Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Osborn Proposal

Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions: Our Imperative

Pacific Union Executive Committee
Pacific Union College
May 30, 2007

By Norma and Richard Osborn
Associate Pastor for Family Ministries, Pacific Union College Church
President, Pacific Union College


Research by George Barna concludes that “what you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing.” This evidence, and much more that has surfaced recently, urges us to realize that the most important imperative for the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to focus on helping our children become spiritual champions at an early age. To do this effectively, we need a new definition of how we “do” Christian Education.

Our present church system has separate departments for ministerial, education, youth, and Sabbath School. Each is doing important work, each is working at a frenetic pace, and each has little time to come together to strategize on breaking down the silos between them.

We must design a higher level of cooperative effort between our families, our congregation, and our local schools.

A. What does 21st century research tell us?

Recent research indicates the importance of guiding children to become spiritual champions.

1. Barna on Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions

George Barna is the nation’s leading researcher on trends among churches. In 2003 after conducting research for two years, he released evidence that the Protestant church in America should begin placing its primary emphasis on children if it expects to be successful in the future. While children’s ministry leaders focused on the findings, the broader church at a congregational level still places its financial and human resource emphasis on adults and teenagers. What evidence does he provide from research in his 2003 book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. A Kingdom Approach? (Much of the following language comes from Barna’s web site and book but will not be placed in quotations.)

Barna’s definition of a spiritual champion: An irrepressible follower of Jesus Christ who accepts the Bible as truth, lives by its principles, and seeks ways to impact the world and continually deepen his or her relationship with God.

A person’s lifelong behaviors and views are generally developed when they are very young—particularly before they reach the teenage years—with the following four critical outcomes:

  1. A person’s moral foundation is generally in place by the time they reach nine. While refinement and some shifting may take place, their fundamental perspectives on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, morality, and ethics are formed quite early in life. After their first decade, most people simply refine their views as they age without a wholesale change in those learnings.
  1. A person’s response to the meaning and personal value of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is usually determined before a person reaches eighteen. A majority of Americans make a lasting determination about the personal significance of Christ’s death and resurrection by age 12.
  1. In most cases a person’s spiritual beliefs are irrevocably formed when they are pre-teens. In essence what you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing. There are many individuals who go through life-changing experiences in which their beliefs are altered, or instances in which a concentrated body of religious teaching changes one or more core beliefs. However, most people’s minds are made up and they believe they know what they need to know spiritually by age 13. Their focus in absorbing religious teaching after that age is to gain reassurance and confirmation of their existing beliefs rather than to glean new insights that will redefine their foundations.
  1. The research revealed that church leaders usually have serious involvement in church life and training when they are young. A national sample of pastors, church staff, and lay leaders showed that more than four out of five of those leaders had consistently been involved in the ministry to children for an extended period of years prior to age 13. One implication is that the individuals who will become the church leaders two decades from now are probably active in church programs today.

Barna has also found that children can be the best evangelistic agents for the church because if they become involved parents often feel a need to come to church. Many adults who become members of churches were brought by their children.

White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group cites Barna’s research as evidence for focusing on children:

The probability of people accepting Jesus Christ as their savior for a lifetime relationship based on Barna research of 1,000 adults in May, 2001 puts the probability at:

• 32% for children between 5 and 13 years old
• 4% for children between 14 and 18, and
• 6% for people 19 years and older.

In other words, attracting younger children to a church to learn about the Love of God will have 5 to 8 times the impact of attracting the same number of older children or adults.

Barna states: “The research is very clear: If Jesus is not already part of their lives by the time they leave junior high school, the chances of them accepting Him as their Lord and Savior is very slim (6%, to be exact). With children, it’s just the opposite. Because of the challenges and insecurities they face in life, they are very open to being a part of a community of like-minded people who grow together. Children have a tremendous influence within their families and on the choices they make in all areas of life . . . “

Barna’s research also finds that while more than four out of five parents (85%) believe they have the primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their children, more than two out of three of them abdicate that responsibility to their church. A children’s pastor described to Barna his experience:

In my 27 years of ministering to children and their families, I have never once had a parent come up to me and ask how their child is progressing spiritually. Every weekend I get parent after parent chasing me down to ask about their kids. But what they want to know is whether or not their child showed up to class, whether their child had his or her Bible and whether their child was well behaved during the class. Nobody seemed to care very much about how the child is doing spiritually, as if merely showing up two or three times a month precludes have to even ask the question.

In other words, families have largely abdicated the responsibility of spiritual development to the local church where churches just rely on those willing to help with Sunday School rather than making these positions the most important in the church because of their consequences. Barna says we’re in a race to win our children and whoever does the best job will win. This will involve more than a few willing adult volunteers who often get burned out because no one else will take on this important job.

