October 10, 2022

Church Experts Report on Adventist Leadership Training Initiatives

The Global Leadership Institute is changing church leaders for the better, they said.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
[Photo: Enno Müller, Adventist Review]

More than 340 members of the General Conference Executive Committee (GC-EXCOM) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church gathered October 7, 2022, for the second and last day of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEAD) Conference, held at the church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. A significant part of the morning training was dedicated to discussing the joys and challenges of church leadership, and exploring what the Adventist Church is doing to train current leaders, new appointees, and plan for the training of future leaders.

“There is no issue in our church that is more important than leadership,” Andrews University provost Christon Arthur said. “There’s none.”

“It is difficult to be a leader,” Cosmin Dan-Marica, who serves as a church pastor and chief financial officer in the Tasmania Conference in Australia, said. “[You have to make] hard choices, difficult choices.” 

Along with an awareness of the importance of leadership, it is vital that leaders be given opportunities to learn the tools of the trade, Inter-European Division (EUD) executive secretary Barna Magyarosi added. “We need to provide leadership development for leaders that have been appointed to significant positions of leadership, and they are usually left alone to swim as they can,” he said.

Andrews University president Andrea Luxton concurred. “If we do not have that depth of personal experience to cope with situations and the knowledge base, it’s going to be very, very difficult,” she said. “You can [have] someone who is extremely smart and bright, who is very committed to God, but if they don’t have that capacity of being resilient when challenges come along, it can break them.”

What Is the Church Doing

In the last few years, GC leaders have embarked on a deliberate plan to better serve leaders. It’s what they call the General Conference Leadership Development Program, and it includes a Leadership Advisory Council. It also involves an Andrews University liaison committee, as the centenarian institution will be directly involved with training Adventist leaders around the world.

“There has to be intentionality, as we invest in growing leaders for mission,” GC treasurer Paul Douglas said. “The outcome expected [is] that our leaders will have a greater connection to their God, but also their competencies needed to do that work to which God has called them, so the more we grow together as leaders, the farther we can go,” he said.

Among other things, the idea is that as part of the program, leaders will conduct online Global Leadership Conferences for newly elected leaders every March, GC vice president Artur Stele said. “We will get together, bring the most experienced people, and we will have dialogues, case studies, and presentations. Also, every September, there will be [a] Global Leadership Conference for current leaders, to study current issues, and we hope it will be a blessing to all of us.”

The Role of the Global Leadership Institute

Leaders said they will collaborate with Andrews University to provide a LEADLab, through the Global Leadership Institute (GLI).

In introducing a report on the work and initiatives of the GLI, former GC treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán said he wanted to thank the people who have participated in the process. “Thanks to all those who have kept the flame of leadership alive, and to the people and institutions who have been able to emphasize the right kind of leadership,” he said.

Prestol-Puesán then invited AU officers who are leading the GLI to the podium, including its president. Luxton said that preparing leaders is part of Andrews University’s DNA. “From the very beginning, Andrews University was there to help prepare leaders,” she said. “The other part of our DNA is service to the world church … We are delighted to be part of this initiative of the General Conference that is focused on leadership and focused on service to the world church ... I hope we can help you to help your leaders in your areas be even more effective than they are now,” she said.

The Need for Leadership Training

The following segment included a presentation by GLI director Erich Baumgartner and GLI associate director Randy J. Siebold. They shared with the GC-EXCOM members the results of two pilot leadership programs that have taken place in the last couple of years.

In introducing their presentations, Siebold called on the members present to answer a few questions related to leadership by standing up or sitting down, depending on their answer. Questions included, “Do you know someone who … felt unprepared for their leadership position? … was overwhelmed by leadership conflicts? … seems to have lost their motivation for being a leader in the church?”

Answers from the audience showed a great level of unanimity on the issues affecting leadership. The same problems are affecting most, if not all, Adventist leaders, their answers seemed to reveal. This further stresses the importance of training leaders for their roles, Siebold and Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner also explained that rapid changes in our world make leadership even more challenging. “We live today not only in a different world [than in the past], but the world we live in is constantly and effectively changing. And it has affected us and the work we do as leaders.”

Thus, the rationale of the program, Baumgartner said, is the acknowledgment that leaders must prepare themselves to be effective leaders in a more comprehensive way. “This is what all this initiative is about.”

GLI Origins and Scope

The idea for a Global Leadership Institute began in 2019, Baumgartner said, with the GC providing some seeding funding for it. Sometime later, organizers decided to pattern their institute after the Mission Institute, which trains missionaries for the mission field overseas.

In February 2020, leaders participated in conversations about the initiative during meetings in Cape Town, South Africa. But then the pandemic began, which put many of those plans on hold. It also forced leaders to adapt to a new reality and be open to the possibility of conducting the leadership training online.

Siebold explained some of the things they have figured out along the way. “We decided that the first thing we needed to do was to help leaders to understand themselves,” he said. “And that core idea happens when you better understand God. In the context of a knowledge of God there is a clarity about who you are as a person.”

The second point, Siebold shared, is helping leaders to lead with others. “It’s not leading others in the sense of being dictatorial but really trying to find the place where we can grow and help others to grow.”

Siebold added that from the second stage, they moved to leading in organizations. “You may have not a top leadership position, but position does not always determine who’s leading.”

Finally, a core piece of leadership is about the process of growing, Siebold said. “It’s not just becoming a leader but continuing to become more and more the leader [God] intended you to be. The longer you work, the better you’ll be. So, growing for mission became the ultimate achievement of leadership,” he said.

Participants’ Feedback

During the last part of the presentation, GLI leaders shared a video with some feedback from those who have participated in the pilot programs.

“With all of my training that I had had in the last 20 years, I had never experienced something that went so deep,” Southern Pacific Division (SPD) social innovator and entrepreneur Camila Skaf said.

Kayla Seuala, Avondale University student life director, added that there are so many young leaders who would benefit from this training. Maicer Romero, a church pastor in Spain, concurred. “This program has been extremely interesting for every pastor, and especially for me,” he said.

“My personal growth has been tremendous,” Dan-Marica said. “It’s been revolutionary; it’s been transformative.”

GLI leaders said moving forward, they hope to start scheduling conversations or visits with interested fields in the last months of 2022. In early 2023, they are planning a 3-4 day intensive training to introduce core leadership growth ideas. By mid 2023, leaders hope to launch a 6-12 month process to engage in an integrated leadership growth journey.

In his closing remarks, GC president Ted N. C. Wilson thanked all those who have been working to put this leadership program together. “It has taken considerable time and effort. But we praise the Lord that things have now coalesced,” he said. “I want to encourage each one of us to grow leaders for mission.”