Wednesday, November 17, 2010

West Point 2010--It's a Good Thing

It's been almost 11 months since I began the planning for West Point  2010 which goes from December 5-8 at the Agoura Hills Renaissance Hotel.

Now  that it is drawing nearer I'm reflecting upon the possibilities that can come for everyone--including myself--who will attend.

First, there has been much prayer that has attended the planning process.  I believe that this has resulted in the combining of the talents of diverse people into the ad hoc faculty that will make up our West Point 2010 workshop presenters and plenary speakers.  (If you want to check out the program in detail check out our link at: West Point 2010.)

Second, the venue at which we will deploy this experience is ideally suited to our mission.  Tucked up against the Malibu hills, the  Agoura Hills Renaissance Hotel is a quiet setting in a metropolitan location.  We have lots of room to spread out for seminars, prayer time, worship, and exhibits.  The staff has been preparing for us to arrive and are excited that we are using their facilitiy.

Third, I'm really grateful for the ministry partners that want to be a part of West Point.  The Pacific Union Conference, The Voice of Prophecy,AdventSource, Amazing Facts, Andrews University Press, Faith for Today, It Is Written, and The Quiet Hour are providing financial support, personnel, and exhibit booths.  And, each of them are sponsoring the two luncheons that will be provided on Monday and Tuesday.

Fourth, I've had wonderful partners in the planning and execution of the West Point 2010 plan. There is no large staff or committee that is making West Point 2010 a reality.  My assistant, Vivienne, has worked hard on emails, program production, and logistical support that is awesome.  My wife, Jennifer, has been my constant partner in every aspect of the planning and execution of this event.  I couldn't do any of this without her!  We've done an amazing preparation for a great program with a minimal "staff."  So, this has really been a "God-thing" to put this size of program together.

My objective for West Point 2010 has been to start a process of pastoral support, inspiration, and instruction for our Pacific Union.  This is just a start and it will continue to evolve into the most meaningful kind of event that will meet the needs of pastors and motivated lay members.

I'll let you know how it all goes.  For now, say a prayer for every one who comes out December 5-8.  See you there.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

GC #3: Church Manual, Part I

The 59th General Conference Session completely reorganized the Church Manual of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  For several days of the business sessions the delegates worked through 95 proposed changes that had percolated through the church's committee procedure.  Because this single volume is the world-wide application of structure and practice for the entire denomination I paid special attention to each part of the discussion.  In the end it was an exercise in cross-cultrual understanding in how to make a world-wide church work in harmony.

There were some significant changes--some of which were, to me, milestones in how we view leadership in the local church.  First, the most revolutionary in my eyes:

Gender-referenced ordination enters the World Church for the first time.  The previous editions of the Church Manual provided for an ordination service for elders and deacons.  Please note that "elders" is a gender-neutral office.  In North America, Australia, and Europe there are both women and men who are elected as elders and through that election are eligible for ordination.  But this gender-neutrality allows churches in places such as the African continent to bypass the whole discussion whether to ordain women elders--they just don't appoint elders who are female.  And, of course, deacons are males by definition. The ordination issue for women is moot.  But what about the deaconess?

The previous Church Manual designated an "induction" service for deaconesses elected to this church office.  However, the practice of "laying hands of ordination" on deaconesses is increasingly practiced on an ad hoc basis in various parts of the world church.  The debate on the delegate floor at this General Conference was whether to officially authorize the ordination of deaconesses in the Church Manual. The actual proposal that came from the General Conference Executive Committee would have allowed the 13 World Divisions to apply this individually--thus leaving it open for cultural application.  As you can imagine, this whole topic elicited an intense debate.  Various amendments were offered, debated, and defeated.

In the end, the language voted into the Manual was even stronger than the original proposal.  I had a sense that some of the delegates really didn't appreciate how powerful this final action turned out to be.  A service of ordination should be conducted for deacons and deaconesses without any wiggle-room for the various divisions to opt out of it.  Granted, "should" is a middle ground between "may" (optional) and "must" (no choice).  But it does do something that has never been done before--the world church has gender-specific ordination for a female. This is monumental, especially in Divisions of the world church that see "ordination" of elders, deacons, and pastors as identical in quality with the only difference being the functions of the office.
Sure, this is a small step but that is the nature of change when you're seeking to move 13 World Divisions together.  And the vote came with a surprisingly clear majority.

 I was thankful as we raised our yellow voting cards for progress in equipping every member of the church for service--especially the 60% of the membership who are women.

But wait....there's more!  See GC #4:  Church Manual, Part II.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

GC #2: What's It All About?

