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Book Review: Without a Vision My People Prosper

Without a Vision My People Prosper

I had a rather intense reaction as my coffee-time conversation was hijacked into a Bible study group. One of the main reasons I love church is being able to connect with people I have not seen since, well, the week before. So here I was in the church foyer with my steamed milk conversing with a friend on some deep matters of life. Suddenly one of the youth leadership members plopped down her Bible and pronounced “let’s have a Bible study!” My friend and I gave each other a look, while a few others joined the table. I remained at my seat for about two more minutes before removing myself, still having this intense negative feeling. This moment echoes my repeating question: why must every church-based event involve a Bible study? Why was my conversation not good enough for that youth leadership team member?

My personal experience finds much to identify with in David Hayward’s book: Without A Vision My People Prosper (2011). I first connected with his work through his Instagram account, eventually using some of his artwork in my own classroom and Bible lessons. In learning more about David’s journey, he has pastored for 30 years at various churches in Eastern Canada and holds a master’s degree in theological studies. This provides the backdrop for his art, cartoons, and blog posts. His website, NakedPastor, shares his aim to “to seek to tell the naked truth – no matter how vulnerable it feels.”

When you open his book, you find selected blog posts-turned-chapters, questions, and thoughts that “challenge problematic norms in religious spaces.” David’s focus on deconstruction, spirituality, and freedom is shown by way of well-written and cartooned stories, demonstrating both deep troubles and joys. He tells the reader that he desires to remove the weeds of interference: obstacles, impediments, and deterrents to unity and community (63). This is why more people should interact with not just his book, but his art as well.

As I shared at the start of my article, as Seventh-day Adventists we often place church into business models which only reduce our capacity to be an actual church. For example, my pastor friend once informed me that he had a quota of two baptisms a year. David reminds us that “it is the mind’s predicament to limit itself to the only categories it knows” (15). How can we think outside the box when the limitations of church keep us bubble-wrapped inside? David’s main adversary is vision, statements that box us into a singular mode of being that push away any outside movements of the Holy Spirit, like coffee time.

David points out that Proverbs 29:18 “doesn’t mean ‘vision’ as in a corporate long-term goal. It means ‘revelation’” (29). In other words, without hearing from God, the people perish. It is truth we need, “not another vision, please!”  We would take well to this highlighted passage, for in the same church as my coffee fiasco, I was turned away from starting a discipleship group because it didn’t fit within the church’s correct vision. Thankfully, this church did start to mentor those within the community through a newly appointed discipleship pastor six years later. In his list of is it possible questions, David asks, “is it possible for people to enjoy the community without having a vision statement?” (33).

The core of David’s work through his book and all of NakedPastor is to follow what Jesus set into motion. He writes:

[Jesus] invited people to follow him because his burden was light. So, I am convinced that my ministry’s mandate is to strip people of all burdens, and to pare the church down to practically nothing. It looks like church-bashing and deconstruction because we tend to equate all the unnecessary extras with the church. (20)

The unnecessary extras hit hard when we survey the Seventh-day Adventist church. That burden of extra falls onto pastors having to be more than shepherds, teachers being required to force doctrine onto students, and church elders taking on more responsibility so that church services run smoothly, for example. To this reality, David asks, “Why not provide a place, like our homes and families ought to be, where people can enter without any fear of being marketed, analyzed, polled, compared, solicited or persuaded?” (112).

I pass on a big recommendation for church members and leaders to check out David Hayward’s book and art. In our post-COVID time, we have become much more aware of the need for proper work-life balance. My hope is that, with David’s help, we can shift that thinking more fully into church community whereby we can balance out a higher value on people. They are truly the why, the reason, and the goal of faith community. The self-made things of fancy will become less important and therefore, less burdensome. I don’t go to church to find more work: I go to find people. Let’s all do more of that.

Kevin R. McCarty is an Adventist teacher and local church board member in beautiful British Columbia. He is a graduate student at the Vancouver School of Theology.

Title image credit: NakedPastor/ Spectrum

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