Constant improvement includes abandoning the things that no longer work… When a strategy or an action doesn’t seem to be working, the rule is, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try once more. then do something else.’ The first time around a new strategy very often doesn’t work. Then one must sit down and ask what has been learned… Try to improve it, to change it and make another major effort. Maybe, though I am reluctant to encourage that, you should make a third effort. After that go to work where the results are. There is only so much time and so many resources, and there is so much work to be done.” —Peter Drucker
A hard thing about organizational work is living the question, “Should we keep this latest change or move on to something else?” Conventional wisdom says it’s irrational to repeat the same actions and expect different outcomes, and yet it can be hard to know in the moment whether to persist or to adapt.
The Adventist community is currently persisting with its debates on ordination, church order, and local conference variations. Commentators keep invoking Acts 15, a Bible chapter that describes an early Church meeting about the status and responsibilities of non-Jewish believers.
Last year, just before the General Conference session in San Antonio, TX, communicator and consultant Ray Tetz outlined his perspective on the Acts chapter. “When faced with the cultural issues surrounding circumcision, the early church preserved unity for mission by endorsing different practices for different peoples. Their decision then is our example now,” Tetz said.
Statesman-evangelist Mark Finley also engaged this chapter the previous fall. In his own appeals to General Conference delegates, Finley argued that the church’s debate about the status of women diverted members’ attention from evangelism. He then suggested that critics of women’s ordination ought ultimately to comply with the majority’s decision, whatever it might be.
For onlookers like Jason Hines, however, this is entirely ordinary.
Some people who’ve already spent years engaging church leaders on this topic are justifiably wearing down. For them, “constant improvement” includes “abandoning the things that don’t work” and releasing a resistant denomination with them. Other people keep calling us to stay grounded and hopeful, trusting that the next step will become clear. In the meantime, any of us might have tangible positive actions to keep focusing on instead.
In the end that’s all that persistence means: engaging long enough to experience the present moment with others, and caring enough to clarify the next step.