Recently, I read George Knight’s article, “Adventism’s Shocking Fulfillment of Prophecy,” on Spectrum’s website. I wasn’t surprised by anything I read. As a layman who has watched and asked questions about our church governance for years, I found this latest move to centralize power, with the methods to do so, almost commonplace. And I was concerned that other “lay people” wouldn’t care, or even know, how church governance works. I have been shocked at the number of times where members of the congregations I’ve attended don’t even know there are local conferences, then unions, then divisions, and finally the General Conference. I believe this lack of knowledge allows the following to occur.
Over the years, I have attended conference Constituency meetings as a voting member and, at times, simply to observe. I’ve been to multiple General Conference Sessions, with 1995 and 2015 being the most memorable. I realized that much of what we’re seeing today should have been predictable decades ago. I say this because the tactics used, though more blatant, are a natural outgrowth from the “democratic” governance methods that have been used by many of our church leaders down through the years. And this, combined with the timidity of our leadership, brings us to the situation we find ourselves in today.
I speak of the tactics used in the governance of our church. Let me give two simple examples. First, the control of the makeup of church committees, at all levels. Over the years the number of laypersons, who have positions on committees has decreased. Not only has the actual number gone down, but in some cases, the terms the laypersons serve are shortened while those of church employees remain as before. And, for as long as I can remember, individuals who depend on the church for their livelihood, for instance teachers, have been counted as laypeople. Really? When their paycheck ultimately comes from the church? This is simple manipulation. What makes it worse is our church leaders tell us these things with a straight face.
Second, the agendas for many committees, especially those that involve delegates or constituents who are not employed by the church organization, are controlled to such a degree that often the topics that need to be discussed and voted on never make it on the agenda. Why? Is it a lack of trust in the people who comprise the church?
It really shouldn’t be any surprise we find ourselves where we are today, with individuals in leadership positions, throughout the church structure, who are more concerned with their position and the privileges that come with them, than with actual leadership. And those positions are addictive, in their own way. It creates feelings of success/pride and accomplishment/recognition, and the fear of public failure if the person were to move “backwards” in the church structure.
Can we remedy the situation? Here are a few suggestions to get us started:
1. Term limits on all leadership positions, at all levels of the church. These would include Presidents, Vice-presidents, Secretaries, Treasurers, etc.
2. Laypeople would be defined as those who do not receive a paycheck from any church entity such as a church, school, etc. This would also include independent ministries that receive any kind of financial support as well.
3. All church committees will be comprised of 51% laypeople, at all times with equal terms of service to those committee members employed by the church.
4. All pastors in leadership roles would rotate back to lead a church (or more than one depending on the district) at the local level after completing their term as a leader. This would have the dual effect of keeping them in touch with the needs of the church members and of helping with our ongoing shortage of pastors.
5. Educate church members as to the structure and governance of the church. And be transparent in the politics involved.
One last point I think needs to be made. We find ourselves in this situation not only because of our leaders but also because of our members. If our membership cared more about the governance of the church, would we find ourselves in the same place? If more of us stood up and were active in making positive changes so the church structure equipped us to actually accomplish more for the Lord, imagine what it would be like. Instead, we built a church structure that believes it can do what it likes regardless of policy to accomplish its own goals. Thank goodness my salvation isn’t dependent on the church.
Mike Smith is a graduate of the Adventist school systems. He is an author and musician, currently employed in an independent ministry to the Adventist Church.
Image courtesy of ANN / Flickr.
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