Denomination Seventh-Day Adventist
Pastor Mike Tucker
Address 4409 Pleasantview Drive
On The Internet arlingtonadventist.com
Main Service Saturdays at 9:00, 10:15, and 11:30 A.M.
Generally speaking, Seventh-Day Adventists don’t make much of a splash. Formally organized in 1863 by prophet Ellen G. White and other religious leaders who thought the Second Coming (or Advent) of Christ was imminent, they believe that a literal interpretation of Scripture requires them to worship on Saturday—the biblical Sabbath—and they often lead moderately ascetic lives, eschewing tobacco and alcohol and much of popular culture. They emphasize good nutrition (Adventists gave us Weetabix, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and granola) and maintain numerous schools and top-quality medical facilities. The denomination claims a worldwide membership of 15.2 million baptized believers, but only 7 percent of those live in the United States, and most congregations here are rather small. So when I learned of an SDA church in Arlington that holds three services on Saturdays, I broke my habit of breaking the Sabbath and joined them for the 11:30 hour.
I arrived just as the 10:15 “Younger Generation” worship was ending. It had packed the sanctuary, which holds about 650 people, and the next service drew at least that many. With 1,800 members, Arlington Adventist bears most of the marks of the modern megachurch. In the foyer that morning, a platoon of guest services personnel greeted comers with a smiling “Happy Sabbath.” Display tables offered information on a wide range of church activities. The amphitheatrical sanctuary bristled with lighting and sound equipment, the broad dais contained drums and guitar amplifiers as well as a grand piano and an organ, and a large video screen displayed announcements and song lyrics. Two digital clocks that registered the time down to seconds helped speakers and musicians keep the service on schedule, since it would be televised and made available via podcast.
An eleven-page section of the hymnal contained a set of songs peculiar to Sabbatarians—“Come, O Sabbath Day,” “Don’t Forget the Sabbath,” and “We Love Thy Sabbath, Lord”—but as the sanctuary filled, a pianist played unobtrusive renditions of “Softly and Tenderly” and “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” and we sang nothing that would discomfit a Baptist or a Pentecostal. In another admirable similarity to many megachurches, the congregation was remarkably diverse, with sizable numbers of not only Anglos, blacks, and Hispanics but also folk I judged to be Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Filipino, and possibly Cambodian.
The service proceeded in familiar fashion, with announcements, a hymn, and an invocation and welcome from Pastor Mike Tucker, a trim and appealing man in his mid-fifties. Then came the dedication of a baby, a brief ceremony in which the boy’s parents affirmed before the congregation their intention to care for his spiritual and physical welfare. (Adventists practice baptism by immersion, but only of believers old enough to know what they are doing.) Next, a woman spoke of the church’s budget and of the need to give generously. She didn’t have to belabor the point, since Adventists are among the most generous givers of all Christian denominations.
At other Adventist services I have attended, the music has been, frankly, pretty deadly. Not so on this morning. In addition to spirited congregational singing, a pretty young woman, accompanied by a goateed guitarist, sang of Jesus’ ability to take an ordinary day and turn it into May. A second praise team followed. Then, after a time of prayer, Michelle Tumes, an Australian pianist and vocalist of considerable stature in Christian music circles, provided yet another melodic offering. (Tumes is not an Adventist, but she is married to one, and her husband is a friend of Tucker’s; since she was in the Metroplex for the weekend, she had volunteered to perform.)
Despite the packed agenda, the service moved along efficiently. As soon as Tumes finished, the large screen showed a rapid-fire sequence of people’s responses to the question “What makes you feel secure?” The answers varied widely: job, family, cat, Buddhism, meditation, God, love, and, from some, nothing—“There is no security… It’s all a free fall without a parachute.” The video was slickly done and an effective lead-in to Tucker’s sermon, “Security in an Insecure World.”
I was not surprised that the security toward which Tucker wanted to point us is the dependability of God’s promises to those who have entered into covenant with him through the atoning death of Christ. Quoting Hebrews 6:19, he said, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” And I would not have been surprised if he had elaborated by proclaiming the distinctive Adventist belief that Christ will arrive at any moment to take the redeemed to heaven, where they will bask in his presence for a thousand years before returning to a refurbished “new earth” to spend an eternity of peace and bliss. But I was somewhat surprised that, citing both Christian and secular psychologists and using apt illustrations from the Bible, the Constitution, the Military Channel, and Carol Burnett, he warned against parenting styles that create insecurity in children, noted the problems associated with geographical and social mobility, delineated the dangers faced by type-A personalities, and described the triple perils of aggression, addiction, and anxiety. All of these, he said, stem ultimately from insecurity. He did not claim that believers could ever be free of such problems, only that trust in God’s promises can provide an anchor to help one weather the inevitable storms.
Tucker is a good speaker. His tone was conversational and his manner easy, but he knew exactly what he was doing and did it well, which helped to account for the size of the church he leads. In a later telephone conversation, he acknowledged that his approach and his congregation are more contemporary than one finds in most Adventist circles but that they represent an emerging trend. Though he holds to traditional Adventist doctrines, he admitted, “We see them in a different light. We are more grace-oriented.” He added that overemphasis on biblical prophecy and strict behavioral standards had caused Adventists to lose their original focus. “We have missed the gospel,” he said. “Some [Adventists] are able to tell you exactly what will happen in the last days but not how to live on Monday morning. We need to do both.”
While that approach has brought some criticism from traditionalists, Adventist leaders obviously approve of Tucker’s message. He was recently appointed as speaker and director of Faith for Today, the denomination’s flagship television program, and he produces Lifestyle Magazine, a show geared to a younger and educated audience and aired over Trinity Broadcasting Network. This fall he will be the speaker on a series of thirteen evangelistic programs originating at the Arlington church and carried live around the globe on the SDA’s Hope Channel and online. Clearly, Mike Tucker is a rising star in the SDA sky. It will be interesting to see how successful he can be at reconfiguring the Adventist constellation.