The word “change” is losing its meaning in American culture. I see it almost as a mindless mantra reflecting false expectations for a fantasy existence. People demand change when they don’t like what’s happening. But even when things are going basically well, change still occurs, unintended and unexpected—like many of the changes during the past five years at Mid-America Union headquarters.
During the past quinquennium, our administrative team has undergone a complete change. Mrs. Elaine Hagele was elected vice-president for finance at the last constituency meeting. Troy Peoples became associate treasurer after Walt Sparks retired. And I am the third president since that meeting.
All but one of our departments changed leadership during the past five years. Youth and Church Ministries transitioned with the arrival of Hubert Cisneros after Van Hurst became president of the Indiana Conference. Maurice Valentine joined us from Colorado as our new ministerial director. John Kriegelstein stepped in to lead our Office of Education when Ron Russell retired in 2008. LouAnn Howard continues as associate director of education.
Martin Weber has stayed with us throughout the past quinquennium as communication director and editor of Outlook magazine. Chris McConnell is managing editor, and designer of both the magazine and website. Brenda Dickerson is the new editorial assistant, who proofreads this publication.
Amid the many personnel changes in leadership, our administrative assistants and other support staff have remained steady and faithful. What we accomplish would be greatly diminished without them, as we prepare for the Seventh Constituency Session of the Mid-America Union
Every five years, locally elected and appointed delegates* from our six local conferences join Mid-America Union leaders in assessing how the work of God is progressing in our territory, and also to look at the larger picture of fulfilling our mission and vision. When I consider the next quinquennium, “change” is not the right word for what God has placed in my heart. The word “transformation” comes closer. It derives from the word metamorphosis in the New Testament, describing how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
As you know, Seventh-day Adventist world leaders are seeking the transformation of our church by calling for revival and reformation. Revival without reformation is undetectable. Reformation without revival is impossible—and when we lose sight of that, legalism and judgmental infighting is the certain result; factionalism and fragmentation follow. Every revival in history has resulted in reformation from the inside out; every attempted reformation that has gone from the outside inward has failed to bring true revival and hasn’t lasted—usually doing more harm than good.
Martin Luther, fleeing medieval darkness, did not intend to externally reform the Roman Catholic Church. He proclaimed the transformational message of Scripture: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). The world has not been the same since. Luther started with his Bible and his personal sense of sinful lostness in the presence of a Holy God, and his discovery of grace turned Christendom upside down. He found in the Lord Jesus Christ a remedy for his own guilt and despair. Yet his joy and confidence in the Lord seemed like apostasy to church leaders of his day.
Several centuries later at the dawn of the Adventist movement, William Miller did not intend to start a new denomination or reform his fellow Baptists. Having found in Jesus a Savior unto whom he could entrust his life, he studied to understand as much of the Bible as he could—including the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. When October 22, 1844 passed with no return of Jesus, Miller’s faith in the Savior remained resolute.
Joseph Bates, Ellen Harmon, James White, John Byington and other Adventist pioneers never intended to launch a new church. Rather they set out to understand Scripture in light of the fact that Jesus had not come. What a few disappointed Millerites discovered and discussed during the Sabbath Bible conferences of 1846-1848 revived their hope and began to transform their vision. The result currently is a global movement of 17 million members—about 25 million counting our children.
By the world’s standards, Seventh-day Adventists are still a small group—approximately the population of metropolitan New York City. Yet we have an influence on the world stage out of proportion to our size. ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) provides humanitarian assistance and leadership that is appreciated and respected everywhere. International Religious Liberty initiatives usually find Adventists leading the way. Even the government of China recently asked Adventists for help in upgrading its national educational system.
Revival in the Spirit
As much as we treasure our rich spiritual heritage and rejoice in what God is doing today, we do need revival and reformation—transformation in the Spirit. The first New Testament revival is recorded in Acts 2. It fulfilled the promise Jesus made for the outpouring of God’s Spirit. That historical event happened on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit was poured out when Jesus became our high priest in heaven’s sanctuary, in recognition of the fact that His life, death and resurrection were accepted on high by His Father. Real Holy Spirit outpourings have all been built solidly on the objective reality of Christ’s historic accomplishment of our salvation.