As he has traveled the country presenting this data, Barna has found that most churches are shocked by the results regarding the importance of getting to children when they are young. These findings have also brought about a significant turn around in his own view of ministry.

Since I became a Christian two decades ago, I have always accepted the dominant notion: the most important ministry is that conducted among adults. But the overwhelming evidence we have seen of the huge impact in the lives of kids and the relatively limited changes in the lives of adults has completely revolutionized my view of ministry. I have concluded that children are the single most important population group for the Church to focus upon. Many churches may not go that far, but I do hope that they will at least consider the research findings and place a greater emphasis upon children. Such a shift in priorities could well bring about the spiritual renaissance that many church leaders have been praying for.

The Bible is also clear – "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

2. Barna on Revolutionary Parenting

Last month Barna released his latest book following up on his research on children titled Revolutionary Parenting. Because of the importance of this book, we quote from “The Barna Update” an April 9, 2007 release, “Research Shows Parenting Approach Determines Whether Children Become Devoted Christians,”

(Ventura, CA) - George Barna has released a new book on a familiar topic, based on an unusual research study that indicates that there are six critical dimensions involved in raising children to become spiritual champions.

In a newly published study on raising children, entitled Revolutionary Parenting, the renowned research expert serves up the latest in a long line of books that have been written on the topic. Barna noted that there are so many books on the subject that it would require releasing ten new books about parenting every day of the year for each of the next 21 years to equal the total number of volumes already available! . . .

Distinctive Research

Most research on parenting has relied upon psychological theories or cultural expectations as the foundation for recommendations. In contrast, Barna's latest work is based on a multi-year study among children who have grown up to reflect specific characteristics. . . .

‘Our strategy was to start by identifying desirable attributes that parents would want to see in their children, then work backwards from the existence of those attributes in young adults to figure out what produced them. We expected that studying people in their twenties who exhibited such qualities would reveal some common practices that the parents of such children had implemented,’ Barna explained. ‘We surveyed thousands of young adults in order to identify several hundred whose lives reflected the desired outcomes, then interviewed both them and their parents to determine the relevant parenting perspectives and practices. The result was not only clear but quite challenging.’

Another unique feature of Barna's research was the assumption that people are created primarily for spiritual purposes. Consequently, the young adults who formed the foundation of the study met some unusual standards:

  1. Knowing, loving, and serving God was identified as their top priority in life.
  2. They described their faith in God as being of the highest importance.
  3. Each of these young adults possessed a "biblical worldview," based on their responses to a series of questions about their view of life. In essence, they contend that absolute moral truth exists; such truth is defined in the Bible; God is the all-knowing and all-powerful creator and ruler of the universe; faith in Jesus Christ is the only means to salvation; Satan is a real being; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and all of the principles taught in the Bible are true and accurate.
  4. They believe that their main purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind and strength.
  5. They are currently active in a vibrant community of faith, as demonstrated by their consistent engagement in worship, prayer, Bible study and spiritual accountability.

One of the most sobering outcomes of the research was that less than one out of every ten young adults in the U.S. meets these simple criteria.

Upon identifying a sample of people between the ages of 21 and 29 who satisfied these standards, Barna's research team then conducted extensive interviews with them regarding how they were raised. After finishing those conversations, the researchers proceeded to interview the parents of those young adults, seeking additional insights into the tactics used by those parents.

‘It's one thing for a professional to write about theoretical approaches or for someone to describe their personal ideas or experiences on how to raise a child,’ the California-based author explained. ‘It's quite another thing, however, to identify a desired outcome and work backwards to uncover its genesis, in order to figure out the likely causes of such an outcome. I chose the latter approach because theories should be the product of outcomes. Unfortunately, much of the literature about parenting is based on theories or experiences that are divorced from significant scientific proof that they produce the desired result.’

Three Types of Parenting

In Revolutionary Parenting, Barna notes that there are three dominant approaches to parenting currently operative in the United States.

Parenting by default is what Barna termed ‘the path of least resistance.’ In this approach, parents do whatever comes naturally to the parent, as influenced by cultural norms and traditions. The objective is to keep everyone - parent, child, and others - as happy as possible, without having the process of parenting dominate other important or prioritized aspects of the parent's life.

Trial-and-error parenting is a common alternative. This approach is based on the notion that every parent is an amateur at raising children, there are no absolute guidelines to follow, and that the best that parents can do is to experiment, observe outcomes, and improve based upon their successes and failures in child rearing. In this incremental approach, the goals of parenting are to continually improve and to perform better than most other parents.

