“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.” – [New Statesman interview, 7 January 1939]” ― Winston Churchill
Can Pastor Sam Green’s statement really be true?
What a paralyzing and rather contradicting statement from the President of the Southwest Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SWRGC). It arrives at a time when men and women are asked to leave ministry voluntarily or by termination.
Without question, the controversial reduction strategy of employees disguised by the President’s statement finds its derivation from the recent decisions of the Executive Committee in the forms of a Voluntary Incentive Exit Program, termination of stipend workers, and the upcoming July 13th district realignments which may further eliminate more workers. To uncover such an inconsiderate alert proclamation near the eclipse of a back room execution, described by some as the July 13th Black Sunday Employee Massacre, places the President of our organization in complete denial and out of touch with reality. (More on this at the end of this blog)
Let me start from the beginning: To explain the present situation, I have to nostalgically take you backward in time to a reference point where time travel comes to a screeching halt. Push the reverse button in your mind and then allow it to slow down so that it does not pass by a very important date. As your thought process treks backwardly in history, it arrives and then suddenly stops at the Southwest Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ election day of May 22, 2011 (In Keene, Texas at the Keene Seventh-day Adventist Church).
On that breath taking, dramatic spring day, the constituents of the SWRGC elected Pastor Sam Green as our new President (Formally Southwestern Union Conference Executive Secretary). His election came on the heels of a long session that left many of us leaving the University with positive feelings that the Holy Spirit spoke in that constituency session. Without question most of the constituent’s inner feelings were that we elected a President with great ability, experience, gifts and talents. The delegates also experienced the satisfaction that the decision spoken to us by the Southwestern Union President (Pastor Larry Moore) came from the Holy Spirit, because it restored confidence and peace to many of the delegates after a long day. At this historical marker in time we believed that Pastor Sam Green would be our leader for many years to come (I still believe this to be possible and is the reason for my criticism. Our democracy allows for us to criticize our elected officials. If they can’t take criticism they should not want to be in an elected position).
Shortly after the official announcement, presentation of the officers and departmental personnel, the President gave his acceptance speech. Now I am not going to rehearse the entire speech. However, I will remind you of some of the statements the President made that were formed as promises. The President promised a governance of: openness, fairness, communication, transparency, a better way of doing things, consultation with constituents before major purchases and leadership without fear etc.
Now back to the future. Almost three years later we have come face to face with plans to reduce the workforce of pastors in districts around the Southwest. Recent actions may mean for you as a pastor or member, larger districts with multiple churches. The Executive Committee and the President’s decisions may leave church members exposed to heretics who could seek out un-managed churches resulting from district realignments. The futuristic negative results may be realized as putrefying aberrations such as a drop in giving and an exodus of members to other sister Conferences in our great Union. (Please review the email from the President at the end of this blog.)
Across the Southwest inquiring minds want to know, “Why is all this happening now?” What prompted all of these executive decisions?
To answer these questions for the readers of this blog, some anonymous Executive Committee Members, pastors and lay persons have spoken to me privately and have revealed some pertinent reasons of how the SWRGC leadership “crashed landed” our organization. From the information that I have received, I would like to suggest five persuasive reasons compiled from listening in on conversations from various knowledgeable individuals who explained to me how the SWRGC crash landed. Please be aware that there may be more factual evidence not mentioned in this blog that could shed more light on the President’s statement. I welcome this light.
First, many constituents have an insatiable appetite for the Lone Star Camp Ground. They want a Cadillac but don’t realize the SWRGC operates Lone Star on a Volkswagen budget. Most members don’t realize what it takes to operate and maintain a campground like Lone Star. To manage the camp and continually maintain it, the campground craves for a Cadillac budget. Your insatiable appetite for Lone Star pushed Presidents and Executive Committees into some financial over spending so that, you the constituent, can have a place to be proud of. It follows that the insatiable appetite of the past administrations share some of the blame too, because they left a contagious disease behind called “debt” trying to improve Lone Star to make that big impression when you arrive at Camp Meeting each summer.
Currently, land purchases along with major improvements have taken place without notification to you or me as a giving constituent because of your appetite for better facilities and a safe environment. So, Presidents took some big risks for political reasons, because an unimproved Lone Star camp is an election nightmare for them. Presidents are afraid to wake up the next morning after a constituency meeting, with the reality of being elected out of office because of an unimproved Lone Star Camp.
