If I Were the Devil...
If I were the Devil I would make pastors and administrators the center of the work of the church. It must have been the Devil that gave us the idea that the pastor should do all the preaching, give all the Bible studies, be a church's primary soul winner, and make and carry out business decisions for the church.
We need to move beyond the place where we see churches as entertainment centers for the saints. We need to get more priests into the priesthood of the believers. If we wait for the clergy to finish the work, Adventism will be on planet Earth for a little longer than eternity.
The challenge is to create a generation of Adventist pastors and administrators who become equippers, who are skilled at helping people use their talents in the work of reaching the world. Pastors need to become enablers not mother hens hovering over their fledglings. Al McClure is reported as having said at a church planting convention that any church that doesn't spin off or plant a new church in three years ought to lose its pastor. If Elder McClure didn't say that, he should have. Adventism needs to take definite steps to recast the role of the pastor into that of enabler.
If I were the Devil, I would undermine the importance of the local congregation. One of the great needs of Adventism is the creation and maintenance of vibrant local congregations. A healthy congregation is not a group of individuals, but a body of believers reaching out to the community around them.
The task of the world church in its General Conference organization is to coordinate funds and personnel in order to send Christ's message to the far corners of the earth. Thus Congregationalism as a form of organization is not sufficient in itself. But, on the other hand, the denomination in the long run will only be as healthy as its local congregations. What can be done to create healthier congregations at the local level?
If I were the Devil I would create more administrative levels and generate more administrators. In fact, if I were the Devil I would get as many successful church employees as far from the scene of action as possible. I would put them behind desks, cover them with papers, and inundate them with committees. If that wasn't enough, I would remove them to so-called "higher" and "higher" levels until they had little direct and sustained contact with the people who make up the church.
Now don't get me wrong. I believe in church organization. But I also believe in food, and I know that too much of a good thing has less than healthy results.
Many believe that Adventism needs to trim down the number of its administrative types and the amount of its administrative real estate so that more money and energy is put into fighting the battle on the front line.
Many Adventists are tired of paying the massive bill for a multi-layered system. At the 1999 Annual Council in Brazil I pointed out that there is no church in the world with as many administrative levels to support as Adventism. When the article was published by the Adventist Review the editor wanted to insert "except the Roman Catholic." I responded by telling them to add "including the Roman Catholic." The Roman Catholic system has 2 levels above the local church, while Adventism has 4.
The current system was developed in the horse-and-buggy era, when even the telephone hadn't come into its own. The challenge for the church in the 21st century will be to reorganize along lines that take into account modern transportation and communication. I am just completing a book on the history of Adventist church organization that suggests a 3-tiered totally restructured model that is arranged in such a way as to capture the advantages of a worldwide church while at the same time providing for local initiative.
More and more Adventists are realizing that there are other ways to structure the church in the post-modern world that would free up both workers and money for finishing God's work on earth. Too much money, claim many, is being used to run the machinery, as if the machinery were an end in itself. Many of the potential opportunities of the future are contingent upon successfully restructuring in a manner that will free up resources and encourage the investment of additional resources. This task may be one of the greatest challenges of our day.