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Ted Wilson’s First Year—A Pastor’s Review

Much was said when Ted Wilson was called to serve as the leader of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Many were very happy because he made clear that his intent was reforming the church. Others were both sad and worried that we would slip backward toward fundamentalism. If you are a regular Spectrum reader you would probably recall my own analysis of his first sermon which you can read here. Much has happened since so I thought I would update you with my perspective thus far.

Looking back to his first speech it had become clear that even before the election he already knew exactly what he would do if he became president. This is simply because he has done so far precisely what he said he would do. One of his first emphasis was the global cry for ‘Revival & Reformation’. In true European style I was very skeptical at first. My immediate reaction was that we would go back to the 18th century and be forced towards a certain form of ‘being’ Adventist. However, as I’ve followed his speeches, sermons, meeting notes, and heard what it’s like to work with him I have now fully incorporated both Revival and Reformation to both of my churches.

This journey from resisting this campaign to fully promoting it went through two major bridges I had to cross. The first was hierarchical resistance. In my experience, the general pastoral culture in Europe is to ignore, challenge, or completely reject any project that comes from the local conference, union or General Conference. If you’re reading this in Africa, India or South America you are probably perplexed at this reaction. Being a pastor of a church with 57 nationalities has helped me to see how various cultures react to national or global campaigns. I’m also the coordinator of the media department in my local conference and now I’ve seen first hand how difficult it is to unite all churches in a single effort—it’s like herding cats. However, because my Division, Union and Conference embraced it, I decided to do the same.

The second difficulty was the terminology. I realised that every one of my sermons were calling people to search deep in their soul and ask the hard questions about hypocrisy and purpose. I called it discipleship. Pr Wilson called it revival, which to me was the same difference. Then I’ve always seen my life purpose as to take away the layers of tradition that we have piled on the true gospel and to discover the present truth beyond the form of church we have today. I called it a revolution, he called it reformation. Quite frankly, I don’t care what you call it, as long as we are serious about being genuine and living out the true kingdom—globally.

Furthermore, I truly admire how Pr Wilson has actually mobilised the world to bring this discipleship and revolution emphasis – sorry, revival & reformation emphasis. We all know that it usually takes many years for the General Conference to have any significant impact ‘in the front line’. However, in less than a year local churches around the world are taking this reform very seriously. The process has begun and I truly hope we continue to search for authenticity and reform.

This leads me to the second characteristic of his ministry so far – pragmatism. By that I simply mean that Pr Wilson seems to be a ‘doer’, not simply a ‘thinker’. Thinking is important, but if a leader cannot translate this into tangible plans that achieve our mission and calling, we fail as a movement. I’ll mention the example of the Great Hope project, which is to distribute 50-100 million ‘The Great Controversy’ books around the world. This is a very controversial plan, especially in Europe and North America.

There are many voices that have spoken against this project as a waste of time and money. I was in a recent media event where the GC Vice President responsible for this project presented the project. After that, a group of us were discussing it over lunch time. There were many doubts whether this project was a good idea, but for me it was clear—I would rather have 100 million books distributed than not distributing anything. Sometimes it’s better to unite in doing something that might not even be the best action than just talk about methods. In fact, I’m tired of just talking and discussing best methods of secular evangelism—it’s time to do something. Wilson’s pragmatism seems to have struck a chord within me.

However, as you would probably expect from me I’m not completely sure that his agenda is good for the church either. Firstly because I don’t know him enough. I have heard many rumours that he will stand against the ordination of women, condemn any music that isn’t ‘sacred’ and forbid the reading of any non-Adventist material, amongst others. In his defence, he hasn’t spoken against the ordination issue yet (that I know of) and after checking his doctoral thesis on Ellen White I’m convinced he has read a wide range of non-Adventist material. In truth, I probably shouldn’t believe every rumour I hear.

Just over a year ago, when he was elected, I was slightly confused and wondered if it was possible for God to really work through our political system. Since then I’ve been challenged once more to trust that God knows what He is doing. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.

Sam Neves is the pastor of Wimbledon International Church in London, England.

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