June 30, 2015

From Fishbowls to Shark Tanks

Be it through the image of a fishbowl or a shark tank, a major conference of North American pastors and their families is striving to ensure that every one of the more than 5,500 participants leaves energized for mission and ministry.

“Fishbowls are meant to be seen,” said pastor Claudio Consuegra, who together with his wife, Pam, coordinates the family ministries department of the North American Division. “That is the reason I find it an apt metaphor for the pastoral home. When you are a pastor, you know that everyone is looking at you. You are on the spot, 24/7.”

Consuegra was speaking on the second day of the CALLED Convention, which runs June 28 to July 1 in Austin, Texas.

“The problem is that the fishbowl glass is often stained,” added Pam Consuegra. “We are not perfect, our children are not perfect, and sometimes, the expectations other people place on the pastoral family are too much to bear.

“We want to help pastors to learn how to live in that fishbowl, without affecting our families in a negative way,” she said.

The Consuegras, a pastoral couple with an extensive experience in training and equipping pastoral families, led two of Monday’s dozens of seminars by various church leaders, professors, administrators, and scholars geared to cover at least one of the seven aspects identified by the division’s ministerial department as core qualities of the effective pastor — character, evangelism, leadership, management, relationship, scholarship, and worship. Seminar topics range from biblical hermeneutics to applied doctrine to homiletics to interpersonal skills.

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From Theology to Everyday Issues

“I was motivated to attend the seminar titled ‘Did God Commit Genocide Against the Canaanites?’” said pastor Paul Blake, from the South Hill Church in Spokane, Washington. “Dr. Richard Davidson’s presentation provided a much-needed context and a fuller view of what the Old Testament is really talking about in some difficult passages.”

Roger Beltran, who pastors two churches in the Oregon Conference, concurred. “Today more than ever, people are making assumptions about God, and as pastors it is imperative that we know how to answer to those challenges,” he said.

Other seminars in theology included “The Remnant Concept in the Book of Revelation” by Ranko Stefanovic and “First Century Hermeneutics for the 21st Century” by Ron Du Preez.

Not every seminar, however, was devoted to theological scholarship. Additional options offered down-to-earth advice on how to deal with more mundane issues such as difficult members, a lawsuit, and even retirement.

“I found the information very practical,” said pastor Regulo Rivas, from Gainsville, Georgia, commenting on the seminar “Your Church and Retirement” by Del Johnson. “If you want to retire well, the best thing you can do is paying off your mortgage before actually retiring, and avoid falling into chronic debt.”

Ministerial spouses said they also felt enriched by the presentations catered to their specific needs.

Nelva Chacon, whose husband is president of the Texico Conference based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was impressed by an icebreaker activity as part of the seminar “Your God Story: Real Life, Real Truth” by Adrienne Townsend, the first female active duty chaplain in the U.S. Navy, who is a Seventh-day Adventist.

“We were told to describe ourselves, to tell ourselves who we are,” she said. “At the beginning, we kept describing over and over what we do, not who we are. Well, that was the whole point of the activity, namely, to learn how to focus on who we are.”

Gigi Beltran, a seasoned ministerial spouse for 29 years, praised Townsend as “a woman for our time.”

“For me, she is a modern Esther. It is the first time that someone talks to us like she did,” she said.

“I learned that every one of us has a story to tell,” added Chacon. “It is a story based on our personal relationship with God, and a story we need to share.”

Options at Every Hour

Learning opportunities during the convention do not end at sunset.

In a special section named “Late Night Options for Pastors,” pastoral couples can watch inspiring Seventh-day Adventist produced films or attend a “Shark Tank” program devoted to evangelism. The “Shark Tank” idea, based on a popular U.S. reality television series where aspiring entrepreneur-contestants make business presentations to a panel of investors, invites pastors to pitch their inspired initiatives and hopefully earn funds for their local churches in order to implement their vision.

Hosted by José Cortés Jr., associate director of the ministerial department, and with a panel of judges that includes pastors Tara VinCross, Kumar Dixit, Roger Hernández, Sung Kwon, and Jessie Wilson, the event has been promoted as “a night of outreach innovation, passion for souls, and evangelism fundraising.” In the first two nights, the program distributed $80,000 for various projects, and another $40,000 was expected to be assigned on the third day of the convention.