Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Doctrines define relationship in the church

There may actually be some hope that the Seventh-day Adventist church is waking up from their self induced delusions. Recently the Adventist Review in an article my Andy Nash actually admitted that Adventists are leaving the church due to not believing Adventist doctrine. Up until now he points out people left, and yes they left in a big way, over relationship issues. He writes of the past this way:
Past studies indicated that if someone left the Adventist Church, it was almost always because of bad experiences or relationships, not because they changed their beliefs.

In a 1998 report, “Why Do Adventists Quit Coming to Church?” prepared by the Center for Creative Ministry, Adventist researcher Monte Sahlin wrote: “Three out of four leave for reasons having to do with their relationships with people and groups, while less than one in five leave because they no longer believe in some teaching of the church.”
Then he goes on to write about a new study:
The study, “Former Seventh-day Adventist Perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” was conducted in 2011 by Southern Adventist University’s School of Business under the direction of marketing professor Lisa Goolsby. Goolsby was approached by Pastor Jerry Arnold and member Ken DeFoor of the Collegedale, Tennessee, Community church about exploring the reasons members are leaving the church. More than 600 former Adventists from throughout the U.S. were invited to answer questions online; 190 participated.

When asked why they quit attending the Adventist Church, 49 percent of respondents cited disagreement or disenchantment with Adventist doctrine, while another 10 percent cited their own lifestyle choices being out of harmony with church teachings. Only 38 percent of responses cited a bad personal experience or “other” reason for leaving. (The respondents were able to cite more than one reason.)

When respondents were invited to give open-ended feedback about their departure from the Adventist Church, 68 percent of the comments concerned Adventist doctrine, 47 percent concerned judgmental attitudes or other problems within the church, 31 percent concerned cofounder Ellen G. White, and 15 percent concerned legalism. (The respondents were able to submit multiple comments, which were then categorized.) “
Now for some analysis. First that last paragraph above. 68% of comments concerned Adventist doctrine and another 31% Ellen White. As most know Ellen White as a prophet is included in the 28 fundamental beliefs of Adventism. So of the comments received it would be more telling to say that 68+11= 79% we related to doctrines of the Adventist church.

In fact it really appears that those claiming relationship issues as the previous reason for Adventists leaving the Adventist church is probably inaccurate as well. So if we search for the 1998 report “Why Do Adventists Quit Coming to Church?” we would probably find a similar gloss over the real reason for the relationship problems. But unless you are connected to some Adventist school you are not likely to find the 1998 report. So I can't really comment on its methodology or conclusions. But there is an article that seems to draw heavily from the report.

The Seventh-day Adventist church puts out a study guide, the Ifollow Discipleship Series in their lesson plan entitled Member Care: Reconnecting they write the following:

Here are some depressing statistics: In most Adventist Churches across North America, typical Sabbath attendance is equal to about 50 percent to 55 percent of the total num-ber of members on the books. A number of churches have completed a name-by-name analysis of their entire membership list and found that typically a third of the members have not attended even once in the past 12 months. “Shut-ins” were not counted in this percentage.

A survey of active members found that 72 percent report that they have a relative or friend who used to be an active member of the Adventist Church but has since dropped out. Dr. Roger Dudley, director of the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University, followed a random sample of 13 and 14-year-olds from Adventist families for 10 years, until they were 24 and 25 years of age. About 65 percent had left the Church over those ten years and only 10 percent had returned later, or a net loss of more than half of our young people. It is estimated that there are one or two million former, inactive and “fringe” Adventists in North America and about 500,000 active members who attend at least once a month. Why do we have such a big dropout problem? Ten major studies have been completed by Adventist researchers since the mid-1970s and much has been learned that can provide some answers. Most grew up in the Adventist faith, and were not converts from evangelism. The most common “dropout” is an adult under 50. The median age of drop- outs is 40. The median age of members is 51.

A survey of the general public conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry asked: “Have you ever heard of or read about the Seventh-day Church?” Seven in ten of those over 50 said “Yes,” but only 58 percent of those 30 to 49 years of age; 35 percent of those 18 to 29; and a disappointing 10% of those under 18. Clearly, the Adventist Church
is not connecting with new generations of Americans, even those raised in its own families and schools. And it’s likely that some of the above reasons, especially worship and music style, have something to do with it.

Another place where we’re clearly failing to minister effectively is when people face storms in their lives. Dropouts are three times as likely as active members to be divorced and remarried, and four times as likely to be divorced and single. They are more likely to report stressful life events and moves from one home to another. Yet surely the church is the place where someone facing a major life crisis can most expect to be truly heard, held, and comforted!

Six in ten former members had a non-member spouse as compared with 28 percent of the active members. Did members make a concerted effort to make friends with the non-member spouses, without making it look like they only wanted to add them to the books?

Here are some reasons these former members give for why they left the church: “There is too much politics in the Adventist church [and] church leaders are more concerned with the number of baptisms than the people baptized. The church has too many rules and regulations. Adventists think they can work their way into heaven, and the church is too organized.” They did not feel accepted by the other church members. “The coldness of church members influenced them toward leaving the church, also bigotry, hypocrisy, and judgmental attitudes.” They may express a lack of Adventist friends, and a lack of visits from church members and pastors.

