Commission Studies Church Structure Flexibility
xamining concepts of flexibility in denominational structure and the impact changes would have on the world church was the focus of a 30-minute report on Monday afternoon of the session by the Commission on Ministries, Services, and Structures. Lowell C. Cooper, a GC vice president and vice chair of the 102-member Commission, described the report as informational, but also suggested that division officers take the concepts reviewed by the Commission back to their constituencies at year-end meetings, solicit their opinions and reactions, and then report their suggestions to the Commission.
Cooper described the work of the committee as examining a “philosophical concept of whether, and to what extent, there could be flexibility in the church denominational structure,” compared with the current “single template in our organization’s building blocks.” He added that the church must have both local and global expression, but that the question arises as to how the many local churches around the world become connected as a global family engaged in mission and demonstrating unity. Cooper observed that Adventists primarily derive their representation patterns from their organizational structure. “If we allow for change or variations in structure, how do we find a mechanism for fair representation?” he asked.
Subcommittee Studies Unions of Churches
A 15-member Commission subcommittee, chaired by GC vice president Michael L. Ryan with world church associate secretary Vernon B. Parmenter serving as secretary, also presented a report concerning an organizational unit called a union of churches and defining how that model would affect the overall church organization and membership on the GC Executive Committee. Parmenter defined the term union of churches as “a united organized body of churches within a territory having similar status to a union conference or union mission and a direct relationship to the division.” Currently, six Adventist unions of churches exist—five countries in Euro-Africa Division and one in the Trans-European Division. He stressed, however, that fair methods of dealing with tithe return and church representation need to be addressed.
“Mission and growth happen in a localized setting, and the environments in which they happen vary throughout the world,” said Cooper. “We must recognize that one organizational pattern may not be the most effective way of responding to the core values of mission and unity.”
The Commission will next meet during Annual Council 2007 in Kiev, Ukraine.
“HisHands” Puts Mission in Our Hands
Making missionary service more personal is a goal of “HisHands,” a new volunteer program adopted by the 2006 Annual Council delegates on Sunday afternoon of the session.
Associate world church secretary Vernon B. Parmenter announced that the “HisHands” initiative is ready to be implemented by Adventist congregations. Four new manuals, including a training manual prepared through the collaborative efforts of the ministry departments of the General Conference, are ready for distribution to the local churches. The training manual includes a section on cross-cultural ministry, witnessing to neighbors, an overview of world religions, instructions on how to start a youth ministry, and tips on storytelling and teaching a Sabbath school class. A CD with all four manuals and related PowerPoint presentations for pastors’ use is also offered. A Web site database will be in place by the end of the year.
“HisHands” is based in the local congregations, explained Parmenter. The foundation stone of the program is the “HisHands Commission,” a group of local lay members selected by the local church board who will lay plans to send a missionary, to host a missionary, and to take full responsibility for project resources.
He added, “ ‘HisHands’ is organized to harness the lifting power of every congregation for yet greater outreach during these last days of earth’s history.
“The basic principles for the program come directly from the Bible in Acts 13,” Parmenter said. “Christian mission had its beginnings in Antioch, in a local congregation where Barnabas and Saul were members. It began with prayer and fasting and was based in a small group of earnest believers and demonstrated leaders. The Holy Spirit’s call came in response to their prayers. The church members laid their hands on Barnabas and Paul, then sent them on their way.”
“Volunteerism is not a new thing within the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” noted world church secretary Matthew Bediako. “This church started with volunteers, and the work of our mission will finish with volunteers. The ‘HisHands’ initiative is a giant step forward to mobilize the whole church to be involved in a service within their communities and conferences.”
“If we lose sight of mission, then our church dies,” said Adventist Mission director Gary Krause.
For more information, go to www.hishands.adventist.org.
Church Shows Largest Tithe Increases in Its History
General Conference treasurer Robert E. Lemon and undertreasurer Steven G. Rose surprised delegates during the Monday morning business session of Annual Council by reporting that the church has experienced the largest tithe increases in its history.
“Total worldwide tithe [in 2005] increased by $159,237,439 over 2004, which is 11.9 percent. The tithe in the North American Division increased by an incredible 9.52 percent,” Lemon said.
“In addition to the increase in tithe,” Lemon added, “the really big story is the miraculous turnaround in mission offerings.” In 2005, a 2.1 percent increase in total mission offerings was experienced—from US$49.7 million to US$50.6 million—Lemon explained. “This is good news since the trend over the past 75 years has shown that total offerings have been steadily declining,” he said. “If mission offerings had kept pace with what they were in 1970, today we would have $300 million in offerings in the budget. . . . These funds are foundational to mission. I think there is no time in our history when we have had more involvement in mission.”
Lemon credits this turnaround, in large part, to the General Conference Adventist Mission, which, he says, has been working hard to get the message out about the importance of the mission offerings and reporting on not only outreach goals but also the challenges still remaining to reach the whole world with the gospel message.
