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Thriving in the Midst of Turbulence: Annual Council Diary, Day One


Spectrum Editor Bonnie Dwyer is reporting from Annual Council, and her exclusive stories are available here on the Spectrum blog.

First, there were the charts showing long-term trends in religious affiliation declining with the recent rapid growth of those with no religious affiliation. Then, another chart showing the recent declining attitudes toward the Bible with those engaged dropping dramatically and the doubling of those antagonistic to the book, and to top it off a quote from the leading researcher on religion. According to George Barna, “(Our) research shows that local churches have almost no influence in our culture.”

With that introduction, Gary Hamel, the man the Wall Street Journal has called the “world’s most influential business thinker,” set about talking with the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church about change, creativity and passion. His talk, titled “Thriving in the Midst of Turbulence,” was the keynote address during the Leadership Education and Development Conference that officially opened the Annual Council meeting of the denomination’s Executive Committee in Silver Spring, Md. Hamel turned flowcharts upside down. Rather than movement going from church through programs to individuals, he showed it moving from individuals through communities to the church.

“How do you become a champion of renewal?” he asked. Five points popped up on the screen: “be honest, question habits, legitimize dissent, learn from the fringe, and imagine the unimaginable.”

While he clearly did not want to offend, he did ask difficult questions, including how willing they might be to sacrifice some programs, policies, and practices to achieve higher goals.

In his closing prayer, Hamel thanked God for the compassion and imagination of the church, and asked for courage for its leaders to take new risks.

As he left the chapel, church employees waited with his latest book “What Matters Now” in hand, and asked for his autograph. Copies of the book had been distributed in advance of the meeting.

It was the most significant speech to be given in the GC building in a very long time, quipped one attendee.

The LEAD conference also featured major presentations on God’s Health Plan by the leaders of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Dr. Kathleen Kuntaraf, associate director for prevention, spelled out the elements that make whole health a success, using the letters from the word “celebrations” to cover the topics of choices, exercise, liquids, environment, belief, rest, air, temperance, integrity, optimism, nutrition, and social support and service. Dr. Fred Hardinge provided the scientific support for the Adventist health message. Dr. Peter Landless, the new director of the department, focused on the leader and health.

Skits and case studies followed Hamel’s presentation on Friday morning, Oct. 11. The A2J Drama Team from Washington Adventist University acted out a courtroom skit, “Dr. Evan Keel Church v Ms. Youneeda Change,” in which Dr. Church requested a court injunction against Ms. Change with the audience as the jury. Dr. Church had the best line of the day. “We have nothing to fear for the future, unless we change anything from the past,” he said to a smattering of laughter. “Isn’t that a misquote from somewhere?” replied Beth Practices, the attorney representing Ms. Change. After presentations by Practices about the changes made by the Protestant Reformation, the 1888 Bible Conference and the mission changes of the 1800s, the court was adjourned for the day and the jury were told they had 24 hours to decide about the injunction against change.

Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath, there was a lovely worship service with biblical presentations by Artur Stele and Lael Caesar, and testimonies from a young pastor and a young Bible worker. Michael Ryan interviewed conference presidents about the success of the New York 13 Evangelistic Campaign. They reported that 4,087 people had accepted Jesus as a result of NY 13. And they said that local evangelistic campaigns continue with plans for 100 such meetings in 2014.

General Conference President Ted N.C. Wilson closed the evening with a few brief comments about 125th anniversary of the Bible Conference of 1888, when the denomination struggled over the significance of righteousness by faith. Wilson emphasized that Jesus is the center of everything that the church does. New visions will mean nothing unless we fall at the feet of Jesus. He asked the audience to reaffirm its commitment to Jesus, who Wilson said, is interceding for us tonight in a literal sanctuary in heaven.

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