I recently heard a story on a podcast I was listening to. It’s a well-worn business management story—one that I’d heard several times before. However, this was a church leadership podcast, so I was hearing it with “new ears,” so to speak. The story goes that a new CEO stepped to the lectern to address a room of gathered employees at the 100-year-old company he’d been hired to lead. The primary business of this company was the manufacture of drill bits, but for the last decade, they’d been losing market share and hemorrhaging money. The CEO’s speech would follow a lengthy and colorful slideshow presentation by the Vice-President of Marketing, which visually displayed the market for drill bits as well as the company’s total share of this market. As the freshly-hired CEO addressed the room, he said but one thing. “There is no market for drill bits.” A collective gasp from the audience shook the room. He continued, “The market is for holes, and as soon as someone figures out a better way to create a hole, we’re out of business.” When he finished this sentence, he adjourned the meeting and walked off stage.
I’ll admit, I love this story—no matter how simplistic it may be. I’ve historically been one who can relate to the CEO in this story—an iconoclast of sorts—challenging established cultures and accepted norms. Why do I mention this? Because after just three years in full-time ministry, I’ve recognized that I’ve started to feel a loss of perspective with regard to those outside our Adventist sub-culture—perhaps not completely, but at least in part. I’ve started to see that sometimes I’m more like the Vice-President of Marketing, who has the colorful charts and sees all of the possibilities for new types of drill bits—blissfully unaware that what the world may actually need 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 lead to prayer and some deep soul-searching in a desire to recover the ability to see things from an outside perspective.
My question for those who have been Seventh-day Adventists for more than a few years, as well as those of us who are denominationally employed, is this: Have you (past or present), like me, experienced this same loss of perspective?
If you answered yes, there’s no judgment here. It’s not difficult to understand why. The sub-culture of Adventism is powerful. A strong sub-culture is actually one of our strengths. It’s what allows us to enjoy close relationships with those whom we have little else in common beyond our faith. It’s what allows us to commit to supporting such a large organization which faithfully shares the Gospel and does a lot of good in Jesus name all over the world. Yet, when this powerful sub-culture is taken to a different and un-Biblical end, it can devolve into being cliquish, insular, and out-of-touch from the very people that it seeks to reach.
When we examine the programs, outreach, and even the marketing messages that 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 programs we offer scratch where they itch? Are we focused on giving them drill bits (in this case, programs and information)? Or are we being intentional about cultivating relationships and understanding our neighbors first, using that knowledge to understand how we can meet their specific needs? Lastly, are we addressing their desire to make holes (life change) using another tool which may be necessary, even if it isn’t one of our drill bits?
My hope is that each of us will live to the full potential we’ve been given by our Creator 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 actually does.