God's Priorities

A QUESTION frequently asked me, especially when I am with young people, is, "What is your work? What is involved in it?" In replying to this question I usually explain about the committees and boards, the personnel problems, the financial problems, the approving and adopting of building plans, the study of administrative policies for the various fields, the days we spend on occasions studying the wage scale, and our dealings with government agencies. . .

-President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, General Conference, at the time this article was written

A QUESTION frequently asked me, especially when I am with young people, is, "What is your work? What is involved in it?" In replying to this question I usually explain about the committees and boards, the personnel problems, the financial problems, the approving and adopting of building plans, the study of administrative policies for the various fields, the days we spend on occasions studying the wage scale, and our dealings with government agencies. I mention the many hours we must spend on institutional problems and prospects, on departmental problems and planning. The list is endless.

Our other church administrators around the world do the same things. They watch the monthly financial statements to be certain they are operating within the budget. They study the baptismal reports and ask whether goals have been reached. They counsel with workers regarding land purchases and buildings. They spend many hours in lawyers' offices and government offices. They answer a seemingly endless flow of letters, and in their busy twelve to eighteen hours a day they are occupied with countless mundane problems of administration.

First Things First

But there is something more important than any of these things. And it's time for us to make first things first. God has priorities for us. Matthew 6:33 plainly counsels: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

For many months I have been analyzing my own leadership and administration, and I have come to some agonizing conclusions that I want to share with you. I have asked myself some soul-searching questions, and the answers I was able to give didn't satisfy me. I want to ask you the same questions.

We deal with policy items, financial items, personnel items, and many other items pertaining to the mechanics of the church, but how many items on your committee and board agendas deal with the strictly spiritual needs of the church?

How much time have you spent in dealing with the goals and objectives of the specific phases of our work you are responsible for?

How much time have you spent in studying ways and means of changing the sad picture in many of our Seventh-day Adventist homes? Too many homes are in trouble because communications have broken down, not only of church members but of workers as well. The love of Christ somehow has slipped out. How much time have you spent on your knees and on your committees in studying this vital problem?

How long has it been since you have truly evaluated the spiritual impact of your teachers on their students in the elementary schools, in the academies, colleges, and universities? Do you really know what your teachers are teaching on each of these levels? If you don't you should take time to find out. These are your schools.

Do you really know the heart struggles of your workers? 1 know from personal experience from letters I receive, from my contacts on campgrounds, in workers' meetings, and in churches that some of our workers are really passing through some traumatic heart struggles. How much do you know about them, how much do you pray with them, encourage and try to help them?

Have you devoted as much time to your apostasies as you have to your baptisms? Today I received an advance copy of the statistical report. My heart was heavy when I noted in it the too large number of apostasies. During the course of the past few years these apostasies would equal the membership of some of our larger divisions.

What are we doing about the standards in our offices and our institutions?

Can we freely preach the old Advent message in every church in our conference and expect to receive an invitation to come back? In a few churches this kind of message is not too welcome these days. Do some of your churches think they have out grown such sermons? That they are not relevant today? If so, are you really concerned about it?

What are your pastors doing? Where is their emphasis? Are they pastors or administrators that are caring for budgets and buildings and raising money? Operating a Seventh-day Adventist church to day is no small assignment. Many of these men are administrators in their own right. But, brethren, how much time do you allow them and urge them to study, to take time for prayer and visitation? Do they have time to prepare messages that will reach the hearts of the members? Do they visit their members in their homes, or are they just waiting at the office for a few folks to turn up to ask for counsel? If they don't have time to shepherd the flock, what are you doing to try to change the situation?

Baptismal Standards

Are our evangelists bringing people into the kingdom, or just getting them into the church? Are we making Seventh-day Adventists out of them, or are we just preaching about love and dip ping them in the water and hoping that someday someone else will teach them the message, and somehow they will become true Seventh-day Adventists? This is a most important question!

Where is our money going to day, and how do we divide up our budgets? How much is directed to soul-winning endeavor? I am sure you men have checked and know how the pie is divided up how much goes for administration, how much for education, for medical, for publishing, and how much for public evangelism. And if it is like too many of the pies I see, only a small piece is left for direct preaching of the Word.

God's First Things

Is the spiritual experience of ourselves, our workers, our members, our very first concern? I feel personally that some of us need to make some changes in our priorities. We need a revival and reformation in our leadership and administration. This late hour demands different priorities than in any other period of this world's history. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." I believe the Saviour is directing these words to every leader in Cod's cause at this time more than at any previous time. We need to make room on our agendas and in our leadership for God's first things.

