“Is this an April Fools’ Joke?”
The man on the other end of the phone had identified himself as working at the General Conference before asking “Would you be open to considering a call to oversee our Adventist work in Cambodia?”
“No, this isn’t a joke.”
“I’m so sorry. If you knew some of my friends you’d understand why I’m a little skeptical on the first day of April.” After asking the man a few more questions I promised to pray about it and talk with my family before we talked again the next week.
Since my wife has often told me that she does not have the spiritual gift of “missionary” I suspected that she would immediately say “no.”
When we talked together you can imagine my surprise when she listened carefully, asked a few questions of her own, and then responded, “Well, if you really believe that this is what God wants you to do then I would be willing to…”
I waited for her to finish the sentence. “…then I would be willing to stay faithful to you until you got back!”
How Can We Tell
How can we tell if a call is from the Lord? We know He can use us wherever we are. But how can we tell when it is time to relocate or accept a re-assignment?
If the Lord wanted to transition you to a new location or type of ministry, what would He have to do to get your attention?
Would it take—
- A vision in the night of someone from a new location begging for help, a Macedonian Call (Acts 16:9-40)?
- Repeated miracles by God to let you know it is time to act, a wet then a dry fleece (Judges 6:36-40)?
- An angel directing you to a seemingly unproductive place when things are going well where you are right now (Acts 8:26-40, 5-8)?
- The voice of God out of a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-22)?
Tendency to “Settle Down”
The tendency of human nature is to find a comfortable place for ministry and stay there until there is something better (an imagined “promotion”) or we become very uncomfortable where we are (“unresolved church or family problems”).
This was a problem for the—
- Children of Israel when they were told to aggressively settle Canaan. “If faithful to Him, God intended that Israel should go on conquering and to conquer. He would give into their hands nations greater and more powerful than the Canaanites… Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours… But regardless of their high destiny, they chose the course of ease and self-indulgence; they let slip their opportunities for completing the conquest of the land.”
- Early Christian Church when they were told to go to all the world and make disciples. “…There was danger that the disciples would linger [in Jerusalem] too long, unmindful of the Saviour’s commission to go to all the world. Forgetting that strength to resist evil is best gained by aggressive service, they began to think that they had no work so important as that of shielding the church in Jerusalem from the attacks of the enemy. Instead of educating the new converts to carry the gospel to those who had not heard it, they were in danger of taking a course that would lead all to be satisfied with what had been accomplished. To scatter His representatives abroad, where they could work for others, God permitted persecution to come upon them. Driven from Jerusalem, the believers “went everywhere preaching the word.”
- Early Seventh-day Adventists in Battle Creek. “It would be an encouragement to the smaller churches if members of the large church at Battle Creek would oftener visit their less privileged brethren…. If you want to move, why not go to some place where your influence and ability will tell in the advancement of God’s work? Why not bring self-denial into your life-experience? Suppose that residence in the country or in a village is not as favorable for obtaining a livelihood, not as conducive to advancement in temporal things; would not God honor your trust in him? and would not self-denial for Christ’s sake make your lot a blessed one? The truth must be communicated to those who are in the darkness of error, and these are questions that believers in present truth should carefully weigh before leaving their home fields if there is need of labor there, or before settling down in comfort if another field is destitute.”
- Early Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda. “There is a work to be done in many little settlements round about here. There is no virtue in settling down in one place, and spending all your time and energies there. There are many towns and settlements where earnest work needs to be done for the saving of souls.”
Resisting the Tendency
As Seventh-day Adventists pastors there are reasons why we must never “settle in for the long haul.” We have a unique, worldwide mission to take the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels’ messages to the entire world to prepare people for the return of Jesus. We must always be ready to take new challenges and assignments.
The success of the mission is not dependent on our tenure because our message transcends our messengers. It has been demonstrated around the world that our movement can go forward with or without a “settled pastor,” just as did the Early Christian Church.
As a result of our unique mission, message and the counsel we have been given, we have tended to have a very different view of pastoral tenure and transfer compared to other Christian denominations.
For example, Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Community Church, a megachurch in Southern California, says “A long pastorate does not guarantee a church will grow, but changing pastors every few years guarantees a church won’t grow…Most healthy, large churches are led by a pastor who has been there a long time.”  When he uses the analogy of a family getting a new daddy every few years he highlights the difference between a congregational-minded church (where “daddy” is the pastor) and our worldwide Adventist movement (where “daddy” is supposed to be our Heavenly Father as revealed to each member of the congregation through personal Bible study). Warren and other proponents of his philosophy have many great ideas, but “long pastoral tenure” doesn’t hold up when filtered through the inspired insights we have in books such as Evangelism, Christian Service, Gospel Workers, and Pastoral Ministry.
With some notable exceptions, long pastorates in the Adventist movement may be negative for both the district and the pastor’s family. If we stay too short a time we won’t develop the relationships we need to lead, but if we stay too long we won’t develop the systems of ministry that will outlast our stay. This is why I follow this rule of thumb for myself— anything over seven years in the same position is borrowed time, whether I’m based in the field, the office or the classroom.
The best justification I have to remain longer is if there is incredible growth in the area being served, or there is a new assignment added. I’ve always felt that after 3-4 years in an assignment, I should carefully evaluate to see if there is clear growth. If not, then I should take on a different challenge and give someone else a chance at what I was doing. One the other hand, if there is rapid, sustained growth, then I have a good reason to stay longer.
