Embracing the future means embracing these challenges.
By Jan Paulsen
The status quo can be a wonderfully comfortable “place” to occupy. It has security of routine, the safety of the familiar, the ease of recycled thinking and well-worn methods.
In Scripture, though, I see a faith that is fundamentally at odds with “what is.” I see men and women dissatisfied with the familiar—people who pushed into the deep waters of faith because they were not content with what was merely “routine.” I see a Savior who calls us to faithfulness—a faithfulness that does not necessarily lead toward comfortable or predictable paths.
A few thoughts have crystallized in my mind in recent weeks as we prepare to leave 2009 behind and step into a new year. It’s a list that’s naturally subjective, and by no means definitive. But it represents areas of our spiritual journey that, if left untended, will naturally succumb to the pull of the status quo.
Seventh-day Adventists can’t afford to ignore:
Are we consciously taking charge of the choices that shape our daily lives? Do we have a clear sense of our own values? Do we live deliberately? Do we own our choices?
Every decision we make contributes to the shape of our character and the direction of our lives. It’s a process that happens slowly, incrementally, often unconsciously. But it does happen.
We can’t sidestep ownership of our choices. If we try, we begin to find ourselves at the mercy of circumstances; we feel trapped; we find other people making choices on our behalf. In the spiritual realm it may lead to unhealthy discipleship—we become dependent on another person, rather than our Lord, to define our beliefs and nurture our spirituality.
When I look back at my own life, I see choices that were certainly far from perfect—choices that at best were foolish. It’s a tribute to God’s patience and compassion that He brought me through in spite of myself. We don’t have to make perfect choices, but we must acknowledge that they’re ours to make.
We can’t afford to ignore the power of our choices.
2. The Clock
Time is passing. We are inexorably moving toward the climax of history—the return of our Lord. But time has a habit of slipping quietly by. We become desensitized. We pacify ourselves with the thought that “this is how it’s been for ever so long; tomorrow will continue on just as today” (see 2 Peter 3:4). We slide into complacency. “I’m well-intentioned, I come from a good Adventist home, my culture and behavior are those of a ‘good Adventist.’”
The stark reality is this: if we aren’t serious about the passing of time, if the second coming of Christ isn’t a living reality for us, then we’ll fall asleep. We’ll slide into a spiritual coma.
Does this mean we have to live in a state of anxiety or paranoia? No. It simply means being alert to the passage of time and the closeness of Christ’s return. It means allowing this reality to shape our daily choices—large and small.
We can’t afford to ignore the rapidly closing door of history.
3. Selfless Thinking
We are a community of believers—not a loose collection of individuals or congregations who each do “what seems right in their own eyes.” We hold together. We support one another. We give personnel and finances to one another. We pray for one another. We defer to one another. When one part of the body struggles with a problem, we talk it over as members of the same family (1 Cor. 12:26).
But if we don’t deliberately cultivate an attitude of “concern for the other,” we’ll drift instead into “concern for me first.” Whether it’s individuals, congregations, or church leaders, some are more open to what they can receive from the larger church than what they can give back. There are others who say, “You have nothing to teach us.”
We can’t afford to let go of the sacred bonds of family. We can’t afford to give up our vision for mission, which looks to the world beyond our own community.
We can’t afford to ignore our immense need for one another.
4. A Culture of Inclusion
We can’t afford to walk into the future with segments of our faith community—whether young people, women, cultural or ethnic groups—feeling that they don’t have a meaningful or representative role in the life of the church. We need to attend to this. Why does the reality, or even the impression, of exclusion exist? Are we affirming and nurturing the gifts of all our members? Do some lack a proper representative role because somewhere in the election processes they were left out? If we fail to address this we’ll undermine our credibility, stunt our capacity for mission, and check our growth.
We can’t afford to ignore the abilities and spiritual gifts God gives all His children.
Some continually look back with nostalgia; they see all that belongs to yesterday as inviolable, and the past becomes sacred for its own sake.
But the world we live in refuses to stand still. Life, both inside and outside the church, is dynamic. It’s in constant motion. As a church, we can’t afford to live inside a comfortable cocoon of “what was.” We can’t afford to be “one-idea” people, stereotyped in our manner of working (see Gospel Workers, p. 119).
Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting we change who we are. Far from it! Our history and heritage hold tremendous meaning for us—we see God’s hand at each turn of the way. Our doctrines and shared values provide us a powerful anchor and global identity.
Think for a moment about yourself as an individual. You have your own history, personality, and values. You wake up each morning in the same house, eat the same breakfast, and head out the same door. But each day is different; new challenges stretch you in unexpected ways and demand creative responses. But your basic personality—your core identity—isn’t altered.
So it is with the church. We need to be able to react, to adjust our structure, our procedures, and our methods of relating to society. Just repeating what we’ve always done, simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it, is a one-way road to ineffectiveness.
We can’t afford to ignore change.
A Meaningful Life
How should we face the coming year? I hope we’ll live deliberately—choosing our path with integrity and with an eye to the passing of time. I hope we’ll choose community over individualism, affirming what each of us brings to the body of Christ. Above all, I hope, as individuals and as a church, we’ll refuse to be satisfied with the status quo.
Jan Paulsen is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church.