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Is Adventism Excellent?

Have you noticed the number of church leaders who have recently left their positions for employment with Adventist health care? Union presidents: Rosco Howard and Dennis Carlson. ADRA: Chuck Sandefur.  Media: Lonnie Melashenko. These examples are only the latest of the dozens of others employed by various regional Adventist health care networks whose résumés include a stint within the Adventist hierarchy.

I’ve  wondered how the Adventist denomination might be different today had these individuals continued to apply their skills and creativity within the church structure rather than the health care industry. In the context of thinking about how one might address the matter of the denomational brain drain to the health system I picked up the May 2011 Adventist World and read with interest an interview with the title “Can We be Adventist and Excellent Too?” It was with Paul Brantley, vice president for Strategic Planning and Assessment for the North American Division.

In the interview Elder Brantley articulates why it is important for the Adventist church to strive toward and achieve excellence. Using Psalms 8 as his authority, Brantley concludes that we serve an excellent God. Likewise, he affirms, Geneses 1 declares that every thing God does is very good.

In response to the question, “What are examples of ‘opportunities for excellence’ that, in your opinion would help the church advance most in its pursuit of quality?” Brantley lists three areas. Second on his list is this: “Leader growth, assessment, and nurture. According to leadership guru John Maxwell, “no organization advances higher than the caliber of its leaders. Great organizations develop leaders through a methodical process of assessment, coaching, and nurture. A robust performance record helps each church leader grow in current and future positions. This is a growth area for the church with immense potential. “

My questions: Has anyone attempted to determine why a significant number of top church administrators have left their positions to seek employment in healthcare? Is it really about money or are there other less obvious but significant forces at work? Is it important to know why people leave denominational employment for other endeavors? How might the church and its future suffer as creative and talented people leave before their time?

Brantley’s third area: “Stewardship and accountability. The Seventh-day Adventist auditing service offers superb financial oversight. Less robust is oversight and accountability of the numerous programs and services offered by the church. Do they in fact add value?” 

Great question! The matter of added value is a significant point. The Adventist church has over the years spent millions on the Net evangelism programs. We in the pastorate know they are not effective. We shudder when we are told we are to support yet another fiasco. And they keep coming like a persistent plague.

I recall a conversation I had with someone I know who was a North American Division executive. He was visiting my church as part of a local conference meeting. When I saw him outside I pulled him aside and said, “Tell me why we spend all this money on these Net programs. We pastors know they are not effective.” His response went something like this: “We know it, too. We really do not know what to do.  There are right-wing people with money who insist we have these programs, so here they are.” My response: “What a waste.” His: “Yeah, I know.”

Toward the end of the article (p. 12) Brantley lists three things every North American Division church member should know about how the church plans. Number one: “In the North American Division we believe in collaborative rather than top-down planning. We feel it is not our role to do the planning for churches, conferences, union conferences and institutions. Rather, we can plan only for those functions here within the NAD for which we are directly responsible. In the process we want to be sure that everything we plan for and carry out in the NAD actually adds value. For that’s our assessment role. Planning and assessment work together.”

Excellent objective! Is it the way the local parish minister sees it?  Go to your pastor. Read Brantley’s statement. Ask him/her if this is how he/she sees it. Ask a dozen others. I believe, based on my conversations with peers that you will find that they believe church planning is from the top down. It’s that simple. If you need evidence, read the article that follows on the next page: “Successfully Hosting NET 2011. A simple prescription for maximum results.” Ask your pastor how much in-put she/he had in this venture. When I read the article I wondered if the editor caught the clash that resonates when comparing one article with the other, or was it an editorial prank to run the articles back to back? One affirms the NAD works in a collaborative mode. The other? “Here’s the program, guys. Here’s how you are to do it. And here is what we expect of you. If it fails, it’s your fault. We gave you the plan for success, and you blew it!” (A bit overstated, I admit, but this is the bottom line.)

Brantley’s third point: “Finally, we at the North American Division are available to provide guidance with any entity (union conference, conference, institution, or church) that wishes to work within church structure to construct a system of planning and assessment. We want that percentage to approach 100 percent.” 

This is a great offer! Talk to your friends in the church and take this man up on his willingness to be involved in a local parish. Few from the NAD have ever made such an offer. If the Adventist church actually instituted a culture of assessment that started with the local church, it would be a be a significant step toward greater Adventist excellence.

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