Barna found that revolutionary parenting was the least common approach. Such nurturing requires the parent to take God's words on life and family at face value, and to apply those words faithfully and consistently.

Perhaps the most startling difference in these approaches has to do with the desired outcomes. ‘Parenting by default and trial-and-error parenting are both approaches that enable parents to raise their children without the effort of defining their life,’ Barna explained. ‘Revolutionary parenting, which is based on one's faith in God, makes parenting a life priority. Those who engage in revolutionary parenting define success as intentionally facilitating faith-based transformation in the lives of their children, rather than simply accepting the aging and survival of the child as a satisfactory result.’

Six Significant Dimensions

After spending several years developing, conducting and analyzing the research, Barna noted that the results had a deep personal impact upon him.

‘At one point I stopped working on the project because the results were so overwhelming that I felt like a failure as a parent,’ he admitted. ‘I picked up the project again, however, because I realized that the book is not about me and that the outcomes obviously had the potential to reach the hearts of parents who care about their relationship with God and their children, and it could help us to do a better job of preparing our children for life in service to God.

The book describes the six critical dimensions that were common to effective parents. Those dimensions, each of which included a variety of practices and perspectives, related to:

  1. The priorities in the life of the parent;
  2. The mental entry points for parenting;
  3. The non-negotiable boundaries established for children;
  4. The importance of behaving like a parent;
  5. The critical values and beliefs needed by children; and
  6. The transformational goals identified and pursued.”

B. What lies in the future for Protestant denominations?

We offer one more Protestant thought leader on the future of the church in the United States. Reggie McNeal, director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, released in 2003, the same year as Barna’s research on children, the book, The Present Future. Six Tough Questions for the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). His startling warning is that

The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. This plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.
Please don’t hear what I am not saying. The death of the church culture as we know it will not be the death of the church. The church Jesus founded is good; it is right. The church established by Jesus will survive until he returns. The imminent demise under discussion is the collapse of the unique culture in North America that has come to be called ‘church.’ This church culture has become confused with biblical Christianity, both inside the church and out. In reality, the church culture in North America is a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs. As he hung on the cross Jesus probably never thought the impact of his sacrifice would be reduced to an invitation for people to join and to support an institution. . .
So far the North American church largely has responded with heavy infusions of denial, believing the culture will come to its senses and come back around to the church. This denial shows up in many ways. Many churches have withdrawn from the community. An alternate form of denial has been the attempt to fix the culture by flexing political and economic muscle. Still another form of denial shows up in the church’s obsession with internal theological-methodological debates designed to determine who the true believers are while the world is headed to hell in a handbasket. . . . (pp. 2-3)

McNeal offers many suggestions for possible changes but one is particularly relevant here. He urges “life coaching for spiritual growth” in which churches establish a Congregational Spiritual Development Team “with consulting services offered around life stages: adults, youth, college, preschoolers, children.” Instead of asking questions which are usual for a bureaucratic church such as how many showed up, how frequently, and how busy, he suggests we ask not about the institution but people. “What percentage of your congregants feel they grew to be more like Jesus this past year? How is God at work in your people? Where do you see Jesus bustin’ out?” He argues that every congregation should implement an intentional spiritual strategy for its constituents.

Instead of dumping a packet of church club member stuff on them, why not interview them about what they would like to see happen in their lives in terms of their spiritual development and personal growth? . . . Once a life coach or spiritual development coach completed this interview, they could then fashion a customized personal growth strategy for the person or family. . . .  Imagine the difference in how this would come across to the new member. Instead of signaling to them that they are to find their way into church stuff and make the church successful, the focus is completely turned around. The church treats them as a market of one, convincing them that the church is there to help them develop an abundant life promised to them by Jesus.”

I am recommending that churches provide life coaching for people. We need to view this as spiritual formation.

C. Implications for the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Barna and McNeal

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America faces similar challenges as other Protestant denominations with fairly flat membership growth, per capita tithe increases not keeping pace with inflation, aging average membership, 1,000 churches without enough children to even have a Sabbath School or youth program, declining church attendance rates, membership growth among first generation immigrants with limited resources, and declining enrollment in Adventist education. Valuegenesis2 research indicates that spiritual formation of children in homes also takes place at minimal levels.

Our church does put enormous resources into formal Christian education with a large percentage of many local church budgets going into subsidies for the church school and large amounts of the conference and union budget supporting Adventist education. Little is left over in a local church budget for a more inclusive view of Christian education encompassing all of the elements of helping children become spiritual champions. In funding pastoral positions, the evidence indicates that children are where the focus should be placed. With a growing percentage of Adventist children not attending Adventist schools, in some cases because they cannot afford the cost or because families don’t make an Adventist education a priority or because some question the quality of the education being offered, the importance of broadening our definition of Christian education is an essential if the church is to thrive and grow in the future.

