The power of the core

Viewpoint: The essentials that drive the church

John Grys is pastor for organizational
development at the Hamilton
Community Church of Seventh-day
Adventists, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

As a survivor of Florida's  Hurricane Andrew, I have come to stand in awe of the raw power of nature in a ferocious mood. The strength of the winds, the speed and force of the rain, the wake of destruction have all left their marks upon me. After the storm I remember seeing film footage of the incredible devastation. One amazing picture remains in my mind, that of a two-by-four inch wooden beam thrust clean through the trunk of a tree. I remember, too, finding private mail blown from miles away, lying wet at my front door. The power was immense.

Now, seven years and a thousand miles from Florida, having recently attended my own church board meeting, our conference executive committee, and a gathering of Adventist college and university Bible teachers—all within a week—I have been reminded again of power, just of a different kind; the power of God manifested in the community of faith known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In my one concentrated week among those disparate committees and meetings I have come to think about the core of our church and what indeed drives or moves it. I have noticed different conceptions of what it should be at the core, or what should indeed move the church.

And I have wondered, are there in fact parallels between a hurricane and our church?

I believe there are.

Message or movement?

"Whatever is at the center of our life," wrote Steven Covey, "will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power." 1 Of course, this is just a modern expression of the biblical truth expressed by Christ, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). What is at the center of our church, locally and globally? This is a relevant question because whatever is at the center, the core, will be the source of corporate security, guidance, wisdom, and power.

It is in trying to sum this up that the hurricane analogy is helpful. The strength of the hurricane is dependent upon the size of the eye (or the core) of the storm. In the case of the hurricane, the larger the eye, the weaker the storm. The same is true of the church: the larger our core, the weaker our power. The more issues placed at the core of Adventism, the more battles we will be engaged in and the less effective our ministry will be.

The church, as every organization does, goes through identity crises. Beliefs, practices, and policies, once assumed by the world family are now subject to scrutiny and investigation. Many struggle to understand and define the heart or core of our being as a church, and the struggle may be described as a battle between having a message- or movement-centered community.2

The question is, Which are we? Those championing a message center or core consider the possession of a correct message the condition that will right a listing church. They tend to see the cause for the church's problems to be a flawed or improper message. Each message-centered group is saying, with the others in mind, "If we all just truly believed the right thing, we would be a real force for truth in the world." For example, I have heard of various systems of belief within the church being described as "historic Adventism" and advocating a return to "what the pioneers believed" as the means of getting the church back to what it ought to be.

Those with a movement-centered orientation find organizational leaders and church management to blame for problems they see in the church. "If we had better leaders and better plans, or if we adhered to more effective policies," they say, "then we could become a stronger force." I have heard many different versions of this approach. Movement-centered people believe in the message but find it woefully weak due to the lack of leadership, vision, or effective planning they see in the church.

Which provides a more dynamic and stable center, message or movement? Should our security, guidance, wisdom, and power come from a movement-centered or a message-centered organization? A hurricane with two eyes would have far less power and effect, with winds that may not even reach hurricane force. A community of believers with two cores would wreak far less damage upon the kingdom of Lucifer than a community with a single core. The greater the variety of ideals found at the core of Adventism, the more battles we will fight and the less power, energy, and resources we will have to spread the gospel.

The application of the core

My second observation from hurricane Andrew and my week of meetings is that the more clearly defined the eye of a storm, the more dangerous it is. Not only is the size of the eye a factor, but the clarity or "focus" of the eye is important. This observation has to do with the crucial difference between the core of Adventism and the application of that core. Again, that which is the core of Adventism provides the basis for our wisdom, security, guidance, and power. That central core is our main influencing force; it impacts every layer of the community of faith.

This is what writer James Collins refers to as "core ideology."3 Collins examined twelve "gold medal" companies; companies that had been at the top in their markets for an average of one hundred years. "A visionary company," he wrote, "carefully preserves and protects its core ideology, yet all the specific manifestations of its core ideology must be open for change and evolution."4 In fact, he said: "It is absolutely essential to not confuse core ideology with culture, strategy, tactics, operations, policies, or other non-core practices.... Ultimately, the only thing a company should not change over time is its core ideology."5 Collins admits that this dynamic of "persevere the core and stimulate progress" is the essence of a visionary company. Though there are clear and crucial differences between for-profit and non-profit ventures (i.e., the church), this thesis is certainly applicable in both arenas.

What is our core ideology, and what are the non-core manifestations of that ideology? Is the time of the local worship service a part of the core ideology or part of the non-core manifestation? Is the structure of our Sabbath School classes part of the core ideology or of non-core traditions? Is the current world structure of the church part of the core ideology or is it a non-core manifestation? These are serious questions that will impact each level of church organization. In short, is the movement the noncore manifestation of our mes sage, or is the message the non-core manifestation of our movement? (Admittedly, that question will take some worthwhile thought to decipher!)

