Thursday, October 21, 2004

Glacier View Day 1

Yesterday, some 45 people were present for the Adventist church's official response to Ron Gladden's Mission Catalyst Network. Those present included Don Schneider, North American Division president; Dennis Carlson, Mid-America Union president (and the ring-leader for forcing Ron out of his job as Church Planting Director); various other Mid-America Union and North Pacific Union officials (although Jere Patzer was conspicuously absent); conference officials from many of the conferences involved; and church planters from both unions.

The day started out with worship, several prayers, tone-setting remarks by Jim Brauer (conference president of the Rocky Mountain Conference), public prayer requests, and group prayer time (lasting about 10 minutes).

Next, Don Schneider got up and told us how he doesn't know anything about church planting. He actually said that. In a corportation, real leaders and CEOs will spend a tremendous amount of time being briefed and brought up to speed on the issues, history, methods, realities, threats, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses of any group they will be meeting with. This kind of preparation and confidence was sorely lacking. But I have seen this before in Don Schneider. Several years ago, when he was giving a speech at Sprout, he got up and started out by saying, "I really don't know anything about church planting or what you all do." I was dumb-struck then and I'm dumb-struck now.

Much was said about Ron Gladden, but Don Schneider was not really the man to blame about how the church treated him. Today, when Dennis Carlson is in charge of the discussion, perhaps we will see the blame for Ron's carcass laid squarely at his feet.

Don Schneider's demeanor disturbed me. He claimed that he wanted to be open and honest. He claimed that everything was on the table for discussion and change. He claimed there was only one sacred cow, the retirement package, since we have promised that to pastors (and, no doubt, since he himself is nearing retirement age). But then he went on in rants and stories, showing clearly that other things - campmeetings, academies, religious liberty, world tithe distribution, Unions, colleges, youth camps - were sacred cows as well. In effect, a whole herd of sacred cows by the end of the session.

Any time an idea was brought up on how the church could change (or a tough question was asked), Don would launch into a long, drawn-out story, effectively shutting off communication and derailing the discussion. He seemed angry, defensive, and clueless.

After supper, the church planters met together, and the administrators separated off. Suddenly, the tone of the room changed. In the planter room, ideas were free-flowing. There was a sense that we could safely talk, now. We came up with 22 different brain-storming suggestions in 5 different areas about how the church should engage church planting. The first of those 5 areas was getting a clear mission and vision statement from Don. We, as planters, realize that the mission and vision define everything else. When you have a clear vision of where an organization is going, you know what to say yes to, and what to say no to.

When Don and the Administrators returned, Don was asked about his mission and vision for the church. He hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a mission statement: "love Jesus and tell your neighbor." That's right, friends, that's as far as the mission of the NAD goes (any Baptist could give you that mission). When asked about his vision for the church, what the mission looks like practically over time, he was confused. It is obvious he hasn't ever thought about what the future direction of the church should look like. Again, he hemmed and hawed, and said that it really wasn't his job to come up with a vision for the NAD. Finally, he talked himself into one: "everyone in North America receive one invitation within the next 5 years." Later on, when pinned down on this vision statement, he backed away (apparently afraid he might be quoted).

Over the rest of the evening, Don showed how none of anything was really his job. He couldn't make decisions or sell vision. It wasn't his job. He didn't have any clear direction for North America. It wasn't his job.

I was deeply disturbed by the smoke-screen that was Glacier View day 1. But the real thing that disturbed me? No vision. The Bible tells us that where there is no vision, the people perish. If I don't know where the church is going or how they plan to get there, why would I want to be a part? I believe it is this kind of lack of leadership that causes (yes, CAUSES) congregationalism. All the mission and vision and strategic planning is in the local church, if it exists at all.

Overall, I was saddened.