D. Proposal

1. Background

Elder Al McClure, President of the North American Division, organized in 1994 the NAD Commission on Mission and Organization which held five meetings over a two year period. Three subcommittees on Education, Finance, and Structure developed recommendations. The Education subcommittee was chaired by Don Schneider, then President of the Lake Union, with Richard Osborn, then Vice President for Education for the Columbia Union, serving as the subcommittee’s secretary.

The Education subcommittee brought its report to the North American Division Year-End meeting in 1996 with the following underlying philosophy voted.

The denomination should adopt a systems approach to Christian Education by broadening its scope to include all aspects of the church that touch the lives of its youth in such areas as Adventist schools, Sabbath School, Pathfinders, Adventist Youth, Adventist Junior Youth, summer camps, and other youth programs.

Why should we use a systems approach?
Home, Church, and School Working Together
The influential Valuegenesis Report illustrated that when the home, church, and school work together effectively in the lives of young people, high faith maturity and strong denominational loyalty results for students attending Adventist schools. Adventist schools have frequently been blamed as the sole reason when young people leave the church but the picture is more complex involving all three great institutions of the church. For those involved in other educational settings such as public education or home schools, the importance of having a strong religious education program at home and in the church is critical.
What are some ideas on how to use a systems approach?
Tracking system
Seamless process
To help implement the underlying systems based philosophy, the Commission recommends that:
Ø          A tracking system be developed which includes the circumstances of every child and young person from birth through age 22 and that strategies be developed to meet the needs of each.

í          Regular meetings be held among the leadership at every level of the Church which touches the youth of the Church for the purpose of developing and monitoring a seamless process which will assist in building the faith maturity and denominational loyalty of the young people.

A systems-based approach would have broadened the definition of Christian education. The tracking system would have first involved the preparation of guides to help families develop a strategic spiritual master plan for each child upon birth followed by a well organized congregational effort through a child’s life to age 22.

The results of this recommendation have been very minimal largely because of the way the church is structured at the General Conference, division, union, and conference levels. Separate departments for ministerial, education, youth, and Sabbath School each working at a frenetic pace have little time to come together to strategize on breaking down the silos between each department. Each is doing important work but remain detached from each other.

Dick Osborn has on many occasions with no success attempted to get Adventist educators to broaden the definition of Christian education beyond the formal Adventist school in accord with the voted recommendation cited above. He has suggested that the church’s primary focus should be on how to improve spirituality of children through a definition of Christian education used by most Protestant denominations which is more inclusive than just a Christian school.

Specific examples where this idea has been suggested would include education commissions in Florida, Illinois, and Texas Conferences. In December, 2006, Florida voted some implementation actions that might bear fruit in the future. Most argue that their work is so complicated in just dealing with conference-wide school issues and that a systems approach is beyond their ability given the need to work across departments that they end up focusing on more bureaucratic issues which are important but may not get at the fundamental issue. However, Jim Epperson, Vice President for Education for the Florida Conference, reports that since the commission meeting they have had profitable meetings with other departments such as Youth to begin talking about bringing a more systems-oriented approach to their ministry.

In March, 2007, Dick Duerksen, Assistant to the President of Maranatha, and Osborn led a pilot program for Central California Conference called SchoolWorks, a variation of ChurchWorks, in which the conference brought four hundred individuals together including pastors, principals, and many lay members to Fresno, California for a Friday evening through Sunday noon retreat. In working with the planning committee, Duerksen/Osborn were able to get them to agree to focus on children’s spirituality as the organizing principle as the major objective of families, churches, and schools. They first focused on families followed by the congregation and school with groups from each church/school district eventually developing action plans to take back to the local level. Since SchoolWorks was held, the planning committee has analyzed evaluation results and action plans to make sure this was not just a one-time event but will result in actual change. The conference is considering a FamilyWorks conference in the future.

2. Overview of Project

In order to make spiritual champions of children, the Pacific Union Collge Church would take on this task as a pilot program with an Associate Pastor Norma Osborn serving as the point person who would oversee Family and Children’s Ministries bringing a systems-based approach to Christian education. Implementing this broader definition of Christian education would include the following:

  1. Materials would be developed which would consist of several age-based booklets with strategies for helping children grow spiritually.
  2. Templates for parents and children to develop age-based individualized spiritual master planning would be developed from birth through an individual’s retirement years.
  3. These materials and templates could be placed online with links to other resources and media materials.

