Rio in retrospect

Ministry Reports on the 1986 Annual Council

Floyd Bresee is the secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

After four years in the ministry Ruben Pereyra felt he was failing. And his employing organization was inclined to agree. He had worked at evangelism, but with very little positive result. There was no power. He didn't fit. The brethren decided he should be given one more year to prove himself. If things didn't change, they would advise him to seek another kind of work.

Since he needed a fresh start, the conference moved him to a new district. He began visiting his members, one of whom was a shopkeeper. Entering the member's place of business, Ruben introduced himself as the new pastor. "Are you my new pastor?" Assured that he was correct, the shopkeeper looked directly into Ruben's eyes and demanded, "Are you the one I've been looking for for 20 years to pray so I can leave this wheelchair and walk again?"

The request was too great. Ruben's confidence in God's ministering through him was too small. He panicked. What was he doing here? What was he doing in the ministry? The weight of the request and his feelings of failure and inadequacy drove him to his knees. But it didn't drive him out of the ministry.

Instead, he began a prayerful and prolonged study of the Holy Spirit. Day after day he prayed and studied, studied and prayed. He learned of the Holy Spirit's power available for ministry, but more than that, he experienced that power in his own life. His ministry was turned around. His soul-winning efforts succeeded. He says he has never questioned his call to the ministry since. Today he is president of the Austral Union in South America, and he told us his story as part of a morning devotional at the 1986 Annual Council in Rio de Janeiro.

Ruben was speaking Spanish in a Portuguese-speaking country to an audience more accustomed to English. His sermon proved to me in a most dramatic way that the 20,000 Seventh-day Adventist ministers around the world are very different, yet very much alike. Each of us has faced feelings like Ruben's of failure and inadequacy in our calling. Hopefully, each of us has sought the same solution. We are different, but we are alike. And we are more alike than we are different.

The church's worldwide perspective

A world church finds it increasingly complicated and expensive to bring church leaders together. With 86 per cent of Seventh-day Adventists living outside the North American Division, it is neither wise nor fair to assume that General Conference sessions and Annual Councils should always be in the United States. More of our members still live in the United States than in any other country. Brazil is second, and the Philippines third. However, Inter- America is now our largest division, and South America has just edged out North America for second. Besides, the South American Division was celebrating the seventieth anniversary of its founding. And so the 1986 Annual Council was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Present plans are that Annual Council will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1988 and in Australia in 1991. Planning meetings so far away from headquarters is both difficult and expensive, but it is part of being a world church.

Rio was the first Annual Council at which all materials were available in three languages: English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Headsets were provided so that each delegate could hear the proceedings in his or her own language, no matter what language the speaker was using. Translators gave a faithful, running translation of all business sessions.

The theory was good and the translators were diligent, but the results were a bit disappointing. Translators cannot translate until a speaker has spoken a sentence or so, and thus translation always runs just a bit behind. With some 130 items to be covered in about 17 hours of general business session, an average of only eight minutes is available for each. Because certain items require extended discussion, others have to be rushed through. There was no intent to control discussion if delegates asked to speak, yet sometimes an item was voted on almost before translators had informed their listeners that it was being discussed.

Policy details are difficult enough for many of us to follow without the complication of a language problem. Besides, since only English was used by chairmen and those introducing items, delegates speaking other languages tended to be a bit timid about speaking.

We good-naturedly teased one another about the beautiful Spanish or Portuguese language being the language of heaven. But one North American delegate said, with a twinkle in his eye, "No, surely English will be the language of heaven, because God Himself could never teach people from the United States any other language." I was at first embarrassed that English was being used so exclusively in session discussion. Had we traveled all these thousands of miles only to have North American delegates control everything?

Then it dawned on me that though nearly all discussion was in English, a high percentage of speakers were from non-English-speaking countries. They were English-speaking delegates from all over the world, including Latin America. English is the language of the church, not because the church is based in the United States, but because English is understood by more members of the church than any other language. Nevertheless, we must face the unfortunate truth that only those who can communicate in English have much voice in the world church.

A world church has cultural problems. This too was evident in Rio. Annual Council normally begins with a seven o'clock evening meeting. In Rio, nobody expects an evening meeting to start that early. And so local leaders announced the meeting for eight. Delegates arrived for the meeting at seven. Hundreds of local members had been given tickets promising they could come to hear their General Conference president address the session. They didn't even plan to arrive until eight. Since I was platform chairman, you can understand how indelibly it was impressed on my mind that brotherly love must include an understanding of, and appreciation for, your brother's culture.

One of our Latin brethren tried to help me understand why it was that he and his friends did not speak up more often in the business session. He explained, "You people plan too much. We like action. If there had been less talking about policies and more about getting souls won and the work finished, we'd have jumped right in." And that in itself is a lesson worth going to Rio to learn.

A world church has problems resulting from rapid growth. Look at Africa, for example. If present growth rates continue, there will be 5 million Adventists in Africa by the year 2000—as many as there are in the whole world today. But how are we going to help that many converts become firmly rooted in the church? How are we going to provide churches for them to worship in and schools for their education? How are we going to provide pastors to lead them?

