"Younger Pastors" & the Restoration Network: a conversation with Andy Rice and Derek Irvine
Tom Loghry: We’re here talking with Andy Rice and Derek Irvine, the dual-creative force behind the “younger pastors” phenomenon that is afoot in the Eastern Region of the Advent Christian denomination. Before getting to our questions about “young pastors”, would you each mind sharing with us just a little bit about yourselves?
Derek Irvine: Originally from northern Maine, I grew up in Georgia and didn't even know what an Advent Christian was until I spent a summer at Camp Nomacca. Through that connection, I ended up at BICS where I met my wife, Kathleen. I finished my undergrad at Lancaster Bible College and then went on to pursue my masters degree at Gordon Conwell. After graduation, I served my first church in Clifton Forge, VA as associate pastor for five years and then was called to Vernon AC Church where I have been serving as Associate Pastor for the past two years. My wife and I have one daughter, Anna, who turned six on Christmas Eve.
Andy Rice: My story is a little different from Derek's -- growing up as the son of an AC pastor I didn't know there was anything but Advent Christians! I lived in Meredith, NH and Bangor, ME before spending my most formative years in Oxford, MA. I also attended BICS, where I began dating my wife, Carrie. That's also where I met Derek and where our friendship began. I finished up at LBC and then received dual degrees from Gordon-Conwell. A few months after Seminary I started as pastor at Faith Evangelical Church in Melrose, MA where I've been for the past seven and a half years. Carrie and I have four children, ranging in ages from 4.5 months through 8 years old.
TL: Now that we know you just a little better, hopefully you can help us get to know a little bit more about this phenomenon going on in the Eastern Region. What is “Younger Pastors”? How did this all start?
DI: As far as how it started, I really just wanted to get together with friends in the region that I never get to see. After discussing this possibility with several of the "younger" pastors at the 2015 ERA Convention, the tone and serious issues that were brought forward during the business session of that convention moved us in the direction of serious discussion of the issues we face as a denomination and meant that we were going to be doing more than just hanging out.
AR: So Derek pitched the idea to me and I was all in to help make this a meaningful opportunity for the younger pastors in our Region. We identified a few criteria so as to make sure we included the entire cross-section of younger pastors - around 40 and under, and involved in vocational local church ministry within the Eastern Region. That worked out to be about 25 or so guys that Derek contacted to gauge initial interest. The response was great! It turns out that most of us were longing for this kind of opportunity for dialogue.
TL: When and where did this gathering first meet? What came out of it?
AR: We first met at Alton Bay in May 2016 - about 17 of us were able to make it for an overnight gathering. The time together was well spent in conversation, fellowship, worship, and prayer - and well received too. We had three main areas of discussion that ranged from Advent Christian history to organizational structure to some initial constructive dialogue about our future. We also talked about the nature of our group and how we could be involved.
DI: We first met in May 2016 in Alton Bay, NH. The main agenda was to discuss what it meant to be Advent Christian. We did this by looking back throughout our history to identify what the essentials were, if in fact there were any, that gave the first AC's their identity. The most important thing to come it our first meeting, in my opinion, was our commitment to be more involved at the conference level in our individual contexts. Over the first year, several of our fellow pastors are now serving on their conference boards in various capacities.
TL: How often have you met since then? When was your latest gathering and what were some of the issues that were discussed?
DI: It was decided that we would try to meet twice a year, in October as part of the ERA Convention and then in May. We met both times and at our last meeting on May 2-3 our main topic was the mission of the local church and how we can network together in order to build stronger relationships to grow our churches. There was also some discussion about the upcoming vote on the proposed statement of faith at the Triennial Conference in June.
AR: We should add that in each of our gatherings we've tried to incorporate a balance in terms of the issues discussed. It would be easy to resort only to "shop talk" or perhaps only to discuss the things that affect our Regional network. Instead we've framed each time so as to have focused discussion in all these areas, including an opportunity to share personal trials and burdens and then to pray for one another. We also leave plenty of time for small talk and side conversations that have proven to be helpful to chase rabbit trails, and to create new relationships or foster existing ones.