Growing out of the local congregation, this new definition of Christian education would necessitate a higher level of cooperative efforts of families, congregations, and schools/colleges as we look at how Adventist schools, Sabbath School, formal church worship services (including children’s worship services), Pathfinders, family worship and prayer, parent-child faith talk, service, evangelism, private devotionals, music, television, movies, reading and other approaches deliberately work together to create spiritual champions among children and adults.

These resources would enable a pastor to visit every home to help families create spiritual master plans for each member of the family including the mother and father or the growing number of single parents. When a baby is born, the pastor would visit the home to help the family think about how they plan to raise their child to be a spiritual champion. As family members would age, the master plan would be changed to meet each age need. In line with McNeal’s earlier suggestion about spiritual life coaching, this could eventually become an age inclusive model with booklets for every age of a person’s life. The church’s philosophy, programming, and financing would be centered on helping church members become spiritual champions which in turn could become part of the evangelistic outreach of the church in reaching out for unchurched individuals or for new members.

A key component which might help build Adventist school enrollment would be seeing how an Adventist K-university education might fit into the spiritual master plan by being a key element in improving the spirituality of children. Sometimes parents with children in Adventist schools relax their own conscious spiritual development of their children, feeling they are paying for the school to provide spiritual development so wonder why they should have family worship, family service projects, or deliberate religious education at home. However, it would also help those without the resources to attend Adventist schools or who make other choices such as home schooling or attendance at public or Christian schools, which form an increasingly large number of church members, to become better at making spirituality a priority. This would help improve retention of members.

Spiritual life coaching for all age levels could help bring a new focus to congregational life that could reinvigorate the church for broader service.

3. Steps

a.       A small Steering Committee consisting of Dick Osborn and Senior Pastor Tim Mitchell as co-chairs, Norma Osborn as vice chair, and three other local members would be appointed to facilitate preliminary organization of the project.
b.       An individual would be contracted to survey all available materials and resources during the summer of 2007.
c.       An advisory committee of consultants of experts such as Bailey Gillespie or Jane Thayer would be brought together in the fall of 2007 to brainstorm and advise on the project’s structure and implementation.
d.       The Steering Committee would prepare a timeline and a more definitive budget for the project and begin contacting additional funding sources and possible software experts and publishers with a preliminary report to the Pacific Union President’s Council in November, 2007.
e.       Development of materials would be contracted with various individuals and local church pilot sites selected for the project during the winter of 2008.

4. Funding

Initial funding of the pilot project would come from the Pacific Union. The union would be kept informed about progress. As plans develop, other possible sources of external funding might include organizations such as Hart Research (who might be interested in publishing booklets and templates), Versacare, the McKee Foundation, and other committed Adventists who want to try a new paradigm for invigorating local congregational life and enrollment in Adventist schools.

5. Church Based

Because the program is church-based rather than imposed from a higher level, it becomes a practical and ongoing experience of the local church and the program becomes refined as strengths and weaknesses are discovered. If successful, a local congregation would become the base for other churches to receive training which could then be carried throughout North America. This might be similar to what is happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma where pastors are going to get training from Pastor Bill McClendon on making evangelism a central focus of a local church. It’s also similar to how most Protestant churches develop new programs through such leaders as Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller, John Maxwell, and Rick Warren.

6. Contacts to Date

Reactions to this proposal have been widely applauded including Adventist educators, pastors, church leaders, and most importantly, parents with children.

Tom Mostert and his fellow Pacific Union officers have strongly endorsed this project.

Norma Osborn has met with the PUC Church Board to discuss this proposal coming from a local church. Jim Pedersen, President of Northern California Conference, and Tim Mitchell, Senior Pastor of the PUC Church, have pledged their support.

At the invitation of the North Pacific Union, Dick Osborn appeared before their Education Commission to present the idea. He then met with their subcommittee dealing with spirituality which developed formal recommendations to the full Commission. It appears that the North Pacific Union may take on the important component of improving the instruction of spirituality in the curriculum of K-12 Adventist schools. Preliminary research indicates that the elementary curriculum has more components of spirituality while the secondary curriculum focuses more on doctrines and facts. They may more clearly define where spirituality fits into the elementary curriculum and incorporate already developed materials into the secondary curriculum. This proposed new model could be incorporated in a more conscious way into the current curriculum and become part of helping each teacher and principal develop personal spiritual master plans. Where families and children have developed spiritual master plans at home, these could then be incorporated by teachers into the school, partnering with parents on this important goal for each child. For children from families without spiritual master plans, the school could work with each child on developing individual plans and helping children review those plans on a periodic basis. The local conference and school could renew their study of how spiritual development fits into the overall strategic planning processes of their programs. While this idea isn’t that revolutionary or different from what has been done in the past, it offers a new opportunity to place a renewed emphasis on spiritual development.

