21 November | Budva, Montenegro, [David Neal and Vanesa Pizzuto]
Members of the Trans-European Division (TED) Executive Committee met together in Budva, Montenegro, for the first time under the leadership of two newly elected Division officers, Dr Daniel Duda (President), Robert Csizmadia (Executive Secretary) and re-elected Nenad Jepuranovic (Treasurer). Recognising that committee members and invitees had not met together in this location since November 2019, in his welcome Duda expressed how “It is so good to be together again, and experience not only the business of the church but also the fellowship”.
When a constituency elects a president who has spent many years in education, it is no surprise to discover his report centres around a core question, “How do we do ministry?” Delivered in a style intended to create conversation, Csizmadia affirmed Duda’s approach through an invitation, “This is a place where you all have a voice. If you have an opinion, a perspective, please share, because we want a conversation.”
Duda continued, “Leadership matters, because the decisions you make, make a difference,” and he went on to open a conversation about the way the church currently operates on a top -down ‘programme based’ paradigm. Describing a typical process, Duda explained:
“We usually come up with a programme to achieve a mission objective. And then you find people to promote it (directors). But how do you sell it to the local church? You tell them that if they don’t support the programme, they are not going to see results (and ministry shrinks down to the programme). You now need to maintain the programme no matter what. The programme becomes the need.
You did not elect me to tell you that if we sing more enthusiastically and pray longer, Jesus will come sooner. You don’t need me to tell you; we have tested that over the last 100+ years that this approach does not work.
What we need for the Trans-European Division, is to go back to the Biblical approach. Jesus always started with a need. When people are hungry, he feeds them. If they cannot see, He will open their eyes… The goal of ministry is to meet a real need that exists in the lives of the people. To find out the needs, you need to listen. Is there a strategy for listening in place?
But needs alone cannot drive the ministry. Ministry must meet a need AND support the purpose and mission of the church. You need to limit the needs you can meet, because needs are always greater than the resources.”
And then, Duda went on to particularly recognise the European context in which we conduct mission:
“The problem is that if you see yourself as the person who has the answers, you do not need to listen. As Adventists, traditionally, we have seen ourselves as those who have the answers, which makes us terrible listeners.”
“When you serve in your area of giftedness, you experience the pleasure of God. To serve long-term you need to serve in the area of giftedness. People will be blessed; you will be energised and that’s why we need to build ministry around the area of giftedness.”
“Use Spirit-gifted Leaders”, implored Duda. “When the church engages in ministry without a leader”, Duda continued, “the church is doomed, because we end up with teachers who can’t teach and leaders who can’t lead and singers who can’t carry the tune. If ministry is not led well, people will be demoralised.”
Citing the example of Eric Liddle whose life story is featured in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’, Duda reminded listeners of Liddle’s commitment to running, “When I run, I experience the pleasure of God.” The analogy is clear, appealed Duda, “If you connect the need with the mission and have leaders that can lead, and members serving with their giftedness, together we can fulfil the Great Commission.”
Duda concluded, “Behaviour is not easy to change… but as we start this short triennium, I want you to seriously ponder how we do our ministry in a Biblical way.”
In response, several members expressed their perspective.
Ian Sweeney (TED Field Secretary)
It’s not just about where we work, but that we are part of the bigger picture and recognising that bigger perspective, because it is still about the mission and making God known. We are concerned about what happens in every congregation. There is no point in pretending, in thinking that programmes are going to finish the work… The power in the local church can make such a difference. Message to conference leaders: “Give youth the freedom to grow… allow them to make mistakes.”
Alison Awuku (Lay Representative, BUC)
How do we get the good work that is taking place in individual churches and bridge the disconnect that sometimes exists between members and the TED? We need to recognise when things have been done really well.
Victor Marley (President, Norwegian Union)
Do we have a problem with departmental work? Departments justify their existence by creating programmes. Perhaps we need to tweak a little bit some of the ideas about departmental work. The key is not to get rid of departments, but they need to listen and ask the right questions. I also wonder sometimes if the bureaucracy of our organization – the way we administer, actually works to hinder the flourishing of spiritual gifts.
Delmar Reis (President, Albanian Mission)
The TED has a great attitude of “How can we help you?” when it comes to mission. Should not this mindset be transferable to the members where we live?
Matthew Herel (Pastoral Representative, BUC)
I would like to suggest an amendment to church manual – which ensures that in some way or another all our members are involved in a gift-based ministry. Because as it stands, the current departmental structure as outlined in the manual leaves very little latitude for a gift-based ministry.
Terje Dahl (Treasurer, Swedish Union of Churches)
The main church model – is the old paradigm. The new paradigm is what our church is living in. If we see the church as primarily for ourselves, we are not meeting the people out there.
Frida Souhuwat-Tomasu (Lay representative, Netherlands Union)
I am aware of youth who have left high school with many problems, and I am making it my intention to be more in personal contact with young people around me to know where they are at.
Gavin Anthony (President, Iceland Conference)
Metrics (the way we measure success) matter – and I’m not just talking about shifting metrics but communicating the whole lot. I want to remind us that youth are no longer committed to organisations, but they do follow people. We need to be able to access people straight to where they are – at the grass roots.
Jacques Venter (BUC Associate Executive Secretary)
I too want to talk about ‘measures and measuring.’ We always ask about ‘How many baptisms?’ Why instead don’t we measure – ‘how many are engaged in ministry?’
Ryzard Jankowski (President, Polish Union Conference)
I am afraid that we are not very authentic Christians, because we give too much attention to doctrines. We are not teaching youth to be relational with Christ.
Annette Anderson (Lay Representative, Norwegian Union Conference)
What we measure is very important. We are not in sync with youth, because their highest value is ‘living loving lives together’. We’ve given them Bible knowledge, but have we lived authentic Christian lives together? Youth want to see that we can live our lives together in love, mercy and grace. I think the Holy Spirit is working and I think that our young people are on their way. The question is, do we want to align ourselves with them?
Maurice R. Valentine II (General vice-president, General Conference)
This dialogue is exciting! What you have shared about creating new metrics are viable ideas. I affirm that our children are not supposed to be reflectors of other men’s thoughts. I am informed that there is a new General Conference metric requesting information about the status of every young person five years after baptism.
Instead of staying with a project, and making sure it gets traction, we need to ensure that from the top down, we do not inspect, but learn and grow together.
I also want to note along with another contributor to this conversation that ‘post the pandemic’ the world has changed, and we are called to ‘grow the engaged church’.
In my ministry, along with those I have led, I’ve always been aware of the “It’s just a job” syndrome. How do you take folk up to a higher level of engagement? By building an agile community. By learning how to be a servant leader. By asking that question, “What do you need?”
Daniel Duda – Concluding Comments
In response to the idea of having younger delegates attend the TED and General Conference Executive Committees, Daniel Duda responded by saying, “I am so pleased that so many unions chose women as their lay representatives to TED Executive Committee. Frida Souhuwat-Tomasu (Lay representative, Netherland Union) brings perspective that no 20-23-year-old can match. On a Division committee, how many young people can you have who can tolerate at times the slow progress the church makes? At certain stages of life, young people want the church change quicker. We need to listen to our young people, and we need to find a way to involve them in the work of a local church and church’s committees.”
As the discussion came to an end – at least for the moment during this report, Duda asked if we had reached a consensus about the need for a paradigm shift (e.g., the necessity of starting with the need and not with a programme) and how we do mission?
The fact that the report was approved showed that there was more than consensus. There was palpable enthusiasm for the Biblical approach to ministry.
[Photos: James Botha and Vanesa Pizzuto]