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The Ear: On Being a Conference President


Mike Cauley is president of the Florida Conference.  He leads a community of more than 61,500 Adventists who belong to 199 churches and 51 companies.  The conference’s mission is to “make mature disciples within biblical communities, preparing people to meet Jesus.”  One of its official values is “incarnational passion.”

The Florida Conference is home to a huge Adventist medical organization: the Adventist Health System, headquartered in Orlando and currently the largest not-for-profit Protestant healthcare provider in the United States.  Its entities are focused in the South, but reach also into Illinois and Wisconsin.

Elder Cauley began his ministry in the Southern Union.  In 1993 he took a leadership post in the Pennsylvania Conference, where, two years late, he was elected president.  He took his current position in 2003.

The Ear will publish occasional, brief interviews of North American Division conference presidents over the few months, and perhaps, down the road, of presidents from other parts of the world.  The point is to get their key mission and leadership priorities before a wider Adventist public.

Here, then, is Mike Cauley’s perspective.

—Charles Scriven

Question: Your conference is a community of congregations.  What value does a conference bring?  What is your purpose as the leader of a conference?

Answer: In my understanding from church history, Conferences were established as missionary societies to send workers to the designated field in order to evangelize and plant churches. There were very few settled pastors in the early years (until the death of Ellen White in 1915 and the departure of A. G. Daniels as GC President around 1920). Of course, we cannot go back to the 19th or 20th centuries but I feel that the reason conferences still exist is not for institutional preservation but to further the mission in their territory.

My purpose as a leader of a conference is to keep the mission of reaching people who are far from God in the forefront; it is to build the team, develop leaders, and steward the culture toward a missional vision.

Question: Congregations are not clubs. Members come from different backgrounds – ethnically, culturally and intellectually.  How do you help deal with these differences as constructively as possible?

Answer: I will try to answer from two perspectives. One is the perspective of relating to immigrant congregations. It is essential for leaders to develop an understanding of and respect for other cultures. We must endeavor to understand life from the perspective of people who come to our country and communities. One thing that has been helpful to me is to engage in a “mission trip” to every place where we have a good-sized immigrant representation. Going for a week or two doesn’t take the place of living among those people groups but I think that I understand Jamaicans, Haitians, Cubans, and Brazilians better after having visited their countries of origin.

The second thing is to challenge them to remain focused upon the mission and not just maintain a comfortable place for their people to worship. Most of the immigrant congregations in our territory are very committed to mission but primarily in the way that they were brought up doing church. The third thing is to help them understand American culture and life from the perspective of their young people. It is very hard to hold onto the second generation of immigrants in Adventism (some studies say we lose 70%) so they must be challenged to understand life from the perspective of the young people who are growing up here and how to help them find the church as a welcoming place.

Regarding differences in worldview, educational level, or economic level within American society, a lot of the same principles apply. The responsibility of the leader is to try to help them grow to maturity in Christ in their context and be true to the mission of God’s church.

Question: Is doctrinal conflict a challenge where you have responsibility?  How do you deal with it?

Answer: We have a very broad range of worship styles, worldviews, and social-economic levels but I don’t see much challenge with doctrinal conflict where I serve. When it occurs, I think that it is essential to listen, dialogue and not label people too quickly. I find myself fairly conservative doctrinally with more tolerance for a variety of approaches toward accomplishing the church’s mission. Coming together around a healthy understanding of grace and spiritual practices combined with a commitment to mission is a good place from which to build unity.

Question: Pastors work without hour-by-hour supervision, and often without close-by professional colleagues.  How does a good conference president help motivate, focus and encourage pastors?

Answer: My perspective is that it is very important for the president to cast a compelling vision that will energize and encourage pastors. That is all that we have. The denominational remuneration doesn’t motivate our pastors and some studies indicate that, even if we could broaden the pay scale, external forces (even money; see Daniel Pink’s Drive) or moving to a larger congregation or an administrative job do not effectively motivate pastors now. Telling stories of how God is working in churches to see the vision become a reality has been helpful where I serve – looking, that is, for the “bright spots” (see Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch). This  needs to done, however, in a way that does not create a competitive culture.

Question: What, do you think, is the  single, most important  trait of thriving congregation?

Answer: Spiritual and missional leadership on the part of the pastor, creating a culture whereby the members are being led toward maturity and out of that experience to share incarnationally their experience with Jesus where the members live, work, and recreate.

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