‘Total Membership Involvement’ – does it mean what it says?

 

Through the years the leaders of the worldwide Adventist church have invented many slogans to encourage the members to get actively involved in the recruitment of new members. I remember some of them: Win one soul—Double our Membership–Harvest 90–1000 Days of Reaping.  I do not recollect in which sequence they came.  Recently a new mantra is being promoted: Total Membership Involvement (with its inevitable acronym TMI).

Once again this motto is inspired by a desire for explosive numerical growth. The recent baptismal result in Rwanda of 100.000 new converts within a month is touted as a spectacular result of the involvement of every member in this nationwide evangelistic crusade. It is presented as an example for the entire church to follow.

In my mind this Total Membership Involvement concept raises a number of important questions. What are the overarching aims in this appeal to get ‘totally’ involved? The emphasis is clearly on numerical church growth. Without denying that measuring results in term of numbers of people who find their way into the church is legitimate, it would seem that there is a significant danger that the one-sided emphasis on growth in numbers may pose serious dangers for the long-term well-being of the church. I would suggest that total member involvement must be a much broader concept, where not only the size of the church, but also the many other aspects of the long-term wellbeing of the church are highlighted. It is often too easily assumed that, if we just start running we will automatically arrive where we want to be. If we just become active in public and personal evangelism, all other issues will somehow sort themselves out!

But there is another, possibly even more pregnant, question. Total Membership Involvement presupposes that all members may get involved on equal terms. Here, we must note some serious problems.

What about women? Are they allowed to be involved as fully equal to their brothers? Or must their involvement remain partial, and at a different level?

What about the younger generation?  Can they be involved in ways that are relevant to them and that speak in meaningful ways to the millennials around them? How can they become totally involved as long as that is not the case?

What about the LGBTI community—our brothers and sisters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex? Can they be totally involved, or are they, at best, tolerated as long as they keep quiet and stay in the shadow?

And what about the large segment in the church (especially in the West) of people who have gradually moved to the margins—those who have doubts about aspects of their faith and/or Adventist doctrine, and those who worry about some current trends in the church? Are they also welcome to somehow be involved, or are they rather seen as a problem that obstructs this Total Membership Involvement?

Total Membership involvement must mean what it says. If this ‘total’ is qualified and excludes parts of our Adventist community, this new slogan is no more than a shallow promotional gimmick and basically meaningless.

 

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Facing Doubt – first reactions

 

Since about a week both the English and the Dutch edition of my book, that targets Adventist believers ‘on the margins’ and those who are close to that state, has been available. As yet I have no figures about the number of copies sold but it is clear that several hundreds have already been ordered. Some have already read the book and the first reactions begin to appear. I hope that the further promotion will be successful and, especially that person-to-person publicity will be effective.

I did not have to wait long before some negative voices let themselves be heard, even from people who have not yet read the book. They simply have the suspicion that I will push people even further from the church by strengthening their doubt. They feel that over the years the stuff I write has become ever more questionable. While at first I was quite orthodox, gradually I have lost my way! But, so they say, I am not the only to have gone astray, for this must also be said of many of my colleagues in ministry.

This kind of criticism does not come unexpected. And I understand the way of reasoning of these critics. They honestly believe I represent danger. However, sadly enough, these people do not realize that they are part of the problem that the church is facing. Many in the church, who have concerns about their church and questions about their faith, feel they are not taken seriously. This is an important factor in their decision (often after a long period of uncertainty) to leave the church. But, of course, the slogan that even bad publicity is better than no publicity is still valid. Therefore, I should, in fact, appreciate this unsolicited publicity.

However, most early reactions are positive and encouraging. Several people already told me they clearly recognize themselves in the picture I have painted of believers ‘on the margins’. Some people totally surprised me by telling me that they ordered the book (and in some cased already read it), because, in actual fact, they belong to the target audience.

Yesterday I talked with a colleague, who is very positive about the book. He criticized a few points (and such criticism is welcome), but underlined that a book like this was long overdue and that the category of ‘believers on the margins’ in the church is probably much bigger (even in the Netherlands) than I think.

This colleague mentioned another interesting point. He said that reading the book he had gotten the impression that I am rather angry at my church. I assured him this is not my dominant feeling. For sure, at times I am angry at certain persons. And yes, I find it difficult to deal with a number of trends in the church and am concerned about the direction in which a large section of the church is moving. But, most of all, I worry (and at times I am almost desperate), rather than angry. I have had a long career in the church in a series of different functions. I do not regret one day. I have usually enjoyed what I did and can only say that, in the main, the denomination has treated me well. If many readers of the book would feel that I come across as being quite angry, I will have to take that into account when the book is reprinted.

