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Fix Adventist Schools: Focus on Jesus, Change Church Leadership, Increase Pay

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Editor’s note: Gale Crosby spent 41 years working as a Seventh-day Adventist educator, most recently as the Vice President of Education for the Oregon Conference. While in that role he oversaw 32 schools with 2,400 students, and he raised $50 million. In this article, he offers three brief suggestions for improving the Adventist educational system in North America.

#1: Redouble our focus on Jesus. 

Adventist education is the means of redeeming young people within our church and spreading the Good News of a God who loves each of us. God’s saving grace, which he miraculously gives to us as his children, is the overarching message of Adventist education. There is no greater thrill than seeing a young person grow to reflect the character of Jesus and knowing that this child will live forever in a perfect world with a loving Savior.

The Adventist church has emphasized through its history the importance of giving the clearest picture of Jesus to our precious children through our homes, churches, and schools. In order to keep this ministry—our greatest tool of evangelism—alive and well, our whole church family will need to recommit to prayer and redouble our focus on Jesus.

#2: Broaden our leadership pool.

John Maxwell, a well-known leadership coach and author says, “The definition of a nightmare is a big dream and a bad team.”

Adventist education is a big dream that has grown in amazing ways, but if we do not address the crisis in leadership within our church at the local conference and school levels, we will witness its tragic decline. Nothing will change the culture of any organization more than who it hires, especially who it chooses to hire as its leaders.

Let me be frank. We can no longer choose conference leaders from such a small portion of our church body with the prerequisite that they are male, ordained pastors. Why would any organization limit hiring quality denominational leaders due to gender and title? I find this policy nowhere to be supported in Scripture. Jesus Himself chose his 12 closest disciples not with titles but with teachable skills. To have leadership that fosters growth and creates healthy, vibrant working environments we need leadership at the conference level that has the skillset to lead.

Ellen White says it best with her words quoted in the 2021-2022 General Conference Working Policy, under the chapter titled “Renumeration of and Assistance of Employees,” which I would encourage you to read: 

Those placed in leading positions [within our church] should be men [and women] who have sufficient breadth of mind to appreciate persons of cultivated intellect and to recompense them proportionately to the responsibilities they bear. . . . We should not expect that those who are capable of doing with exactness and thoroughness work that requires thought and painstaking effort should receive no greater compensation than the less skillful workman (Testimonies 5, 551). 

While White is talking about proper pay, she is also talking about the importance of hiring great leaders who have the skills of hiring great teams.

She also talks about a concept that is greatly lacking for our church leaders: accountability. If we broaden the pool of applicants and create a system of accountability, we will see an immediate growth in our entire church body. Great leaders want to be held to high standards. Accountability empowers them to create those high standards for themselves.

Hiring quality leaders will lead to practices that identify, recruit, and hire only candidates who have the necessary skills to lead and who will create working environments that are positive and encouraging. Since it is hard for any leader at the conference level to give up power and control, the church members at the church level will need to seek this change for the well-being of our church.

#3: Narrow our selection criteria in hiring.

We as a church family cannot afford to watch as our schools continue to close for want of skilled principals and teachers.

The importance of who we place in front of our children on a daily basis cannot be overemphasized. It takes a child three years to recover from a poor teacher who does not see their value. Having a quality teacher who realizes that students are God’s precious children can make a difference in the life of a child for eternity. In order to recruit such high-quality educators, we need to pay them according to the words of Jesus when he says, “for the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7).

Let’s return to White’s council to pay high wages to attract those with aptitudes and skills to lead. We should, she says, “recompense [these quality leaders] proportionately to the responsibilities they bear.” And while we work for more than wages, we should expect that those capable of doing this hard work of leading should receive greater compensation. She goes on to state:

To connect the right class of laborers with the work may require a greater outlay of means, but it will be economy in the end; for while it is essential that economy be exercised in everything possible, it will be found that the efforts to save means by employing those who will work for low wages, and whose labor corresponds in character with their wages, will result in loss. Brethren, you may economize as much as you please in your personal affairs, in building your houses, in arranging your clothing, in providing your food, and in your general expenses; but do not bring this economy to bear upon the work of God in such a way as to hinder men [and women] of ability and true moral worth from engaging in it. (Testimonies 5, 551) 

God’s word in Malachi 3:5 takes it even further with this warning, “I will put you on trial. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages.”

God’s economy is different than ours. White is telling us that by hiring quality leaders and paying them according to their responsibilities we will actually witness an economy of saving by producing vibrant, caring students who are capable leaders. What a joy it will be to see this come to fruition and see God’s work move forward as never before. The Good News of salvation will be carried to the end of this world’s time by this army of young people.

God’s vision for his children and this church is way beyond our wildest dreams. Let’s depend on him to lead as we answer his call, “Bring the children to me.”


Title image by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash.

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