Dick Osborn also met with Don Livesay, President of Oregon Conference, and his wife, Barbara, who is a successful elementary school principal transitioning into the conference office as Family Life Director. They are very interested in working on this project by helping identify potential pilot church sites. George Gainer, a pastor in the Oregon Conference, has already volunteered his church as a pilot site.

The Osborns also met with Jane Thayer recently. Thayer developed the Andrews University doctoral program in “Christian Formation and Discipleship” and is interested in helping with the project.

Dick Osborn also spent time with Jon Dybdahl, former President of Walla Walla College and a longtime Seminary professor who has written and focused attention on spiritual formation. He is interested in the project.

On May 29, 2007, the Osborns met with the Pacific Union President’s Council to present the proposal with strong and enthusiastic support from each conference president in attendance.

We ask for your prayers as we enter the next phase of development.

E. E-Mail Reactions

E-mail #1 (from Mostert) -- Ted and I are very serious about supporting the concept and would really like to see the Pacific Union pioneer the idea and develop the materials needed to make it work. With the Net adventist team to write software modules to customize the materials for each family, Color Press to help in design and printing, and HART or the Union available to distribute any materials developed, we have all the pieces needed in house to do the whole job. We will not have any red tape or departmental turf protection to contend with, so we could go full steam ahead from the start.

E-Mail #2 (from Mostert) -- I just finished our Union Administrative Council that includes the officers and coordinators. The Coordinators are really exited about your concept. In fact, we were all so enthusiastic we had trouble getting to the rest of the agenda. We are bringing the $70,000.00 to our next Union Committee so you have seed money to get started.

Dan Houghton also sees something really special coming and is ready to support it any way he can.

My suggestions going forward are along these lines:

1. You and Norma be appointed at the next Union Committee as leaders of this project. (You will soon need to give it an official name.) This will give you an official sponsor and support base (including funding) going forward. But the project must have only one leadership team or we will bog down on all the differing ideas and red tape that so often kill the creative.

2. It will be fully under your control with periodic reports on progress to the Union Committee. I want them to feel ownership although they are not going to try and control it.

3. You may want to think in terms of forming a network of developers in various Unions whom you assign to specific parts of the project. This would allow for an expanded group of creative minds and speed up development at no cost to you or us. I think a network could be particularly helpful in developing various options for ethnic groups incorporating their cultural variations. A Black plan will look different from that of an Asian or Hispanic plan. Yet those various adaptations will be what makes it so powerful. Then you have single parents, religiously divided homes, parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet. There are no end of needs that will require specialized plans. The more specialized talent working on the pieces the better the end product and more successful it will be.

4. I see a danger in the education or ministerial departments trying to develop this idea. It needs to be church based in its direction with a planned link to our schools as the child starts their formal education. Yet some will need to be nurtured by the church through public school years, or home schooling. So to have it under the direction of the education or ministerial departments would limit the possibilities. However, the educators have expertise in training young minds so could be invaluable in developing various segments for the parents as well as new personalized links to the formal church school curriculum. This is the area I see your Union education teams working on under one coordination team. I would challenge the North Pacific educators to make themselves available for assignment along these lines as this moves forward.

5. If this concept were to utilize a vast computer programmed data base developed by various teams, then Norma could become the central production location for the NAD churches. I can see a pastor visiting parents, noting key factors in the home from a sheet you have developed. Then the name of the child is sent by e-mail to Norma, or entered on a special web site. From that she takes the information and using the electronic data base of options on her master computer, customizes a book for the child for a specific year of life. It is then sent to Color Press to be put in book form. They have this special press that can create custom books in quintiles of one to ten or more. It has the same quality as a regular small book but is used for small quantities you want to personalize. Imagine your child with a customized book for each year of life up to age ten. Of course the pastors would need to visit the home at least once a year to update the information and check on the progress. Then they send the updated information to the central office and a second book is printed and sent to the pastor. As this grows Norma would need a team of helpers, but they could be anywhere in the country once trained. This concept would take the whole idea out of the regular departmental domain and put it in a new unique support relationship to both the educational and ministerial areas of spiritual formation.

6. Please pardon my dreaming out loud. I really have no interest in the Pacific Union controlling or getting credit for anything. But if we can provide the support system and one of the testing grounds for this paradigm shift, that is enough. Please take any of my comments above or anything said later in the context of just brainstorming ideas, not anything definitive I have bought into. If you go an entirely different way you can still be assured of my support since we agree on the target. Again, it is important to have only one leadership team in developing this program. All others should be seen as part of your support system or network developers. Then we can move forward rapidly in a coordinated way.