Second, Presidents are fascinated with employing new pastors. The hiring of new workers, which at times has become an obsession of power and control for many Presidents added to our financial crash landing. There should not be any misunderstanding here. It should be the President’s vision to expand the Mission of the Church and increase the workforce. We could never have become a world church if Presidents did not push to reach the outer limits of our ultimate mission objective.
Evaluation: But, the current administration took on workers when the Conference was already overloaded with debt. This increase can be seen in the office and full time pastors recently employed in our territory for the last three years. The leadership of our organization crashed landed because they didn’t strategically think before they hired. They hired with a “knee jerk” attitude.
One knee jerk can lead to another—a knee jerk to cover-up the fact that they had incompetent pilots flying the SWRGC plane. Why would the SWRGC reduce workers in the field rather than in the office? If you are in a financial crisis trying to survive, the office should not be a sacred cow. Maintenance of field workers is a first priority. Without pastors and members the local conference would have no income. No one can deny this fact. Pastoral ministry stands at the top of the pyramid. The answer can only be to shift the blame for a crash landing to something else like unproductive pastors/workers, rising medical cost and a need for more fresh blood from younger ministers (Even though 2013 produced one of the largest baptisms in SWRGC’S history led by senior pastors.).
Third, the Executive Committee panicked when Leadership over spent on campground improvements in the last three years because leadership dipped into the payroll fund. This decision of the three top executives took us back to the stone age of borrowing money to pay workers salaries.
Evaluation: Violating sound financial principles created a further problem. When the leadership could not send payments to the regional retirement fund a warning signal of a crashing plane started flashing.
The Executive Committee discovered that the officers ignored all the warning signs of a crashing plane. And the officer’s misuse of authority—over spending for Lone Star improvements—apparently brought the Executive Committee to a “No Confidence Vote” on all three Administrators because the excess spending received no authorization. Otherwise, the committee admitted that our local conference went into a nose dive and crash landed because of incompetence and ignoring the warnings of a financial meltdown.
Fourth, the inability to stabilize the high cost of medical payments of workers over a period of years financially stressed the treasury of the Southwest Region Conference. From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention one of their articles reveals that:
“The cost of insurance premiums and employee medical claims is at an all time high and continues to rise. Business leaders are being called upon to make changes at the workplace in order to curb rising costs. Many are turning to workplace health programs to help employees adopt healthier lifestyles and lower their risk of developing costly chronic diseases.”— Content source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion | Division of Population Health
It is evident that health care occupies a large part of the budget for the SWRGC. Newspapers and magazines have covered the rising cost of health care in America as a national problem as mentioned in the quotation above. Our conference leaders did not adequately plan for an imminent heath care crisis that would financially affect our institution. This indicates that the officers turned their heads and closed their ears from a well publicized national problem for many years. Otherwise, why pin the tail on the donkey (pastors/workers)?
Evaluation: The warning signs were flashing in high definition and living color that the huge cost of health care would weigh down the plane. The officers didn’t want to give the pastors/workers alternatives because it would cost something that they didn’t want to write into the budget. Why didn’t they think outside the box as suggested above? Preventive concepts such as wellness programs could have lowered health cost over the years.
I believe that the work of God shouldn’t be held up because workers have some health issues. Any worker can suddenly become sick with a long term illness. When you buy into this kind of thinking good service might be denied.
But, one of the issues cited for retiring ministers on an incentive exit program was the extraordinary increase of medical payments of SWRGC employees. In contradistinction, the SWRGC still hired men in their silver years that have medical issues. It seems to me that the administrators “cherry picked” depending on whom they wanted gone, vs. those they liked and desired to employ.
On the tail end of this issue stands the President mentioning that he could not personally receive a benefit ($20,000 to retire) because of his position and that it would be a violation of ethical conduct to accept an incentive. But the NAD Working Policy provides for a voluntary exit for any employee employed for two years or more. So, in practice the President could negotiate his resignation if he wanted to leave office with some kind of incentive. It happens every day in the corporate world and many times in the federal, state and local governments. I mention this because our President’s medical issues have contributed to increased medical cost for the Conference by his own admission. Yet, the President does not show any signs of resigning from his office.
