29 Sep

BACK TO THE FUTURE

By Andre Wang — I have been an Adventist my entire life. I’m a product of Adventist education. My church membership has been at the same church since I was fourteen years old. I’ve served on church committees and boards too numerous to mention.

Then in 2014, I was invited to apply for the position of general counsel for the North Pacific Union Conference. I really wasn’t interested. I was in a comfortable law practice and I was already serving on the union’s executive committee, participating in the governance and oversight of the six conferences in our territory. I didn’t consider myself a “church guy” but the involved layperson that sat on church boards and committees to be the voice of reason and hold my church accountable.

But instead of dismissing the invitation outright, I agreed to the greatest non-committal answer in all of Christendom: “I’ll pray about it.” And I did—earnestly. After a few days, I revealed to my wife that my ambivalence was turning into intrigue. Upon more reflection and prayer, I submitted my resume to the union personnel committee. I didn’t bother polishing it or even checking it for typos. I just went to my computer, found a file labeled “Andre Resume,” attached it to an email to the union president, and clicked “send.” I was looking for a Gideon-like signal and sending the unproofed resume was my fleece.

I met with the personnel committee twice (ironically, a committee I was a member of) and answered questions about my upbringing, my spiritual journey and my familiarity with denominational operation and policy. After a day of deliberation, they voted to offer me the position.

After another two days of further prayer and reflection, I accepted the invitation with convincing clarity. I now know what pastors mean when they talk about being called to ministry: I was called. I felt it. It was real, tangible, and unmistakable. This was what I was supposed to do.

I didn’t seek or choose this job; it sought and chose me.

Every day, I am blessed to work with people that keep the mission of the church moving forward–from pastors and teachers to treasurers and administrators. Even though we are a religious organization, the church is still a business with issues and matters that impact us legally and corporately. If you told me eight years ago that I’d be working for the church, I would have hysterically laughed at you until you sulked out of my presence. But for the last seven years, I have used my professional skills in areas that have been interesting, challenging, and rewarding—and having fun doing it.

From the perspective of a denominational employee, even though only for a brief time, I have observations—and suggestions—about the future of the church in the following areas:

Workforce

According to Pew Research, 10,000 baby boomers enter retirement each day. Today, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is facing an unprecedented number of retirements from its workforce. It is estimated that 60% of the personnel in the North American Division will reach retirement age by 2023, including pastors, educators, administrators, and employees in higher ed. Today, conferences are already scrambling to fill pastoral, teaching and administrative positions.

But consider the ripple effect these mass retirements are causing throughout the denomination. When a pastor or teacher retires, that position is filled by another pastor or teacher. However, when a principal or church administrator at the conference, union or division level retires, those positions must be filled by an experienced educator or church leader. The nominating committees of these various levels of church governance must search for new leaders from people holding other leadership positions or look for emerging leaders from the field of pastors or teachers. This scenario is going to play out many times over for the next decade and beyond.

If the church is not proactive in building its “farm team” of pastors, teachers, principals, accountants, and human resource professionals, who will fill the executive leadership, treasury and education superintendent positions at the conference, union, and division levels?

Remuneration

At the 2019 NAD Human Resources Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, Randy Robinson, the treasurer of the North American Division, said, “We need to reform our system of remuneration to attract millennials to work for the church because someday I’ll be dead.”

Simply put, the church must pay more. While the notion of “service” to the church is noble, pastors and teachers notwithstanding, Gen X-ers, Millennials and younger generations don’t have denominational employment on their radar. In embarking on a career path, denominational work in professional areas such as finance, communication, IT, etc., are never the first option. In order to make church work attractive, wages should be commensurate with the private sector.

Generational Awareness

According to Adam Fenner, director of the Adventist Learning Community at the North American Division, the church as an employer must educate itself on the culture of character of different generations to accomplish our missional objectives and, most importantly, have operational longevity. From my observation, there is very little intergenerational interaction within the denominational workforce. Baby boomers–the ones reaching retirement age–are not generously passing down crucial institutional knowledge and skillsets to younger generations to carry the Adventist banner into the future.

Within the next decade, Gen Xer-s and Millennials will be occupying conference and union presidencies and other administrative positions. If the church is going into the future with resolve, the transfer of information must happen now. A common refrain I hear from younger generations is, “If I were in charge, I would do this . . .” Buckle up, everyone. Your conference or union may be one or two constituency sessions away from electing a millennial executive team.

