Pastor Philip Baptiste, communication director for the Central States Conference, interviews conference president Elder Maurice R. Valentine II.

What are some things you envision for Central States Conference in the next five years?

Actually, we are working on a seven year plan called the “2020 Vision” to come to complete fruition by the year 2020. The first thing I’m striving for is to help our work force to become Highly Aligned with God’s will for their lives we have a great team of Individuals who work sacrificially. But we want them to reach the point that they sense they are every day working in the center of God’s will. I call it the “Sweet Spot.” If you’ve ever played Tennis that’s right in the center of the racket where when you connect with the approaching ball you get the most out of your swing in terms of direction on speed.

And for those who are audiophiles, the “sweet spot” in music listening is a point where you can close your eyes and all but see a soloist in front of you. To take those illustrations to their logical end, I want to see every worker on our great conference team seeing more fully how their ministry connects to changed lives across our nine state area and how the God-given innovations they discover will help make the work of God so central to all we do that if we close our eyes, we can all but see Jesus standing right in front of us telling us where to go, what to do, and when to do it. I believe Jesus really wants to have a relationship with us that is that real and that connected to the mission He has for us.

The second thing we want to accomplish is to develop a highly engaged membership engagement. In 2014 we want to begin a process that helps us assess where we are in regard to member engagement. Highly Engaged Members can’t imagine life without their church. They can’t wait to get to church. It’s a fulfilling experience that connects with every area of their lives. I first experienced this when I was a youth in church and at one point I was so engaged that I was at church six nights a week and I found it a thrilling experience. I cut my teeth of leadership there as I taught primary and youth Sabbath School, participated in the Youth Developed Youth Action Coalition, was member and President of the Linwood Christian Action Coalition, sang in the youth choir and spoke around the conference and beyond in the Voice of Youth. Later I was privileged to serve as a deacon and local elder, but the greatest privilege was when I shared my faith on my job and saw a coworker get baptized.

I’m still enthused about serving the Lord. There is a natural high that the world can’t touch when you serve the Lord. When you feel he has taken your tongue and used it for His Glory, that’s a wonderful feeling. This leads me to my next point, by 2020 I want to see all of young people, both young adults and youth Highly Energized for Mission! Young people around the world are leading thousands to Christ and they are learning that the same thing I learned as a little guy ingathering and selling magazines in front of grocery stores. The high that Jesus gives when you serve Him just can’t be beat! It truly is a reservoir of adventure that can’t be exhausted.

Just as you think you have reached the highest round of the ladder in your life, God has another adventure in store for you. They can at times be dangerous and fraught with peril. Yet because you know it’s for the Lord you forge ahead in faith that He will protect you. Right now, God is finishing his work with an army of youth who have been rightfully trained. They are going to South America, India, Africa and running evangelistic events, building schools, and baptizing thousands! But lest you think all the action is aboard there are many young people who like me when I was growing up in the church have already discovered God’s Sweet spot. They are coming up with great ways to share the faith that let them be a force for good to thousands through the use of technology. Never before has a person with a keyboard, tablet or smart phone had the opportunity to intersect their world for good. Everyone needs to know that they are valued for who they are and that their life makes a difference.

I want also to spawn an Educational Renaissance in Central States Conference. As I type God has richly blessed so that free of charge Google Fiber is being installed around the Central States Conference Office. Soon our ability to communicate beyond, but also to receive and share educational instruction will be greatly enhanced. I want every child, parent and teacher to be able to leverage the latest technology to access lesson plans, homework aids, instruction in coursework such as foreign languages, musical instrument instruction, college credit course work coming strait from their school of choice before they finish academy, or just connecting with another class to make friends with people they will soon walk the hallways of higher learning with. All this is just over the horizon.

Finally, I want Central States Conference to be Financially Strong to Keep Mission Moving. Currently, we have 30 cost savings measures in place that are being utilized to keep ministry moving in Central States. Yet, if we satisfy all of our debts over the course of the next seven years we will save $650,000 in interest. As far as I’m concerned, we have a $650,000 Imperative! Just think, if we pay off our indebtedness, how many ministries not just by our pastors, but also by every member who like the Phillip when he was told to go join himself to a chariot and give a Bible study can experience the revolution in life that comes when you are connected with Christ! Many want God’s blessing, but haven’t launched out in faith to give a true tithe and liberal offering. Hence, most churches are running on the fumes of a few faithful givers and so too the conference. If just 75% of our members in each church was faithful in tithes and offerings we as a conference family could pay off our indebtedness and all of our churches would be wonderful representations of the God of all creation. Innovations in witnessing wouldn’t just be a dream. They would all but become reality as fast as we could put them on paper! We are just now beginning to make additional payments on principle for our loan and it’s my hope that each year between now and 2020, we will be able to increase that amount substantially.

What means do you plan to use to spread the gospel?