TL: Do all the guys who have been a part of this agree on everything? Is there an underlying philosophy or concern that you share?
AR: I think there is broad theological and philosophical agreement, but that's more a product of having similar backgrounds, training, and experiences than it is by design. There certainly has been no litmus test for participation in the group and there is plenty of diversity among us. However there is enough agreement for fruitful dialogue about the issues we face and mutually beneficial partnership. Of those who have gathered so far there is certainly a strong commitment to theological orthodoxy as defined in, for example, the proposed Statement of Faith. I can imagine a future dialogue in which we attempt to identify the specific areas of agreement and the relative importance of those areas.
DI: I think we all share a concern for the future direction of our movement. Although this concern has some theological components (especially in regards to the infallibility of Scripture and affirming the nature of the Triune Godhead), I believe most of us are concerned about the sustainability of our movement. As a movement, our denomination was never set up for great success with our shaky beginning (accepting of everyone within the Second Coming Movement) and our insistence on autonomy, but certainly our identity crisis within our current structures and our financial woes make the future look rather bleak. Our desire is to seek possible solutions to these issues as we believe that the very existence of our movement is at stake. These topics certainly merit further conversation at any of our future meetings.
TL: Where is this group going from here? Do you guys have a name or is it simply “Younger Pastors?” Is this a group just for younger pastors?
DI: Because the origin of the group was meant for fellowship, I had initially just planned on the group to come together organically which would naturally lend itself to a younger crowd. But as we started to discuss the issues that concern our denomination, we decided that it would benefit everyone to include all pastors, not just younger ones, in future meetings. Nothing has been discussed at this point as to what that would look like or how it would effect our current schedule of meetings as I think that it's important that we do keep our group of younger pastors together even if it means going back to the original intent of fellowship.
AR: As Derek mentioned, while it was easiest to start with the natural affinity of us younger pastors, our desire has never been to be separatists. We would rather lead the way in Region-wide dialogue (and beyond!), and we hope to find ways to do that going forward. As for a name, we talked about it at the outset and then decided to hold off. But we knew that "Young(er) Pastors" is not only a little bland, but also won't be accurate for too much longer. So we just recently settled on a name - the Restoration Network. We're starting to see ourselves as a network of pastors who are interested in mutually beneficial partnership - so it's most natural to refer to ourselves that way. We chose the word "Restoration" for a couple reasons. First, it ties well with our theological vision that culminates in God's restoration of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth. Second, it reflects our heart's desire not to start a revolution against the status quo of Advent Christendom, but rather to seek its renovation and restoration. This was an early conclusion we made as a group - to reject the impulse to give up and start over, and instead to patiently pursue God's work of restoration in our network of churches.
TL: Is there any encouragement you would offer to those ministering outside of the Eastern Region?
DI: My encouragement to anyone outside the Eastern Region would be to join us! If you are concerned with theological orthodoxy and the future of our movement, then join together with others within in your spheres of influence and start having these conversations. And then make your voices heard in the various avenues we have available whether its through the publications put out by ACGC or through social media platforms such as the Advent Christian Voices Facebook Page. We must begin an honest dialogue about these matters which are a concern to our movement if we want to have any success in bringing about meaningful solutions.
AR: Amen to that! The two words that come to my mind are dialogue and participation. Advent Christendom flourished in the early days at least in part because of its commitment to publication and dialogue, but today we have all but lost that commitment! It's time to begin serious conversations about who we are, what we believe, and how we can be involved in the mission of God in this world. At this stage I don't know what it looks like for someone outside our Region to be involved in our network, but dialogue about key ideas and issues can happen anywhere. I would add to that participation. In just a year's time we've seen half a dozen of our guys step up and start filling important roles in their Conferences and in the Region. This, too, can happen anywhere. It's of no benefit to complain about issues from the sidelines. So wherever God has you, according to the gifts He has given you, don't hesitate to actively participate in the Advent Christian network of churches. I'm excited about what God is doing in and through the Restoration Network, but even more excited to think that similar efforts are taking shape throughout the country. To God be the glory!
TL: Thank you both for sharing with us what God has been doing through the Restoration Network. We look forward to hearing more about your continued work in the months and years to come.