Here again the hurricane analogy is helpful. No meteorologist will confuse the eye of the storm with the wall of the eye and the outer bands of the storm. When the core of a hurricane changes, the outer bands of the storm change. Those outer bands remain, but their force and shape are more easily affected. Once again, the power of the hurricane is derived from the core of the storm. The power of that core flows out into the outlying bands and cells of the hurricane. Those cells and bands may be self-contained, but they receive their energy and power from the eye.

This offers significant insight for us as a community of believers.

The question is not an either-or but what is central

Saying that a single core must be the center of our community does not erase the significance of other areas of the community any more than the eye of the storm decreases the significance of the rest of the storm structure. Rather, the outer bands that move away from the core receive their significance and prominence from the core. The core provides the motivation for the various manifestations. Like the outer bands of a hurricane, the outer bands of the community flow and rotate around the core, while the core continually feeds these bands.

This is not an either-or situation but is one with primary and secondary characteristics. Both message and movement are significant. Both have their place within the community. This is a question of centrality or source. Which one drives the other?

If we come to a consensus on what is our single, small, and clear core ideology, it will unite the world church in a way that will provide greater focus and fulfillment. I could suggest a number of worthy ideologies for our core, but even if that core becomes our publishing work, educational work, medical work, local church work, parachurch work, or any other entity connected to the church, there can be a flow of power, wisdom, guidance, and security which will strengthen each entity and the church as a whole. Truly, the church will become greater than the sum of its parts.

Core walls

There is a third lesson I learn from hurricanes. The real power of the storm is felt in what is called the "eye wall." This is a fitting analogy to our global community. The areas closest to the core are the areas where the most intense struggles and battles occur. The closer a discussion, a vote, or a statement comes to the core of an organization, the louder and quicker is the response of that person or organization. The blood pressure of the community climbs as the issue moves nearer to the core (unlike a hurricane, where the pressure drops the closer you move to the eye). When you have a number of issues identified as the core, the battles grow in number and significance. Thus, it will seem like most of our energy and time is invested in protecting and securing that multifaceted core.

This provides a window of insight into many of our current church struggles. Many of the struggles of our maturing community reveal a growing awareness that the core of Adventism is presently going through a process of self-examination. There seems to be more of an effort to clarify issues either along message and/or movement lines. This clarifying process, I believe, can be highly beneficial if the result is that the church clarifies for itself its core purpose and thus what will move us into the new millennium with renewed vigor, energy, and vision, and toward the coming of Jesus.


The final analogy to be made between a hurricane and the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a more obvious one. It relates to the incredible power that hurricane winds wield in just a short period of time. Hurricane Andrew lasted about four hours, but it changed the landscape of South Florida forever. The collective memory of the affected communities struck by the storm is divided by the event. Life is viewed through the event. People have never been the same.

Imagine a church energized by the power of extreme unity around a focused core of essentials. Imagine a church moving with such swiftness that people come to view their "before and after" according to the reality of their encounter with this extreme force! It is immensely significant that Christ's final corporate prayer for and with His closest associates was that they might be one, even as He and the Father are one.

This oneness cannot be dictated from boardrooms, devised by planning sessions, nor decreed from creedal statements. This quality of identity and unity cannot be man dated. Administrators alone cannot decide its parameters, and pastors alone cannot proclaim it. Non-paid ministers (conventionally known as "laity") alone cannot vote it. Educators alone cannot prescribe it. Somehow, some way, we all must come together through this process and reach consensus through prayerful consideration about what a worthy core actually is and how it will impact us in the new millennium.

After all, the core will provide security in an age of insecurity, wisdom in an information age, guidance in a morally drifting world, and power in an age of apathy.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blew through the believers like "a mighty rushing wind." May the Spirit blow through the church again, only this time with hurricane force. 

1 Stephen R. Covey, Seven Habits of
Highly Effective People
(New York: Simon
ScSchuster Inc., 1989), 109.

2 When I use the word "movement,"
I am referring to organizational issues
primarily. This includes traditions,
practices, and ways of conducting the
work of God and conveying the truths of
Scripture which contribute to the
formation of our Adventist subculture.
When 1 use the word "message," I am
speaking primarily about a dominant
theme, concept, or idea which drives,
motivates, and contributes to the
formation of our Adventist subculture.

3 Built to Last: Successful Habits of
Visionary Companies
(New York:
HarperBusiness, 1997), 46-79.

4 Ibid., 81 (emphasis his).

5 Ibid., 82.

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John Grys is pastor for organizational
development at the Hamilton
Community Church of Seventh-day
Adventists, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

December 1999

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