Why General Conference Session?  The Constitution and Bylaws of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists gives official reasons--election of leadership, revision and adoption of our Church Manual (a HUGE project this session with 95 separate items to vote!), receiving of reports from the world divisions of the Church, and setting strategy for mission into the next five years.

But I know the core reason for this gathering in my estimation.  Let me illustrate through the lives of two people in Atlanta.  One is retiring and the other was elected today (June 27).  Both impacted me at significant points on my life's journey.  

"Mark"  had the daunting assignment of taking Seminary students from the theological seminary at Andrews University and molding them into an evangelistic force in the city of Chicago.  The Lake Union Soul Winning Institute was the practical training for us eager young ministers-to-be on the cusp of embarking into full-time employment in a church.  Day upon day, Mark (as he was called with friendship and respect by all his students) taught classes on giving Bible studies, leading people to decisions for Christ and the Bible, conducting door-to-door religious surveys, and how to answer difficult Scriptural passages.  Then at night he modeled for the school "how to do the work."  Mark was a friend to all.  Warm, kind, patient with our questions, and a master at discipling.  (It was always amazing to be able to conduct evangelistic visits with him.)  We graduated and took our notes to our churches.  I still have these in my files at the office.  

"Mark" went on to become "Pastor Mark Finley" of It Is Written, then "International Evangelist Mark Finley", and ultimately "General Vice President of the General Conference Elder Mark Finley."   But he always remains a leader and role model who loves pastors desiring to win people for Jesus.  His influence in my life was profound at the threshold of my ministry.  As he retires this Session I've been watching him around the delegate floor moving with energy.  I blink and then he's back again to 30 years ago standing on the lighted stage of the Yugoslav Hall in South Chicago giving the appeal for the Sabbath--still showing us how its done.  Mark made a difference in my life!

When "Ben" arrived at the Downers Grove, IL Church in 1973 he was fresh from the theological seminary and assigned as the assistant to Pastor Gunnar Sjoren.  Ben worked with the youth, preached, and towards the end of his short internship at the church conducted an evangelistic series in the nearby community of Bolingbrook.  A public high school freshman who had just moved with his family from Orange, CA responded to an appeal at church to help with the meetings.  On Wednesday nights this young man helped the young pastor set up the room and then sat in rapt attention as Pastor Ben Schoun took the class through his own unique materials on the book of Revelation.  The young pastor was encouraging to the high school student.  He modeled what a pastor could be to a young person.  At the close of the meetings, I reviewed the lessons and began to imagine what it would be like to help people know about God and the Bible like Pastor Ben.  He modeled a professional ministry to me that persists to this day.

Pastor Ben Schoun went on to serve a district that I would also begin my ministry in 10 years later.  The town of Bolingbrook where we had those Revelation classes would 20 years later become my district.  Often I would pass the elementary school where I sat and listened to the truth of Revelation.  Through the years "Ben" served at the Seminary, was elected Atlantic Union  President, and President of Adventist World Radio (how fun to read my youth pastor talk about sharing God's love through radio around the world by shortwave).  My heart was thrilled when today (June 27) my youth pastor was elected one of the General Vice Presidents of the General Conference.  I was proud and thankful that a man who loves God and models genuine Christianity was today one of our world leaders.  

My friend, the cynical among us think that the General Conference Session is about politics and unrelated to the "real mission" of the church.  Well, I certainly don't know everything and everyone.  But I know "Mark" and "Ben."   General Conference is about this core thing--people who love God and who He uses for the Great Good of His Kingdom.  

This is Why General Conference.  This is why I'm thankful to be a Seventh-day Adventist.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

GC #1: We Made It Through the Rain

The metaphor for our first day in Atlanta, GA for the 59th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was our journey to get there.  Flying at 39,000 feet over the clouds, inside the Southwest Boeing 737 jet, I put my mind yet again into the question, "What does this General Conference session mean for me spiritually?" I had been praying about this matter for some days as this trip came closer.

Clarity came as we faced our traveling environment.

First, as we winged over Arizona the smoke of the huge fire that had been burning for several days rose up to meet us.  The pilot informed us that the elements of this fire cloud had reached all the way to Chicago.  Certainly life can become like a cloud of smoke--impossible to see through and seemingly choking off the friendly light of the sunshine.  My desire for this General Conference session is to rise above the daily "smoke" and experience the inspiration that comes from worshipping together with believers from over 200 countries.