Of course, I will follow the reactions in the next weeks and months with keen interest. I hope that those who do not like the book will react with respect and with sensible arguments. I will take positive criticisms to heart. In the meantime I hope that many readers ‘on the margins’ of the church will experience a boost in their faith and in their relationship to the church.

(Orders for the English edition may be placed through Amazon.com and several other prominent online booksellers. Within a few weeks from now orders for copies of the Dutch edition may be placed with bol.com. Those who are in a hurry to obtain a Dutch copy may order directly from the author (book@bruinsmas.com).

 

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I need your help

 

I have overcome my reluctance to directly ask for your help as one of the two thousand-plus readers  of this blog, all over the world.  I have launched a project that I believe is extremely important. But it can only have a significant impact if many others are willing to spread the word.

During the past six months I have written a book that I have called: Facing Doubt, and have given the subtitle: A book for Adventist believers ‘on the margins’. In recent years I have met, and corresponded with, lots of people—of all ages and many different backgrounds—who have given up on the Adventist version of the Christian faith, or are close to doing so. I have listened to, and read, innumerable stories of people who are deeply worried about current trends in Seventh-day Adventism. Many of those who are ‘on the margins’ of the church wonder: Can I, in good conscience, remain in this church or is there no other option than to leave.

In this book I do not hide that I also have many doubts and worries, but I explain why I have decided to stay with the church and to continue working for change in the church and encouraging those who struggle with worries and doubts.

The book is now ready. I am extremely pleased that the publisher processed this as quickly as he did. But there is a problem. The book has not been published though a denominational publisher, but by an independent publishing firm in the UK (though part of the edition is actually printed in the United States). This means that we have no easy access to the usual channels of promoting a book by an Adventist author.  The most important distribution channel will be Amazon.com. For the necessary publicity we must primarily depend on the blessings of the social media. Among other things I will use this blog, my Facebook page and a special page that is created for the book project. I make an appeal to all my Linkedin contacts, my Facebook friends and my blog readers to support this project. Many of you belong, I suspect, to the targeted group. Most of you, if not among the immediate target group, will have friends who are ‘on the margins’ of Adventism.

So, what can you do?

  1. Of course, I hope you will buy your own copy. You will find the details on the site of Amazon.com. When you go to that site, simply type in the name of the book [Facing Doubt] or my full name [Reinder Bruinsma]. The price is $ 14,90 plus postage.
  2. I hope many of you will also want to buy some copies for relatives and/or friends. If you want ten or more copies, you may contact the publisher (orders@flankopress.com). He will arrange for fulfilling your order at a good discount, depending on the quantity.
  3. Read the book, talk about this book with others, and (hopefully) recommend it!
  4. Point others to this blog by sharing it with others
  5. Visit my Facebook page [Reinder Bruinsma] this weekend and share the announcement of the book with your own Facebook friends.
  6. When you share the Facebook page, ask your friends to do likewise.
  7. Once you have read it, post a short review on the Amazon.com  site, or on the Facebook page that is devoted to the book [@facingdoubt].

Editions in other languages in preparation. The Dutch edition will follow in just a few weeks from now. But in order to realize other editions also, we first need to make a success of the distribution of the book in English.

Let me stress that this is not a commercial venture. I consider it rather as a ‘ministry’. It is my way of trying to have a meaningful conversation with those who are ‘on the margins’, hoping that it may help many to deal constructively with questions and doubts regarding our faith and our church.

May I count on your help?

 

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The fear of terrorism

 

Most of us have never been the victim of a terrorist attack. We have never seen how someone blew himself (of herself) up, or started to shoot in all directions with a machine gun. But we are worried. The images stay with us for a considerable time, after seeing the reports of the events in Belgium and France, some months ago; of the carnage in Nice and of the young Afghan man who attacked his fellow travellers in a German train. And we tend to agree when someone remarks that this might also happen any time in our own country. When big events take place—like this week in the Netherlands with the four-day trek of some 50.000 people over 30, 40 or 50 kilometers—security has the highest priority. The organizers are greatly relieved when everything passes withour major incidents.

I am writing this blog while sitting in the intercity train, on my way to a meeting in Brussels (to have a discussion with the person who is currently translating my newest book into French!). The train is mostly empty, but how do I know that no radicalized Muslim, who may have boarded the train in the Hague or in Rotterdam, will storm into my carriage and start shooting while shouting ‘Allah is great!’ I am not overly worried, but I do realize that there are many rather easy targets for any extremist who wants to execute some deadly plan. Airports and airplanes may be reasonably safe, but what about trains and stations, ferries and cruise ships, or even busses, shopping centers, museums and churches?

