What Kevin Costner Taught Me about Our Church Leaders

September 01, 2005 | Karl Haffner

The theme of the Gleaner this month reminds me of Kevin Costner and a restroom.

I’d better explain that. Some years ago I attended a game at the Forum to watch the Los Angeles Lakers host the New York Knicks. At halftime, my brother, Paul, and I were moseying toward center court when we spotted Kevin Costner. We gawked at the Hollywood superstar sitting no more than 20 feet away.

“Let’s see if we can’t get a little closer,” I suggested.

“Great idea,” Paul agreed.

Suddenly Costner got up and headed for a roped-off area on the main floor. Galloping toward a posse of security officers, I whispered to Paul, “Just follow him into that room. Act like we know where we are going, and don’t look at anybody.”

We eased into the restricted area like FBI agents at a crime scene. We slid through a tunnel of tinsel created by the Lakers dance team and watched Costner disappear through a stately, mahogany door—into a restroom.

Suddenly Kevin Costner looked very human. The big screen persona disappeared.

Famous people have always intrigued me. Of course, this isn’t true only for Hollywood legends. I’ve long admired spiritual giants as well.

Take Ellen White, for example. To think of God calling a frail, 17-year-old girl to change the world is remarkable to me. She wrote more than 50,000 pages of literature and sparked a prophetic movement and denomination that now includes nearly 15 million adherents around the world. It’s no wonder that I stand in awe of this woman. Millions share my feelings of wonder and respect for her. Nevertheless, she was just a regular person.

Read up on the personal side of Ellen White, and you’ll discover that she panicked when her 2-year-old son was dead for 20 minutes. She felt butterflies when she fell in love with James. She recoiled at the unsavory task of delivering a message of rebuke from God. She was as ordinary as you or me, with an extraordinary gift of prophecy.

To this day her legacy continues in the strong leadership of our church. I watched the 58th General Conference Session with great interest and admiration for our leaders. God is still calling and empowering people in this church to change the world. Every day roughly 3,000 people join our church—reminiscent of Pentecost. Every decade our membership doubles. Why? Because God is working through thousands of leaders in our community of faith. The GC president, conference presidents, deacons, Sabbath School teachers, and millions of other common folk like you and me continue to work together to fulfill God’s prophetic mission for this church.

Now and again I’ll think of Kevin Costner and how ordinary he seemed when I saw him in real life. While I still admire him, seeing the real Kevin Costner clued me in that he’s not much different from you or me. The same is true of Jan Paulsen and every other Seventh-day Adventist on earth. We’re all ordinary people called by God to do extraordinary things.

It was no different for Ellen White. Read her stories for yourself, and I trust that you will see her not only as a prophet but also as a person. All in all, she was a legend with a brave heart. Yet she was as ordinary as a tin cup.