Wednesday, October 24, 2012

from Going Between Them Is Enough To Give You Whiplash

by Loren Seibold, editor, Best Practices for Adventist Ministry

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day at Andrews University Theological Seminary with the D.Min. faculty, church administrators, and other advisors.

It was a marvelous day. I met some great people and learned a lot. It struck me again, as it often does when I go between my congregations and the educational or administrative parts of the denomination, how separated these neighborhoods are from one another. Each knows of the other, but really don't know one another very well. The lay people in the non-institutional small churches - roughly four out of five NAD congregations fall in that category - know a little about the institutions (physicians come from Loma Linda, pastors from Andrews University, the Adventist Review and the Sabbath School Quarterly from the General Conference, and they all, in some way, ask us for money) but don't really know them except through the official PR channels or the angry critics - there are plenty of each. Consequently some are proud of what happens "up there," and some are suspicious.

There is as little understanding going the other way. Even in institutions staffed by people who were once pastors or who teach pastors, there seems too little acknowledgment of what it's like where most of the church is.

Moving back and forth between these neighborhoods can give you whiplash.

At a meeting in Silver Spring, I'm surrounded by beautiful buildings, professionalism and ability. Things get done with a conversation and a vote, because there's money and authority. Back home, we have to call a few folks to make sure we can raise enough to pay the utility bill. (What the church spent to get me to the meeting would be one congregation's budget for a month!) The roof leaks, and there's mold in the basement. The bathrooms are cleaned - if they're cleaned - by whomever gets around to it. Only a handful show up for worship. At the university, I brush shoulders with learned people who have fantastic ideas and a redundancy of talent. Back home, we don't have a piano player for church. No children's Sabbath School, because there are no children. Our religious conversations wander into topics that the educators quit talking about 40 years ago. Usually I'm the most educated person in my congregations, though most of what I have to do draws far less on my theological knowledge than on simple compassion.

And that's just in the North American Division.

We pastors are the go-betweens, the ambassadors from the leaders and educators to the people. We're the catalyst to make their formulas work out here, to put their ideas to work. We're cross-cultural translators. The denomination, in turn, generates a tsunami of stuff for us - ideas, programs, resources, plans - that we try to implement.


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