Once each year, early in October, approximately 325 Seventh-day Adventist administrators, treasurers, secretaries, and departmental personnel from around the globe meet for eight days at the church's world headquarters in Washington, D.C., to plan church strategy for another year.
What is Annual Council like? Undoubtedly, it is one of the smoothest and best organized of the church's major meetings. It is long days and short nights. It is multiplied hours of sitting in various committees and meetings. It is the opportunity to speak out on an issue dear to one's heart. It is praying and worshiping with colleagues. It is minutia and technicalities. It is substantive matters with long-lasting effects on God's work. It is blue notebooks that begin with some fifty pages of material and bulge at the close of the meeting with a total of perhaps 300 pages of actions, plans, and reports. Annual Council is, in short, excitement combined with boredom.
The group that meets in October feels a special closeness—knit by a common bond of belief and objectives, by policies that cover every aspect of church organization and work, and by the financial bond of a world church that depends largely on funds allocated during the Council. (Last October's meeting voted a General Conference budget of $152,572,000. This budget is an action of faith because it represents, not money that is on hand, but funds that are expected to come into the General Conference treasury through the faithful giving of members during 1982. This budget, of course, is over and above the offerings received week by week in the 21,861 Adventist churches around the world or the tithe and offering percentages retained by the local and union conferences. The $150 million-plus budget for 1982 represents an increase of more than $10 million over 1981—no small sum when related to a total church membership of only slightly more than 3.5 million persons.)
Since many of you seldom have the opportunity to be present for an Annual Council session, you may appreciate a brief view of the daily proceedings from this weary delegate's perspective.
The day officially begins at 8:00 A.M. with a one-hour worship service, followed by a ten-minute break before the business session starts. These short breaks occur about three times a day and are precious, for they give delegates the chance to meet one another, renew old acquaintances, transact church business, comment on the proceedings, and carry out all the apparently necessary chores that have not been allotted time in the regular schedule. In fact, these interludes become such a happy time that the chairman often finds it difficult to bring the meeting to order again. When he does manage to settle things down, the chairman introduces various items on the agenda. Point by point we will begin to go through the first of several hundred items. Microphones, placed strategically throughout the auditorium, wait for the delegates' use. Many of the agenda items are the crossing of t's and the dotting of i's in policy changes. This is where the boring part comes in. A number of the delegates congregate elsewhere—in the halls or outside—to carry on personal business while the lengthy policy changes are being made by modifying a word here and there. However, the number who stay inside to sit through the entire proceedings is truly amazing.
Most delegates demonstrate an uncanny sense of knowing when a very important item is coming on the floor. They hurry back inside, and those who have been listening with something less than full attention wake up, ears tuned and eyes focused on the secretary as he reads through some proposal that affects the entire delegation. As is done with each item, a motion is made that the recommendation be accepted. Quickly someone seconds it, and then the discussion begins. If it is a sensitive issue, several people will be lined up at the microphones, waiting a turn to speak. Sometimes the speeches become quite emotional. Opportunity is given for ample discussion; no one is cut off who wants to speak. That is one reason why eight days are spent in an Annual Council.
Committees begin meeting at 12:30 P.M. and continue throughout the afternoon until four o'clock, when the plenary session resumes its work. One individual is assigned to keep the daily committee schedule, and delegates receive two pages of committee schedules daily. A sample: French Bible Textbook Coordination Committee, 1:00 P.M.; North American Health Services Board, 1:30 P.M.; Student Missions—Global Strategy, 3:00 P.M.; Nominating Committee, 5:00 P.M. Several hundred committees are meeting in various locations in the complex. After the plenary session is dismissed at 5:30 P.M., a short break for an evening meal is followed by additional committee meetings during the evening hours. Lights don't go out until ten-thirty or eleven. The General Conference president, with the Steering Committee staff, are together again at seven the following morning, so top leadership can expect fifteen-hour days during the session.
Annual Council is also a grueling time for the plenary session chairmen, who have to field the questions and keep track of who speaks next. Yet, in spite of long hours and tired minds and bodies, a Christian spirit is exhibited throughout the entire session.
