Recently, I heard a story on a podcast. It’s a well-worn business management tale—one that I’d heard several times before. However, this was a church leadership podcast, so I heard it with “new ears,” so to speak. The story goes that a CEO was tasked with speaking to a room of gathered employees at a 100-year-old company he’d recently been hired to lead. The company was one of the country’s oldest manufacturers of drill bits, but for the last decade, they’d been losing market share and hemorrhaging money. The CEO’s speech followed a lengthy and colorful slideshow by the Vice-President of Marketing, which visually displayed the market for drill bits and graphs of the company’s market share.
As the newly-hired CEO opened his address, he stepped to the lectern and exclaimed, “There is no market for drill bits.” There was a collective gasp from the audience that reverberated through the room. He let his sentence linger for a moment before continuing. “The market doesn’t want drill bits, it wants holes. And as soon as someone figures out a better way to create a hole, we will be out of business.” After finishing this sentence, he adjourned the meeting and walked off stage.
I’ll admit, I love this story—no matter how simplistic it may seem. Coming from a business background, I’ve long been able to relate to the CEO and his shocking statements about product-market fit. Why do I mention this? Because I’ve recognized a blind spot in my life. I may no longer be as objective as I once was concerning those outside our Adventist sub-culture. I’ve started to see that sometimes I’m more like the Vice-President of Marketing, who has the colorful charts and considers all of the possibilities for new types of drill bits—completely unaware that what the world needs is a different way to make a hole. Hearing this podcast a few weeks ago was an eye-opening, introspective moment for me. It’s led to prayer and some deep soul-searching. We must recover an ability to see ourselves and our mission from an outside perspective.
My question for those who have been Seventh-day Adventists for more than a few years, especially those of us denominationally employed, is this: Have you (past or present) experienced this same loss of perspective?
If you answered yes, there’s no judgment here. It’s easy to understand why. The sub-culture of Adventism is powerful. A strong sub-culture is one of Adventism’s strengths. It’s what allows us to enjoy close relationships with those we have little else in common beyond our faith. It allows us to faithfully commit to supporting a large organization that shares the Gospel and does a lot of good in Jesus’ name worldwide. Yet, when this strong sub-culture is taken to a different and un-Biblical end, it can devolve into cliquish and insular, becoming out-of-touch from the people it seeks to reach.
When we examine the programs, outreach, and even the marketing messages we disseminate as a church (locally, nationally, and globally), do we have the perspective to see those messages as they appear to those outside our faith community? Do the words we say and the things we offer scratch where they itch? Are we focused on giving them drill bits (in this case, programs and information)? Or are we intentionally cultivating relationships and understanding our neighbors first, using that knowledge to understand how to meet their needs? Lastly, are we addressing their desire to make holes (life change) using another tool that may be necessary, even if it isn’t one of our drill bits?
I hope that each of us will live to the full potential our Creator has given us to meet the needs of those around us. Remaining “in touch” requires intentionality. It requires a resolute determination to check ourselves and see if we’re asking the right questions. Above all else, it requires a vertical relationship—a willingness to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to the people we’re called to reach and the strength to remain resolute about doing His will when He does.