The Adventist church in Puerto Rico, under the direction of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus, faces three situations in this postmodern era:
These are the products of conditions that have existed in my church for years, and that are possibly generalized to the rest of the churches in Puerto Rico, to a greater or lesser degree. The three situations, as a rule, are not discussed or analyzed in depth, and, what is worse, there is no permanent forum to discuss them.
The brothers in the church, in their homes and even outside the board meetings, comment on the spiritual problems we face and the dissatisfaction with what we do. However, nobody talks about the problems in the church.
I can understand that discussing them critically and in gossip is objectionable. However, that should not prevent mentioning and/or discussing them from a spiritual perspective, under the direction of the Spirit of God. Doing so should not be interpreted negatively, or that "the spirituality of others is being judged." Nor should it be the behavior of brothers and pastors to "ostrich" before the spiritual problems of the church and "leave things as they are."
Paraphrasing George R. Knight, the historian of our Church: "If I were the devil I would be happy with the Laodicean condition that is in my Church, with the apathy and indifference to leave it."1
Parallel to this, a mentality has been developed of doing and doing, placing in the background the spirituality of being. "We do, we do and we do." Each leader works individually for his department, based on a “work plan” in which as a rule “the vision/mission of the work is taken for granted and activities are programmed outside the other departments, without coordinating it with the other leaders.
In fact, there are few occasions in which the departments unite their leadership and their efforts together for the Work of God. It is necessary to develop a culture of teamwork. Not doing so in an organized and planned way puts each and every one in his trench. One result, among others, is that we have many church members disconnected from each other, without identification and the necessary unity with the church and missionary work. The reason for this has to do with the example we set. There is no Strategic Planning to do the work of God, which will be discussed later.
The prophetic shaking is already in the Church, and we are all busy and entertained, doing and doing, fed back by Facebook and WhatsApp, "projecting to have the heart, the character of Jesus, faith and the anointing of the most high." Social networks have been occupying and replacing authentic communication, from person to person, and facilitate presenting a fictional image of ourselves and our relationship with God.
Recently, I attended a meeting of Sabbath School Teachers and there I was told about “Being — Know — Do,” fundamental criteria for a Sabbath School Teacher and any Christian. However, the reality, at least in my church, is that doing, and not being, seems to be the priority.
Let's look at and analyze the three situations: stagnation, erosion, and disenchantment. Although all situations are interrelated and dependent on each other, we will discuss them separately.
Stagnation means that quantitative and qualitative growth in the church is being limited. The number of baptisms has been reduced considerably. As a general rule, the newly baptized are aging people and there is an absence of new youth accepting Christ as their personal Savior and being baptized. Attendance in the church of youth and adults has been reduced, considerably on weekdays.
With respect to qualitative growth, new leaders are not developed; the leaders of the departments and Elders are reappointed and recycled every year over and over again. In a church of 250 members, about 20 people participate as leaders and the parishioner who attends regularly is reduced to 90 people on Saturdays. It is possible that the number of all bona fide members is actually around 90 to 100.
As a general rule, in church programming the same thing is done over and over again. What is presented is predictable and sermons are sometimes recycled. There is also a problem with making innovations in worship. Often, allegations are raised that "we have never done it that way before," and objections are raised regarding the time available for worship, and/or the nature of what is going to be questioned, which prevents and limits innovation.
How missionary work is done deserves a separate comment. For years the same is done and different results are wanted. The needs of communities close to the church are not met, so we do not attract non-conversational people. The missionary work lacks a strategic plan with objectives, mission, vision, and evaluation. It limits itself to inviting communities to our ecclesiastical activities and campaigns, but the assistance and participation of the communities is meager.
A pattern of behavior has been established to select a community, survey to meet their needs, and then distribute literature. However, time passes and we do nothing substantial to help the needy. In other past experiences, we have addressed their needs by doing activities, but we do not know how to socialize with people in the community. We lack social skills to interact and/or talk with them about religious issues or Sabbath. It has happened many times that we remain talking among ourselves. Unfortunately, we see very easily that our interest is to recruit for the church, not to connect with the community.