The first century disciples could not know what their revival and reformation looked like in advance. God also has surprises for us in earth’s last days—yet of one thing we may be certain: Whenever Jesus is sought, the Holy Spirit comes and points us back to Jesus over and over again. Lives are revived, the church is reformed and the world is impacted. John 16 is clear—when the Holy Spirit comes to the church, the world gets convicted of sin.
Genuine revivals and reformations in Christian history have never come from a vote by a committee but rather from an individual or small group of people who sought the Lord for the purpose of seeking the Lord, period. Then the Lord makes reform happen in the church. The church never reforms itself. It cannot reform or revive itself no matter how hard it may try.
Mid-American Adventists belong to a global church, and so we join with world church leaders in recognizing our need for the Holy Spirit—the only source of true revival and reformation. And we are here to appeal to each church member and each local church to set aside time to study Jesus Christ—to submit to Him and to reflect on the huge change He brought to our world by his life, death and resurrection.
It is by studying the risen Christ and submitting to Him that we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Revival comes and reformation follows when one seeks Jesus for the sake of seeking Jesus. We cannot bring it about ourselves, any more than a heart attack victims can do CPR on themselves. It is futile to seek the Holy Spirit apart from or separate from or in addition to seeking Jesus. The Spirit “will testify of Me,” Jesus said (John 15:26).
This vital truth is supported by Ellen White, who exhorts us:
“Search the Bible, for it tells you of Jesus. I want you to read the Bible and see the matchless charms of Jesus. I want you to fall in love with the Man of Calvary, so that at every step you can say to the world, His ‘ways are ways of pleasantness,’ and all His ‘paths are peace.’ You want to represent Christ to the world. You want to show to the world you have a hope big with immortality. You want to drink of the waters of salvation. You want the heavenly angels to be in your dwelling. You want Christ to abide there” (Heavenly Places, p. 354).
A Transformational Constituency Session
So what does all of that have to do with us today, on the eve of our Constituency Session? In times past we have come together and spent considerable time reviewing the previous five years. And we will do some of that again when we convene on May 1 and 2. There is much to be grateful for as we look back and note what the Lord has done. But I have encouraged our leadership team at the union to spend significant time and space focusing on the future.
We must envision a transformed tomorrow—this is what we are all about. The past is there to learn from and to build on, but it must not control us. We can try to figure out our slow growth rates, but we can’t fix yesterday. However, together we can envision and imagine letting the Lord Jesus Christ transform our tomorrows under the presence of His Spirit within the parameters of Scripture.
In Romans 12 Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (verses 1-2, NIV).
Couple that passage with Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
A renewed mind is a Spirit-filled mind—it comes not from reflecting on how bad the world is, or how unprepared the church is to deal with that bad world. It comes from filling one’s mind with the mind of Jesus. And that takes time in the Word. The results will speak for themselves, and we cannot—nor must we attempt—to confine those results to what we currently experience. The results today will be as surprising as they were in Acts 2.
Collaborating in the Spirit
Praying and planning and serving together, we can accomplish so much more than we can do separately. This holds true for individuals and it holds true for churches. It holds true for conferences and equally so for divisions. Our focus for the Constituency Session is on the union level.
To illustrate: Central States Conference has a passion to do something about the lack of a powerful, growing Adventist presence in St. Louis. The ratio of Adventists to the population in St. Louis is among the lowest of major North American cities. I know that the Iowa-Missouri Conference has that same passion. Just across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, the Illinois Conference in the Lake Union shares a similar evangelistic commitment. Each of these conferences has an its own idea of what to do. But working together will bring results more quickly that will also develop more deeply. The outcome will be transformation on all fronts. It is the union’s role to help strategize and create community among our conferences to get that job done.
In other places than St. Louis, we also must synergize in the Spirit. Consider the Denver/Colorado Springs corridor; the Twin Cities; Kansas City—both in Kansas and Missouri; Omaha/Council Bluffs; Fargo/Morehead and Wichita-area churches. I think also of the Sioux Falls region, where four conferences come together in relatively close proximity. Thinking missionally together will make our energy more focused and effective. So I will say it yet again: We can accomplish far more together for the sake of the gospel than we can separately.