The senseless violence of terrorism creates a lot of fear. But people realize that their life must go on. They know they cannot stay home, but when they go out they look around whether they spot any suspect parcel or any suitcase without a nearby owner, or whether some person is behaving suspiciously.

Some Bible readers will think of texts that tell us about a time when this world will be in the grip of fear, and underline that this is a ‘sign of the times’,  an indication that the end of history is near and that Jesus is about to come. However, it is not so easy to answer the question whether this heightened concern, because of the threat of terrorism, is truly a ‘sign of the times’. For let’s be honest: Life was not always so very safe in the past. A traveller in Jesus’ days could easily fall victim to the robbers who operated along the roads  between the population centers. Travel in ancient times or in the Middle Ages was not without significant danger, and it has never been totally safe since. Someone could suddenly immobiliz you with his dagger. Your stagecoach could be attacked. Your ship could be the target of organized piracy.

It would seem to me that a person who lived a hundred or two hundred years ago had as much reason to live in fear as we have today. Does that make all talk about ‘signs of the times’ meaningless? Far from it.  However, we must never forget that from a biblical perspective the ‘time of the end’ began right after Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension. The early church knew it lived in the ‘time of the end’ and looked towards the soon coming of their Lord. The ‘time of the end’ is still in progress. But it will not continue forever. Through the centuries there have been signals (‘signs’) that remind of of the fact that this world is worn-out and must (and will) be replaced by something infinitely better.

For christians this expectation must always reign over their fear. Hope must always have the last word. Also (and especially) in a time when reports of terror so often dominate our daily news.

 

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The Adventist Church—was its past better than its present?

 

Many Seventh-day Adventists think that their church is not doing so well. They have no difficulty in listing a series of things which they feel should change. The solution, they feel, is a return to the past. Rather than opting for a ‘progressive’ Adventism they prefer a form of ‘historic’ Adventism. However, when you enter into a discussion with these people, you find that many of them do not really have a clear picture of what the church of the past looked like. They have a rather romanticized idea of the true state of the church of a century or so ago.

My mother was baptized when she was sixteen. This is now more than eighty years ago. At some point in time her father had accepted the Adventist message. I do not know whether this was also true for her mother. Her father—my grandfather—did not stay with his new faith for very long. From isolated statements from him and from  my mother I concluded that he left the small church of which he was a member after a protracted and ugly controversy among the members.

Years later, when I had already been a minister for some time, my mother sometimes said to me: ‘ If people tell you that in the past the church was better than it is now—don’t believe it. I know better.’ During the past week I received strong confirmation of that statement. I read the fascinating biography of Arthur G. Daniells, written by Benjamin McArthur, an accomplished Adventist historian.[i] Daniells was the president of the General Conference from 1901 until 1922—longer than any president before or after him.

Daniells is portrayed as a man with a strong will and a clear vision, a capable church administrator and a tireless promoter of the mission outreach of the church. He played a key role in the reorganization of the church in 1901 and the ensuing years. His experiences in New Zealand and Australia and his extensive travel had widened his vista. He selected strong people for his leadership team and had close ties with both Ellen White and her influential son Willie.

Much was accomplished during Daniells’s period in office and the church owes him a great deal. So much is abundantly clear from McArthur’s book. However, this biography also provides a wealth of information about the problems and challenges Daniells encountered wherever he turned, and the many negative things that came his way. A prominent example of this is his heated controversy with Dr. Harvey Kellogg.

Reading the story of Arthur Daniells by this capable author—based on meticulous research—does not make for unmitigated happiness. It is not just a tale of church growth and faith, commitment and courage, but also an account of lots of strife and unholy competition, of apostasy and bitterness. It tells us about the opening up of new mission fields and the founding of countless new institutions, but also about frequent financial mismanagement and about unchristian tensions between men (yes, almost only men!) with hugely inflated egos.

I realize that a book like this has its limitation. A basic problem is that history (including the history of a denomination) focuses mainly on leaders and the developments in organizations. This is also true for this biography. We learn preciously little about what happened at the grass roots and about how ‘ordinary’ members experienced their faith. But the over-all picture is clear. There is much in this period of our past that may inspire us, but is does not offer a blueprint for the church of today and does not tell us how to meet the challenges of our times. Even the theological views of this period do not offer a standard by which to judge those of today—as if we did not learn anything in the past one hundred years.

If people tell you that in the past things were much better in the church han they are today, this book about Daniells may help you to revise your opinion.


[i]  Benjamin McArthur, A.G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth-Century Adventism (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2015).

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