Second, periodically we heard our pilot share information about our progress towards the airport.  Time of arrival, weather at our destination, and sites along the way.  As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian it gives me enduring hope and meaning on life's journey to have the Pilot of our Church give us his Word as we wing to our ultimate spiritual destination.  At General Conference Session in Atlanta I will be sitting with hundreds of delegates who, with me, both rejoice and cherish the "truth that sets us free."  I shook hands and visited with the undertreasurer from one of the Unions in Africa.  Our language, culture, and nationality differ.  But the object of our faith is the same--my brother in Africa trusts the same Pilot as his brother in the United States.

Finally, as we drove into Atlanta on Tuesday night we literally ran into the worst thunderstorm we'd experienced in many years.  Visibility was near zero.  It lasted for mile after mile.  What gave me encouragement in the storm was my wife, Jennifer, who calmly talked along with me and kept another set of eyes on the semi-trucks passing us by.  It was just we two--but we were a little community going through a trial--albeit a short one.  General Conference Session in Atlanta is the tangible evidence that we are a church community that spans continents and culture.  Together with the Lord we can make it through the storms.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Made in the Shade

The grove at Pacific Union College holds graduation memories of me.  Our daughter Amanda in 2006 and son Tyler and his wife, Kristin in 2008.  As I donned my regalia again on Sunday and had Jennifer drop me off at the airport parking area it was a happy stroll to the marching area.

Some things have changed since 2008 when I last marched as a Board of Trustee member.  Dr. Heather Knight is now the President of the college and is just shy of completing her first year.  Her enthusiasm for Adventist higher education is contagious and her mantra of  "Good to Great" forms the context of everything she does with students, faculty, board, and community.  Her husband, Dr. Norman Knight, is a gifted speaker and teacher. (We'll be utilizing his skills at WestPoint in December!)  A great team for Pacific Union College.

Other things are quite the same.  Familiar faculty and staff faces mill around prior to graduation.  Another bit of sameness is the excitement of graduates and their families.  I only know a couple of the names personally that are read by Dr. Nancy LeCourt (VP for Academic Affairs) as the diplomas are distributed but the singular scenes of accomplishment are readily recognizable to any parent who has been there with one of their own.

I was happy to see the theology majors that I had interviewed in February.  One in particular, Brad Gienger, was a young church member in Simi Valley when we pastored there in the 90's.  When I saw him following graduation he told me that 15 minutes before the ceremony had commenced his cell phone rang with the news that the Dakota Conference was offering him a job--either a small district of churches or sponsorship to Andrews University Theological Seminary.  I rejoiced with him.

College is a lifetime ago for me now--literally 30 years this June when I finished my B.A. in Theology at Andrews.  Now I watch hundreds of newly minted graduates--clutching their green PUC diploma covers--disperse from the grounds on this late Sunday morning in June.  They are covered with the glow of promise and possibility.  And with them I see grandparents, cousins, uncles, and siblings who could be thinking, It's never too late to embrace the joy of a limitless tomorrow.   

Monday, March 22, 2010

Returning to Mt. Zion

Twenty years ago my family and I vacationed in Kissimmee, Florida.  On the Sabbath we attended a small church in town that met in an unremarkable building but was filled with extraordinary people.  One of the things I remember was that they had the potluck catered by a church members.  We had a blessed Sabbath but never thought we'd be back again. Little did we know.

We returned to Mt. Zion Seventh-day Adventist Church on Sabbath, March 20.  We would've missed the church if not for the sign (a new one since 20 years ago).  The church we worshiped in was still there but the congregation was gathered in a beautiful multi-purpose facility.  Instead of about 75 people in church there were three-times that number. What happened?

I noticed some things:  They are using media in their service like few congregations I have seen.  All the announcements are locally produced video-shorts with members doing it all. What a great idea.  And, most importantly, they involve the youth and young adults in the church at every step.  In addition, they are active in community service in the city.  No wonder they have grown.  They're doing what Jesus asks us to do:  "GO!"

A special surprise was the speaker of the hour--our friend from the Southeastern California Conference, Dr. Emil Peeler.  (You can get a taste of Dr. Peeler's preaching at  We were blessed by a spirit-filled message, uplifting music, and wonderful fellowship.  As we departed our prayer was that another 20 years would not need to pass before we would meet again in the New Earth.

God is at work in Kissimmee, FL through the Mt. Zion Church.  Check them out on the web at,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Come Apart and Pray....Really?

It was the end of a long week of meetings that tackled some of the proverbial "big issues" that we grapple with as a church.  I had been away from home for a week and would've much preferred to just go home and rest. do you argue with the notion that we should stay together for another day and a half to pray together, right!?