By every means at our disposal. In an effort to connect with Youth, in the late 1990s I was privileged to purchase software courtesy Central States Conference to develop 3D imagery for evangelistic meetings. My goals was to recreate the images of Daniel and Revelation in 3D to engage a younger audience. With the conferences blessing and the Lord’s help, many late nights were spent rendering 3D imagery. In our effort we saw young people and old alike coming to a weekly meeting on Daniel and Revelation that numbered about 40. About 30 were baptized many of whom were in their early 20s from the surrounding community. Having had that experience courtesy my conference, I want to see our pastors one and all do the work of evangelism with a growing mind toward innovation that will have conference support. But I also want to engage our member’s technical savvy to create new ways to reach the world for Christ as well. I hope to see the Conference have an award that is given every year to the worker and member who had the most compelling evangelistic innovation of the year.

Currently, I’m making my first inroads into digital witnessing using social networking. I’m using Google Plus to share my travels now so the people of God can see the great work our members are doing around the conference first hand. I’m uploading my weekly adventure around the conference to my Google Plus account. Finally, I want Central States to become the standard of what it means to not just win people to Christ, but to help them become long-standing disciples who help lead this great movement through their God-given gifts.

What, do you think, is the single, most important trait of a thriving congregation?

Being missional! I have seen outward focused congregations in action. It’s a mindset.

Surprisingly it has little to do with leadership and more to do with ownership. When people feel this is my church and I want to get off the bleachers and out onto the field of play it changes the whole dynamic of a church. I pastored churches that just had a bent toward engaging their community. They were a joy to pastor because they were going to the nursing home, housing projects, community event to setup heath fair booths or to the homeless shelter, and it wasn’t dependent on me. It happened whether I was there or not because it was in their DNA. A cell gets it’s instruction from the DNA as to what type of cell it will become. We need to get our instructions from Jesus as to what type of churches we will become. Inwardly focused congregations are fraught with infighting and politics. They make little impact for good because their focus is not on The Word of God, which is Jesus.

I’m excited about the new core values that Central States Conference has embraced. Could you tell us a little bit about them?

“Sure, for the last year our core values shared with our work force in most meetings has been let’s do all we do with Honesty, Integrity, and Excellence. In 2014 as we work to enhance a culture of evaluation we will be adding the core value of accountability. As many workers in God’s cause are self-directed, we want to be able to coach them in how to be accountable in a self-directed role.

Yours truly has sent out an evaluation to our Executive Committee and staff. It will help me to grow as a leader by helping me to be aware of my blind spots. Though I attempt to do everything with the aforementioned values in mind, there’s always room for improvement. The Harvard School of Business teaches good is the enemy of great. We don’t want to settle for good. Higher than the highest human thought is God’s ideal for man.

What else would you like to say to members and leaders who read this interview? Just imagine that you’re looking at all the constituents, all gathered in one place. What would you say to them? What’s on your heart?

In concert with the world church initiative of Revival and Reformation, it’s my desire is to lead our conference in a Spirit-led revival AND reformation. Revival by itself is short-lived and we often fall lower than before the revival began. But when our hearts and minds are reformed in the image of God, we won’t hesitate to lay aside those things that deter our spiritual growth, distract us from God’s word, prevent us from praying, and weaken our witness. Nation-wide, we need to return to God’s word as the only rule of faith! It’s too easy to become a cultural Christian who in Laodicean fashion simply goes through the motions of religiosity and accepts every cultural norm and sees in the mirror what in reality is a dressed up sinner.

As this year we celebrate 150 years of existence let’s return to our roots. We have always been a countercultural movement. On our eastern border, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River the Seventh-day Adventist Church taught slaves how to read who had just been set free. On the foundation of knowing people are destroyed because of the lack of knowledge, we have established an educational system that spans the globe. On our western boarder in Montrose Colorado, we built one of the first health care institutions in the state and now all along the eastern slope of the Rockies we have four hospitals and a new one on the way. Through these institutions we have touched and changed the lives of many. Moreover, our longevity has taught a world how to live. We were first on the airwaves to share the gospel, so let’s rise be revived, reformed and reach the world beyond our doors. We’ve taught parents how to parent, smoker how to not, we have been the head and not the tail, always on the cutting edge with multi-media evangelistic presentations, and through our evangelistic efforts have been recently dubbed “the fastest growing church in this country.”

But we can’t sit on our collective laurels of the past. It’s time to get up and get back to what we do best, be world changers one person at a time! It time for all of our churches to become forces for good rather than mere fortresses against evil. Our time is here. Our time is now. Our time is getting shorter with each successive day. Finally, let’s stop sharpening our axes on someone else’s grindstone of church growth. Let’s become the national example of discipleship. Let’s avoid the latest fads and shun political convention of correctness that leaves sinners in a hopeless state. We were called to set the trends, not follow them, to be the head, not the tail. We are called to warn the world, not cozy up to it. Fear God and give glory to Him, that’s who we are; a beacon to a world that is being swept away in a tidal wave of sin. Let’s put our idols aside, the past behind and reach toward the mark of our high calling in Jesus. Let’s finish the work and go home. In a word, let’s fall in love with Him all over again!