At the end of each year Time magazine features the man or woman of the year. Last year the honor went to Angela Merkel. This time, almost inevitably, Donald Trump was chosen. A few weeks ago the independent Adventist journal Spectrum took the initiative to choose an ‘Adventist of the Year’. A list with a dozen or so names was published on the Spectrum website, and the readers were invited to choose their favorite or to suggest additional names. Dr. Sandra Roberts, the president of the Southeast California Conference, was the winner. She is the only female conference president in the Adventist Church, for the simple reason that church policies do not (yet) allow women in that office. She is not recognized in her role by the General Conference leadership and is mostly ignored by them. But in the few years that she has now been in this role, she has proven herself as an inspiring spiritual leader, who is greatly valued in her conference.
Other names with a high score were Dan Jackson, the president of the Adventist Church in North-America, Dr. Andrea Luxton, the new ‘boss’ of Andrews University, her predecessor Dr. Niels Erik Andreasen and Desmond Doss. I was not on the list, but, lo and behold, I got some votes (about as many as Ted Wilson).
There are, I think, reasons for criticizing the way in which the election of the ‘Adventist of the Year’ took place. The list consisted mostly of people in North-America. And, of course, the Spectrum-crowd is not representative of the average Adventist population. Moreover, the total number of people who cast their vote in this first election of the ‘Adventist of the Year’ amounted to no more than a few hundred. Nonetheless, it was a good initiative and I hope it will become a tradition.
I am very comfortable with the choice of Sandra Roberts. I follow her on the social media and am impressed by the way she performs her job. But, after considerable thought, I myself went for Dan Jackson. He is a man who combines a lot of courage with great wisdom in the way he deals with the differences of opinion between the North-American Division and the General Conference. He remains loyal to the world church, while at the same time carefully steering the church in his territory in a different direction.
But in retrospect I would like to plead for another choice. Perhaps Spectrum should place ‘the Adventist church pastor’ high on the list of candidates for the next ‘Adventist of the Year’ election. I realize that ‘the’ Adventist church pastor does not exist. The 20.000 or so pastors worldwide do not neatly fit into one box. But, in general, it would be fair to say that they have a tough job. No wonder a considerable percentage suffers from a burnout, find their work very stressful, or quit altogether.
Most pastors must care for more than one congregation. Only a relatively small part of all Adventists belong to a large church that has its own minister or even a staff with several pastors. Many pastors—especially in the developing world—lead a district with ten or even up to twenty churches. In the western world two to four churches per pastor has become the norm. Church pastors are expected to be spiritual leaders with good preaching skills, who know how to inspire their parishioners. But they must also have organizational and leadership qualities, and must have experience in conflict resolution. They are expected to foster church growth, while retaining the youth.
A major problem lies in the theological sphere. Often a pastor lives in a kind of split world, when his/her churches are quite unlike each other—in ethic composition and/or theological orientation. In addition, there often is a personal challenge. How does the pastor deal with his own questions and doubts, and with his worries about trends in his denomination? It is usually rather difficult to discuss these things with church members. And how does a pastor provide the church members with information and insight regarding important theological and organizational issues, without running too far ahead of his people and contributing to the already alarming degree of polarization? And, last but not least (or better: first and foremost) how does a pastor fit enough time into his/her schedule for study and personal spiritual nourishment?
When I think about it a bit further, it seems a miracle to me that, in spite of everything, so many men and women still feel called to the ministry. And chapeau for all those who, year after year, continue their work with commitment and satisfaction. So, therefore I suggest: Put ‘the Adventist pastor’ at the top of the list of candidates for next year’s election of ‘the Adventist of the Year.’