December 16, 2009

An Open Letter to an Adventist Leader

2009 1535 6 capEAR PASTOR ___________:

I often peruse Adventist Web sites seeking church news items. A few months ago, while surfing your conference’s Web site, I noticed your blog posting dated March 5, 2009. In your posting you asked the following questions: 
“What are your expectations of the leaders of the church? What assumptions do you have about Adventist administrators? How can church leaders be more authentic and relevant toward members in the body of Christ? On a scale from 1 to 10 how would you rate the church leaders that you personally know in terms of being passionately interested in people?”
My first reaction to your questions was sheer delight. I am delighted by the transparency you’ve displayed by raising such questions in a public forum. While your questions are being shared with Adventists in your territory, they are also being viewed by others around the world.
I commend you for trying to learn how best to serve your constituents. Your questions show a willingness to be accountable, not just to higher authorities, but to the grassroots membership you serve. I rarely see our church leaders raise such questions in an open forum.
2009 1535 6Accountability is one of the hallmarks of integrity in leadership. It builds trust, confidence, and empathy toward the leader. It also diffuses misunderstandings.
While I’m happy to see your questions, I’m also troubled because—at the time I wrote this letter—not one person had responded to your post. I hope that’s not indicative of your constituents’ expectations. After all, expectations play a significant role in the quality of leadership received.
Since your constituents haven’t responded to your questions, I’ll share a few thoughts with you. I want to see greater transparency in how we conduct God’s business. Too often church members are clueless about the progress, the challenges, or even the status of our conferences, union conferences, and division.
Through the Internet our leaders could make available audited financial statements, baptismal and membership reports, and strategic plans for members. I believe church members want to know how offerings are being used to build up the kingdom of God.
A few years ago a North American Division leader shared his report at my local church. Our members were amazed by what they saw and heard. The information gave them an insight into church operations they never had before. It’s true that some of this information is shared with delegates at constituency sessions and executive committee meetings, but little, if any, gets to members in the pew. Presenting such information will remind our members that their church extends beyond the local congregation.
Transparency should also be manifested in our governance process. For example, churches usually elect one or more delegates to conference constituency sessions. From these delegates a nominating committee is selected. After the delegation is elected, why not publish the names of delegates and committee members on the conference Web site, or in a union paper? This would give members opportunities to share ideas and concerns and build more participation in the process.
Often major issues come before executive committees, such as plans for new buildings, or even closing an existing school or reducing staff. As much as possible, such information should be readily available in advance for members through the Internet or conference newsletter. This also allows members to be informed. Such information builds trust and loyalty.
While there are other ways to build transparency, I must close my letter now. Thank you for putting these questions on the table. These are questions every leader should be asking. 

Carlos Medley is online editor of the Adventist Review. This article was printed December 17, 2009.