Embrace Differences

There is a lot of diversity in the church today—and not just ethnic diversity, but everything from culture and worship-style preferences to political opinions and lifestyle choices. Adam Fenner again counsels that we should embrace our differences rather than resent them. We must also understand the cardinal rule of politics: one must give a little to get a little. While we are sentient, thinking human beings that hold strong viewpoints and positions and vigorously defend them, we are above all, children of God. With the diversity of all our “diversities,” that is the bond we all have in common.

I am fortunate to use my professional abilities every day to help advance the ministry of a church that is part of my DNA. Everything I do in my work is first viewed through the prism of, “How does this reveal Jesus to others and further His kingdom on earth?” In many ways, I am still the outsider I was before I entered denominational employment.

Upon reflection, I guess I still don’t consider myself a “church guy.”

–Andre M. Wang serves as general counsel and PARL director for the North Pacific Union Conference. Email him at [email protected]

29 Mar

OUR OWN—SORT OF—REFORMATION

By Andre M. Wang … In May 2014, North American Division President Dan Jackson summoned church administrators and leaders in the United States and Canada to convene in Dulles, Virginia. The main topic on the agenda: CHANGE. A sort of reformation, if you will.

The issue was not about the church’s beliefs or values, but about sustainability. Can the church continue, much less thrive, under the current mode of operation? The premise of the meetings was that the current model the North American Division uses to execute its mission was cumbersome, inefficient and redundant. Dan Jackson asserted, “Good stewardship requires us to explore a better way to do things.” He then asked the gathering of leaders if they supported the idea of structural change, even if it meant the elimination of their own positions and territories. Every hand went up in affirmation.

An action was taken to establish three committees to examine and propose reforms in the areas of education, mission and governance. As fortune would have it, being an unrepentant policy nerd, I received an invitation to serve on the committee on church governance, or as I called it, the Committee on Committees to Study Reducing Committees Committee.

The work of the governance committee was fascinating. As a lifelong Adventist, I was shocked to learn and discover how much I didn’t know about how the church operates, how it’s financed and how decision-making flows. We critically examined everything from church structure to tithe distribution. We turned over every proverbial rock looking for a better way the church could do business.

The three committees ultimately presented their findings and proposals at the 2015 NAD Year-end Meeting. After the reports were presented, Jackson announced that they be examined by NAD administrators for action.

The desire for change directly implies that the status quo is not working and that there must be a better way to do things. But there is always a natural resistance to change because it’s a journey into the unknown. While serving on the NAD governance committee, I heard many “resistance responses” around the table and this is how I interpreted them:

It’s always been like this. Interpretation: the need for change is much older than we originally thought. This is an argument that change should have happened a long time ago.

It’s this way everywhere. Interpretation: the need and scope for change is bigger and more widespread than we anticipated. Change should not just happen locally, but globally.

It’s not in the budget. Interpretation: money is not being allocated (read, “spent”) in the proper places.

It’s too political. Interpretation: let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings but avoid critical self-examination and the asking of tough questions about the organization.

It’s tradition! Interpretation: the organization has no clue what they do and why they are doing it.

Below are seven lessons I learned about change from serving on a committee about change:

1.Fear and emotion are part of the process.

This is only natural as we are sentient, thinking human beings who care deeply about things that affect us. It is helpful to write out a list of the negative factors, interesting factors, and positive factors toward adopting change in order to bring our deepest fears to the surface where we audit how we feel about a particular issue and stimulate our creative side. The “interesting factor” list is where the creativity takes place and ideas for change develop that lead to a positive outlook.

2.It’s not the change that is scary; it’s the journey to change.

Change is never as simple as dropping everything you know and doing it differently. The status quo is a comfortable place that is known, structured, proven, certain and reassuring. Conversely, change is unknown, unstructured, unproven, uncertain and unsettling. The area between the status quo and change is predictable and foreseeable—risk, fear, anxiety, confusion, blame, etc. This is why pilots get on the loudspeaker to advise nervous passengers what to expect on the flight, and why doctors update anxious families on the status of their loved one’s surgery. The journey to change should be open and transparent.