What do I mean? I must make it clear. The business and policy items that we must care for are certainly not wrong. They are not to be considered unnecessary, not to be avoided. They are important. Inspiration admonishes us to be efficient and honest business men. Ellen White wrote much on this subject. I thank God for the capable Christian businessmen God has placed in this church.

We can't turn all our committee and board meetings into prayer meetings; although in a good many instances it would be better if we did. There have been times when we have turned committee and board meetings into prayer meetings, and the Lord came near and brought solutions to our problems. Speaking of the strictly business items on our agendas (as Jesus said in Matthew 23:23, last part), I say "these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." What I am appealing for is that we make room on our administrative agendas to consider items that will "make ready a people for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). This is our first work!

What does this mean? What is God's plan and His desire for His people?

A Victorious People

God is waiting for a happy, healthy, holy people who will vindicate His justice and wisdom in dealing with sin and sinners. Through the centuries and millenniums Satan has said it couldn't be done man could never keep the commandments, man could never develop a character like Christ's. But when the character development has taken place in His church, Jesus will say, "Here they are a victorious people, a people who amid the tests and trials and temptations of the last days have overcome the sins that so easily beset them, a people who are right with God and with those about them, prepared for translation. Hating and evil surmising have no place in them. They are vibrant, pure, honest, upright, winsome, loving, kind, courteous, self-controlled." This can never be accomplished in our own strength, but His victory will be ours. Where we failed He conquered.

Only such a people can God use in ushering in the loud cry, and only such a people will be prepared for the Advent. As leaders, if we "seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness," such a people, under the blessing of Christ, will be prepared in our day.

But we are still here in a world of sin, waiting.

Brethren, our present programs, plans, and priorities are not good enough. All of our great speaking, our great music, our great teaching, even our great healing, and our great worldwide welfare pro gram have not brought a finished work and a returned Lord!

Something is wrong.

To Make Ready a People

A revival and reformation in our leadership and administration must come. Not until we let go of all these handfuls of earthly sand that we are clawing for and clinging to for dear life, and begin to cling to the Rock of Ages and seek His Spirit, can we ever hope to succeed in the assignment God has given His remnant church. Only as we seek the Holy Spirit as the source of power for our leadership, the energy for all our assignments, will we ever rise above the miserable limitations of our own abilities and break out into that glorious experience that God speaks of as the loud cry.

I appeal first to my own heart and then to yours to place at the top of our committee and board agendas the spiritual needs of the church. When departmental leaders or administrators meet in committees, as you consider each item, I plead with you to ask, Will this plan help "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord"?

I would like to make some practical suggestions. I believe the presidents of our conferences, of our unions, of our divisions, and the president of the General Conference, as well as our pastors, need to be released more and more for spiritual leadership. The servant of the Lord says, "Do not load down the president of the conference with details of business. For years our people have been instructed to choose trained business men to attend to this part of the work. . . . Let the business of our conferences be looked after by business men. Give the ministers opportunity to do their appointed work. Give them time to cultivate spirituality." Ellen G. White manuscript 120, 1902.

The conference president "even more than other ministers of Christ, should set an example of holy living and of unselfish devotion to the interests of God's cause, that those looking to them for an example may not be misled." --Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 379.

In speaking of the conference president, I want to make it clear that along with his main thrust of spiritual leadership he needs to know what is going on in his conference. The servant of the Lord says, "The president of the conference should learn whether the business transactions are carried on with the strictest integrity; he must know whether they are pre sided over by men who have pure, clean minds. His indignation should be aroused against the slightest approach to a mean, selfish action." Ellen G. White letter 4, 1896. So I am not propounding something revolutionary that would take the presidents out of committee work and administration, but my appeal is that some how our presidents make first things first and be truly spiritual leaders.

Then, we need to help our pastors. We all give great lip service to the high regard in which we hold our pastors and ordained ministers, but do we truly treat them as they indeed are the key men in our church program? Do we as administrators enable them to do the work God really intends a shepherd of the flock to do?

The servant of the Lord says, "Not a few ministers are neglecting the very work that they have been appointed to do, . . . Why are they called upon to attend so many business meetings, many times at great distance from their fields of labor? Why are not business matters placed in the hands of businessmen? The ministers have not been set apart to do this work. The finances of the cause are to be properly managed by men of ability, but ministers are set apart for another line of work. Let the management of financial matters rest on others than those ordained to the ministry." --Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 254, 255.

