I experienced my first conflict with church leadership a mere three weeks into ministry. The conference secretary, who had excused me from camp meeting duties that year, called from the camp grounds. Without even identifying himself, he shouted into the phone, “Where are you?” As soon as I hung up, I photocopied his letter excusing me from camp meeting and mailed it back to him. I never heard about the matter again.
Right then and there I made three important decisions for my life and ministry: (1) I would allow no one to break up my relationship with Jesus. (2) I would allow no one to drive me out of pastoral ministry. (3) I would allow no one to discourage me to the point that I would leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
That resolve has served me well through the years. While I have enjoyed a blessed life and rewarding ministry in this church over the past 38 years, and while I have enjoyed the respect of members and colleagues, it has not always been easy. I have struggled with my own insecurities. I have been bullied by a handful of local church leaders and members. I have been have been battered and deeply wounded by a few conference administrators. If I were to roll up my sleeves, you’d see my battle scars. Through it all, though, God’s faithfulness and my resolve have seen me through.
In the wake of the Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation action taken in the October 18 Annual Council session, I am finding my resolve tested at a whole new level. I am stunned by the action. Deeply wounded. Fundamentally angry. Fearful for the future of my church. Suddenly I am asking questions I have never considered before. Is there still a place for me in the ministry of this church? Is there still a place for me as a member of this movement?
In spite of it all, my resolve still stands. I will continue to be a Christ-follower. I will continue to be a pastor. I will continue my journey with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Why?
Because I Made Up My Mind a Long Time Ago. Important decisions are not made in the heat of the moment – they are made early on in the formative years. The values, priorities, and commitments made in those early years of service have kept me strong through the good times and the hard times that are inevitable in pastoral ministry.
Because I Can Make a Difference. Staying in the church and staying in pastoral ministry puts me in the best position to make a difference in my local congregation and world church. In my conversations and in my pulpit ministry I can share sound, Christ-centered, encouraging messages that will build up the church. In my leadership and administrative roles I can exercise a servant’s heart that listens to and cooperates with the Spirit-led thinking of the body. In my relationships I can celebrate the diversity of men and women, boys and girls, Blacks and Whites, Asians and Hispanics in my church. I can make a difference, if I stay.
Because I Have No Where Else To Go. I need this church and this church needs me. I am painfully aware that there are a lot of things wrong with this church, but it has a lot more good things going for it than bad. This church is filled with people who love Jesus just like I do.
Visionary leaders that are truly taking us forward. A message of hope for the world like no other denomination. A prophetic destiny. Leaving this church would leave me in cold isolation. I’m staying in where it is warm.
Because I Want to Stand With My Sisters in Ministry. I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy. I believe that God created both men and women in His image. I believe that spiritual gifts are gender inclusive. I believe that God will pour out His Spirit on both men and women, young and old in these last days. I believe that we need all of God’s people moving the mission of this church to victory. I also recognize that being a woman in ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Age-old prejudices still linger. I want to stand with my sisters who are serving this church as pastors, evangelists, teachers, departmental directors, and administrators. I want to recognize their God-given call and affirm their essential contribution to the on-going mission of the church.
Because I Am a Man of Hope. I believe that the day will come when we will get it right. When women and men will work together to fulfill the God-given mission of the church. When leaders will steward power in righteous ways. When our unity will rise up from our shared faith in Christ and our shared identity as Seventh-day Adventists, not in a top-down, “one-size-fits-all” set of policies.
So count me in. I’m staying. I will continue to be a Christ-follower. I will continue be a pastor. I will continue my journey with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That is my resolve.
Dan Martella is the administrative pastor for the Paradise, California church. He also serves as the managing editor of Best Practices for Adventist Ministry