We live in a time of rapid change and nearly unimaginable exchange of information. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the past two years. To put it another way, all but a tenth of humankind’s knowledge about the universe didn’t exist three years ago.1 By some estimates, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months, which means anyone’s fancy degree loses its relevancy at an ever-increasing rate.2 In the modern era, the amount of data available is staggering. By one estimate, every 60 seconds, 150 million e-mails are sent, nearly 70,000 hours of Netflix video are streamed, 2.78 million YouTube videos are viewed, and 347,222 tweets are made.3
The extreme amount of information available and the incredible amount of data growth translate into a profound impact on our cultural and societal thinking. As individuals, it can be difficult for us to notice how much our thinking has changed, but when we think about how rapidly society has changed, the importance of data and the speed of that difference are more apparent. Consider how society has shifted its thinking in the past 10 years. Western culture has gone through several phases or perspectives in its thinking during the past decade alone. For example, society’s collective thoughts regarding race, politics, higher education, immigration, gay marriage, and religion have seen historic shifts in only a few short years.
The question leaders of any organization should ask themselves is how they will stay relevant and agile to keep pace with a world changing as fast as ours. There are many potential answers to the question, but if leaders fail to include constant personal growth, the answers are of little consequence. If the world’s knowledge is growing at exponential rates and having a direct impact on society, we must constantly be aware of the most significant knowledge shifts and how they influence those around us. We must never stop learning. The moment we feel comfortable and fail to grow in any part of our lives, we risk falling behind and becoming irrelevant in that particular area. Both the individual and the church organization are in danger of not meeting the needs of those they aim to serve if they lack adequate knowledge about who they are serving and/or how to serve them.
According to the Bible, the true measure of a professional is the eagerness to continually improve. Biblical support for lifelong learning is unmistakable. Proverbs 1:5 states, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (ESV).4 Speaking directly to ministers, Peter states, “for if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”5 In both of these texts, the Bible speaks to the necessity of continually seeking knowledge and self-improvement.
In Acts of the Apostles, Ellen White expands on this biblical principle by writing: “Those who are chosen of God for the work of the ministry . . . by every possible means will seek to develop into able workmen.”6 She went a step further and made the matter of continuing education for pastors plain when she wrote, “the gospel is not properly taught and represented . . . by men who have ceased to be students.”7 Pastors are not alone in this endeavor of lifelong learning. Ellen White wrote that as ministers “manifest earnestness in improving the talents entrusted to them, the church should help them judiciously.”8
Our church has a responsibility to communicate vision, strategy, new policies, and new procedures. If we are to operate in solidarity and accomplish our goals, we must be able to cast our vision with all of our members and share the strategy, policies, and procedures necessary to realize that mission.
Today’s church leaders have a responsibility to train new leaders how to disciple others, support new innovative methods of ministry, and creatively deal with new challenges as they arise. We need to do all of these things en masse. If we fail to do so, we will not realize our members’ full potential for furthering the Great Commission. Equipping new ministers and educational leaders and disciples with the skills they need to effectively carry out the Great Commission should be a top priority of our church. With more than 19 million members, located in hundreds of countries, who speak hundreds of languages, we must find new avenues for unleashing our untapped potential in efficient and cost-effective ways.9 Operating in proverbial silos and not utilizing every tool at our disposal to further the work are no longer acceptable. Collaboration, sharing, and constant innovation are necessary to unleash our church’s full potential.
By utilizing distance-education technology, our church can quickly and with agility communicate across vast distances and organizational boundaries. Regardless of people’s location, station in life, or ability to pay for education, if they desire to serve Christ, the church should provide them the resources and training necessary to do so. Through free online courses, our church can communicate its vision and strategy, foster new leaders, and equip people for ministry en masse with relatively little investment.
Currently, the North American Division’s Adventist Learning Community (ALC)10 offers more than 60 free courses for teachers, pastors, administrators, believers (lay members), and those who seek Christ. Knowledge about Christ and how to serve Him through ministry should be open and readily available to all those who desire it. This is why the ALC offers free courses such as community-service training, how to successfully witness to millennials, and the philosophy of Adventist education. By building online courses available to anyone willing to take them, we as a church organization will be able to achieve success across great distances and organizational hurdles. It is possible to share a free training resource online with one person or with ten thousand. The ALC’s digital resources are also highly editable because they do not exist in hardcopy form. Updating and making editorial changes can be done for the entire world instantly and do not require any printing presses. This means that as new developments arise, the church can respond with a previously impossible agility.
Most importantly, the democratization of educational and ministerial resources through free and open online courses means anyone and everyone wishing to serve the Lord can do so with competency. No longer is continuing education or ministerial training available only to the privileged few lucky enough to enjoy the opportunity to access it; it can be shared with all.
Introductory remarks presented as part of the October 6, 2016, LEAD Conference panel titled “Alternate Models for Achieving Educational Mission.” A version of this presentation was printed in the February 2017 issue of Adventist Word Magazine.
Adam Fenner, PhD, is Director of the Adventist Learning Community, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Dr. Fenner finds satisfaction in coordinating the development of ministry training and teacher-certification courses that will make professional development only a click away for lay members and church employees alike. He earned his doctorate from American University in Washington, D.C., and specializes in U.S.-Latin American relations. He has taught history in Honduras and currently teaches world history online at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. While pursuing his doctorate, he worked professionally as a freelance researcher at the Library of Congress and National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Adam Fenner, “Reaching the World Through Technology,” Journal of Adventist Education 79:3 (April–June 2017). Available at https://jae.adventist.org/en/2017.3.9.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- IBM, “Bringing Big Data to the Enterprise” (2016): https://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html.
- David Russel Schilling, “Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to Be Every 12 Hours,” Industry Tap Into News (April 2013): http://www.industrytap.com/knowledge-doubling-every-12-months-soon-to-be-every-12-hours/3950.
- Jeff Desjardines, “What Happens in an Internet Minute in 2016?” Visual Capitalist (April 2016): http://www.visualcapitalist.com/what-happens-internet-minute-2016/.
- All Scripture references in this article are quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
- 2 Peter 1:8.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1911), 353.
- __________. The Voice in Speech and Song (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1988), 323, 324.
- __________, The Acts of the Apostles, 354.
- In 2015, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had more than 19 million members, and more than 974 languages were being used in its publications and oral work. See “Seventh-day Adventist World Church Statistics 2015,” Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR), General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (October 26, 2016): https://www.adventist.org/en/information/statistics/article/go/-/seventh-day-adventist-world-church-statistics-2015/.
- Adventist Learning Community: https://www.adventistlearningcommunity.com/.