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Tables Must Be Flipped: Accountability for African Adventist Leaders

Jesus, Money Tables, Cruise

Some weeks ago, a director in the Southern African and Indian Ocean Division (SID) innocently posted pictures on Facebook with his family at a church-sponsored leadership summit on an MSC cruise ship in South Africa. This was reportedly a weeklong business meeting for church workers (SID staff, top union and conference leaders) and their families on a 5-star cruise, paid for by tithe money.

Without obsessing over the math behind the costs involved, the idea of seeing church workers with their families on the all-expenses paid trip created a social media uproar. 

This is not to criticize the division leader involved personally for enjoying what was a corporately-organized event. Alongside the others, he benefitted from a system that operates like a parasitic cankerworm feeding off its host in a region with shamefully high poverty. This is a complaint about the principle of having the church pay for what looked like a family holiday framed as a leadership summit. 

Rather than taking time to clarify or respond to their constituency, some leaders cited precedent or simply ignored online feedback, revealing bold entitlement and institutionalized waste that hides behind the work of God. Understandably, in the uproar was an expression of disappointment in such depravity—feasting in a sea of poverty and suffering. The optics were terrible, the response was distasteful, and the leaders at all levels looked at best insensitive. 

To put this into context…

This is the same region where members contend with rampant poverty, meager income, and high unemployment, but still give sacrificial offerings and tithes to the church they love.

This same region inundates members with calls for money, but its leaders ignore calls for accountability as if waste is a God-given mandate.

In this same region, members worship in rundown, ill-equipped church buildings led by underpaid pastors.

In this same region, congregations that missionaries left long ago remain underdeveloped, some collapsing due to mismanagement and neglect. 

This is the same region where, despite glaring needs, leaders are content to put funds into murky investments rather than help develop the constituencies that support them.

This a systemic issue—a culture where leaders feel insulated from accountability and critique because they are “working for God.” Members are told to give even if it hurts and leave mismanagement in the hands of  God.

No wonder no one sees a problem with a General Conference president traveling around the continent, visiting poor rural communities escorted by large convoys, flying on privately-chartered planes funded by members who often struggle to make ends meet. In those same communities, poorly-resourced local pastors overseeing eight or more churches travel long distances by bicycle. During stewardship seminars and presentations, leaders pound into members the importance of getting value for money, but for top church administrators, the same principle does not apply.

With tithe fatigue and mistrust of leadership increasing, we have a literate membership who demand answers from church leaders. They see how secular institutions pay attention to efficiency, effectiveness, and value for money, but the church they love does the opposite while claiming to be the light of the world. 

Current policy and practice shield division leaders from the scrutiny of ordinary members, but this no longer suffices. This generation of church members is highly literate, exposed to high accountability standards at work, and it demands the same from leaders. The “give even if it hurts” mantra no longer works and many find guilt-driven stewardship appeals repulsive. Hard-earned funds require accountability from those who receive them. Hiding behind obsolete policy or compromised executive committee processes simply drives disengagement, suspicion and mistrust over church authority and institutional processes. 

An African proverb puts it well:

A tree that refuses to dance will be made to do so by the wind.” 

Many leaders throughout the continent and in other regions often ignore that this generation relates to the church differently. Young Adventists abhor leaders who use institutional authority to evade accountability. They see the duplicity, the double standards and hypocrisy, which leads them to distrust leaders more. 

Leaders need to listen, engage, and demonstrate fidelity to the things they teach. You cannot have a stewardship month with champions of stewardship violating its principles. At a time when the church in Africa needs resources to develop and better respond to its young population’s needs, the dysfunctional system persists because it benefits the leaders who uphold it.

Tables need to be flipped in African Adventism to disrupt the entitled—those who wantonly disregard calls for answers. Tables must be flipped to expose the duplicity and narrowness that attends stewardship messaging. Tables need to be flipped to see stewardship becoming a dual responsibility characterized by transparency and responsiveness on the part of our leaders. Tables must be flipped to unlock funds held in offshore investments at the expense of the  Adventist institutions that need them. 

In many places, tithe collections represent the largest source of income for the church, leaving local churches to survive on meagre offerings (of which 50% are remitted to the conference). The church needs a discussion on tithe policy when conferences, unions and divisions have the flexibility to pay for anything they need while denying the church properties they own the same privilege.

Here is a challenge as we prepare for the next General Conference session 2025: Delegates need to move away from sloganeering, obsession with unearthing theological threats, spending the whole week editing sections of the church manual, and obsessing over elections. Instead, they need to hold robust discussions on the state of Adventist institutions on the continent—the structure and future of the church. 

The greatest threat to the Adventist mission is not the beast of Revelation 13, but kingly power that hides behind working policies to perpetuate processes and attitudes that alienate those who speak up against mismanagement and inefficiency. 

The time has come for the current administration to move beyond missional slogans to champion organizational efficiency and effectiveness. The discussion will undoubtedly unsettle the entitled. Those in charge may feel conflicted and lack motivation to reform themselves out of privilege. Apathy is not an option for Adventist church members because the church belongs to them all!

About the author

Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana, where he is a humanitarian and development professional. More from Admiral Ncube.
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