On the other hand, there has been no consistent work in the communities. Again and again, after establishing ourselves in the community, leaders of the church begin to express that they "get bored of doing the same" and leave the work. Consistency is interrupted.
The experience has been that the leaders “go to another place” to do the missionary work, leaving only the leaders who intentionally selected the community. Those that leave even develop missionary work parallel to that of the original plan, but in another place or Adventist church.
My church is declining little by little. In the words of Pastor Jonas Arrais: there is a revolving door installed in the church where dozens and dozens of brothers and sisters pass through it, who leave the church, for different reasons and while that happens, we continue doing and doing.2
With regard to young people, in my local church, they have been reduced significantly. Possibly erosion is caused because young people do not see the practical application of Christianity to their postmodern daily life; they are presented with a Christianity full of stereotyped phrases, boring music (our hymnbook is full of German hymns), and leaders do not develop among young people which leads to disenchantment. It can also be the deforming influence of postmodernism — deficiencies in spiritual formation, parents who have not provided the best example of what a Christian home is, or the young people depart from the church for reasons of study or work and it does not make sense to them to remain in it.
With regard to adults the same thing happens, dozens of faithful have moved from church, emigrated to the United States and cease to be Adventists, or have left the church. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of young people studying at the Adventist academy of Vega Baja upon graduation leave the church and we never see them again.
Disenchantment can be seen in three scenarios:
Disenchantment of the aging faithful
The disenchantment of the elderly can be seen in the context that they have grown "tired" of waiting for Jesus' second coming, aggravated by the fact that they are losing their cognitive abilities, and/or that many of them have never experienced a great personal transformation or spiritual restoration of their feelings and negative emotions through the Holy Spirit.
So it shouldn't surprise us that they live bitter lives devoid of joy, endangering their salvation. It should also be mentioned that many elders come from a generation that does not understand postmodernity; they are legalists (they place the law above the spirit of love and the character of Jesus) and reject innovation within the church. This explains their frustration and disappointment with the church, although they do not abandon it.
Disenchantment of young people
Young people have become disenchanted with the church. Precipitating factors are that programming is designed by adults. The relationship with the church depends on participating in social activities, but because they are not delegated responsibilities that involve leadership, they are not prepared to be spiritual leaders. There is no forum in the church where they can express their views and what their spiritual vision really is. There are no activities to develop their leadership.
On the other hand, many of the new young converts discover that they do not experience the benefits of personal transformation and the connection with God that were promised explicitly and implicitly, when they decided to join the Adventist church and that disappoints them. It also disappoints them that many veteran adult members of the church, and even in their own family, seem to have no intimate relationship with God because the restoration or personal reconstruction of their lives is not visible to young people.
An interesting aspect that is not analyzed is the fact that our young people do not marry other young people in the church. Many of them do not establish romantic or loving relationships of any kind with each other, which causes an emigration of young people who leave the church, in search of other young people with whom they can relate and/or establish both friendships and romantic relationships.
Disenchantment of professional adults
The same thing happens with adults, particularly because we are stuck doing the same thing, but an important element must be added. There is no space to develop a spiritual leadership focused on the excellence of God's affairs and business. This issue is fundamental and we will go deeper.
In a future article, I will talk about the conditions by which stagnation, erosion, and disenchantment arise, particularly the need to develop a spiritual leadership, and how not addressing these three situations moves us away from the innovation that the church needs, which is to deepen its purpose and commitment to the work of God.
Notes & References:
1. Presentation by George Knight was made during the Windows to Mission space of business meetings at the General Conference World Congress session in Toronto in 2000, in Bulletin 5 of the Adventist Review congress session and in a form abbreviated in Ministry, the church magazine for Pastors.
2. Jonas Arrias, A Positive Church in a Negative World: Learning and Improving Leadership in Every Experience of Your Church, 2007, Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Edison García-Creitoff taught ethics and communications for 15 years at Private Universities of Puerto Rico. He is a Social Worker, Conflict Mediator, and Lawyer (J.D.). He has been Elder, Director of Missionary Work, Director of Home and Family, Deacon and Sabbath School teacher, in the Adventist Church of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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