Returning to the insurance issue, you should be aware that for the first time in the history of this Conference workers will have to pay for their insurance premiums. Now you are probably thinking why are pastors not paying for medical coverage? You have to go back in time and understand that Conferences chose this plan many years ago and over time evolved into what workers presently have—pretty good medical insurance recognized by most medical entities today.
Now that they are leaving this plan, will they give the pastors/workers a decent raise? As a lay person, you should know that the employees have not received a substantial increase in their salaries or none at all for a long time—a long time. Many people would seek another job if they were denied raises due to them by an employer over many years. This suggests that pastors have been sacrificial, including the 17 workers they have retired or let go recently. They kept or denied something from their workers that should have been given to them.
So don’t let the SWRGC Administration off so easy on the first four issues even if you disagree with this blog. They are suppose to be visionaries who attempt to forecast the financial future as to what it may look like—so they can plan adequately. They are elected by you because of their ability to lead and make progress. True, we cannot know the future, but understanding trends can help to prepare for it. Studying trends is a part of a leader’s portfolio for success.
Fifth and final, the President has been ill advised by those to whom he has placed his confidence in. You cannot say that you have competent advisors when at the same time you are currently reducing the workforce and ended up with a financially crashed institution. Somebody has their numbers wrong and somebody is not revealing all the truth; because next year the SWRGC leadership plans to hire more workers who are younger, to replace those they moved into retirement or terminated. This defies logic!
Evaluation: When office staff are selected and hired from a corporate mindset, they are not informed about one important aspect that keeps the world church running—FAITH. Standing at the side of this issue is the suggestion that most of the administrators have little self education concerning church missions and opt to adopt and implement corporate principles experienced outside the Church as solutions for financial failure or gain. The Voluntary Incentive Exit Program comes from a corporate mentality as a method to downsize when corporations have over spent and crashed there institutions.
Our leaders have preached to us that “God can open the windows of heaven.” Why didn’t they pray to God for the windows to open? Is God capable of supplying all of the Conference’s needs? I don’t see the faith in their decisions. I see trust in self rather than God.
It has been said by some employees of the SWRGC that in the corporate world, in a real corporation, from a big corporate Executive Committee, an Executive Operating Board would have asked for resignations of failing executives who crashed the corporation. They would have replaced and put people in executive positions with new skills of leadership, management and financial wisdom. Heads would have rolled! An Executive Committee would have offered Voluntary (Resignations) or involuntary Exits (Terminated) to crippled leaders. But the Executive Committee as far as I know did not ask the top three executives of the SWRGC or their advisors to resign because of bad management and bad advice that financially crashed our institution. Instead, the administrators received a “pass” and are still at the controls of the plane with all of us and our money on board.
If a pastor over spent on a building project receiving no approval from the church board/business meeting, and used the church’s funds in collusion with the head elder and treasurer without a vote, the local conference would have most likely fired or reprimanded him/her by moving the pastor to a small church. If the President and other executive officers received no approval from the Executive Committee to cover cost overruns and used funds from any source, then all of them were in collusion with each other. Payments for services rendered to contractors for the campground improvements could not be released without the approval of the treasurer.
In my hand right now, I have an email sent to me as information so I could write this blog, which is a response to pastors from the President. In it the President declares “This is not a crisis or any mismanagement of funds.” Yet the Executive Committee has declared a crisis exists by voting to reduce employees and registering a no confidence vote on the top Administrators. On July 13th 2014 (Soon to be Known in the annals of SWRGC history as: The Black Sunday Employee Massacre Of Lanark Street) and later you are going to see the Executive wing of our Conference in full regalia with their intentions for better or for worse. They are so secretive at the present time that they won’t even whisper in detail what their intentions might be. Is this not scandalous?
