Report on Members for Church Accountability Conference 2005
The Members for Church Accountability (http://www.advmca.org/) held its Fall Conference at Loma Linda, California on the last Sabbath of October 2005. It was attended by about 100 persons, most of whom were from the Southern California area, but some attended from as far away as Colorado and Texas.
The purpose of the meeting was to address the roots of the stagnation of membership growth in North America, and of recurring financial misadventures in Church administration.
The meeting started promptly at 2 PM under the leadership of George Grames, a nephrologist and founding member of MCA. After welcoming the group and outlining the scope of the meeting, he read from a recent issue of Christianity Today where John Ortberg described the absolute necessity of transparency and openness in financial, administrative, and disciplinary matters within the church, so as to inspire the trust and credibility that is essential for parishioners to feel safe in bringing people to Christ.
He was followed by Dick Sheldon, a pulmonologist and intensive care specialist who read from a speech by the President of Loma Linda University to the General Conference Session In St. Louis in July, 2005 entitled “Integrity, a 21st Century Imperative.” This discussion of the ideals that should underlie all secular and especially religious organizations presented a standard that may be more honored in proclamation than in practice.
Stewart Shankel, a nephrologists and medical educator, reviewed the advice of Ellen White on the goals of organization within the Adventist church. The prophet and early leader of the church was especially critical of those church leaders who exercised “kingly power” by insisting on ultimate control. She believed that “every member should have a voice” and that organization should not be a stumbling block to the spread of the gospel. She indicated that businessmen should direct business, and ministers should be freed from business responsibilities, so that they could preach, pastor, and win souls. She was in favor of church organization and a strong advocate of church reorganization!
In a series of PowerPoint slides, Bob Krone, Emeritus Professor of Systems Management, University of Southern California, and Distinguished Visiting Professor, School of Business, La Sierra University, outlined how to achieve Pareto Optimum where: “Many are better off and no one is worse off.” He illustrated how to get the information needed to achieve this goal by using the Ideas Unlimited Group Survey Method. He elicited audience participation, and queried: If you had complete control of the SDA Church, what would you change?
By assuring anonymity and confidentiality he elicited 25 responses which clustered around making the organization more efficient by eliminating either Unions or Local Conferences, and a redistribution of tithe income by allowing more discretionary use by the local congregation.
Larry Downing, the senior pastor of the White Memorial Church in Los Angeles, has worked with Bob Krone in seminars and teaching programs. Dr. Downing pointed out the primacy of the local parish. This was where decisions for Christ were made. This was where the money to support the organization came from. He pointed out the “backwardness” of some conference officials who would say: “We’re here to help you—now let us tell you what to do.” The concern of the local parish for “gospel” and of the administration for “doctrine” was illustrated by the “dissonance” that the local pastors had for the Pacific Union president Mostert’s recent book Hidden Heresy.
Bob Krone then asked for the audience response to the following question: What is the most important reason for implementing changes in the church? There were 152 responses: Lack of Accountability in various forms (64) Misbehavior of leadership (24). Church Structure (23). Other areas accounted for the remaining responses.
Frank Knittel, former president of Southern Adventist University, former Chairman of the English Department at La Sierra University and successful businessman, has interacted closely with the Adventist church administration and educational departments for over 60 years. He had eight observations and suggested remediation for the malaise which he sees affecting the North American Division. These observations are:
Knittel believes that if local groups organized to bring a plan to the local conference constituency meeting it might have some chance of succeeding.
Ron Gladden, a graduate of Southern Adventist University, has been ministerial secretary of several conferences, and was Church Planting Director of the North Pacific Union, until 2004 when he became director of Mission Catalyst Network, an independent ministry, with headquarters in Vancouver, Washington (http://www.missioncatalyst.org/). He emphasized that any successful state, business or church is organized around “core values.” While there needs to be a supporting organization to advance the core values, there should never be any doubt as to what is the primary purpose of the organization.
With maturing of a church organization there is an increasing tendency to “Institutional Drift” where priority shifts from the “Spiritual” to the “Corporate.” He said that shrinking main-line Protestant churches had as their main unspoken purpose “to give aging white men jobs.” He said that there was a further drift in importance from the “local church” to the “conference.” He repeated that the pulpit and the baptistery are in the local church. There is a further drift from the “grandparental role” to the “parental role.” Parental control is proper for young immature children, but grandparents are available for advice and support, while allowing independence of the maturing children.
Gladden reemphasized the concept that the “System determines the Outcomes.” If the system doesn’t change then the outcomes won’t change. He illustrated the constitutional inability of the United Methodist Church to change, with the result that it loses over 200,000 members each year. He quoted an unnamed SDA church administrator that our denomination would change “when it becomes financially bankrupt.”
Gladden said that in order for our church to be revitalized, it must:
He concluded by referring to Matthew 11:12 where it was suggested that it would take forceful measures to advance the Kingdom of God.
There was a question and answer period in which individuals related their personal ideas and directed questions to the panelists. Most attendees agreed that the meeting was conducted in a good spirit and that change in church structure and function was difficult but not impossible.