THE Seventh-day Adventist Church began developing an organization a little more than one hundred years ago, when American society was essentially rural and simpler in structure than it is now, when there were few large cities and few Adventists in the cities, little of industry as we now know it, and few Adventists in industry, business, or the professions. Adventists who were called to the ministry came from where the church members were. With few exceptions the evangelist, pastor, conference president, and flock all wore the same fleece.
The Age of Know-How
The successive cultural explosions which have produced the age of science and technology, the age of know-how, of expertise, of professionalism and specialization, have caught up the Adventist Church, along with the rest of the population. In this country a larger proportion of the population is college educated than in any other, yet a survey taken a few years ago showed that more than three Adventists finish college to one in the general population. Each year the Adventist colleges of the United States and Canada pour out a thousand graduates with Baccalaureate degrees of one kind or another.
The colleges and two universities of the church report a total of more than thirteen hundred students pursuing graduate studies beyond the sixteenth grade. Nobody knows for certain how many Adventist young people attend other colleges and universities as graduate students, but an educated guess would place the number above one thousand. Such an army of young people as this, plus the stalwart self-educated members so numerous in our churches, provides an educated and articulate laity as full partners with the ministry in evangelism, in community service, and in the managerial functions required in large congregations.
At the same time the church has gained much in sense of security as clergy and laity have found that friendliness tends to find friends, and that the salt must have courage to leave the shaker if its flavor is to be effective. In a survey made a number of years ago among the parents of students attending Adventist colleges in the United States, those returning the questionnaire reported they were engaged in more than two hundred different professions, trades, and occupations, which they described as compatible with Adventist beliefs and standards of life, and permitting satisfactory observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. Among these church members were many who had won national and even international renown in their fields of specialization. With these changes has come stratification in the church, both vertical and horizontal stratification, in clergy and laity alike.
The ministry of a church organization, which had its genesis in a simple and unsophisticated society a century ago, has adapted well to the tremendous material and psychological changes that have produced USA and SDA 1967. Likewise the organizational structure, which holds together the church and its institutions while allowing a considerable degree of autonomy to each of its parts, must surely have been put together with guidance from above.
Strength Not Gained by Admonition
Admirable as all of this is, the church does not gain strength by admiring herself, but rather by looking for what can yet be done. Of the many questions that might be raised, the reader is asked to examine two. The first is: How can the ministry make better use of the reservoir of consecrated talent and energy present in the laity? Second: Is the administration of the church adapting and utilizing the expertise of our age as much as it might, or should?
There is a story, more thought provoking than amusing, about a young assistant pastor, newly come to a church of several hundred members, and apparently well satisfied with his own qualifications, who was quite unnerved upon his first encounter with a group of senior laymen in his church. For years the members of this group had been diligent students of the Word and of the supportive Spirit of Prophecy writings, and they were truly mighty in the Scriptures. After his encounter the young minister announced to the pastor that he would have to go away and take some more courses, since he was no match for these laymen. The wise pastor pointed out that the role of the minister is not only to preach but also to lead the team, indeed, in instances like this one, a talented team of laymen quite capable of deeds of valor for the Lord when properly led and encouraged. He also indicated, in all probability, that the pastor not only teaches but also listens.
Specialists Among the Laity
Perhaps in times past the evangelist or pastor had no other recourse than to prepare himself as best he could to intersperse with his sermons lectures on healthful living, child raising, archeology, marital problems, geology, and astrophysics. But, providentially, as his audiences and congregation have become better educated and more sophisticated, there have appeared in the ranks of the church an increasing number of physicians, dentists, nutritionists, nurses, and other members of the medical team trained and experienced in public health. There are in the church marriage counselors, psychiatrists, and child psychologists who stand tall in their profession. And there are specialists in the sciences of earth and sky whose scientific vocabulary is without a flaw, yet who view the wonders of creation as befits humble children of God.
Would it not seem better for the pastor and the evangelist as far as possible to take advantage of this wide diversity of knowledge and talent in the congregation by calling on the specialist to contribute his expertise in the service of the church? And is it not possible that some of the bright young people who have felt the chill winds of anti-intellectualism and have become discouraged might have bloomed brightly had they been exposed to the sunshine of acceptance, involvement, and responsibility?
Many of the church members in the professions are happy to be called upon, and it is gratifying to see the increasing frequency with which they appear on camp meeting programs, as guest speakers at evangelistic meetings and the regular services of the church, and as contributors to the denomination's periodicals.
Overworked and Underworked
Some of those who have become well known are overworked, while others are overlooked because they are not known, though they may be equally competent. Perhaps a clearinghouse or central booking office would encourage wider use of the talent in the church. And when a speaker cannot be obtained, perhaps a library of color sound motion pictures of good quality might be developed and used instead, under the direction of the new General Conference Audio-visual Service.
