On September 1st, William G. Johnson published an article on Spectrum Magazine titled, "the One Project: Why I'm Mad" in which he expressed his frustrations over all the controversy surrounding the One Project. After expressing his appreciation for the Christ-centered ministry Johnson wrote, "[O]ne thing bothers me: Will someone, anyone, please enlighten me as to what is the problem with the One Project? ... I've inquired of many people including some at church headquarters in Silver Spring, but all I get back get back is smoke—rumor, suspicion, hearsay, allegations of conspiracy, what others are saying, what they read in some book or viewed on a website, DVD, and so on."
Johnson noted how the One Project team have been the objects of bullying, scorn, and gossip by church members who have bought into all the baseless propaganda floating around. "Even the children of the organizers have been targeted and vilified on Facebook", he added.
After reading this article, I quickly shared it on my Facebook page and expressed my solidarity with Johnson's thoughts. In my estimation, the vitriol surrounding a movement whose only agenda is to celebrate the supremacy of Jesus in the Adventist church is a repeat of the 1888 crisis in which rumors, suspicions, and conspiracy theories surrounded the presentation of a Christ-centered message. Even Ellen White was mistreated and shunned by many for supporting nothing other than the uplifting of our crucified and risen Savior.
Later that day I decided it was time to fight back. Two years earlier fellow pastor Nathaniel Tan and myself had co-authored a defense of the One Project after attending a gathering in Western Australia. The article, "The One Project: Danger or Blessing?" received a warm reception among ministers who were looking for some sort of resource to counter the rumors and accusations being leveled against the movement. However, there was one problem with the article. Because neither Nat nor I were members of the One Project the best we could do was offer a non-conclusive argument. Using all the evidence available to us we argued against the critics with the goal of establishing a foundation of trust from which we could more intelligently evaluate the movement. But at the end of the day we could not conclusively acquit the One Project of all the charges labeled against it. And while that article was a great start and resource for those seeking to defend the One Project I felt the time had come to make a stronger case.
With this in mind I sent a personal message to one of the lead One Project organizers in which I offered to publish an updated version of our initial article with a more conclusive tone. There were only two things I needed. First, their official endorsement of our article and second, a clearer rebuttal of the charges labeled against them - particularly the ecumenical and emergent church agenda charges. In my mind, such an article was desperately needed as I and other ministers tried desperately to diffuse the nonsense that has been floating around. In less then a day I received a reply which led to one of the most life altering conversations I have ever had. It was after this conversation that I officially decided I would no longer defend the One Project.
The reply stated.
Hey brother....we have prayed hard about this and chosen to take the high road. To focus on Jesus and to ignore every accusation. We have also agreed to answer any direct question directly....not questions about opinions but about facts. So for now it is a lonely path.... Truth is that the One project could shut down tomorrow and we would not weep. It is not about TOP but about Jesus. How we celebrate all He is and how He is expressed through our tribe Adventism [Note: ellipsis included in the original message. No content has been removed for the purpose of this quotation.].I wrote back intending to share my point of view. "We need a resource" I replied, "something we pastors on the ground can use to defend you guys. Something that will enable us to convince our church members to attend". While I commended the decision they had made in my reply I still wanted to fight back. All I needed was an endorsement to make a conclusive argument and we could republish with more strength than before. So I wrote back and tried once more to get this One Project leader to agree. That's when the following reply came through,
Thanks bro for reaching out. I understand your struggle. Honestly, I think the focus should be on Jesus and not the One projectAnd then it hit me. Up to that moment I had been focused on defending the One Project, but suddenly, as the words on my Facebook messenger sunk into my head a light bulb turned on and I realized that I, and all my colleagues, had been going about this whole thing the wrong way. We had gotten so caught up in defending the One Project that we had missed the point: Its not about the One Project. Its about Jesus.
