The 1 Thing Adventists Don't Care About (And It's Killing Us)
Why is the local SDA Church dead?
I hear this question a lot. In fact, this entire site is dedicated to dissecting this question in search of solutions. And while I am no guru and would never pretend to have “the” answer, there is one thing that I believe lays at the foundation of it all.
But there’s a problem.
The one thing that seems to lay at the foundation of it all happens to be the one thing no one really seems to care about.
At this point you must be thinking - bro, what in the world are you talking about?
I’m happy to answer that question, but first I need you to decide whether or not you want to keep reading. This article has nothing to do with SDA church structure, strategy, logistics, culture, administration, leadership or evangelistic/disciple making pathways. It has nothing to do with outreach, innovation, creativity, methods or adaptation. It also has nothing to do with pastoral skills, the challenges of secularisation, post-modernism or emerging generations. Those are the things I have found most Adventists care to talk about. But this article is about the one thing many don’t care about. And this one thing is the fuel to all our other issues. This one thing we keep ignoring is killing us.
Well, since you are still reading I’ll take that as a sign that you have decided to stick around. I’m going to introduce a basic overview of the problem and then below I am going to offer a book that I have written which digs way deeper than I can in this short blog. For the time being though, let me paint a picture for you of the one thing Adventist’s don’t care about that also happens to be killing our missional intensity.
I want you to picture a bookcase. It’s one of those old ones, made entirely of wood, and it’s really tall and wide covering the entire wall. The case is stacked with books. Every book happens to be a story about the meaning of life. And every story is different. Some are thick, 800 page volumes. Others are short, 100 page novels. But again, they all answer the same question (the meaning of life) but tell entirely different stories with entirely different answers to that same question.
As you picture that bookcase, I want you to imagine people coming to the bookcase. Everyone who comes is searching for answers to the meaning of life. Some are old, some are young. Some rich, some poor. When they get to the bookcase they are confronted with hundreds of stories - all of them offering their own narrative - and they choose one, sometimes two or three and read the books hoping to find meaning.
Now I want you to walk right up to the book case and begin reading the book titles. One book is titled “The Path of Buddhism”. Another book is titled “The Way of Islam”. Still another is titled, “In the Footsteps of Abraham” and another, “The Wisdom of the Vedas”. As you scan the book titles you discover that all of them are religions, philosophies and ideologies. Every book on the book case is essentially a story attempting to answer the same question but all telling different stories with their own unique contribution to the search for meaning.
Next, you arrive at the Christian section but instead of finding one book, you find a whole ton of them. “The Puritan Path”, “The Baptist Confession”, “The Methodist Quest”, and on and on. Each of these books represent different perspectives on the search for meaning - for God. They each tell a different story and offer different insights into that adventure.
Finally, you arrive at a book titled “The Narrative of Adventism”.
It’s there among all the others. But here is my question to you - is there anything in that book that merits it being there? Does that book have anything to offer, anything remotely important to say that no other book is saying? Does that one book deserve to be its own book? Does it have anything meaningful, compelling or beautiful that no other book on that bookshelf has? If the answer is no, then why was the book even written? Why add to the confusion of those who already have to sort through so much by adding an unnecessary story to the shelf? But if the answer is “yes, it does have something unique to say”, then my question is - what is it about this book then that is so unique? What does it say that no one else is saying?
This I have found is the one thing many Adventist’s today don’t seem to care about. When it comes to the question of Adventism’s uniqueness - what it is we have to say that is so eccentric and needed - very few people seem to really, truly care. On the one hand, I find people who think they already know. They think its the Sabbath, or the truth about hell, or prophecy. On the other hand, there are people who find the question offensive. They want Adventism to be like everyone else and the very suggestion that it may have something unique to say is interpreted as arrogant. Both groups are dead wrong.
Now don’t get mad at me. After all, I gave you the option of opting out of this article 8 paragraphs ago. So if you are still here, it’s your fault (wink, wink). But here is my point. The 1 thing Adventists today don’t seem to care about is why we have a book on that shelf. Seriously, if we are saying the same thing everyone else is saying with a few slightly nuanced doctrines (which by the way, every SDA doctrine exists outside of the SDA church in some shape or form), then that means we are nothing more than an unnecessary distraction for those on the search for meaning, for God or for truth. And if that’s all we are, then missional intensity makes no sense. We have nothing to say to the sojourner. Nothing to add to the conversation. Nothing to offer the wanderer.
That’s some pretty serious stuff. And that’s why our churches are dead. It’s not simply lack of strategies, innovation or creativity. It’s not simply traditionalism or closed-mindedness. That’s the stuff we like to talk about. But if we really want to revive our churches, we need to dig deep into the thing we don’t like to talk about. The thing that makes us uncomfortable. The thing many of us don’t want to admit and its this: Adventism has something eccentric to say that no one else is saying and it is oh, so compelling, so overwhelmingly beautiful and so profound that if someone pulls this book off the shelf they will find what their heart is searching for. And it has nothing to do with us, our history, our culture or institutions. The Adventist story is a story that is not about Adventism. It’s a story about the heart of God that no one else in all of religion, philosophy or ideology is telling and it is exactly what our culture desperately needs to hear.
Now maybe the reason why some of us don’t like to talk about this is because there is a long history of people in our church who use the uniqueness of Adventism in a narcissistic and arrogant sort of way and that’s totally not what I am advocating here. But at the same time we have to recognise that there is something about that book on the shelf - there’s a story that’s being told there about the heart of God that you simply wont find in any other book. And you have to believe that if you want your church to have passion for mission. We have to discover our story - a story that’s not really about us.
OK. I have made some pretty bold claims but have not defended any of them. Well, that’s because I wrote a book that does just that. In this book I go in depth and explore the weird, crazy story that Adventism tells and why its so unique and needed in our world, especially today. I’m so passionate about what this book says that I am donating 10% of every sale to ADRA as a way of supporting the work our church does by telling the story we have been called to tell and making a meaningful difference in peoples lives. If you would like your own copy, you can get it below and read it on your phone right away. I promise you, after you read this book you will never again wonder why our story is on that shelf and why what we have to say is the foundation of our missional success.
So here is my conclusion. You will never revive your local SDA church by simply focusing on small groups, missional strategies and leadership skills. If you want your church to be on fire, you have to go to the core of why we exist and what story God has called us to tell. If we rediscover that story - a story no one else is telling, then everything else will flow naturally.