3. Don’t be afraid of the scope of change.

At the outset, there must be a basic understanding what will change and what will not. Before embarking on a journey to change, take inventory of the things that will remain the same, make a list of things that cannot be done now and still cannot be done after the change; list things that are being done now, but will no longer be able to be done after the change and list the things that cannot be done now, but can be accomplished with the change. This puts the change (and the journey to change) in context and hones the focus on the ultimate prize.

4. It’s not ownership, but authorship.

In an organization, change cannot be imposed by fiat or executive declaration. No one person or committee owns the change. It must be organic, with meaningful thought and input from everyone involved. A leader gives the group authorship of the change, empowering them to design and make the change for themselves. Thus, people are not responding to change, but have essentially taken control of it.

5. Create a change checklist.

Imagine you are cleaning out your closet. You must decide: (1) What to keep?; (2) What to toss?; (3) What to change?; and (4) What to add? An organization needs to go through the same closet-cleaning analysis. This is where the design for change takes place.

6.People want change.

Every product in the history of business is based on change. The number of people who desire change is always greater than we think. But change must be offered, not foisted.

7. Cultural change must come before structural change.

Change just to do something different is fake change. Structural change is rather easy to design on paper—revise the organizational chart, the flow of capital and the methods of decision-making. But has really anything changed? In order to be real, it must start with cultural change, changing the mindset while upholding morale. Until the culture of the organization is changed, no other change is possible.

I implore everyone who desires change to keep an open mind. A closed mind is a de facto vote for the status quo. An open mind explores the opportunities and possibilities. Yes, it runs the risk of disappointment and failure, but it’s a chance to make a difference.

Although it is now six years since the NAD ad hoc governance committee completed its work, I remain hopeful that the ideas we presented and the analysis that brought us there are still valuable and capable of bringing change to the church that I love and want to see thrive into the future.

We can keep things the same or we can make a difference. We cannot do both.

–Andre Wang serves as general counsel and director of public affairs and religious liberty for the North Pacific Union Conference. He writes from Portland, Oregon. Email him at: [email protected]

05 Jan

POLITICS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

By André Wang — Living in Portland, Oregon these last six months has been, to put it mildly, interesting. Once hailed as one of America’s most livable cities, during the summer of 2020, Portland endured more than 100 consecutive nights of racial-injustice protests marred by vandalism, chaos, and even loss of life. Every night, the area surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland became a war zone. Violence erupted. Property was destroyed. Businesses were looted.

A riot is the language of the unheard. ~Dr. Martin Luther King

American history is teeming with periods of social mobilization when communities of citizens rise up against injustice with the objective of replacing the existing social order with a more just society. Whether the subject of the movement is based on economics (Occupy Wall Street), race (Black Lives Matter), gender (Women’s Suffrage), the environment (Earth Day), or politics (Tea Party), each movement firmly believes in the moral position upon which it is based.

Social justice movements are a quest, not only for change, but radical change; change that is not incremental, but immediate. According to cultural anthropologist David. F. Aberle, social justice movements can be distilled to two fundamental questions: (1) Who is the movement attempting to change? (2) How much change is being advocated? Change can be focused on an individual level (e.g., addiction recovery) or a societal level (e.g., Black Lives Matter). Movements can also advocate for minor change, such as enacting new legislation or restrictions, or radical change, such as anti-globalization.

Nevertheless, America is an incremental nation. Change— or progress—takes time. Hearts and minds need persuasion. Cultures need to acclimate, and older generations need to adapt. But the form, substance, and timing of the change also depends on the type of change being advocated. According to Dr. Aberle, social justice movements fall into one of four categories: redemptive movements, reform movements, revolutionary movements, and alternative movements.

Redemptive Movements

Sometimes called “religious movements,” these endeavors seek “meaning.” They are usually focused on a specific segment of the community with the goal of provoking personal inner change, philosophy, or individual spiritual growth.

Reformative Movements

These are the most common. These movements seek to bring specific change to the social structure. While they are limited in scope and subject matter, they are targeted at the entire population. Environmental movements, women’s suffrage, and Black Lives Matter are examples of reformative movements.

Revolutionary Movements

Sometimes called “resistance movements,” revolutionary movements seek to bring wholesale change to every aspect of society, with the change being sweeping and dramatic. It is a “resistance” against the status quo. Examples include the Civil Rights Movement or one of the myriad political movements, such as the Abolitionist Movement.

