“At PELC, you just might experience spontaneous praise syndrome!” said Oakwood University Church pastor Kimberly Mann in her welcome to the 2023 Pastoral Evangelism and Leadership Council (PELC), held on the university campus in Huntsville, Alabama, on Dec. 3-6.

As predicted, over four days, PELC attendees couldn’t help but raise their arms, stand to their feet, or shout “Amen!” and “Mercy!” in response to a deep and powerful message or spirit-filled praise song.

For the hundreds of pastors, chaplains and other ministry leaders present, PELC offered spiritual renewal and inspiration, fellowship and equipping. This year’s theme of Change: Expanding minds. Engaging generations. Enhancing ministries wove itself into every aspect, from music to messages to seminars.

Jesse Wilson, director of PELC and Oakwood’s Bradford Cleveland Brooks Leadership Center, said he believes the Lord led the steering committee to this theme “as a [reflection] of what’s going on in the nation and what’s going on in churches. It’s clear that change [to the method, not the message] is the order of the day.” He noted that change must begin with hard conversations around race, gender and structural issues in the church.

Established more than 40 years ago by regional conference leaders, PELC is the largest annual gathering of pastors and church leaders in the North American Division. The 2023 PELC was the largest in its history, with more than 800 registered attendees, most attending in person and others connecting online. It was also one of the most diverse, with participants coming from across the U.S. and Canada, Fiji, Kenya, South Africa, the U.K., and several Central American and Caribbean countries.

PELC Speakers Call for Change in Chaotic Times

On December 3, opening speaker James Doggette, Sr., pastor of Patmos Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida, coined the week’s catchphrase: “It’s just a slab.”

His message, titled “The Sermon and the Slab,” referenced the setting of a foundation or “slab” for the new temple in Jerusalem 70 years after Solomon’s temple had been destroyed. Rebuilding the slab was phase two of restoring regular worship once Israel had come out of captivity, the first being reinstituting daily sacrifices, i.e., “theology before methodology.”

But many older men wept aloud amid the celebration because they felt the new slab, structured differently, and cut by the younger generation, was inferior to the previous one. “Change is hard,” Doggette acknowledged. “But for everyone who wants to be involved in transformational, visionary ministry, change is necessary,” he asserted.

His next words elicited much spontaneous praise: “Seventh-day Adventists are identified by a belief system that is biblically based. Stop conflating cultural Adventist norms with theology. A Brooks Brothers suit versus jeans and Jordans, for instance, is not theological. It’s just a slab. Fast, rhythmic music versus slow-moving hymns is not theological. It’s just a slab. A traditional sanctuary with pews versus a contemporary industrial auditorium with chairs is not theological. It’s just a slab.”

Doggette, however, asserted that he was not espousing “a cheap or bloodless grace that does not require obedience or sacrifice.” Describing himself as having a conservative theology but liberal methodology, he avowed, “While we need a new method, we don’t need a new message.”

“The world is a mess,” said Roger Bernard, president of the Central States Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, on Tuesday night. In 1 Kings 18, Obadiah hid the preachersJoseph Ikner in a cave during a famine, and they grew useless. Bernard compared them to pastors in caves unwilling to “visit people or take calls after 9 p.m.” He didn’t mince words: “Come out of the cave, preacher! Preachers have no business in caves if they want to see change.” He concluded by referencing the latter rain: “We need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a way we’ve never had before. When it rains, our churches will get focused. When it rains, people will grow spiritually. When it rains, Jesus will come to take His people home.”

PELC began with a self-proclaimed “senior citizen” and ended with a member of Gen Z, Max Gomez, associate pastor of Hilltop Community Worship Center Seventh-day Adventist Church. Wilson confirmed that this selection was intentional. “The whole idea of change across generations, different generations spoke, and they were heard.”

On the final morning, Gomez shared that in Judges 3, Ehud, a Benjamite, is described as a left-handed man. He used what was viewed as a weakness (his left-handedness) to help him kill Israel’s oppressor, Eglon. Ehud used a double-edged sword he had created to stab Eglon in the belly. “Ehud built with his left hand what had never been built before,” Said Gomez. He spoke directly to the leaders present, “What would ministry look like in 2024 if we stopped limiting the dexterity of our pastors?”

And to the “Ehuds” in the audience, he said, “Your left hand is your creativity and ingenuity that emerges from a place of scarcity.” He urged them to declare, “Everything God has ordained me to do, I’m going back to my church, I’m going back to my district, I’m going back to my city, and I’m gonna start using my left hand.”

Equipping All Leaders

Pre-PELC sessions for elders and Bible instructors empowered lay members to serve amid pastoral shortages. Chaplains also had a dedicated track, affirming their calling as ministers in a pluralistic context. Their program began with a Chaplains’ Sabbath at Oakwood University Church featuring Rear Admiral (Ret.) Barry Black, United States Senate chaplain.

For several years, PELC has also included training sessions in Spanish for the division’s Hispanic leaders. Presenters this year included Jose Rojas, president of Puente Ministries and former NAD youth and volunteer missions director, Cortes, Cesar de Leon, NAD Family Ministries director, and Armando Miranda, NAD associate director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. 

The pastoral spouses, led by Linda Pennick, also had a separate gathering. 

For more information about PELC and to access archived content, visit pelcpower.com. Click here to learn more about regional conference ministries, including PELC.

To read the full story go to https://www.nadadventist.org/news/its-just-slab-2023-pastoral-evangelism-leadership-council-pelc-inspires-attendees-embrace