Alex Bryan, a founder of The One Project, talks about ending well, a secret surprise, a new wiki project, and the strong support T1P has been given by many church administrators.
Question: The One Project, which started as the outgrowth of discussions between you and four other pastors in 2011, became a worldwide phenomenon, hosting gatherings on multiple continents for many thousands of people, promoting "Jesus. All." Now the One Project organizers have said the last gathering will be held in February 2018 in San Diego. Why are you bringing The One Project to an end? Did you all agree unanimously that it was time?
Answer: First off, I’m a bit taken aback associating T1P with the words “worldwide phenomenon.” It has always seemed, from our first gathering of five to last year's 1,300+ in San Diego, that we are simply a motley group of people gathering informally to talk about Jesus and to talk to Jesus and to hear from Jesus through music, scripture, and story. We have always valued this atmosphere—simple tables over formal rows, no flowery introduction of speakers, and strict time limits for those on stage in order to ensure ample and prioritized focus on communion with Christ and one another.
And to your question on the timing of T1P’s conclusion—we have talked from the beginning about the importance of beginning and ending well. We have been intentional and prayerful about recognizing the time when this particular phase in the enduring Jesus movement should conclude. Are we agreed? Yes. (Although we also feel appropriate grief as we say good-bye to the adventure of the past seven years.)
The theme of the final conference will be "Oh, How I Love Jesus." How many attendees are you expecting? How will this last gathering differ from the previous ones?
We anticipate 1,000+++ once again. T1P is drawing more people than ever before, and we anticipate another large gathering in conclusion. The grand finale will include many of the same elements familiar to past participants.
But we have cooked up a few surprises (particularly on Day Two) which will remain a secret. I can say this: you won’t want to miss this gathering.
What has been the primary mission of the One Project? What do you feel the One Project has accomplished in its seven years?
Jesus. All.—celebrating the supremacy of Jesus through the Adventist Church remains our stated mission. Colossians 1:15-20 has been our signature passage, where Paul claims that all things, absolutely everything(!) in the universe, finds meaning and purpose in Jesus Christ.
It has been our hope that T1P has reminded our church of the essential structure of Christian theology: church and life and mission resting on the foundation, who is Christ Alone. I hope T1P has helped move Jesus both to the center and the full circumference of Adventism once again.
There is some positive evidence that we have noticed such movement: recent Adventist books, seminars, sermon titles, camp meeting themes, and even a rigorous debate about whether Jesus actually should be "all." All of these developments have given us courage that the person of Jesus matters in our collective confession and in our denominational conversation.
On The One Project website, you say that "We are already looking forward to the next chapter in our local churches. If you are interested in collaborating with people from all over the world on local church ministry, it might be a good idea to save this date: October 19-23, 2018." What is going to happen next October? Will this be a different type of conference?
I would refer you to Japhet De Oliveira, senior pastor of the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church. Japhet is a master networker who is putting his ample spiritual gifts to good use! We have heard over the years consistent and impassioned requests from local church pastors and local church leaders around the world longing for greater support and connectivity. Japhet has been laying the groundwork for something called “Collective” which will foster the sharing of local church sermons, devotionals, Bible studies, and ministry innovation ideas. This is really a “wiki” concept—drawing together what the Holy Spirit is doing in our various localities.
You and the other One Project organizers have full-time jobs as church pastors. You must have a passion for local church ministry. Do you feel that more attention needs to be paid to local church needs from the larger Adventist church administration? What is lacking?
One of the defining qualities of T1P has been its local focus. I’m now repeating something I have been saying for over 20 years both in print and in pulpit: The Local Church Is The Church.
The Adventist Church has built world-class healthcare organizations, massive educational systems, and the most bureaucratic church structure in the world (according to George Knight). We have media ministries and publishing houses and church camps and have fashioned marvelous global convocations, and we celebrate the incredibly good work of ADRA. But it seems to me, in the process, we have assumed the local church but have done little to invest in its success.
There isn’t time or space here to go into greater detail, but I do know this: the most important and enduring Adventist experience is what takes place locally. No matter how good our “para-church” activities are, the local church is here and now determining the future of the denominational whole. Our young people will leave or stay most often for this reason: their local church experience.
Is the decision to end The One Project at all related to some of the negative reactions you have received from different quarters, accusing the One Project of promoting emergent spirituality, New Age mysticism, ecumenism—and being against fundamental Adventist beliefs?
No. (And, might I add, there has never been a stitch of credible evidence for these claims.)
Were you pressured to close it down? What interaction did you have with the General Conference and Adventist church administration? Since you are employed by the Adventist church, presumably your other activities, such as the One Project, need to be sanctioned by your employers?
I don’t think we ever felt any pressure to close it down. Are there elements of the church as a whole (including some in church leadership) who do not like the focus of T1P? Sure. And I don’t think any of those involved in T1P leadership have been surprised by this. Reform movements are never fully appreciated—they are calling for change, after all, and change is uncomfortable.
But this should be said: we have enjoyed strong support from many local conference presidents, union conference presidents, division presidents, and from many in the General Conference as well. There are loads of amazing and beautiful church administrators in our midst. This has not been an easy season to be a church administrator! They have our admiration … and our affection.
Is it difficult to fully concentrate on being the senior pastor of the Walla Walla University church while also working on the One Project? Or perhaps the two jobs complement each other?
Since you asked a personal question, I’ll give a personal answer. Working as a local church pastor is full-time, full-on, hard work. (There’s a reason why much of the longevity benefit of being an Adventist is wiped out for pastors.) Adding global projects (like T1P) is a serious commitment. In one sense, I consider it a natural and expected part of the job (ministry in the Adventist Church is both local and global).
But as the projects and expectations pile up, you soon realize … how is it that I’m working 70 hours a week? And that’s an issue.
I do think my work on a university campus fits nicely with the T1P—young people are hungry for fresh thought, new ideas, and a strong and deep contemporary commitment to Jesus of Nazareth.
How do you see the Adventist church as a whole changing over the next 10 or 20 years? (Seems like a lot has been happening just in the last few weeks with the spectacle at Annual Council!)
I don’t know. I do suspect the status quo is in retreat, and change (for good or ill) will continue to claim new victories. The world is morphing at an incredible pace, and the church is not immune. We are in for a wild ride. And with Jesus, that’s not a bad thing at all.
How do you feel the Adventist church needs to change and evolve in order to remain relevant in today's world? What are your dreams for the Adventist church?
My penultimate dream is that the best of Adventism would be given first place: Sabbath, health, peace, humility, environmentalism, social change, and an investment in the best of our humanitarian impulses. We need our healthcare leaders and our educational leaders (who are brilliant and amazing folks) to dream big. There is so much good with Adventism, and much of it is yet latent. These bright instincts need to crowd out our darker denominational impulses, which do nothing but render hate, division, insecurity, stress, addiction, malaise, and fear. “You’re better than that!” my mama would tell me. And so I say, “We’re better than that!”
Oh, right, and my ultimate dream: Lift up the trumpet, and loud let it ring ...
Read lots of previous Spectrum coverage of The One Project since it began here, or by searching for "The One Project" in the Spectrum website search box.
Image Credit: Alex Bryan
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