The title of this piece sounds like a beautiful utopia that doesn't exist in the Adventist Church, but it isn't. The presidents of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh Mission recently attended training for Conference presidents at the North American Division (NAD) offices in Washington DC. The British Union Conference President, Pastor Eglan Brooks, led the British delegation, while the two Conference presidents could not attend this event due to other commitments. The three days of presentations and interaction included governance models, financial models, and learning about the working of committees and relationships at every level of the church. We want to thank the NAD for allowing us to share in their regular Conference presidents' training.
Dr Daniel Duda, President of the Trans-European Division, who also attended the training as an observer, said, "Just as you don't place a doctor of a hospital at the top to run a hospital, you don't just pick a pastor from within a Conference and make him president." The interaction not only happened between presenters and those who attended but there was invaluable networking among all presidents.
It is hard to mention all the excellent content, but I will share a few sentences written down by attendees in their notebooks that only needed a little context. Here are some of those interesting pieces:
"God is looking for noisy presidents." This advice is from the story of four friends who carried their paralytic friend onto a roof, so they could let him down to Jesus through a broken roof, friends who knew where Jesus was because of the noise. Presidents need to be with Jesus, and their noise needs to attract others to Jesus.
Another aspect of the story of the person with paralysis was he had to ask for help at some point. And the question, not only to presidents but everyone, is, how do you ask for help? Presidents know that they have a team of leaders who work with them and of whom they are "the first among equals", and these leaders can provide help and answers.
Pastor Eglan Brooks is concerned with how we do church and what our members experience, and he expresses some values about how we lead. About God's church, "Our success and effectiveness will come because leaders align themselves with people who passionately carry the interests of the church. It is the aim of members of the church at all levels, and especially so from a leadership point of view that we should emulate the life of Christ in everything. When we think like this, we become more effective."
Brooks continues, "We cannot continue to lead the church as we have done in the past. If we are to survive the uncertainty of the future, our leadership in our Conference and Mission, must be Spirit-led in dealing with our officers, our directors and associates, our colleagues, and our faithful members. We need to value the relationships we forge with each other as Christians and do more than what is spiritually right. We must do what is morally, ethically, and legally right. We stand in a unique perspective as a church in the British Isles and Northern Ireland. Our organisation represents a church, a business, and a charity. Our Conferences and Missions do not exist in a vacuum, so each Conference and Mission should rethink its purpose. We are here to work collaboratively to bring the gospel to a dying world, to fulfil the mission of the Union and more than that, we are here to serve the world Church. We should see our work through the fulfilment of 'the Advent message to all the world in this generation.'"
Dr Duda adds to these values, "The first job of the leader is to define (to be honest about) the status quo. Nothing will change until members [and leaders] are aware of the status quo."
As part of the training, the presidents also looked at crisis communication. Sometimes, something will inevitably happen that could put the Mission or Conference in crisis. How they then communicate this to the press can make a huge difference. Pastor Dan Serb, President of the Irish Mission, reminds us of this topic, "Covid-19 has proved that crises can occur at any time and leaders need to be well equipped in managing the unexpected. It is important to follow due process; putting people before the process is also important, as is valuing our core beliefs and spiritual principles. But leadership also means prioritising what to deal with and choosing our battles. The leader must ensure that mission remains central and is not hijacked by artificially created crises and worldly agendas."
Pastor Graham Allcock, Welsh Mission President, added a beautiful sentiment, "I feel blessed to be able to attend the NAD new pastors' orientation. Two and a half days of meetings enabled us to understand our roles and responsibilities better. Meeting other presidents and hearing about their experiences gave credibility and potency to the various presentations. An air of camaraderie, respect, and inclusion was palpable throughout our time together."
Pastor Jimmy Botha, President of the Scottish Mission, finally shares his experience, "We all know that the different officers in the church have different roles to fulfil. And although I have worked in church structures for years, you don't just pick up what needs to be done by simply observing another individual from a different perspective. For me, one year after I started in the office, the time spent with these individuals is invaluable. The content we went through in this short time will make my work more efficient, and I hope I will be able to serve in my area so that all can see God's plans. I have learnt that service starts with a humble heart, and that is what I intend to practice."
When these presidents return to the United Kingdom, will they become catalysts for change in the churches as they are known? Partly the answer should be a resounding YES, as per the above information. The reality is that there are always new ideas, energy, and relationships that individuals in the church have and can be seen as primary values. Nothing can replace the love and respect that needs to exist among members of God's church in every area. Our presidents are looking for that love, establishing a place of belonging, and promoting engagement in relationships that demonstrate care. Because they do, they will probably challenge their members and leaders to rethink the status quo! We cannot stay the same. What will it take to make the changes that will lead the church to where God wants it to go?