That's how I entered into a first for Pacific Union administrators (at least to my meager knowledge!)  Conference presidents, Union officers, and a few others were going to spend Friday night and all day Sabbath in prayer and reflection.  How do you do that?  We typically move quickly from one meeting to another with little time for any corporate spirituality except for perhaps the Sabbath.

I really didn't know what to expect since this was a first for me as a church administrator.  Spending extended time with colleagues to pray was something I had done as a pastor with other pastors.  But as we gathered in the West Building of the Union headquarters for the celebration of the Lord's Supper on Friday evening, March 12, I uttered the prayer, "Well, Lord, I'm open to what you'd like to do with me."

As it turned out, by Saturday night I concluded that this was the best thing we possibly could've done as church leaders.  This WAS NOT another church committee meeting masquerading as a prayer session.  THIS was the REAL DEAL.  We actually prayed together, sang, reflected upon selected Bible and Spirit of Prophecy selections and did what we always talk about doing. We sought the Lord.  There we were no sermons.  Nobody was the center of attention.  We sought the Lord together and cared for each other spiritually!

I know that this may surprise some of our members but the people gathered in that upper room in the West Building (yes, its actually on the second floor) love God supremely, struggle with human frailty, love the church, and really long for Jesus to come.  This was the Church at its best because we were the New Testament Church at its core.

I was refreshed.  It's really true that Jesus gives you a renewal in His presence that no nap or mindless television viewing can come close to match.  And, I'm glad that we came apart to pray. Really!  I hope we do it again!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


In the Spring of 1980 a group of serious looking men in black suits gathered in the Indiana Room of the Andrews University cafeteria.   There to meet them were the graduating theology seniors--including a skinny guy from Illinois.  I will always remember these Conference President's and Ministerial Directors from the Lake Union territory meeting, greeting, and interviewing the earnest group of "minister's-in-waiting."  It was with a grateful heart that I received a call from the Illinois Conference to go to the Seminary (I wasn't married yet!!--a requisite to pastoring in those years.)

As I hosted the Theology Senior Interviews for the Pacific Union Conference at Pacific Union College (February 28) and La Sierra University (March 8) the circle was coming around.  And, I know that each of us who interviewed these soon-to-be graduates were mindful that we had been there before. Since 2005 this annual gathering has been the highlight of my year. It is the ultimate faith-affirming experience to dialogue with young men and women who have heard the call of Jesus for service.

Our two higher education institutions have designed their theology programs to maximize the exposure of young minds to both the Biblical and practical aspects of ministry.  The students that reach their senior year have benefited from an intentionally designed curriculum which promotes personal reflection upon God's call in their life for a life of ministry.

Each of these students spends about 30 minutes with each Conference leadership team for a personal interview followed by a luncheon together.  The goal is for each graduate to find a place in the "vineyard of ministry."  Even in tough financial times it is my conviction that we need to utilize these committed young people in some aspect of ministry in every conference territory.

As we parted company with these ministers-in-waiting I expected to see them engaged soon in serving the Lord of the Harvest.  They are the pledge of God that His work will be finished and we will soon be home with Him.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"What I Believe...."

I walked into the La Sierra University Church and almost took a worship credit slip from the student at the door.   (We had a nice visit--she is a theology senior who I will be interviewing along with other local conference leaders on March 8 when I return to the campus.)  I recalled years earlier the need for worship credit as a student at Andrews University.

I wasn't getting worship credit but I certainly was enjoying my seat at the front of church for the  Week of Spiritual Emphasis at La Sierra University.   The students took their seats, sang with gusto as the student life department led the praise songs, and listened attentively as the two professors gave their testimony about "What I Believe..."

Both of the faculty speakers were scientists (one from biology and the other from physics) and each gave a personally compelling sermonette about God's direction in our lives as Creator.  I thought that either one would do very well as a revival speaker for a local church or camp meeting.

Amidst my meetings with faculty, student life staff, and Board of Trustees, this event was a reminder of why Seventh-day Adventist higher education makes a unique difference in the spiritual formation of young adult learners.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Witnesses at the California Capitol

My life changed in 1999 when I was called to serve as Government Relations Director for the Pacific Union.  Our office in Sacramento became my base of operations and a staging point for some of the most amazing ministry I had experienced to that point in my life.

Today, there are two special people who are leading the work of the Church State Council office (the separately designated entity of the Pacific Union's work for religious liberty) located at 1228 N Street, Suite 1, Sacramento, CA.  At the end of this posting you can see on the map what an ideal location this is for our work in the State Capitol.

