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The Ear: John Brunt, Pastor-Preacher-Scholar


Among Adventist preachers and academics, John Brunt is practically legendary for the simplicity and depth that somehow come together, week after week, in his preaching.  

Brunt trained for New Testament scholarship at Emory University and is a graduate of both La Sierra University and the Seminary at Andrews.  But after 31 years of academic life (he taught and served as academic dean at Walla Walla University), he came home to the pastorate, where his working life began.  

Brunt has been senior pastor of the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, near Loma Linda, CA, for the past 12 years.  Along with a team of seven associates (“amazing, creative, dedicated…would be the envy of any senior pastor”) he ministers to some 2,300 members.  They come from over 50 countries, many of them second-generation immigrants who grew up in ethnicity-specific congregations.  The church has Sabbath school classes in Spanish, Portuguese and Indonesia as well as English.  Weekly attendance is about 1,450.  

Many younger families belong.  The Adventurer Club, for children four to nine years old, is more than 200 strong; the church Vacation Bible School draws about 350.  The congregation’s vigorous children’s ministry has for the past two years held a “VBS-like ‘block party’” in in a poorer area nearby that has drawn “over 200 non-Adventist community children.”

Now “well past” retirement age, Brunt enjoys his work too much to leave it.  “So far I am just having too much fun,” he says, although he assures his wife, Ione, that “we will move closer to the grandchildren before they are grown.”  

He has written numerous books, including A Day for Healing: The Meaning of Jesus’ Sabbath Miracles, Now and Not Yet, a reflection biblical eschatology, and Romans: Mercy for All.

Here is his perspective on the work of the pastor:

Question: You lead an Adventist congregation. What is it that, as a leader, you hope to achieve?

Answer: First I would quibble with the term “leader.” The Greek word for leader (archōn) is used in the New Testament for Jewish religious leaders, Gentile political leaders, cosmic forces, and for Jesus, but never for Christian ministers. They are servants, slaves, shepherds, care givers and elders. My goal in ministry is to serve by sharing a biblical vision of people joined together in commitment to Jesus Christ and to each other and helping people form a community that reveals the way of Jesus to the world, does his work in the world, and truly becomes his body on earth. This community begins now to anticipate life in the coming kingdom as we work and worship. I want to help create an atmosphere where people can flourish in this commitment.

Question: Thoughtful members really appreciate a compelling—ideally, an insightful—sermon. If there were one key to rising above mediocrity in preaching, what do you think it is?

Answer: My goal in preaching is to listen so carefully to the text of Scripture that I can share the voice of the author and make that voice live again by becoming relevant and alive in our culture today. I want every sermon to be biblically sound, grace or gospel oriented, alive and clear. I am not a religious pundit, but a spokesperson for the biblical author. But I also know that this message has to come alive through stories that speak to life in our age. I also find it important to have the message in mind so that I can look the congregation in the eye and not use notes.

Question: What is the most important factor in your own sermon preparation? How does it relate to both the substance and the delivery of your sermons?

Answer: Listening to the text and listening to the people are the two most important elements in sermon preparation. For me, listening to the text means trying to understand its literary and historical context as well as reading it in the original language. Listening to the people means being with the congregation and reading widely to understand people today.

Question: Your congregation has many members. How is it possible for you to connect with your members so they actually see as a pastor and not simply as a Sabbath morning preacher?

Answer: The simple answer is to know when to show up. I try to be there for important congregational activities from Adventurers to adults. I seldom can stay for the whole event, but at least I come for part of the activity. And although I do no systematic visiting of the entire congregation, I try to show up to pray with people before surgeries and be present when there is a death or serious illness. I also phone every member on their birthday. With 2300 members that makes for about seven phone calls a day. If the member isn’t home I leave a message on the machine. I have been amazed at how appreciative members have been of these calls.

Question: How do you pay attention both to evangelism and also to the care and keeping of your current members?

Answer: I still struggle with this. We have been quite disappointed with the results of the traditional evangelistic programs we have held. Our goal is to make the fellowship of the community a magnet that draws people. Of course, for this to happen members have to be willing to invite others to share in what goes on in the community. We have a long way to go, but friends inviting friends to share in the various social and spiritual activities of the church has been the most fruitful form of evangelism.

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