Alternative Movements

These movements are typically focused on self-improvement and limited, specific changes to individual beliefs and behavior. Examples include coaching and support programs such as Tony Robbins, Weight Watchers, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

The lifecycle of a social justice movement is also critically important to its effectiveness. According to sociologists Herbert Blumer and Charles Tilly, the longevity of a movement occurs in four stages: (1) preliminary, (2) coalescence, (3) institutionalization, and (4) decline.

In the preliminary stage, people become aware of an issue, decide action is needed, and leaders emerge. Movements al- ways develop organically; they are never contrived or manufactured and are often triggered by an event. Examples of “triggering events” can range from a personal decision to break an addiction to the dramatic death of George Floyd. The coalescence stage is where a community of people bands together and organizes to expose the issue and raise awareness. The institutionalization stage is where the movement has momentum with widespread support. Grassroots volunteerism is no longer necessary as the movement is now organized, typically with substantial financial backing and even paid staff. Last, is the decline stage where the movement loses momentum or just simply concludes. Perhaps the movement success- fully brought about the change that it sought. Perhaps people lost interest, adopted a new cause, or no longer take the issue seriously.

So, if social justice movements are meant to address and, ostensibly, correct societal injustice, why have they become so divisive? Aren’t we all in support of saving the planet? Don’t we all want everyone to have access to health care? Isn’t racial equality something we should have achieved by now?

From my observation of the protests in Portland, there are three factors to the divisiveness. First, everything has become politicized. Everything is now a partisan issue with two polar-opposite sides. For example, take the current issue of mask- wearing in the U.S. in the fight to curb COVID-19. One side sees it as a basic public health action. To others, it is an unreasonable intrusion on individual liberty.

“We’re in this space in the U.S. where the two [political] sides just really hate each other, and that extends to information. So, it’s not just ‘I don’t like you.’ It’s ‘I don’t like your values, I don’t like your facts,’” explains Dr. Peter Ditto, professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine.

Most interestingly, issues that normally would be a non- political, common challenge for all of society becomes political when proponents and opponents of a cause weaponize it as a wedge issue. According to Dr. Ditto, we’re in a completely different and polarizing time in history. Humanity, he says, has “a long history . . . that some kind of external threat will bring people together. We may fight and fight and fight when the stakes are low. But when a serious threat happens, we pull together.” But, he soberingly concludes, “That just doesn’t seem to be happening, though.”

Second, “cancel culture” has become an important tool of social justice. Popularized over the last decade, cancel culture is a “modern form of ostracism” that refers to the practice of not only withdrawing support from an individual or business that one disagrees with, but even going so far as to destroy them socially and professionally. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “canceled.”

Because people feel disenfranchised and powerless, cancel culture in the social justice context serves as an equalizer for the sense of powerlessness that many people feel. As ideological divisions seem more and more insurmountable, the line be- tween the personal and the political is vanishing. Even though cancel culture seems to generate few lasting consequences for many—we are, after all, resilient and able to move on—it appears to be part of a deeper trend: an inability to dialogue, listen and extend courtesy to those that hold opposite views.

Most “canceling” is horizontal; that is, it is not done to justifiably or constructively criticize someone with the opposite point of view, but to score bragging points against people who mean no harm. As one friend put it, the people doing the canceling “become the self-appointed guardians of political purity.”

Third, civility in discourse is a lost attribute. Somewhere along the way, we abandoned civility and today, people are demeaned, derided and ridiculed for who they are or what they believe. People have gotten bitter and angry; and not just bitter and angry with those who don’t agree with them—they get bitter and angry with those who aren’t as bitter and angry as they are.

Merriam-Webster defines civility as “politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” It has its etymology in the Latin word civilis, meaning citizen or person; hence the term civilization. By its very origin, civility recognizes the inherent dignity of the individual and derives from it the basic code of social interaction.

Civility in discourse requires an immense humility. It is not only an acknowledgment that there is another perspective, but that one could be wrong. But it goes even further than that. Humility mandates that we view our counterparts as our moral and intellectual equals.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul sought to quell a theological conflict raging amongst the citizenry. In his plea for civility in discourse, he writes this: I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Whatever social justice movement we undertake, whether global or local, partisan or non-partisan, let us remember that we are all children of God and stewards of His creation—and to live a life worthy of that calling.

–André M. Wang serves as general counsel and director of public affairs and religious liberty for the North Pacific Union Conference. He writes from Portland, Oregon. Email him at: [email protected]