A significant number leave because of dissatisfaction with local church leaders; there is a perception of a lack of sympathy by church leaders for their problems.

In other words, no matter what the life crisis or the reason for leaving, the bottom line is, dropouts are people who never bonded with the core group of their congregation. Two out of three, while they were active members, did not have an office or volunteer role in the congregation. They report few visits by church members or pastors, even while they
were still regular attenders.

Three out of four leave for reasons having to do with their relationships with people and groups; while less than one in five leave because they no longer believe in some teaching of the church. Often it’s for reasons that have already been outlined above. Problems arose which were not addressed, and the person just slipped away. The sad fact is, what most
likely happened back at church is that people shook their heads, assumed the person “wasn’t really committed,” and continued to bring names up as prayer requests, but did not do anything.

Here is the key, in their analysis 75% leave over relationship issues, the last paragraph above says that the reasons are mainly those outlined above and can be summed up as people at the church assuming the person “wasn’t really committed”. Why would they be assumed to not be committed? Because much of what they classed as relationship issues were doctrinally related and the relationship strain came because the person questioned or didn't tow the line of necessary belief in some perceived Adventist fundamental. Take a look at the reasons listed earlier in the quoted material from Ifollow. Let us list those reasons:

1. There is too much politics in the Adventist church
2. Church leaders are more concerned with the number of baptisms than the people baptized.
3. The church has too many rules and regulations.
4. Adventists think they can work their way into heaven,
5. The church is too organized.”
6 They did not feel accepted by the other church members. “The coldness of
church members influenced them toward leaving the church, also bigotry, hypocrisy, and
judgmental attitudes.”
7. They may express a lack of Adventist friends, and a lack of visits from church members and pastors.

There is something that seems to underline most of those reasons. The politics of the church is about agreeing with the church, that will affect how well you fit in the church if you are in or out. Leaders concerned with numbers instead of dealing with issues and questions is again related to doctrine. Rules and regulations are supposedly Biblically derived so again doctrinal. They did not feel accepted, which is again the politics of being in the right group, the one that assumes they have the truth if you are not part of them then those who think they have the truth treat the outsiders coldly. And lastly Adventist friends lacking because they have not been taken into the political power in the church that is endorsed and given power by the leadership of the Adventist church which naturally support loyalty. From my experience it does appear that since the 70's it has been doctrinally based relationship problems that moved people out of the Adventist church for the most part.

Now let me give you a very recent example of how this works using my favorite example of foolish Adventism. Stephen Foster on newest article.

It makes about as much sense (to me) for a Seventh-day Adventist Christian to challenge the inspiration and authority of Ellen White as it does for a Calvinist to challenge the theological authority/bona fides of John Calvin, or a Lutheran of Luther. Yet some members of the voluntary Christian sect or denomination which was co-founded by White—whose commentary on the Bible and whose exegeses and interpretation of the Bible are the result of a prophetic gifting of God—routinely reject her messages (and/or reject the reality of her gifting).

Contradictorily and ironically, some of these individuals believe that they have been given the same or similar gifting; and that, since they live in the present, their gifting is representative of present truth—even though their “truth” may deny or contradict some of what White wrote in great detail.

I view all such claims as bogus at best; and, quite frankly, actually have a much stronger negative opinion of them.

More candidly in my opinion, the ultimate purpose of all efforts to discredit Ellen White is the purposeful destruction of the Advent movement generally, and of its interpretation of the Third Angel’s message in particular.

(Now, of course, I could be wrong; but I’d wager everything that I’m not.)

Basically SDA’s and those who are not SDA have differences with regard to interpretations—and implications resulting from interpretations—of the books of Genesis, Daniel, and The Revelation. This is no different at all than the differences between Adventist conservatives and liberals.

So what are we to do when we fundamentally disagree with what ‘we’ represents? Can those who fundamentally disagree remain together? Can a divided house somehow remain standing?

Inspiration provides the following guidance:
“Christ's servants are grieved as they see true and false believers mingled in the church. They long to do something to cleanse the church. Like the servants of the householder, they are ready to uproot the tares. But Christ says to them, ‘Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.’ He then continues the Ellen White quote.

Now is there any question how such a person will treat those with questions about Ellen White or what the meaning Adventists put on the 3 angels messages or any other interpretation? Such people are tares, at best they are not committed at worst they are agents of evil seeking to destroy the church, after all loyalty to the church is the key to their thinking. To disagree with a doctrine, to acknowledge an old earth or realities of evolution etc is to attempt to destroy the SDA church.

It is rather simple doctrines inform how one relates to others. The remnant mentality, the we have the truth and unless you accept it you are evil will lead to broken relationships. But possibly the Adventist church is beginning to realize just what they have produced with all of the Stephen Fosters that they have filled their churches with. To late for millions of us though...then again just realizing they have a problem is far from actually fixing the problem.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

It makes me think of the pastor from the Hollywood SDA Church and his plight. Frankly I agree with his thinking more than that of his superiors who fired him.

In Peru there was a problem with the SDA church baptizing our girls from the crisis center. For all I care, they should have focused on building relationships with them for 10 years and then have a baptism. We got to get rid of this shallow short term thinking if we want to really thrive. We need to take the best from others too, I personally think the Mormon church has a lot of qualities we should embrace.