Who are our pastors?

Friday, March 15, 2024
Brenton Stacey
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Brenton Stacey

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Brenton is Avondale University’s Public Relations and Philanthropy Officer. He brings to the role experience as a communicator in publishing, media relations, public relations, radio and television, mostly within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific and its entities.

Responses to global Adventist Church survey revealing

Seventh-day Adventist pastors in the South Pacific are disciple makers who lead people to Jesus using an institutional rather than missional model of ministry, a new survey shows.

A team led by Avondale University’s Scripture, Spirituality and Society Research Centre director Professor Robert McIver developed a Global Adventist Pastors’ Survey. Some 12,760 pastors—more than 40 per cent of those working in the 13 divisions of the worldwide church (and 90 per cent male)—participated. About 300 were from the South Pacific, where a greater percentage are more educated and experienced.

And happy. While the survey showed many pastors find their work isolating and emotionally and physically draining, this is not necessarily so in the South Pacific. Pastors in this division were generally more positive. “Perhaps our members are more likely to befriend their pastors and call them by their first name,” says Ministerial Association Secretary Dr Darius Jankiewicz.

Pastors in the South Pacific also seemed to have made a healthy shift in pastoral priorities. They still report spending most of their time conducting worship but believe they should be training people for mission. This shift coincides with the church in the South Pacific’s emphasis on discipleship, which emphasises the importance of the pastor being a player-coach, with skills to do ministry and education to train members to do ministry and mission.

The shift is an important one because although almost 90 per cent of pastors worldwide reported having enough time for ministry, they wanted more time. “Everyone has opinions on what should be added, but no-one can agree on what should be removed,” reads the report. The researchers note it would be difficult for pastors to work harder, so they will need to “work smarter.” This could include “building the capacity of” and “empowering” members in ministry and mission. Doing so would “make for a healthier pastor,” says Darius. “Many work far more than their assigned hours, which is making a significant impact on their wellbeing.”

Pastors in a majority of other divisions reported a strong emphasis on conducting worship and administering the local church. Both are institutional tasks. It would appear these division are, the researchers write, “still using the earlier model of ministry borrowed from the dominant Protestant denominations in the United States.” The researchers encourage these divisions to review this model and focus the ministry within the church “on the mission beyond the church.”

Answers to a question about activities the church should be doing revealed “Lead people to accept Jesus as their personal Saviour,” “Prepare people for the soon return of Jesus” and “Share the message and teachings of Jesus with the world” as top-ranking goals. Activities that would reduce poverty, disease and ignorance, encourage ethical living and advocate for justice ranked lowest. When asked if any of the listed activities should not be a goal of the church, a significant number of pastors indicated it was not the role of the church to advocate for justice (16.4 per cent worldwide). Supporting this finding? Pastors in the South Pacific reported involvement in the community is at the bottom of a list of 10 ministry roles. Even in an ideal world, they do not rank involvement in the community in their top three roles. Darius thinks this is because the church has emphasised proclaiming a distinctly Adventist message while leaving advocating for justice to other denominations. But, he says, “the proclamation of the Adventist message goes hand-in-hand with advocating for justice.”

Pr Moe Stiles from Crosswalk Melbourne graduated with a Master of Human Rights this past month. She believes raising awareness of or preventing the exploitation or oppression of others helps us better understand the suffering of Jesus. Advocating for justice is not, she says, “a leftist or political thing to do, it is a Jesus-following thing to do.”

One of the groups responding to this “antipathy” is the JustLove Collective. Signs Publishing book editor Nathan Brown is part of the organising team. “About one in 15 Bible verses urge a higher priority for doing righteousness in the world,” he notes. “How can sharing ‘the message and teachings of Jesus’ miss ‘God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice’ (Matthew 5:6)? Does a genuine ‘biblical viewpoint’ skip over those 2103 commands to ‘do justice’?”

Pastors identified the topics about which they preached most frequently. Three of the five—Salvation through Jesus, Second Coming and Sabbath—are considered essential to Adventist identity and, the researchers write, “differentiates the preaching found in Adventist churches” from “all other Christian denominations.” But the Sanctuary and the Spirit of Prophecy, also considered essential, are among the least frequently preached.

Some responses from pastors in the South Pacific to items about beliefs and practices varied from pastors in other divisions. For example, more of the pastors in the South Pacific strongly disagreed with the statements, “I can only be saved through the Adventist church” and “Following the Adventist health message ensures my salvation.” And more did not accept the statement, “Pastoral ordination limited to males.”

In an encouraging sign, a high percentage of pastors worldwide felt supported by their congregations and leaders. In fact, reads the report, issues identified in secondary literature as potential challenges for pastors “appear to be much less of an issue” for Adventist pastors.


Photograph: The president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in northern Australia, Pr Simon Gigliotti, and the church’s Adventist Development and Relief Agency director, Pr Chris Kirkwood, with goods they assembled for food hampers that went to those affected by the floods in Far North Queensland. Credit: ADRA Australia.

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