Ed Fargusson is the newly elected director of this office.  Together we visited about the work at the Council office and the opportunities that God is opening up for our work in this pivotal place.  From his rich background as a pastor and church administrator, Elder Fargusson shared, "I feel that I am exactly where God wants me to be."  Indeed, this is a calling to a special work.

Ed and I walked through the State Capitol building and talked over the strategy we use to meet and reach people with the message of religious liberty.  Rather than be embroiled in the culture war battles of the day, we are focused upon the great Gospel principles that have guided this Church's work since the pioneering days of Ellen G. White and A.T. Jones (our church's first congressional representative in the 1880's).

Our message focuses upon the bedrock foundation signified by proclamations such as:

  • "God does not coerce the conscience", 
  • "In matters of conscience the majority has no power",
  • "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."  
Pat Silvia is the administrative assistant that helps carry out the essential support service work that keeps the office working smoothly.  She provides a kind voice on the phone to members who are having Sabbath work problems as well as helping carry out the coordinating functions that allows the Council office to successfully carry out its mission.

As we prayed together and I departed the Thayer Building I thought of the 5 years I had devoted to the work of religious liberty in this very spot.  I began to hum as I walked down the street, "To God be the Glory" and thought, "We're in good hands in Sacramento."

By the way, if you have any need of help to have Sabbath hours off of work or any other religious liberty question don't hesitate to call the office at 916-446-2552 or visit the website at

View Larger Map

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chico on Sabbath

Jennifer and I enjoyed seeing our friends (and former pastor when we attended Carmichael Church) Dave and Judy Osborne. Walking onto the campus of the Chico church ( one immediately notices the care and concern that is given to the physical plant--landscaping, buildings, and the school.  The congregation takes special efforts to have the worship facility be a quality one which is attractive to the community.  This fits quite well with Pastor Osborne's friendly and open spirit that makes everyone feel welcome.

During the worship service we were especially blessed by the double-piano duet that lifted my spirits as I prepared to preach. (So much so that I forgot myself and bounded to the pulpit before the local elder could read the Scripture reading!  He fulfilled his duty as I stood by his side).  You can hear my sermon thanks to the church at

It is a wonderful thing to talk with the members at the door which in the case of the Chico church included Elder Larry Caviness' uncles.  Potluck dinner included an interesting conversation with a member who became a Seventh-day Adventist after some years of spiritual searching.  "God led me" was his witness.

What a joy to know He does this for each of us!

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Is WestPoint 2010?

Implementing programs is a part of leadership. But what happens when you become responsible for an existing program? This was my jumping off point as the new Ministerial Director for the Pacific Union.  My first thought was, What about Westpoint of Evangelism?

The logical course was gathering the Westpoint stake holders into one room and asking the big questions.  Thursday morning, January 14, at the Union headquarters the process began.  

Four core assumptions guided our conversation:   

First, we must win people to Jesus Christ and His message.  The Seventh-day Adventist church is called by God to share the Gospel in the context of the Three Angels’ messages.  Like Ford Motor Company used to say, “It’s Job One!”

Second, we must grow these new members as active disciples.  If we baptize people and then leave them we have committed ministry malpractice.  Nurturing and growing the spiritual experience of members is crucial to our mission.

Third, the primary place for this activity is the local church.  We are indeed blessed as a church community with wonderful schools, hospitals, media ministries, and church organizational structures.  However, none exists as an end in itself.  Each  serves the mission of the Body of Christ manifested principally in the local congregation. 

Fourth, pastors along with trained members are the primary persons used by God to accomplish this work.   Over a quarter-century of ministry in local churches and administration teaches me that the local church typically does not rise above the level of its spiritual leader.  Yet the pastor cannot act alone.  It is the team of pastor-membership which creates a growing local church culture. 

Critical outcomes emerged for Westpoint 2010.  These include some new elements:

1.  Westpoint will no longer be an event but a process.  December 5-9, 2010 will be the major gathering but the Westpoint project will continue throughout the year.  

2.  Our Westpoint 2010 curriculum will include tracks of seminars designed for Local Church Pastor/Member Teams.  These trained and mobilized leaders will return to the scene of but will be supported throughout the coming year by Westpoint consultants.  Through Webcasting, Facebook, and a YouTube Channel  (to name a few),  the Westpoint experience will  continue through the year for Westpoint Ministry Teams in the local church.

3.  A Spanish language track of seminars will debut in 2010.  The fastest growing portion of our membership in the Pacific Union will have training events in Westpoint designed specifically for them.  

I am truly exhilarated by the synergy that is coming about from our strategic examination of the future of Westpoint.  More is coming.  

"Westpoint:  Inspire, Instruct, Mobilize."