Presently, we have one minister for about every 450 African Adventists. If growth continues as anticipated, we would have to train more than 10,000 new ministers in Africa before the year 2000 to maintain that ratio. That would be half as many ministers as we have in the whole world today. How could we accomplish that in economically disadvantaged Africa? And if we did manage to train them, how could we afford to hire them afterward?

A unique plan is being seriously considered. The idea is to train only 5,000 new ministers. This would provide one minister for approximately every 1,000 members. But training will include upgrading the education of those already in the field, thus creating a highly qualified, well-paid ministerial force trained to teach lay members how to run the local churches.

There are difficulties involved in being a world church. But that's less than half the story. It is also exciting to be a world church!

Advantages of being part of a world church

More than 448,000 new members have been baptized into the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church since the Harvest 90 program began in July of 1985. There was an average of 1,034 accessions per day during the first 12 months of Harvest 90. Eight of the 10 world divisions reached their soul-winning goal, and one of those eight was North America.

Not only is the church growing, but it is growing at an increasing rate. In 1981, we grew at a rate of 5.66 percent per year. In 1985, the rate was 6.68 percent. In 1900, one out of every 24,390 persons in the world was an SDA. Today, the ratio is nearing one out of every 1,000. If the present rate of growth were to continue, every person in Papua New Guinea would be a Seventh-day Adventist 20 years from now.

In a world church there is always reason for good courage. If things slow down a bit in one place, we can always look around and see how they've speeded up somewhere else. During 1985, the average North American Division minister baptized 10 souls, but the average Eastern Africa Division minister baptized 132.

Lay delegates

The Rio Annual Council was the first to which each division had been encouraged to send a lay delegate. When Elder Wilson made the introductions, every division but one was represented. You would have been proud to see the high caliber of laypersons chosen, and the quality of their contribution to the council.

Soo Chong Oh was the Far Eastern Division lay delegate. He gave a most challenging morning devotional. A Korean, he was born a Buddhist. Converted to Adventism as a boy, he was baptized along with his mother. He now owns and operates a high-pressure cylinder company. Employees in Korea spend six days a week at their jobs, but not in his company. Five days are spent on the job; the sixth is reserved for soul-winning activities. And his business is prospering. The company owns motorcycles and a bus to be used just for Christian witnessing. Five employees are salaried to do full-time soul winning.

Soo Chong Oh emphasized that the three angels' messages are to go with a "loud voice." Why a loud voice? If your child is standing in front of a car that's speeding toward him, you don't speak softly and gently. Emergencies demand a loud voice. He urged us to see the world's problems as catastrophic. Our world faces an emergency, and such an emergency demands that God's people speak with a loud voice.

Another exciting thing about being a world church is seeing members in affluent countries faithfully supporting the work in developing countries. At the close of 1985, the North American Division had 942 missionaries serving outside their division. All other divisions combined had 490. During 1985, the average Adventist in the North American Division gave $804 to the church. The rest of the world averaged $179.

It must not be assumed, however, that only North Americans are sacrificing for missions. During the first eight months of 1986, giving for world missions by members outside North America increased a dramatic 24 percent.

It's exciting being part of a world church.

ACTIONS OF SPECIAL INTEREST TO MINISTERS

Continuing education for ministry

A continuing education program to keep our ministers professionally alive and growing has received growing support from the world field. Nearly all world divisions have now set up a continuing education program for their ministers. The Africa-Indian Ocean Division is taking courses to its ministers through its MINISTRY magazine and tape club. South Pacific "bicycled" a five-day continuing education seminar around the division with excellent results. During the first nine months of 1986, more than 2,000 continuing education certificates have been issued to the 4,000 ministers of the North American Division.

The Rio Annual Council voted to "urge the controlling bodies of Seventh-day Adventist organizations to make it possible for Seventh-day Adventist ministers to take at least 20 clock hours of continuing education for ministry each year." When the minister's license/credential is renewed, his or her continuing education record will be reviewed. If the minister has fallen behind, "a representative from the employing organization should person ally counsel with and encourage him to become involved in the Continuing Education Program for Ministry."

Continuing education credit may be earned from workers' meetings, approved home-based (correspondence) courses, other approved continuing education unit granting activities, or from academic programs.

The local Ministerial Association secretary gathers the continuing education credits for the ministers in his conference and passes them on to the conference secretary. "This officer will file the continuing education credit with the minister's service record." Since the service record follows the minister throughout his or her employment, the continuing education record will follow also.

Why the cost of insuring your church is rising

The General Conference Risk Management Services reported that their International Insurance Company's combined loss and expense ratios are as follows: in 1983, 94.9 percent; in 1984, 119.3 percent; and in 1985, 140.5 percent. Reasons include the fact that replacement costs are higher, juries are handing down exceptionally expensive settlements, and members are becoming more willing to sue their church. And that's why your church insurance premium is going up.

