My Top 3 Frustrations as an Adventist Pastor




I have been an Adventist pastor now for around 3 years. However, I have been involved in ministry in our church for well over a decade. I started preaching when I was 17, and since then I have also been involved in youth ministry, worship ministry, health ministry, evangelism and outreach. So while I have titled this new post, "My Top 3 Frustrations as an Adventist Pastor" what I share has been on my mind long before I became one.

At the moment, our church is hashing it out with various issues that impact us worldwide. There is lots of heated debate on the union and conference levels, especially with regards to Women's Ordination (which the Annual Council is addressing again in like 24 hours). And while there are a lot of issues that could frustrate me in these massive debates alone, the truth is they are not anywhere near my top 3. Those spots are reserved for issues that are much smaller, and yet super duper annoying. So here we are:


1. Our desperate need for a giant caffeine overdose. 

No, I don't promote the use of coffee but don't miss the point. While coffee isn't exactly good for you, sometimes I wish I could spike everyone's potluck juice with two or three Allmax caffeine tablets. Maybe then we will find the energy to actually get up and do something?

At nearly every church I have ever been to, the pattern is identical. Eighty percent of people are mere spectators while twenty percent bust their grills year after year in service and mission (this is why no one gets excited about being in the Nominating Committee). And I'm not the only one. Most of the pastors I talk to have the same drama. And no one seems to know what the solution is. It's like many of us are just super content to just show up, watch the church leaders do their thing and then go home. With that kind of culture, there is just no way the church can ever grow.

Solution: Adventist leaders need to stop pretending that the 80/20 principle is normal. I personally believe it is the result, not of lazy Christians (though that's there too) but also of a system that is designed to encourage passivity. We need to restructure the way our churches operate to encourage and reward involvement. In the next month, I am going to release a free video email series that will teach leaders how to do just that. 

To be the first to know when its available, make sure you subscribe here

2. Forgotten narrative. 


Adventism has the most beautiful theological system I have ever encountered. And believe me, I have studied many of them. Calvinism, the Westminster Confession, the Second London Baptist Confession, Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology, Arminian-Wesleyanism, Catholicism and on and on. And in my estimation, none of those theological narratives are as compelling and beautiful as Adventism. But most of our members seem to be totally unaware of this. It's like they have forgotten, or perhaps never really known, what our story is. And what do you get when you have a group of people who have forgotten their story? You get a bunch of bored folk who argue and bicker about all kinds of dumb stuff. When we lack vision, we perish.

Solution: I wrote a series of articles on this. Read them. Take the content and introduce it to your church family. Do it over and over. Here is that article series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

3. Severe lack of excellence. 

I don't know if this is just a Sevvy thing, but boy do I see it a lot. Somehow, there is this cultural pattern among us that settles for mediocrity. Our churches look atrocious. Our services are boring. Our ministries are vague and uninteresting. Our Sabbath Schools are irrelevant. Our corporate worship vibes are substandard. Our websites, if we even have one, look like they were designed in the 90's. And if you ask me how many churches I have been to with a carpet that was laid in the 70's I honestly can't remember. I have lost count.

Sometimes we try and baptize our lack of  excellence with religious platitudes. "It's all about the Holy Spirit" or "All we need is the truth, not these other things" etc. etc. And I agree that those things are most important. But since when did they become excuses for mediocrity? If anything, they should be motivations for a greater commitment to excellence.

Solution: If you iron out the first two, this one will follow. Church members need to come to the realization that we are not there for ourselves. We are called to be a light to the world. Once we discover that, our desire for excellence in how we shine that light comes naturally.

So there you have it guys! Top 3 frustrations as an Adventist pastor. Do you have any (with solutions)? Share them below!

 ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com

11 comments:

  1. I may be biased in what I'm going to say here, but suppose there are leaders in church or prominent members of said church, we may say they care a lot about the church, they'll do this and that, but at some point you realize they sometimes do things for their own gain (I can't read / see hearts), but we can say when they do something and people or the pastor doesn't acknowledge or give praise to their contribution then they'll put on their sourest face.
    Then the 'lesser' member will feel discouraged, having inferiority complex, consider themselves to not be able to contribute and decide to just be spectator.
    I know, i know, the best is for every member to give according to their gift and ability, but when face with privileged mentality, partiality in church, it will be easier to be a spectator.