Our family has loved most things about the places we’ve served, but have also enjoyed the opportunity for a fresh start when the time came for a move. Watching some of my peers who resist almost every move, it seems that those who need a fresh start most desperately are sometimes those who fight it most vehemently. It makes it difficult for everyone, and for the ongoing rapid growth of God’s work.
Factors to Consider
So when it comes time to consider a call, what factors should be considered? Many have offered suggestions.
I would like to suggest three key factors—
- Will the call give you an opportunity to take the Seventh-day Adventist message to people who have not yet heard it or seen it lived? This was the Apostle Paul’s modus operandi when he wrote “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”
- Are there believers there who will be a part of the Seventh-day Adventist mission if given the proper guidance? Ellen White makes it clear that when we go to a new area one of our highest priorities is to work with the mission-minded members who are already there.
- Is your spouse (and children) open to a move? You have committed your lives to each other so this should be a spirit-led decision that involves each family member seeking God’s will and opportunities.
- Will there be opportunities for each to use their spiritual gifts in ministry in the new location?
- Clarity & Peace.
- After gathering information and spending time in fasting and prayer the time comes to visit with the family and see if there is a clear consensus of God’s leading.
- After making the decision to accept or decline is there peace in each heart? If not then perhaps it is time to reconsider. But if there is peace, then thank God for giving you clarity and peace.
I’ve found that when we are clear on these three factors the same God who called us will take care of all the logistical details such as housing, education, resources and benefits, if we are flexible and non-demanding.
Our Family’s Next Challenge
After serving in the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) Ministerial, Global Missions & Church Planting Department almost six wonderful years, making hundreds of great friends and having thousands of God-led experiences, our family is ready to take on a new challenge.
Both Lois & I have accepted the call to serve on the pastoral team at the Richardson, Texas Seventh-day Adventist congregation in the DFW metro area (Lois as a half-time associate and me as Senior Pastor).
- Over six million people live within 75 miles of the Richardson church.
- The DFW metro area is the fourth largest metro area in the US and the #1 fastest growing in population. Over one million people have moved to the DFW area since 2000; almost 150,000 in 2008 alone. All of them need to be invited to accept Jesus as their Lord & Savior, embrace all Bible truth and unite with a vibrant Adventist group before Jesus returns.
- The Richardson church leaders see their multi-cultural congregation playing a major role in carrying out this God-given mission. Within the last ten years they have planted several thriving congregations and are still at full capacity in both their worship services. They have purchased ten acres and are developing a newly expanded K-12 school, North Dallas Adventist Academy.
- Other Adventist pastors in the area are working together as a team to reach as many as possible for Jesus before He returns, and they have indicated a desire to have us be a part of this area-wide movement of God.
- Several times a year for the last few years Lois has said “When are you going back into pastoring? I love being a pastor’s wife and working with you in ministry.” God has given us a dozen clear signals that this is the time and place for that to happen.
- Danesa is clear that God is leading in this direction as well. She will be attending an Adventist academy in the area and assisting with music and youth ministry in the church. (She has asked to be the one to tell her friends about this move.)
I will complete my work with the NPUC by May 31 and our family will move this summer.
We ask for your prayers for our family as we transition to our next challenge in ministry. We plan to implement many of the Biblical concepts we have shared throughout the NPUC. We will continue to pray for God’s work in the NPUC that more and more members will play a role in taking this message to everyone in their circle of influence and inviting them to unite with God’s final people of hope.
And we are also praying that God will be able to shake you loose from your comfort zone when He wants you to take on a new challenge!
Blessings to you,
 Patriarchs and Prophets p. 544.
 Acts of the Apostles p. 105.
 Review & Herald, January 20, 1891.
 Special Testimony B17b 10.3.
 “The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to make disciples of all people, communicating the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12, leading them to accept Jesus as personal Savior and unite with His remnant Church, discipling them to serve Him as Lord and preparing them for His soon return. “http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main_stat1.html. Accessed 1/19/2010.
 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 1:8; “Churches are to be planted. No great centers are to be established, as at Battle Creek; and yet there will be some important churches raised up, and meeting-houses provided in large cities, favorable to accommodating the believers in [that locality.] There should not be a call to have settled pastors over our churches, but let the life-giving power of the truth impress the individual members to act, leading them to labor interestedly to carry on efficient missionary work in each locality. As the hand of God, the church is to be educated and trained to do effective service. Its members are to be the Lord’s devoted Christian workers. The church of today is too one-sided. (Atlantic Union Gleaner, January 8, 1902 par. 8, 9)
 See many examples in the Book of Acts. Also, consider this counsel “The minister should develop the talent in the church, that meetings may be profitably kept up. Timothy was commanded to go from church to church, as one who should do this kind of work, and build up the churches in the most holy faith. He was to do the work of an evangelist, and this is an even more important work than that of the ministers. He was to preach the Word, but he was not to be settled over one church.” Pastoral Ministry p. 263.
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 31.
 Romans 15:20
 See 1st and 2nd Timothy, particularly 1 Timothy 1 and 2 Timothy 4.
 For example “In laboring where there are already some in the faith, the minister should at first seek not so much to convert unbelievers, as to train the church members for acceptable co-operation. Let him labor for them individually, endeavoring to arouse them to seek for a deeper experience themselves, and to work for others. When they are prepared to sustain the minister by their prayers and labors, greater success will attend his efforts.” Gospel Workers, p. 196. See also Evangelism Chapter 5, “Organizing for Evangelistic Meetings.”