The same is true when it comes to education. Union College is evidence of what can happen when we cooperate. Can we take that model, or something similar, and devise collaborative measures for our boarding academies, day schools and elementary schools? I think so. A start has been made with last January’s Mid-America Union Education Summit. We are still mining that event for insight into ways to transform our schools.
The same principles apply to our Youth Ministries. Yes, each conference has a successful youth director, all of whom are excellent leaders within their own territory. But there are times and opportunities when our youth from various conference territories can come together for an even greater ministry, having a transformative impact over a larger area in even more lives.
Both our Educational Ministries and our Youth Ministries need to collaborate with their local conferences to develop transformative opportunities for our kids who are not in Adventist schools. Working together, we can do this better than we are doing it now. I want to emphasize that our young people, college students and young adults—wherever we find them—are not asking to be entertained; they are asking to be involved. We will transform our tomorrows when we equip and empower young leaders to exercise their skills. We absolutely must inculcate into both our thinking and our actions the involvement of our emerging leaders. It will make a huge difference to our future. But again, we cannot know in advance just what that will look like.
Now let’s turn our attention to healthcare ministry. Currently, across four conferences of our union, Adventist Health System is making an impact through its mission of “extending the healing ministry of Christ.” The conferences of Iowa-Missouri, Kansas-Nebraska and Central States are impacted by Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Kansas City. Rocky Mountain and Central States are impacted by our four—soon to be five—hospitals in the Denver market: Avista in the north, Porter in the south central city, Littleton to the south, Parker to the southeast; soon Castle Rock farther south will add to that presence.
I can assure you that the mission of those hospitals does open doors for local church outreach. We will continue to work with the leaders of those hospitals: Sam Turner, Randy Haffner, Ken Bacon, John Sackett and Terry Forde, as well as the corporate leaders, to make an even greater impact. We will also continue to encourage an expansion of the Adventist Health System presence across our union.
Another wonderful ministry is AdventSource, a resource center that is locally headquartered even as it serves the world church. Under the direction of Brad Forbes, who is assisted by Judy Glass, the staff produces cutting-edge materials at the lowest possible cost. An additional service AdventSource offers is Adventist Plusline for any group that needs help organizing an event or meeting. Our union is privileged to be a ministry partner with AdventSource.
I’ve already mentioned Union College. We truly have a union-wide consortium of support and mutual ministry with Dr. Smith and his excellent leadership team. They will bring their own report to the Constituency Session, but I want to affirm the huge impact this college is having upon its students. I also want to affirm the major blessing that Union College graduates are within their local communities and mission fields. During the next quinquennium, Union College will continue to be a major ministry partner with all the institutions of our church for the sake of building up local congregations.
Together Today to Transform Tomorrow
The first two days of May, as spring is blossoming across Mid-America, representatives from around our nine-state territory will convene for the Constituency Session to conduct our Father’s business and move forward into a Spirit-filled future. As I appealed to delegates at the recent Education Summit, we can be controlled by our yesterdays or we can be energized by our tomorrows. With this in mind, I offer you the challenge: Together Today to Transform Tomorrow—but not as a decorative motto or superficial slogan. I yearn and I pray for it to become a Spirit-filled principle that will impact both our thinking and behavior.
Jesus is coming again! The Scripture is clear. Christ will come on one of our tomorrows—we just don’t know which one. Although we can’t circle a date on our calendars, the event itself is not in doubt. It is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven will soon return in power and glory.
The Bible describes Christ’s second coming as our blessed hope. My prayer is that God will transform that doctrine of a blessed hope into a living hope that burns within our hearts. Then we will move forward in proclaiming God’s good news with joy and confidence, together today to transform tomorrow.
Together—we are family, a community, humbly the remnant people of God;
Today—right here and right now;
Transforming—the renewing of our minds individually and then corporately;
Tomorrow—the glorious future promised by our Lord.
The next quinquennium in Mid-America presents us with a great challenge—but with great promise and great opportunity. We can expect great miracles as the coming of the Lord draws near.
May God bless us, and may He empower us to fulfill His purpose for the Mid-America Union.
*A complete list of delegates will be posted on our website after March 25: www.midamericaadventist.org.
Unless noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version.