7. Both you and Norma are uniquely qualified to lead this project and I want to again pledge my enthusiastic support for it. Just let me know how I can be helpful. – Tom Mostert, President, Pacific Union

This looks like a wonderful pilot program and I hope it succeeds wildly. It might be kind of hard to measure the success, but don't be discouraged. – Tim Kubrock, Principal, Monterey Bay Academy

My mother forwarded your message (part below) which circulated round Southern University, knowing my passion for shifting our vision for Adventist education to a much larger view. I’ve networked with Kathy Beagles, Donna Habenicht, Jane Thayer, Linda Koh, Phyllis Washington, Noellene Johnson, Ron Whitehead, Don McLafferty and others as I’ve coordinated children’s ministries, pathfinders and training for children and youth ministries through Pioneer Memorial Church over the past 9 years. Through CIRCLE work, I’ve been connecting with teachers and education leaders across divisions. I have shared with our CIRCLE steering committee a sense that we operate too many silos, without a connected lifelong religious education vision, without clear developmentally-appropriate objectives for spiritual formation, or assessment strategies to focus our efforts and guide the development of new ways to do frontline evangelism, which I see as religious education through home, church and school, with the church providing the framework that knits the home and school spiritual education efforts together. We need to have church-based religious education that nurtures the 75% of students who don’t have access to Adventist education globally, beyond one hour of Sabbath School a week. Undoubtedly such intentional partnership from a new paradigm would as a by-product, draw more of them into Adventist education! Just last week Pam Consuegra, superintendent in Minnesota shared resources with CIRCLE, a small indication of how they are melding evangelism and education, and there are more – we just never developed a climate of sharing and collaboration across formal and informal Adventist education! Wheels turn slowly, so your email is a breath of fresh air. 

I’d love to know more about this project, help disseminate information, be a catalyst for change in some small way. Two doctoral dissertation proposals I’m interested in both connect with this area – perhaps we can collaborate and my research can further assist your initiative. Would you share Norma’s contact info please? – Glynis Bradfield, CIRCLE Director, Andrews University

Please know that I support the suggested youth program coordinating all youth ministries to a common goal. I felt, when I was in Arizona, fresh from Montana where I had Youth, Education, Health, Pathfinders, and etc. many youth targeted ministries, that we had a better approach than in Arizona where we had several different people unilaterally going 90% in different ways. – Ron Russell, Director of Education, Mid-America Union

I’ve done a quick read of the proposal you’ve drafted—and I find it impressive and convincing. I think it is wonderful that the idea has been advanced at a time when funding appears. What a happy coincidence—although I feel the word, coincidence, is inappropriate. That is the way things look to us at times, but if we could see the outworking of God’s designs we would not think of such things as merely coincidental.

I have read some of Barna’s research on the future of the Church. I appreciate the other research that is summarized in your document. I’ve been asked by BRI to write a chapter for a book about the Church.  My chapter is to address the matter of Church organization and the future. There are many factors, both internal and external to the Church that will have significant influence on organizational structure and operations in the immediate and near future, not to mention the long-term future. Yet, I think that many Seventh-day Adventists expect that what we have at present is what has been divinely appointed for all time.

We are on the edge of changes that are very far-reaching. I am delighted to find further evidence of that in the research that you have summarized—particularly in the idea that innovations in programming will arise increasingly from the local church rather than from denominational structure. (I wish I could be 20 years of age once again—but of course with the knowledge and experience that it has taken 60 to obtain.) – Lowell Cooper, General Vice President, General Conference

Your "systems" proposal is exciting. – Kent Hansen, Attorney

Your communication is already taking root and producing fruit. I've quickly read through your explanation for staying and the Proposal you and Norma put together. (Kelly thought I’d benefit from them)

I'm thankful for your focus. Two months ago my head elder and I were discussion the demands made of the church in the spiritual formation of our youth. We realized that too much responsibility had been passively given to the church school and not enough integration and initiative taken by the local congregation. – Steve McHan, Pastor, Northern California Conference

As for the content of the proposal, it is very clearly articulated and rational. What is outlined, I believe deserves a valid trial. It focuses on changing methodology in order to intentionally strengthen the system of reaching our children and families within the local church context, rather than trying to impact them later in life and/or in a different setting.