We talked some more and just when I thought the conversation couldn't get any more Spirit-led, the following message came through,
Talk of the Jesus you have come to know and share is more powerful than anything. Honestly people ask me all the time how did we make the One project so successful was it the round tables was the great speakers etc. and for those moments the human nature is yes...of course my A style driven attention to detail makes it amazing.....but that is 1% 99% is that the vision is beyond anything we could ever capture. You can't contain Jesus. That is what is attractive. That is what is water that quenches all thirst. That is Jesus. All.The words in that message where the slam dunk the Holy Spirit was trying to bring to my attention and the attention of our entire church. We have missed the point. I realized then and there that the One Project team doesn't really care about the One Project. They don't really care about their names being out there, about hosting interesting gatherings, or about having a place in SDA history. The One Project team really doesn't care about the One Project all that much. What they care about is Jesus. What they want is to lift him up. What they want is to bring Jesus so close to the heart of Adventist culture that the One Project wont even be needed anymore. In many ways their existence is bitter sweet. Sweet because its Christ-centered. Bitter because we have come to a place in our culture where we actually need to be reminded that its Jesus. All. And for the One Project, their greatest success is not more numbers, more funding, or more fame. Their greatest success would be to shut down because their ministry is no longer needed. Their greatest success would be to inspire the Adventist church to such intimacy with Jesus that they no longer have to host another gathering to remind us that Jesus is what its all about.
Shortly after this, our conversation ended. And I decided then and there that I was done defending the One Project. Sure, I'll answer questions if people have them and the One Project team is happy to do likewise. I'll also continue to support them and attend their gatherings as much as possible. But I wont spend anymore time trying to argue against the critics or attempting to gather resources like bullets to shoot back. Instead, I want to begin working in such a way that I make the One Project unnecessary. I want to bring Jesus into everything I do and everywhere I go and I want to invite the entire SDA church to join me.
This isn't about our theology. It's already Christ-centered. This is about our culture which so easily forgets that Jesus is everything. Join me in making Jesus all. Join me in creating the kind of culture in Adventism that forces the One Project to shut down, not because we attacked them and their families, not because we published books and DVD's with conspiracy theories and baseless accusations, but because we became so focused on Jesus that the One Project literally became redundant.
But some may ask "What about the critics? Should we just allow them to continue unchecked? Aren't we, by our silence, letting them win?" To be honest, that is the main question I struggled with. But after my dialogue with this One Project leader I realized that making Jesus the center, not only at One Project gatherings, but in everything we do in Adventism would not only make the One Project redundant but it would also take away the power the critics have. By fighting we only encourage more division and more "choosing sides". By electing to focus on Jesus instead we are refusing to throw fuel in the fire of strife and division. Eventually the criticisms will expose themselves and will die off. We don't need to contribute to that. It will take care of itself. As for me and for us, lets forget about the critics and the One Project. Let's refuse to be distracted, out flanked, and sidelined by lesser things. Let's lift Jesus up more than ever before. If we do we will reignite a fire in our church that we desperately need - a fire that can only be ignited by intimacy with Jesus.
In closing I would like to say one more thing. When I first attended the One Project I felt a sense of hope for our church I had not felt in a long time. I have chatted with Alex Bryan, Lisa Diller, and Japhet De Oliveira about this. To me the One Project, imperfect as it may be, represented all I longed to see in Adventism. And I erroneously placed my hope in it. This is why I was so ready to fight for the movement. But then I was reminded by the very One Project leader who impacted my life forever, that the One Project is not the hope of our church. The hope of our church is what it has always been - not an event, a gathering, or a conference but the Christ-centered local church. So when I invite you all to make Jesus the center of Adventism I am not inviting you all to start more conferences, organize more retreats, and publish more books. I, and the one Project, are inviting you to make Jesus the center of your local church. Make him the heartbeat of your Sabbath School, your worship service, your gatherings, your board meetings, your elders meetings, your budget committee, your small groups, and your children's ministry. Let him define how you treat one another and how you interact with the broken community that surrounds you. Re-evaluate everything from the ground up leaving no stone un-turned. Demand of every facet of your local church's existence a deeper and more humble submission to the person of Jesus Christ. If we do this we are promised, the whole world will be drawn. Not because of how cool, hip, or organized we are but because he has promised "When I am lifted up I will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).
So there you have it. I'm done defending the One Project.
Today, I choose Jesus. All.