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    1. Good point mate! I do agree that member uninvolvement is not always do to lack of interest/ spirituality. In my experience it has a lot to do with the way our churches are structured. We make it easier for people to be spectators and difficult for them to step out. So the solution to member uninvolvement cant be preaching a sermon about it or lecturing people about getting involved. It has to also include an overhaul of how we structure our churches so that it celebrates and rewards involvement. More on this coming soon :D

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  2. My story pastor is one of a new member. Not knowing the way this organization 'works'. Where money can sometimes speak louder than what the scripture say about non partiality. Me the new member that tried to oppose the people who show partiality. But, in the end. All of us lose. No trust between us. We can't work together again. I back down. Enjoying my view from the spectator seat. The partiality acts have gone down, people that use to be overlooked are being involved. This will be a hard lesson and experience for me. I think,I am waiting for the Lord to send me somewhere else, and I hope I don't do the same mistake. People can't change, not by us telling them they are wrong. But, by us with humility show them what Jesus will do.

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  3. So....what if your leadership is the main problem, and they don't have an interest in changing? We get SO MANY sermons and impromptu harangues from our head elder (he's in charge 3 weeks of the month as our pastor has 4 churches -- which isn't helpful in itself) about the members needing to involve themselves in the church. However, when we volunteer (and there have been a number of members who've done this), he micromanages everything. We volunteer to teach a Sabbath School class, but he says we can't do it on anything but the quarterly, etc. The pastor wants sabbath school to start at a certain time, but the head elder (who is VERY disorganized) continues to begin 1/2 hour late when the pastor isn't there.

    How do you encourage leadership to desire excellence?

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    1. Great question Anonymous! Since I am not there in person, I can only offer advice based on general principles. It sounds to me like you have a head elder who is operating off of "boss" principles as opposed to leadership principles and that is a tough spot to be in. One of the things I like to do is write articles based on questions I receive, so next week I will focus my new post on answering your very question. In the meantime, would you mind telling me a few things? How big is your church? How long has he been head elder? Is your church rural, city, country etc.? How close are the members to each other in your church? Would you say your church is an intimate and loving church? (dont confuse this with friendly) How close are you to your head elder? And lastly, how big is your leadership team? Since I am not there in person, the answers to these questions can help me give you a better response.

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  4. About 50 people attend our church, but not all are members. People are always moving here and then moving away, so that 50-person attendance is always changing faces. A lot of transience. About 10 (max) members ever attend board meetings. Our head elder has been there in his position for at least 15 years, possibly more. Our church is rural-ish. We live in a small city that serves the reservation, so many (about half) of the people who attend are coming in from rural areas. Our members are very friendly, but not close at all. I don't know how close we are to the head elder. He's a very kind man and we enjoy talking with him on general topics (the Bible, gardening, etc), but we're also not allowed (this is intuitively understood) to ask about where his wife is and why she never attends -- something I think is very important considering he's an elder. So, not that close, I guess, but by his choosing. Our leadership team is mainly 3 people: The pastor, the head elder and the other elder. Others take part in this team, but the 3 mentioned are the only ones who are committed and can be relied upon to show up. I'll add that in 10 years, we've had 5 different pastors. So the head elder is kind of the anchor (and I mean that in a good way as well as the problems that come with it).

    I really look for to reading your article. Any ideas for helping our church come alive
    are truly appreciated!

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    1. Sorry for the late reply! I am currently doing a big program at one of my churches so time has been limited. I posted the article I talked about already and next week I will post a follow up with solutions to each of the issues I identify there. But onto your question:

      While I remain cautious about making too many assumptions (since I am not there) allow me to share a few quick points that are fundamental and, without which, you simply will never thrive as a church. You mention a few challenges 1) high level of transience 2) rapid pastoral turn-around 3) Semi-rural location 4) low commitment level and 5) weak relationships

      There is nothing you can do about #1. The transience doesn't depend on your church so unless something changes in the sociological structure of your community, that will remain a reality. Transience poses some challenges such as the inability to form deep relationships since people are not there for long, the inability to train and equip a new team of leaders since most people are not around long enough, etc. etc. However, it also poses a remarkable opportunity. The ability to impact people who will then go back home and pass the blessing along to others. Churches with high transience have the opportunity of making a global impact because if they create a memorable experience for those who come and go, when they go they will take the memories and lessons learned with them and impact other areas of the globe. I too pastor a church with high transience. It is right next to a university. My goal is to equip each of those students to not only serve while they are with us, but to be able to then go and make a difference everywhere they go. In a sense, my aim is for my church to see itself as a training center for international missionaries. And I dont have to look for students, they are already coming.

