Facing a Fantastic Future: Announcing the Rev. Alton and Ethel Wheeler Leadership Development Fund

Written by Carl Greene

April 5, 2023

Why was Rev. Wheeler looking toward the future at age 63? 

June 7, 1980. After 28 years of active ministry, Rev. Alton L. Wheeler preached a capstone sermon which invited Seventh Day Baptists to face a fantastic future with renewed vigor. He had already served as pastor of four Seventh Day Baptist Churches, led the SDB General Conference of USA and Canada as General Secretary, and served the SDB World Feder-ation as Executive Secretary. Again, why was Rev. Wheeler looking toward the future at age 63? 

Rev. Alton and Ethel Wheeler invested in young leaders. They stewarded the leadership potential that God had entrusted to Seventh Day Baptists. They realized that advancing God’s Kingdom is about more than ministry tasks. Ministry is about people with names and stories.  Facing a fantastic future is not just a historical footnote from 1980. The legacy of investing in young leaders continues today thanks to the example of ministry couples such as the Wheelers alongside God’s gracious pro-vision of financial resources. A generous endowment has been established in honor of the Wheelers to equip emerging SDB leaders for Kingdom service today and into the future.   

Rev. Alton Wheeler and Leadership Development  

When Alton was summoned to ordination in July 1943, he described how he was shaped as a ministry leader. He referenced the influence of his parents and the equipping through formal education—but there was more. His ministry leadership potential was specifically shaped by ministers in his young adult years. He savored opportunities to serve and do life together.  

The opportunity to join with other young SDB ministry leaders in discussions and gospel work under the guidance of Rev. J. L. Skaggs led Alton to face the future that God was calling him to.2 Someone invested in Alton and other young leaders—an investment that multiplied many times. 

When Rev. Wheeler transitioned from service as the SDB General Secretary in 1975, he returned to the pastorate at the Riverside, CA, SDB Church. In announcing the change, the SDB Commission highlighted a legacy of looking toward the future, where Secretary Wheeler made “every effort . . . in any way possible to assist in training outstanding Seventh Day Baptist minis[ters].”3  Seeing a theme develop here? Back to the “Facing a Fantastic Future” sermon in 1980. Rev. Wheeler called SDBs to press on4 with a sense of direction.5 We join God in His work with intentionality and diligence. For Rev. Wheeler, that work means forming young leaders through deep investment. 

God’s Provision in 2023 

The SDB General Conference is looking toward the future through healthy leader initiatives. A priority work of the Conference is to develop and support new and existing leaders who will work through increasingly healthy local churches.6 From SDB pastoral internships and the SDB Ministry Staff Development initiative, to leadership development gatherings such as Flourish and Amplify, to SDB Directors and pastors directly mentoring emerging leaders, to the SDBU ministry and pastoral leadership certificates, we are investing in people. 

And God provides. 

The Rev. Alton and Ethel Wheeler Leadership Development Fund has been established to equip and missionally send young SDB leaders as we face a fantastic future. A gracious gift by Rev. Glen Warner has catalyzed the investment in our emerging leaders—reflective of the way that Rev. Wheeler invested in him. Rev. Warner served alongside Pastor Wheeler in Riverside, CA, then went on to serve SDB Churches in Seattle, WA, and Denver, CO. Rev. Warner has also left a Christian legacy through his vocational work in the market-place as a marketing executive. And as an encourager of SDB emerging leaders. 

SDB Leadership Development 

As Seventh Day Baptists, we have the opportunity to face the future with renewed vigor. We are in a season of actively equip-ping emerging leaders for ministry service in the present and for the future. You have the opportunity to participate in facing the future!  

  1. Pray for Spirit-led discipleship among  SDBs within our churches and Conference. Pray for Spirit-led identification of emerging leaders. As a body of believers, may we encourage one another to actively advance God’s Kingdom according to His plan. May we actively embrace the good work while fully embracing and trusting God’s Sovereign design (Psalm 127). 
  2. Pray for our emerging leaders—that they will clearly hear God’s call on their lives to active service. Pray for their mentors and the ministry work that God has called them to.
  3. Face the future through giving to the Rev. Alton and Ethel Wheeler Leadership Development Fund. This is our opportunity to invest in today’s ministry and tomorrow’s ministry leaders. You can join the initiative through sending your financial gift to: SDB General Conference; Box 1678;Janesville, WI 53547 or by going to: https://www.seventhdaybaptist.org/giving/   For more information about giving opportunities, contact the SDB Director of Finance at rochs@seventhdaybaptist.org  

 We were facing a fantastic future in 1980. We have renewed opportunity in 2023. Together. \


Sermon by Rev. Alton L. Wheeler preached at Riverside SB Church on June 7, 1980. Original manuscript provided by Rev. Glen Warner.

  1. Alton L. Wheeler. July 1942. “Call to Ministry.” Ordination Council. Richburg, NY, p. 3. Thanks to SDB Director Nick Kersten for providing significant historical reference documents on file at the SDB Center.
  2. SDB Commission. 1975. “Secretary Wheeler to Return to Riverside Church.” p. 3.
  3. Philippians 3:13-14.
  4. Hebrews 12:1-2; 2 Peter 1:5.
  5. https://www.seventhdaybaptist.org/vision-map/ 

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