, “true as the needle is to the pole” statement from Ellen White, has been becoming a needle with a very big point on it.
2 Timothy 4 "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."

And 2 Timothy 3 " All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,"
Many are forgetting that the Word of God is to reprove for correction as well as to lead us to Christ.
So we can not compromise on God’s Word.