I would see NCC supporting this concept/experiment at the PUC church. With Tim, as you would hope, being in favor of giving it a try, and with the broader potential support of the Pacific Union, etc., I think the proposal offers a great deal of possibilities. We certainly would want to give “thumbs up” to a project such as this, to see where it could lead, as long as there is approval from the church staff leadership there at PUC. It seems to fit Norma’s gift mix very well.

Norma’s new ministry model will be good, not only for PUC and NCC, but also potentially for the church at large. – Jim Pedersen, President, Northern California Conference

I also enjoyed reading your Children as Spiritual Champions proposal--it makes so much sense! And as a (relatively) new parent, I am excited about the possibility of our church being the pilot for this project. It's great to have some "out-of-the-box" thinkers and doers in our church who are willing to break away from the norm. I agree that our church and school system need help-fast! Thank you for sharing this idea with us. – Michelle Rai, Assistant Professor of Communications, PUC

And as I read through your letter and proposal, my emotions went from relief, to appreciation, to admiration, and finally to awe. Your proposal is so timely. As we accompany our grandchildren 
to their Sabbath Schools - the songs are now unfamiliar, and it seems so "politically correct" in avoiding a lot of the basic tenets we loved and hoped our kids would learn. I'm speaking of Cradle Roll and Kindergarten, of course, which I led for so many years back when. But I've yet to hear songs about creation, heaven, or reverence. Maybe I haven't attended enough. – Amabel Tsao, PUC Board Member

Your proposal is exciting and Norma would be perfect to launch the initiative . . . – Ham Canosa, Vice President for Education, Columbia Union

I am also very excited that your proposal has received the traction is needed and is going to move forward. I think this is a tender time for our educational efforts, but, at the same time, a very exciting time of possibility. Being someone who is so new to all of this, it gives me to know that there are people looking forward, helping to shape the church I will serve for a positive future. – Jonathan Thornton, Youth Pastor, PUC Church

Thanks for sharing a copy of your "Proposal" and your ideas for educating the children of the church. There is no question that from Barna's research to our own ValueGenesis Studies, the best faith maturity development takes place (1) when the children are young and (2) when the home, church and school work closely together in a seamless and supportive role. I'm afraid that today far too many pastor's see the school as somehow in competition with the church as they struggle to balance their budgets. That is unfortunate. The concepts that you have reiterated are not necessarily revolutionary but they make a lot of sense. We know that while they make sense we have never been able to put legs on these ideas to really make give them a fair shot at actually working. I guess part of the problem is that change always requires a certain amount of risk.  That is why it is difficult to motivate some people to get interested in trying some new approaches. But as they say, "it is impossible to steal second base and still keep one foot on first."  – Gil Plubell, Retired Director of Education, NAD 

I just finished reading your proposal. I realize the difficult position the church is in regarding young people, and I applaud the concept you have proposed. One area that I frequently share with others, which hit me a few months ago, relates to evangelism perpetuating first generation Adventism. If we want second and third generation we need to find ways to keep our children in the church. If we continue to hold to the public evangelism modality, not withstanding Barna's assertions, we will continue to be a first generation church. Adventist education, formal and informal, is the key to developing a second and third generation within the church. Great plan! – Larry Blackmer, Associate Director of Education, North American Division 

I read the paper you and Norma wrote. THIS IS LONG OVERDUE!! I have often watched other churches, some without the benefit of the excellent school system we have, that seem to do a better job of integrating their church belief system into the lives of their children and vice versa resulting in an easier transition into spiritual adulthood (along with loyalty to the denomination). Coming from Idaho where LDS is so strong, I witnessed this first hand with some degree of jealousy for the SDA Church.    It almost seems like we say that since we have such an outstanding school system (and we do) and that the Church is investing so much of the Church dollars in that system (and we do) that we have done enough. We must have, as your paper suggests, a more fully integrated spiritual plan for each child and paraphrase another program we should not have any child left behind.
The problem here is not your is fantastic. The challenge will be in getting the bureaucracy to break loose from today's reality for a vision for what can be. While we pride ourselves in having a great world wide governance system, which is true, it is that very system that sometimes causes us to strangle good ideas and vision for the status quo. This idea really could fly if a very few thought leaders . . . say "Let's Do It!" I hope they do Dick. We need to. – Bob Kyte, General Counsel, General Conference of SDA

I just finished the proposal. It makes a powerful case–If not now when?  If not us who? – John Hughson, Administrative Pastor, PUC Church

Your points regarding the proposal are well taken suggesting a systematic approach to building a spiritual learning community (tracking & operationalizing the process combine to ensure accountability/ outcomes). Thank you for sharing this information. I am honored to be a recipient. – Jeanette Rogers Dulan, Professor of Education, CUC

I have read the d