Lay Administrators

Perhaps we should think of having some lay administrators to look after the business of the church, especially in our larger churches. I believe the pastor ought to spend many hours every week preparing to feed his flock. If there ever was a time when the sheep needed to be fed it is now, and the pastor is the one who should do most of this work. But we administrators often keep them so busy with committees and other assignments that they don't have enough time to spend with their books and on their knees. Then we wonder why we have so many apostasies. Somehow we must give our pastors more time to study and pray and visit the members.

Some folks tell me they have not had a pastor's visit for months, even years. Shame! Our pastors' first work is to get into the homes of the members to study and pray with them, and encourage them and help them with their missionary work. That is where their help is needed. Can we not find laymen with business expertise who would gladly carry much of this work for our burdened pastors? I wish we could study this possibility carefully.

Institutional Objectives

I appeal to you who are chair men of institutional boards to get out the goals and objectives of your institutions, and ask your selves the question honestly, Where are we coming short of God's plan for this institution? If it is a hospital, a publishing house, an academy, a college, or university, I appeal to you board chair men and administrators of institutions to ask yourselves, Is our first objective really "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord"? Or is it merely to provide health care for the community? To give a prescribed course of education? To produce books and magazines? To provide health foods?

In your conference committees, in your hospitals, publishing houses, schools, food factories, "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." What can we do to make the work of our institutions more spiritual, more Christ oriented? How can we do more "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord"?

To our treasurers my appeal is to seek to channel more church funds into direct soul winning, to get more money through to the grass roots where souls are won, to take a long look at the question of the balance between institutionalism and evangelism.

In our schools perhaps we can cut down some duplication and proliferation of courses, and strengthen those courses dealing with the preparation of workers to finish God's program. I believe we can do most all that God would have us do on current income and in some cases even less. Some of you have done this already.

I appeal to our departmental leaders, in whom I believe, to screen your program, leave out the frills, make first things first. Throw out every plan and project that does not contribute to the great goal of preparing a people for the coming of the Lord.

Just as soon as we go into a program like this, Satan will get busier than ever. Don't forget it. I suppose he has already started whispering to you about some of these suggestions. Probably some of you are thinking, "We can't do this," or, "Our work would suffer greatly if we were to follow these suggestions."

I appeal to you spiritual leaders, How can we lead others to "seek . . . first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" unless we our selves know what it is to enjoy the righteousness of Christ? I confess there is much more I need to know about God's priorities, and by God's grace and help I intend to find out. It is time for us as leaders to lead this church to repentance, revival, reconciliation, and reformation. It is time for leaders and members alike to know the grace and power of the indwelling Christ, to know what it is to live free in Christ Jesus.

Eternal Interests First

"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). This is a good text by which to test our administration. What will it profit us if we fill the world with our fine institutions and neglect the spiritual phase, which neglect will result in the erosion of faith and the eternal loss of souls? Notice this statement: "The work of saving souls is the highest and noblest ever entrusted to mortal man; and you should allow nothing to come in between you and this sacred work to absorb your mind and confuse your judgment. One standing in the responsible position that you occupy should make eternal interests first, and temporal matters of secondary importance." --Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 371.

Are we measuring up? Are we giving example leadership? Are our homes little heavens to go to heaven in? Are we kind and tenderhearted, patient and courteous?

Are we following all of God's counsel? Do we preach enough sermons on healthful living? We leaders ought to be in the lead when it comes to habits of healthful living. What about our dress, our recreation, our socials, what we read, what we watch? Are we prepared to meet the Lord? We can't expect our people to measure up unless there has been repentance and revival and reformation in us as their leaders. I appeal to you as I appealed to my own heart in my office before I came here tonight, as I have searched my soul many times in recent months. There need to be some changes. You and I are the men to make these changes. By God's grace I want to make the needed changes in my own life, in my leadership and administration. I want to "seek . . . first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." I don't want to delay the time any longer when God can point to His people and say, " 'Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus' " a whole church of them.

A number of years back in Yosemite National Park there was held what was known as the "fire fall." Beneath a high rocky face, people would meet at night for a program, and at the close a person would look up and in a mighty voice call out, "Let the fire fall." Then very shortly after the sound of his voice had died away another voice at the top of the cliff would shout back, "The fire falls." Then the people would watch a sight they could never forget the fire in the darkness cascading down that mighty cliff. Brethren, God wants to let the fire fall. Do we respond, "Lord, let the fire fall on me"? The fire will fall only when the Spirit of God has done His work in our hearts. I want to be the first to make a new commitment of my life and my leadership and place them both on the altar. Pray for me that I will be the kind of leader God needs. Do you join me in this commitment to "seek . . . first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness"?


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-President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, General Conference, at the time this article was written

February 1974

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