One special action of particular interest to readers of MINISTRY magazine was taken at the Annual Council last autumn. It deals with a Center of Continuing Education for Ministry. Continuing education is a field that has mushroomed and proliferated, especially in recent years. Many ministers are recognizing and asserting their need to continue to learn. A recent study of morale among Adventist pastors in North America, based on statistically valid sampling techniques (see MINISTRY, December, 1981, pp. 4-9), determined in part what changes in pastoral ministry would bring about greater moral. The item pastors most frequently mentioned was the need to raise their professional level by means of continuing education.
In view of these needs, a Center of Continuing Education for Ministry is now being set up as an extension of the Theological Seminary at Andrews University and the General Conference Ministerial and Stewardship Association. It will be operated as a part of the Andrews University Institute of Church Ministry. The voted action set up an advisory council and an executive committee. As chairman of both these groups, I am determined to provide courses and materials that will upgrade the ministry. You can be sure of that. Our target audience is Seventh-day Adventist ministers and their spouses, ministers and their spouses in denominations other than our own, and also lay leaders. Our group has a special burden for the pastor's wife, and it is our plan to develop courses that will meet her specific needs. Special mention is made in the action of ethnic minorities, particularly the black and Hispanic groups. We want to give careful attention to distinctive issues and needs that will contribute to the growth of individuals in these groups.
Continuing education offerings will focus on three areas: (1) personal growth, (2) skills for ministry, and (3) Adventist heritage. Since the first two categories cross denominational lines, ministers of all faiths can benefit from the offerings in the personal growth area, as well as such practical ministry skills as preaching, evangelism, church growth, youth ministry, pastoral care, counseling, worship, leadership, and administration.
Even in the third area, dealing with Adventist heritage, not only Adventist ministers but their colleagues in other churches are invited and welcome to benefit by exploring recent trends in theological and Biblical thought and by examining current social issues from a Biblical perspective—abortion, racism, homosexuality, et cetera.
The delivery system in this continuing education program will be through a wide variety of such avenues as home study, tapes, seminars, video, telephone, and correspondence. We are encouraging cluster groups near conference centers and campuses. Continuing education in the practice of ministry is primarily on-the-job training, an individual's personally designed learning program developed, with the help of colleagues, to improve his vocational competencies. The entire pro gram will be promoted through MINISTRY magazine, and a catalog will be available soon.
The Center intends to provide courses earning academic credit toward a professional degree for special purposes not provided by the regular ministerial pro gram. We will also have a program for individuals who do not desire academic credit but do wish to keep growing and maintaining membership through continuing education units.
From our viewpoint this is one of the most significant actions taken at the recent Annual Council. Full details will be disclosed through the pages of MINISTRY in future issues.
The climax of this year's Annual Council was perhaps the most exciting part of the entire session. Our world president, Neal C. Wilson, presented the final morning's devotional message, centering on an evangelistic theme of " 1,000 Days of Reaping." By common consent the entire group stood in a dedicatory response to vote an unprecedented worldwide soulwinning thrust that would place the unquestioned priority in our church on evangelism in all forms and at all levels. The plan calls for dedicating the 1,000 days preceding the 1985 world session in New Orleans, Louisiana, to the claiming of one million souls for Christ! The delegates scattered to the four corners of the earth to prepare for the 1,000 days of reaping, which will be launched on September 18, 1982, in Seventh-day Adventist churches throughout the world, and will conclude on June 15, 1985, the first Sabbath of the General Conference session.
Some quick figuring indicates that this 1,000 days of reaping, resulting in a million souls for Christ, is equal to 1,000 baptisms a day. We are confident that this goal will be achieved. The February MINISTRY will carry the complete action that was voted, as well as additional details.
The purpose of the Christian church centers on the great gospel commission that Jesus gave prior to His departure from this earth: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). We invite and urge all Christian ministers and leaders to unite with us in an enlarged dimension of commitment to prayer, repentance, Bible study, and witness. We believe that every part of the body of Christ needs to set goals, along with us, to reach the world with the glorious news of Jesus Christ and His saving power.
Spiritual renewal and unprecedented evangelism must be experienced simultaneously, for one cannot exist without the other. It is this that will give priority to evangelism. It will take planning, thought, and a constant evaluation of ourselves and our ministries to make sure that helping a soul to find Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour is the item of supreme importance to each of us as ministers of the gospel.—J.R.S.