I would like to ask you this question as a tithe paying member, essentially a shareholder: “Have you ever received a letter in the mail for a Constituency Meeting to vote on any of the SWRGC’s big money projects? And, as a person whom they seek to pay off their “lame” and “diseased” debts: are you satisfied with this kind of leadership? Have any one of them publicly stated to you in a letter or from a pulpit that they made some real mistakes and owned up to the present situation instead of blaming it on past administrations and the pastors/workers? The truth is the current leadership has owned their budgets for the last three years and decisions that have caused our Conference to financially crash. Should SWRGC administrators be given the privilege to suggest that employees retire on an Incentive Exit Plan or terminate them to pay for their mistakes?
In conclusion, I admit that I am not privy to the documents in the form of agendas, minutes, executive orders etc. But the President openly promised a better way of doing business. Green promised transparency instead of covering up. Access to the above documents would help clear up some misunderstandings in regard to the present crisis and mismanagement issues, but they will not supply them to me or you. I humbly plead to our administrators that “if there are any inaccuracies presented in this blog, then release all the agendas, minutes from the Executive Committees, sub-committees, financial statements (etc.) immediately so that trust, confidence can be restored and will vindicate your decisions—proving the pundits and ideologues to be wrong.”
But analyzing our present situation, it leads me to conclude that the President is using the Executive Committee effectively as a shield to deflect his bad decisions away from himself—because he can consistently point to the voted decisions of a “villainous Committee” as the source for an Incentive Exit Program for pastors/bible instructors, termination of stipend workers and redistricting. Consequently he can say publicly that, “I am carrying out the mandates of the Executive Committee” while all the time from the beginning of his presidency Green’s plan has always been to reconstruct the pastoral staff with younger and more productive men and women—his ultimate legacy (You will see this in the letter below).
Incredible as it may seem, the younger pastors will owe President Green a debt of gratitude because at the end of all of this the “baby boomers” will shortly go off into the sunset (For real) and the “X generation” will have their sunrise to the office, and larger churches. The President will walk away from the crash site un-scared, because it will be covered up in such a way that allows him to survive without adequate explanation. Or will it? (The decision for truth is in the hands of courageous pastors and concerned, caring members that comprise this great Conference who are not afraid to speak out against injustices and are willing to make sure that pastors, employees are not sent to an untimely shallow grave resulting from someone’s bad decisions. Are YOU my brother’s keeper?)
Recommendation: When a tragic disaster occurs or a scandal is uncovered the responsible organization most likely will not investigate itself especially if the disaster or scandal becomes public. Organizations often select an independent ad hoc committee to investigate possible malfeasance so that truth will not be covered up and to restore trust and confidence. I recommend an independent group chosen by the Southwestern Union Conference from various areas of the North American Division to investigate beyond the Executive Committee the decisions and executive actions that are responsible for our local conference’s financial crash.
The President could help his legacy beneficially if he owned up to this fact: THIS IS A CRISIS WHICH RESULTED FROM BAD DECISIONS AND THAT HE HAS ALSO CREATED A “GENERATIONAL” CIVILWAR WITHIN THE SOUTHWEST REGION CONFERENCE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS.
Below is a copy of an email sent from Elder Sam Green to pastors responding to Recommendations from one of the Pastoral Associations within the SWRGC; it is dated 5-7-2014.
This concept was vetted through all sub – committes and voted by the executive committee all of which have pastors from your area associations, I find it very difficult to believe that none of the pastors discussed this process that has been ongoing for some time. This is not a unilateral decision by administration but we have the duty of carrying it out. The aging pastoral workforce is a North American Division problem, but to my knowledge we are the only conference that is trying to be proactive about it.
This is not a crisis or any mismanagement of funds. (Emphasis supplied by me, the writer of this blog)
This is all a part of the district re-alignment process that has been ongoing since I became president.
The earliest and least expensive time to meet with with all workers is the Friday of camp meeting.
I thank each of you for the work that you are doing.
Samuel L. Green
Dear reader, would you leave a comment that can start a discussion that expand or even bring more clarity? We are no longer facing a decision between ten day or three day campmeeting, we dealing with the lives of men, women, and their families. What is important is letting inquiring minds find the truth of cause and effect regarding the SWRGC’S financial problem and asking them to take responsibility and seek alternatives than disrupting our church culture. No email is required if you desire to remain anonymous. At the very end in smaller letter it says “Comment.” Then select comment. If you want to remain anonymous just type your comment and hit Enter. No one will know your email or identity.