“We are confident that as God’s people understand the importance of the mission offering in finishing the work, especially in the vast unentered parts of the world, they will respond,” he declared.
2006 Year-to-Date Figures
Rose deciphered the August 31, 2006, financial statistics for the delegates in a PowerPoint presentation that detailed year-to-date figures, including what he described as a “healthy” 6 percent increase in total tithe income, compared to this time last year. Non-North American Division (NAD) tithe income year-to-date experienced an increase of 17 percent; NAD tithe income increased by 3 percent. Rose noted, however, that a significant portion of total tithe returns in NAD come in at the end of the year.
Non-NAD 2006 mission offerings increased by 3 percent, and NAD by 5 percent, Rose explained. The total combined world mission offering came in at $32.7 million, an increase of 4 percent. Total world offerings amounted to almost $33 million.
“I couldn’t be happier to see the direction the mission offering is going,” declared GC vice president Michael Ryan from the floor. “I know that a lot of people have contributed to making that turn around.” He then appealed to church leaders to express appreciation to their local church members for their commitment and to continue to keep the focus and initiative of the church on mission.
“Tell the World” budget
The budget for the General Conference “Tell the World” initiative—a high evangelism priority of the world church—was also delineated. More than $30 million of funds already included in the GC world budget have been designated for 2006, with almost $13 million of that contributed by General Conference departments. The remaining funds are supplied by other church programs, such as Sow 1 Billion, Hope for Big Cities, Global Mission, and media ministries.
“The operating costs of the General Conference account for less than 1.5 percent of total tithes and offerings,” Lemon explained. He further noted, however, that “while we will work to keep costs down, we must be careful not to push it to a point where we cannot carry out the functions that need to be cared for at the world headquarters.”
Looking at the Big Picture
Lemon described a recent reexamination of both the historical and current practices of the GC treasury department, resulting in a recommitment to look more carefully at all the ways church funds are spent. Studies currently underway that are scrutinizing “how the church does business” include:
1. Commission on Ministries, Services, and Structures, which is studying how to best organize church structure to fulfill the gospel commission.
2. Use of Tithe Study Commission, which is examining the correct use of tithe.
3. Review of appropriation structure.
4. Study of recommendations made by the 2001 World Stewardship Summit on how to handle offerings and communicate the principles of stewardship.
A DVD and a PowerPoint presentation about stewardship and the church’s use of tithes and offerings, which are available to local churches, were also shown. To get copies of these programs, contact your division’s Stewardship Department.
“Let us continue to thank the Lord for the opportunities He has given us to have a part in His gospel commission, not only by our own witness but also by sharing the resources that He has entrusted to us,” Lemon concluded. “We need to finish the work.”
More Than 1 Million Baptized Each Year
Bert Haloviak, GC director of Archives and Statistics, reported to Annual Council delegates that 1,093,089 people were baptized into the Adventist Church between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006—the fourth year in a row that number has exceeded 1 million. This means that daily baptisms average 2,993.
The current world ratio of the number of non-Adventists to every Adventist is 444 to 1. Division averages range from 74 people to every Adventist in the Southern African-Indian Ocean Division, to 5,896 to one in the Trans-European Division. Two other divisions show ratios of fewer than 100 to 1: South Pacific Division (85 to 1) and Inter-American Division (95 to 1).
Nominating Committee Report
In its Tuesday morning business session, the Annual Council delegates voted to accept the resignation of Douglas Clayville, associate secretary of the world church. Clayville will now be pastoring two churches in the Oregon Conference.
G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD), was elected as associate secretary of the General Conference. Ng, a native of Singapore, has served as secretary of the SSD since 2000 and brings more than 30 years of church work experience to the position. His resume includes dean of the Theological Seminary at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies.
Williams Costa, Jr., communication director for the South American Division, was elected associate director of the General Conference Communication Department. Costa brings more than a decade of experience to the position, having also served as the director of the media center in Brazil and as speaker of It Is Written, Brazil.
Costa succeeds John Banks, who is retiring and returning to his home country of Australia in the South Pacific Division.
The Council also voted to appoint Edemar Kattwinkel as the new associate director of General Conference Auditing Services for the South American Division. He succeeds Geraldo Bokenkamp, who is retiring from that position. Kattwinkel has 30 years of experience in financial management and oversight.
Delegates Vote New Education Policies
After much conversation, delegates voted a policy that came to the floor “after many years of discussion and concerns,” according to GC vice president Ella Simmons. The policy would restrict offering tenure and continuous employment for non-Adventist faculty at Adventist universities and colleges. Simmons, who presented the new policy, further explained that the request for the policy came not from the GC but from higher education faculty, board members, staff, administration, and others. The policy allows for civil laws and regulations in world regions that would preclude this restriction from becoming effective.
“Our ideal has been that 100 percent of our faculty—our teachers in our colleges and universities—be Seventh-day Adventists, but this has not always been possible,” explained Simmons. “In some regions of the world civil laws and other academic and professional regulations prevent this from being the case. . . . A lack of prepared available Adventists who are willing, interested, and able to come to our institutions is also an ongoing challenge.”
A second policy that requires members of the governing boards of Adventist colleges and universities to be members of the Adventist Church—again allowing for regional civil laws and regulations that would make this action illegal or difficult to impose in certain regions—was also voted. Faculty members who are not Adventists, though, may serve in advisory capacities.
Nix Notes Responsibilities, Challenges, of White Estate
I would be less candid if I did not acknowledge that the White Estate, and thus the church, faces some challenges regarding Ellen White’s writings,” said White Estate director James R. Nix during his report to the delegates Monday morning of the session. Among those challenges, Nix emphasized, are attacks on Ellen White by negative Web sites that have resulted in “members losing their faith in Ellen White, members leaving the church, potential members sometimes deciding not to join the church after reading negative attacks, and even a few ministers leaving the ministry,” he said.
Tackling the Criticism
Nix then listed methods the White Estate is using to combat this type of negativity, including:
• assisting with implementing the GC’s Ellen G. White global book distribution and translation project called “Connecting With Jesus”;
• working with divisions to foster production of CD-ROMs of Ellen White’s writings in non-English languages;
• implementing a 5-year youth promotion program targeted to reach young adults in all world church divisions;
• serving as a resource to divisions through visits and support of the Ellen G. White Adventist research centers worldwide.
Projects and Programs
Nix also informed delegates of many projects and programs conducted by the White Estate since 2002, and an emphasis on resources for young adults was evident. A paraphrase of counsels from Ellen White pertaining to uses specifically relevant to today’s young adults called A Call to Stand Apart has been published; a short video about Ellen White designed for youth called e-Dream has been produced; and the book Messiah, a paraphrase of The Desire of Ages, has been published in collaboration with the Pacific Press Publishing Association. An Ellen White devotional book, updated Ellen White compilations, and a more complete published edition of Ellen White’s writings on CD-ROM have also been released.
Nix also noted extensive travel to assist church members and leaders. “During the past quinquennium staff members from the White Estate have made presentations in all 13 of the world divisions,” he said.
Sabbath School Supports “Tell the World”
“Sabbath School and Personal Ministries [SSPM] is at the heart of the ‘Tell the World’ initiative,” stated department director Jonathan Kuntaraf during the Tuesday morning session of Annual Council.
Kuntaraf and his team shared initiatives currently well underway within SSPM that he says naturally align with the “Tell the World” initiatives, preparing all church members—young and old—to go and tell their neighbors, and the world, about the love of Jesus, making them disciples. The programs and projects include:
• production of Bible study guides and teachers’ resources;
• teacher training at all levels;
• Sabbath school action units;
• coordination of community services;
• personal ministries training;
• International Institute of Christian Ministries;
• Reaching and Winning series (contextualized Bible study lessons for non-Christian people);
• witnessing skills in curricula for children and youth;
• small-group ministries;
• training for prison ministries and literature distribution;
• lay training for public
• six Web sites;
• online correspondence schools.
SSPM is the place where disciples are made, said Kuntaraf. “It provides the training ground for spiritual leaders and prepares church members for outreach because it nurtures spiritual growth through personal and small-group Bible studies and prayer.”
During his presentation on Sunday afternoon, Adventist World Radio (AWR) president Benjamin Schoun announced that AWR now broadcasts in 67 languages. The newest languages to be developed are Thai, Lao, and Hmong, which will be produced at a new studio in Thailand.
“For the first time the restricted country of Laos, where there is very little Adventist presence, will hear the gospel through media,” Schoun said. He also reported that additional FM stations will be built in Blantyre, Malawi; Kitui, Kenya; and Bujumbura, Burundi.
Other AWR initiatives include the distribution of podcasts; Megavoice Ambassadors (solar-powered devices that can be preprogrammed with 200 hours of audio content); and solar-powered/crank radios to people in difficult-to-reach regions.
- Delegates voted to hold General Conference Session 2015 in San Antonio, Texas.
- The next World Youth Council will take place in Taipei, Taiwan, December 24, 2007, to January 5, 2008.
- The Hope Channel celebrated its 3-year anniversary by presenting a cake to GC president Jan Paulsen during the business session of Annual Council.
Good Clean Funds
The Adventist Review and the Review and Herald Publishing Association have combined efforts to create a fund-raiser that has the ability to benefit schools, church groups, and other nonprofit entities seeking to raise money for specific projects. “The beauty of this fund-raiser is that it is simple, Web-based, and boasts an inventory of Adventist products appealing to Adventists and non-Adventists alike,” says Jackie Smith, marketing director for the Adventist Review. The Web site (www.ReviewFundraiser.org) is currently undergoing testing before its official launch in the next few weeks.
News Editor: Sandra Blackmer; Editorial Assistant: Jean Kellner