      You also can't do much about point 2. Rapid pastoral turnaround is out of your local church's control as well. But that's OK. Pastoral dependence is one of the greatest weaknesses of the modern church. Seriously, read the book "Revolution in the Church" by Russel Burril to dig deeper into how to run a non-pastoral dependent church. its brilliant.

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    2. You also cant change point 3. You are semi-rural and unless you move, or the city comes to you, you will remain that way. However, this is also an advantage. You can become a hub for your community because in rural areas, there are not as many distractions or events as in cities. So the competition is less so to speak. If the rural church becomes outward focused and aims to be a relevant part of its community it can build brilliant relationships and intimacy the city churches can only dream of. Here is a good article exploring some of this: http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1988/summer/88l3080.html

      So there isnt much you can do about changing the circumstantial issues in points 1-3, but you can change the way you interact with each of those circumstances. In doing so, you can turn a liability for missional growth into an asset for it.

      However, there is something you can do about points 4 and 5. Low membership involvement may be the result of the transient nature of the church attendance. Identify who your local members are and who your transient members are. For example. 50 members total // 40 are transient // 10 are local. Out of your transient 40, 4 are involved in the local church. Out of the local 10, 9 are involved in the church. This means you have a 10% involvement from your transients and a 90% involvement from your locals. The question now is, what can be done to increase the involvement of the transient members? And the only way you will ever figure that out is embeded in what i perceive to be the greatest weakness based on your above description. point number 5.

      Seriously, point number 5 is your foundational weakness. nothing else I said in this reply will mean a thing if point 5 is not resolved. The church must begin to foster relationships and create environments for the members to begin getting to know one another personally. The culture of the church has to go from friendly to intimate. Without that, forget everything else.

      When a church is intimate, the sky is the limit. When it isnt, its already operating on borrowed time. Intimacy is the foundation of any healthy church. Without it, all you have is a Saturday morning club. But through intimacy of relationships you can discover how to involve your transient members, become a relevant and important space in your community, motivate a member driven church that is not pastoral dependent, and become a missionary training center that is yearly sending out transient members back to their homes and destinations with an experience in their mind that they will never forget and which they will use to awaken others to the gospel commission.

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    3. I attended a church like this in Hawaii. The pastor was a man named John Clark. He was the Youth Pastor at the Honolulu central church. The membership was super transient. A small handful were local. The rest were military, travelers and students. Every 2-3 years, the group would shift and start over. But they were brilliant at relationships. The pastor and other local members invested themselves fully in getting to know the transients. We ate in their homes, went on camping trips and outings with them, spent time together like a family and became really close. When it was finally time to leave, they had made such an impression on my mind I was never the same and neither was anyone else in that group. 10 years later we still message each other and visit each other and aim to recreate the experience wherever we go.

      Without that relational intimacy its very difficult to do anything about your leadership difficulties. You have 3 people who you can rely on. They are not going anywhere either. (I should have added that to the list of "cant-change" above) So don't waste energy there. Invest on what you can do something about and that is nurturing deep relational intimacy in your church. From there, you will be able to do everything else and perhaps even the elder will catch the vision and evolve. But without it, you can forget about everything else. I am grateful though, that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

      Hope these few words can provide some dirrection,

      Blessings

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  5. Regarding mediocrity I agree, but there's more to it. In regional/rural churches there may be one or fewer people who can play the piano well, for example. I refuse to play it because my skills won't do justice to the music. And worship is not supposed to be a performance. Big events, yes, they should be well organized and "well choreographed" but a small group of people listening to a relevant sermon and participating in the worship service as well as they can is all we really need. The "as well as they can" bit is the question. Yes, many people are spectators.

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    1. I agree Leopold. What "excellence" looks like is contextual. My point is that we should not baptize the absence of excellence with religious platitudes. But I also agree that worship should not be a performance. Im not a big fan of the super polished church service. Thats not what I mean by excellence. I think the church experience should be well done but also simple, authentic and homely.

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