The other question, on whether the church can or should make greater use of contemporary aids to administration by adapting the concepts and technologies of program planning and appraisal and of management, is too large for anything more than introductory treatment in an article like this.
Administration in our day has become a highly developed profession, having characteristic value systems, skills, and bodies of knowledge. It is taken for granted that the administrators of the multimillion dollar institutions of the church must have specialized training, acquired from university courses, attendance at workshops with other administrators of like institutions, and systematic study of the periodical professional literature in their field. On occasion, consultant experts sit with the officers of the institution for consideration of specific problems. In some instances, persons selected for administrative responsibility receive appointment a year or longer before assuming office, in order to allow time for preparation—with highly satisfactory results. With the common denominators thus developed the professional administrator finds it comparatively easy to communicate with his peers.
Learning by Involvement
In contrast with its own institutions, the denomination in its general administration has been cautious about adapting and utilizing the principles and techniques of administration and management in which our era is so rich. And in contrast with increasing emphasis on the education and training of the young minister for evangelism, pastoral care, and community service, the preparation for administrative office in the church is still by a kind of apprenticeship. The young minister is assigned to a congregation, where he learns by involvement how the local parish is managed, and by observation how the conference is related to the parish. In time he may reach the conference committee, where his exposure will be broader, or he may find himself in a department, where he observes how his chief conducts himself. In time he may become a conference president or a union conference president. In this progression the church does not require of him that he deliberately advance his knowledge of administration, nor does it structure such education for him. Neither is he schooled in the application of critical evaluative judgment of the procedures he is learning to use or the attitudes he is developing.
The apprenticeship works quite well in conditioning church administrators for working with one another. However, when the minister-administrator and the institutional-administrator sit down together in policy-making committees of the church and on institutional boards of control, the differences of outlook and knowledge systems sometimes make communication difficult. Recommendations representing many man-hours of professional planning may prove to be unacceptable to church leaders conditioned by differences in training and the burdens of a different set of responsibilities. Conversely, well-meaning and responsible denominational committees will initiate legislation which the institutions find it difficult to follow.
Such instances are the exception because the participants are Christians of good will. However, when they do occur it is usually over major issues, suggesting that remedial measures should be sought.
An example from educational administration might point the way. The presidents, deans, and business officers of the colleges and universities of California, public and private, have for many years held an annual conference where for several days they discuss problems of administration, sharing their professional insights and experience, their successes and failures. Similar workshops are held across the nation.
Workshops and Apprenticeships
Why not hold annual workshops for church and institutional administrators, possibly one in each union conference for a beginning? This is precisely what one union conference is planning for 1968. The administrators of the Adventist colleges of North America have been holding biennial meetings of this nature since 1947, with resulting improvements in standards and operational procedures, and with good rapport an important by-product.
For the long view, local conference presidents about to assume the mantle of responsibility for the first time, might be appointed from six months to a year before taking office, receiving training for administration during this period. The patterns for this sort of thing are already established: they consist of "site visits" to successful operations—conferences in this case; formal instruction on the basic principles, organization, and procedures of administration and management; the structuring of interpersonal relations, particularly in committees and boards and for dialog with laity; and finally, training in the techniques of self-criticism, or "program evaluation." The church's two universities would provide the formal instruction.
The church might also consider bringing together a representative group of administrators for a workshop out of which would come a manual on the functions and procedures of boards of trustees. Such a manual should define board powers and responsibilities and their limits, the role of the chairman, and the proper conduct of the members. Much study has been given to these subjects and much has been written, but the literature needs to be distilled and adapted to church situations. Such a manual, given authority by inclusion in the denominational policy book, made required reading for every newly elected board member, and supported by the board chairmen, should improve the order of business of the governing bodies, which are so important in the decision-making function of the church.
These suggestions may have an unpleasant sound to some who would remind the writer that the ministry is a calling and not a profession. Granted, without any reservation, that the ministry as such is a sacred calling to preach the gospel and to shepherd the flock. But when the minister is elected or appointed to an administrative office in the church he has an additional responsibility. In our day this has become a highly developed profession, to which the minister brings the insights of his calling to combine with the skills of administration. Who is to say that professional training for administration will in any way obstruct or offend the Holy Spirit?
Technology No Substitute for Greatness
Technology is no substitute for greatness in men, nor solace for the lack of it. But expertise has its uses, in that it permits men on whom God has laid the mantle of responsibility to get more quickly and surely to the things that count most, and then through the performance of them.
Never before in history has the church been so richly endowed: a faithful laity with an ever-rising level of education and know-how, and a large proportion of professionals, many of them eminent men and women; an increasing number of college-educated and seminary-trained clergy; both clergy and laity capable of appreciating, adapting, and utilizing the rich resources of our era in the service of the church and for the glory of God.