Photographer: Enno Mueller
United States | Juan R. Prestol-Puesán, PhD

Leaders are essential to communities, and acknowledging this it is also a great need in the Adventist church should not be surprising. As the General Conference embraces a new leadership development initiative, a few thoughts may help us to clarify the scope and importance of mission and organizational life of this new program and how important faith is to those entrusted to lead.

The Need for Faith

Leadership education is popular everywhere, and it is so in the Adventist church. From its beginning, the contribution of leaders to Adventism has been uniquely valuable. Early in the life of the Church, many Adventist leaders developed themselves without much formal schooling, and they led while living under limitations, persecution, and hardship. In fact, we owe a debt of gratitude to them for their courage, their example, and their guidance. They embodied excellence to many of us. However, the reality of today is that many church entities, departments, and institutions are actively involved in developing qualified people for positions of leadership. 

What is the purpose of the General Conference in entering the leadership “Adventist market” and seeking worldwide participation in a leadership development effort? What is the importance for mission that leaders understand better their commitment to grow? How do we know that this new emphasis follows the correct orientation? These questions need our attention. 

To be a leader in the Adventist denominational structure is a privilege offered to those believers who responds to His calling and decide to make a service contribution to mission. Seventh-day Adventist leaders stand to benefit much when they understand the denomination and when they understand their own personal educational and spiritual journey. Leadership, as expressed by J. Robert Clinton, is “a dynamic process in which a man or a woman with God-given capacity influence a specific group of God’s people toward His purposes for the group. [1]

The biblical record consistently presents the leader as one who is divinely called and empowered for a task. [2] Once they have responded affirmatively, they embark on a spiritual journey as they grow in the knowledge of God, His purposes, and His mission. [3] Adventist leaders are involved in a spiritual journey. 

The new initiative of the General Conference seeks to reclaim participants from the negative effects of loneliness, doubt, discouragement, demotivation, perplexity, dissatisfaction, frustration, “quiet-quitting,” [4] burnout, and lack of commitment. Also, issues such as mediocrity, inefficiency, systemic failures, lack of cooperation, lack of innovation, dissent, passive opposition can be fertile ground for a mindset of defeat can be seen and addressed. These and other afflictions weight heavily and take a toll on those entrusted to lead. They need to grow in the application of the best work methods and by reconnecting with Christ as the source of spiritual power. Ellen G. White wrote “Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ.” [5]

Adventist Leaders in Search of Balance

In his work entitled “Embracing Religions in Moral Theories of Leadership”, Ali Aslan Gümüsay [6] stated that the Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, acknowledge three elements that can significantly impact leadership principles and practices: 1) a belief in the existence of and a relationship to a God; 2) the faith in and pursuit of a hereafter purpose: and 3) the belief in and attempted adherence to a sacred scripture. 

A true Adventist leader is Christ Centered (a relationship with God); is a believer in God’s plan of salvation as outlined in the controversy between good and evil (faith and pursuit of God’s guidance and purpose); and becomes adhered to the truth, as it is revealed in the Word of God (relies on the sacred scripture) placing him/herself in the best position to reach his/her fullest potential. 

These three elements help bring religion, faith, values, beliefs, and commitment together in ways not found in secular positive, moral, and ethical leadership theories because, as Gümüsay affirms, “for some believers, their religion is conceived as an “ultimate concern”. [7]

In simple words, Gümüsay is saying in his paper that moral theories of leadership [8] (Authentic, Ethical, Servant, and Spiritual) are not sufficient in and of themselves to provide the guidance religious leaders desire and require to develop. It means that faith is clearly essential for an Adventist leader to be able to connect the wisdom and knowledge of theories with the commitment to his/her faith. 

Indeed, a leader benefits from the wisdom and knowledge that theories provide, but there is a need to balance theoretical knowledge and faith, helping prevent leaders from becoming religious fanatics, or cold and disengaged practitioners. Such a balance between faith and theory is essential for balanced growth in service, as neither should exclude the other. [9]

Personal and Institutional Growth 

Adventist leaders function best when they understand their calling, when they live and function within a truth framework, and when they balance their commitment to service with a clear understanding of values such as trust, honesty, integrity, and transparency. Distinctive qualities and virtues such as these will help leaders move mission forward.  

The purpose of the Leadership Development program is to provide leaders opportunity to reflect, learn from their successes and failures, and bring their work in line with Jesus, His mission, His message, and His calling. The leadership development program seeks to offer them the space to reflect, reconnect, and recommit. 

Ellen G. White was on point when she wrote “When the mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite, the effect on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. In such communion is found the highest education. It is God's own method of development.” [10]

A New Partnership for Mission

This initiative is a joint effort of the General Conference and Andrews University’s Global Leadership Institute (GLI). A new partnership was created to help many continue their journey better equipped with renewed inspiration, clearer vision, and a new sense of urgency. 

In 2016 the process began with conversations and dreams of doing something on leadership growth and innovation. It received a new impulse in Cape Town, South Africa in February of 2020 at the Global Leadership Conference, and found a fertile ground and a clearer focus through pilot programs conducted in Europe and the South Pacific between the years 2020 and 2022. 

In its present form the program may complement existing leadership development efforts and initiatives of divisions that have them already in place, but also it may serve as a valuable primary source for other territories that offer more modest and limited leadership development options to their personnel. Your prayers are solicited on behalf of this initiative. May the energy and the resources invested be a timely blessing to many in their journey of service. 


1 Clinton, J. Robert. 1988. The Making of a Leader, NAV Press, Colorado Springs, p.44.

2 Genesis 12:1-9; Exodus 3:1-15; Joshua 3:7; 4:14; 1 Samuel 1:18; 16:10-13; Jer. 1:1-4; Acts 6:1-4; 1:21-26; 9:1-9.

3 A.W. Tozer, as quoted by Charles Swindoll in his book on Moses expressed “A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation.” 

4 In recent media presentations the concept named “quiet-quitting” has been presented as a reaction of employees to the demands of the job environment. “In a nutshell, “quiet-quitting” is about rejecting the notion that work has to take over one’s life and that employees should go above and beyond what their job descriptions entail. This can take many forms – including turning down projects based on interest, refusing to answer work messages outside of working hours or simply feeling less invested in the role.”

5 White. Steps to Christ, p. 18.1. Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, DC. 1908. 

6 Gümüsay, Ali Aslan. Embracing religions in moral theories of leadership. IAcademy of Management Perspectives; Dr.Gümüsay is a Lecturer at the University of Hamburg, Germany and at Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria.

7 Ibid. p.3

8 Moral theories of leadership incorporate a concern for others, altruism, ethics, integrity, transparency, and role modeling.

9 In a personal advice to a Brother Hull Ellen White expressed “Your success as a minister depends upon your keeping your own heart. You will receive more strength by spending one hour each day in meditation, and mourning over your failings and heart-corruptions, and pleading for God’s pardoning love, and the assurance of sins forgiven, than you would by spending many hours and days in studying the most able authors, and making yourself acquainted with every objection to our faith, and the most powerful evidence in favor of our faith.” —The Review and Herald, January 19, 1864. Pastoral Ministry, p. 25.2. 

10 White. Acts of the Apostles, p. 129.1. Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho.