Adventist Concepts of Church Management

PASTOR: Adventist Concepts of Church Management

Part I

Associate Professor of History and Religion, Southern Missionary College

[EDITORIAL NOTE.—Out of his experiences as a pas tor and church officer in Norway, Denmark, England, and North America, and from observing the pastoral problems of some of his brethren here and there, Elder Tobiassen gathered the impression that confusion sometimes exists as to certain principles of Seventh-day Adventist polity. For the last few- years he has taught certain courses in church organization at Southern Missionary College, and the article presented here, and another to follow, give some of the points of view he arrived at while studying various problems with his students as well as with his fellow ministers and church officers. For three years he has been associated with the nominating committee in the large church at Collegedale, with approximately eleven hundred members and two hundred church officers; two of the years he served as chairman of that committee. This experience opened his eyes to problems and factors that are not always clearly understood by everyone. He will be happy if what he has written may be of help to some.—R. A. A.]

Organizationally, the ultimate authority in the Seventh-day Adventist Church rests with the membership as a whole. This fundamental principle is expressed in the provision that the two most important administrative functions of the church are per formed by the entire church membership in assembly: admitting (or transferring or dismissing) members and electing church officers. It is true that the church can admit only such persons as an ordained minister has baptized; it is true also that the church can elect as elder only such a person as the president of the conference, or his deputy in the district, will ordain. Yet the final selection is made by the church member ship as a whole.

This fact makes it imperative that the church members be intelligent in church affairs and Adventist polity. If the members do not sense the needs of the church, they will elect inefficient officers. If the members do not understand our doctrines and principles, they may admit or dis miss or transfer members without good grounds, or neglect to dismiss when the situation demands it. One of the chief duties of the pastor, therefore, is to instruct the members in the right practices and policies of Adventist church management. He cannot do that with success unless he has himself studied and thought through the fundamentals of Adventist church polity. If the colleges have neglected this essential phase of ministerial training, the conference presidents and other experienced workers, provided they have carefully studied these things themselves, should not fail to assist their younger brethren in gaining a clear concept of what we do organizationally and administratively in our churches, why we do it, and how we do it.

One good way of refreshing one's understanding of Adventist polity is to restudy the Church Manual and reread the various leaflets outlining home missionary, Missionary Volunteer, Sabbath school, and other departmental procedures and organization. It is discouraging to the conference departmental secretary for the pastor to still use vocabulary and organizational techniques of the 1920's. Many valuable improvements have been contributed to the new edition of the Church Manual and the organizational leaflets issued by various General Conference departments. Also, the pastor should take time again to think through certain of the procedures and terms he has to employ. A pastor who is not quite sure of the difference between such terms as "to nominate" and "to elect" cannot with propriety function as chairman of boards and presiding officer of churches. "We shall now appoint a nominating committee to elect officers for the coming term" was a statement recently overheard, which gave evidence of insufficient thinking or dis respect for vital policies that our denomination has adhered to for ninety years.

Another way of helping oneself better to understand organizational practices and become more successful in guiding our church officers and members into full familiarity with correct Adventist procedures is for the pastor to take the trouble (although it should mean no trouble) a week or so ahead of time to outline a fairly detailed agenda for the board meeting or the church election (business) meeting over which he is to preside. He should prepare this as carefully as he prepares his sermon or his monthly report to the conference treasurer.

Members' Individual Rights

Our church members should be made to sense their individual rights and responsibilities as constituents of an Adventist church organization. Every care should be taken on the part of the pastor to let the members have all legitimate opportunity to participate and make their views fully known on matters of church elections and decisions. If this degenerates to a mere formal approval of something that has been firmly and irrevocably fixed beforehand in some board or committee, the sense of responsibility for sup porting the officers and the projects of the church will naturally decline. On the other hand, care should be exercised in stating matters to the members so that they appreciate the careful and intelligent study given to the various recommendations by such groups as have been duly elected by the church as a whole. For this reason subcommittees of the church board should not report directly to the church assembly.

Reports of progress of the missionary work of the church and its MV and other auxiliary organizations should be made often and in forms that effectively instruct and inspire. Graphically illustrated statistics, or some other effective way of conveying accurate impressions, should always be substituted for mere reading of figures. The weekly or monthly pastoral letter, the weekly bulletin, and other types of mimeographed or printed communications should be employed with plan and skill in persistent efforts to keep the members intelligent and inspired.

Successful Business Meeting

The monthly or quarterly church business meeting ought to be prominently advertised and carefully planned in all details. If special music is ever needed as a "drawing card," it may be needed in connection with the business meeting. A Faith for Today kinescope or some other appropriate picture might occasionally be used, perhaps without previous advertising. The pas tor's introduction should be very short; five or six minutes are sufficient. The various reports should be rendered by way of charts, graphs, and other effective ways of visual as well as audible presentation. Mimeographed statistics should be distributed. Under no circumstances whatsoever should reams of figures be read without visual aids. The meeting should begin on time. And why not close one minute before the announced closing time? After a few good and reasonably brief business meetings few Adventists in the church will want to miss them.

The pastor must never succumb to the temptation to think that painstaking attention to administrative and organizational details is of minor significance. He will do well to contemplate the fact recorded in Holy Writ that organizational reform in the early church preceded signal spiritual and missionary success. (Acts 6:7.)

Selecting the Right People in the Right Way

Usually it does not take much more than a few minutes for the average Adventist church to elect its officers for the new term. During these few minutes the church performs the most important and far-reaching organizational act of the whole year. If the wrong selection is made, even if in the right manner, the church will mark time for twelve months, neglecting its mission. If the right selection is made—and it can be made only in the right way—the church and its members will receive rich spiritual blessings and will be well prepared to convey rich blessings to the world. The pastor can assist in no more important administrative function in the church than in the processes of nominations and elections.

Few if any members in our churches are intentionally vicious; few are much below average in intelligence. When we find, as we do in too many instances, that the wrong persons are elected to good offices where they either (in many cases) do nothing or (in a few cases) do wrong, the reason probably lies in the way in which nominations and elections were handled. Through the years our denomination has developed certain practices that have proved good; at least they have proved better than a number of other ways that are sometimes suggested and occasionally employed. The pastor's responsibility is to guide the church in the right way of selecting the right officers.

Electing the Committee on Nominations

We may not want to admit it in so many words, but really in nine hundred ninety-nine of one thousand cases the recommendations of the nominating committee are accepted by the church, and so it should be. How important, therefore, are the quality and practices of the committee! It should not be too small; nine is a better number than seven in most cases. In large congregations the nominating committee should have several more members. It is usually best to have a special committee elected by the church, nominated either from the floor or by the church board, to nominate the committee on nominations. This special committee should not have too many members, yet great care should be exercised in its work of composing the membership of the nominating committee.

There may be factions in the church; if so, all of them should be represented on the committee on nominations. The worst mistake would be for the majority to exclude the minority, if there be one, from the process of selecting nominees. Therefore the pastor should urge that the nominating committee be truly representative of all interests.

The members of a committee on nominations should have analytical minds. Members who cannot distinguish between able people and others will do untold harm on such a committee. The committee members should also be acquainted with our denominational practices and with the needs of the various branches of the church program. They should be men and women of prayer and of personal devotion to the ideals and activities of the church. It is also imperative that the members of the committee be willing to take both time and pains in thorough consideration of the needs of the church organization and the suitability of the various candidates.

The selection of the committee on nominations should begin the second or third Sabbath in October. The committee itself should be ready for work early in November and should present its final report the third or fourth Sab bath in that month. This schedule will enable the new officers to spend December in intense study of their duties and plans.

The Process of Nominating

The first step of the committee on nominations after having elected its most able member as chairman, should be to enable each church member to make his individual suggestions (as outlined in THE MINISTRY, October, 1951, p. 25). On the straw ballot each office listed in the Church Manual, pages 172, 173, should be indicated.

In the actual selecting of nominees the pastor should watch for any evidence of personal prejudice or clique politics in the committee. It may be that he needs to have an earnest heart-to- heart talk with certain members. The pastor cannot always prevent unhappy nominations; yet he should feel free to talk things over frankly with individual members of the committee if he senses any need for it. Personal prejudice may sometimes be more of a hindrance to the progress of God's work than overt sin.

Often certain people are suggested because they are new arrivals; nobody knows much about them and they appear more desirable than the old stand-bys, who have been well known in the church for a long time. Often the cry is heard: "Oh, let's have a change." No change should be made except for the better. No man should be recommended for superintendent of a Sabbath school until he has proved to be an efficient teacher in the Sabbath school. No one should be leader of the MV Society until he has gained experience in one of the bands, or at least has proved willing to gain such experience. Someone who has neglected his church office should be nominated to another and minor office, rather than renominated for an office he has neglected. The committee on nominations does well in first selecting its nominees for head deacon, head deaconess, MV leader, home missionary leader, Sabbath school general superintendent, and JMV leader. These individuals may then work with the committee in finding suitable associates and assistants for their various departments.

Statements made in a nominating committee should not be repeated outside, but the pastor should guard against derogatory "information" being presented against anyone without one or two members of the committee being assigned to investigate impartially and thoroughly the basis, if any, for the "information." Sometimes some men's reputations have been ruined behind the cloak of privileged secrecy in a nominating committee.

The report of the committee should not be voted on until it has been given a second reading at least twenty-four hours after the first reading. The church members should have some time to examine the list of nominees. Nominations from the floor are not in order; therefore the committee should at the time of first reading announce when and where members of the church could meet with the committee before the second reading. Those making objections should be treated with respect; no committee on nominations should claim an absolute monopoly of all wisdom.

(Concluded next month)



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Associate Professor of History and Religion, Southern Missionary College

October 1952

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