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Who’s afraid of ‘the One project’?

Seventh-day Adventism in North America is dying. Yes, I know the statistics say it is the fastest growing denomination, but the influx is due to immigration. Without that, membership here is actually in decline and the One project is a microcosm of why.

What I expected to find in Seattle was a group of people completely absorbed with speaking “in truth and freedom that Jesus should be number one in everything we do.” There was indeed a fair amount of that, but there was also something else that took me by surprise.

There was a noticeable uneasiness in the air: suspicion mixed in with confusion, a little fear and a sprinkling of condemnation. I wasn’t so naïve to expect one-mindedness in all things, but I was somewhat astonished that people found a problem with the One project seeking ”to stimulate preaching, worship, and adoration of Jesus within and through the Adventist church.”

In his philosophy of the One project, Japhet De Oliveira references Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why. Sinek explains that organizations struggle when they lose touch with their why—stuck on what and how, they fumble around in the shadows of details. People don’t connect with details. As Sinek puts it, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” If why is what draws people in, but only what and how are on display—news flash—the sign on the door says CLOSED.

In Seattle, people had all sorts of ideas about what was wrong with the One project: what was missing, what should and shouldn’t be, possible hidden agendas, etc. Sadly, this is representative of the sort of discord present throughout the church. It’s fine to have those discussions, but they need to be filtered through why.

Sinek explains what happens when you lose your why by recounting an experience he had in Afghanistan. He was stuck in the middle of a war zone, unsure as to when he could get out. He began treating people like they didn’t matter—like they weren’t people. His only focus was himself. In short, losing your why causes you to become a troll.

If you don’t want to be a troll, you need a why. A group of people intertwined with why is a powerful force. A shared why builds trust and when a group of people trust each other, the sum far exceeds the parts. That trust is missing in the SDA church today. Division divides and though that is self-evident, we pretend otherwise. A fractured church, quibbling over what and how does not draw people in.

Bringing it back to the One project, here we have a group of people who get it, “committed to the idea that a Jesus-driven, Jesus-bathed, Jesus-backed, Jesus-led, Jesus-filled, Jesus-powered, all-about-Jesus Adventist Church is the uncompromising directive from our past, the joy of our present, and hope for our future.” They’re trying to focus on Jesus yet others argue about whether or not there should be a logo. Really? They say, “We love our church. And so we want the greatest gift for it… Jesus,” while others fear that means Sunday worship is fine. Really? They “believe pulpits, classrooms, worship halls, board rooms, living rooms – life! – should be drenched in the Spirit of Jesus,” but others worry that isn’t distinct enough. Really?

These are the types of attitudes and distractions that are preventing true growth in Seventh-day Adventism. Yes, distinct doctrines are a part of the church, but they aren’t the Good News. Evangelism isn’t supposed to be about getting people to keep the fourth commandment. Sabbath doesn’t save. Jesus saves.

Do you invite people to a birthday party based on what kind of cake will be there? No, you invite them because of who’s birthday it is. If you’re running around trying to sell a birthday solely on the sparkliness of the party hats, you just aren’t going to make that much of an impact. The cake and party hats will still be part of the celebration, but they aren’t the reason for it.

How and what are valid and important. This movement, the One project, isn’t an attempt to do away with them. Rather, it is an attempt to recenter the church and its members—a reminder of who the birthday party is for. It is a call to be people who live Jesus. As Eddie Hypolite said in Seattle, “People don’t listen to what we say, they listen to who we are.”

If you want your church to truly be growing at an exciting rate, live your why. Don’t be a troll. Trolls don’t build bridges; they live under them and charge a toll to cross.

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