1888 commemoration

Plans are being laid for the centenary commemoration of the Righteousness by Faith Bible Conference and General Conference session held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1888. The 1988 Annual Council in Nairobi will make righteousness by faith its devotional theme. The 1988 North American Division year-end meeting will be held in Minneapolis. It will begin with a three-day convocation emphasizing the righteousness by faith theme.

An action taken at Rio suggests, "The commemoration of the 1888 conference should be understood as an attempt to affirm the church's confidence in and commitment to the doctrine of righteousness by faith."

It is hoped the emphasis will result in raising the level of sensitivity and appreciation of our members worldwide regarding this paramount doctrine." More than that, it should effect "in the lives of laity and denominational employees alike the renewal of faith and fervor which accompanies full trust in the merits of Jesus Christ."

The Desire of Ages research project

Did Ellen White copy large portions of The Desire of Ages from other authors? Dr. Fred Veltman was commissioned to do a three-year study of the book to answer this question. The task proved formidable. In fact, it might have been impossible without the aid of computers. The study stretched to five years and a cost of about $250,000, in spite of much donated help. Elder Neal C. Wilson explained to the council that the church feels the money was well spent in order to adequately confront critics with irrefutable facts.

Veltman examined some 500 books, most of which were on the life of Christ. He found that Ellen White had apparently consulted 33 of these, written by 27 different authors. Most had only a few parallels with The Desire of Ages.

In order to hold the task to within workable limits, 15 chapters from The Desire of Ages were chosen at random for complete analysis. Of the 2,615 sentences in these chapters, 62 percent showed strict independence from other authors and 31 percent some degree of possible dependence. Thirty sentences were taken from other authors almost word for word. Not one sentence, however, was taken verbatim from another source.

Methods of Bible Study Committee report

This committee has worked under the auspices of the Biblical Research Committee for several years. Its final report was given and accepted this year. MINISTRY will print the full text of this 10-page paper in the April issue. Here are three paragraphs from the document that somewhat summarize the issues:

"In recent decades the most prominent method in biblical studies has been known as the historical-critical method. Scholars who use this method, as classically formulated, operate on the basis of presuppositions which, prior to studying the biblical text, reject the reliability of accounts of miracles and other supernatural events narrated in the Bible. Even a modified use of this method that retains the principle of criticism which subordinates the Bible to human reason is unacceptable to Adventists.

"The historical-critical method minimizes the need for faith in God and obedience to His commandments. In addition, because such a method deemphasizes the divine element in the Bible as an inspired book (including its resultant unity) and depreciates or misunderstands apocalyptic prophecy and the eschatological portions of the Bible, we urge Adventist Bible students to avoid relying on the use of the presuppositions and the resultant deductions associated with the historical-critical method.

"Even Christian scholars who accept the divine-human nature of Scripture, but whose methodological approaches cause them to dwell largely on its human aspects, risk emptying the biblical message of its power by relegating it to the background while concentrating on the medium. They forget that medium and message are inseparable and that the medium without the message is as an empty shell that cannot address the vital spiritual needs of humankind."

Guam radio

Guam radio is the only General Conference institution located outside North America. Under the capable financial leadership of Don Robinson, the building project is being completed for less than the $5.1 million budgeted. The road to the site is costing more than anticipated, but the rest of the construction will cost a little less than budgeted. Our world membership has donated more than $4 million to this project, with $ 1 million coming from the Pacific Union Conference membership alone.

Home Study degrees

Home Study International, which presently awards no degrees, hopes to offer both college and graduate degree programs soon. An anticipated affiliation with Andrews University may make it possible .to give an M. A. in Religion or M.A. in Pastoral Ministry by 1988- 1989. This could help solve a serious problem in many developing countries. Too often, when young ministers are sent away for graduate study they either fail to come back or come back less willing to fit into the local culture. In countries such as the Soviet Union we have no means to train ministers, and such a program might prove to be of great value there. The plan is to reduce prices so that those in Third World countries can afford to enroll.

1990 and 1995 General Conference sessions

The 1990 GC session will be held at the 60,000-seat Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. It will be preceded by a ministerial presession. Thirty-five hotels have already been lined up, and divisions are being encouraged to make hotel reservations now.

If the Lord has not returned by 1995, we must have plans for yet another GC session. Some facilities of the size the church now needs for such a meeting are already booked into the year 2000. A long check list has been applied to many cities by Don Robinson and the search narrowed to four: Amsterdam, Holland; Birmingham, England; Vancouver or Montreal, Canada.

Report from the Soviet Union

Two delegates were present from the Soviet Union. M. P. Kulakov brought greetings to the council and reported that 1,950 new Adventists were baptized in that nation last year.

In June, several church leaders visited China. Conditions concerning the church are continuing to improve. Friendly contacts have been made with religious leaders in government. It is hoped that representatives from China may soon be allowed to attend church councils outside the country.

Jerusalem Center for Archaeological and Biblical Studies

The church has for some time owned a building in Jerusalem, just a 10-minute walk from the Old City. In recent years the building was little used (the Israel Field office is located in another building in Jerusalem), and it fell into disrepair. Basically, it was still a sound structure (with walls four feet thick), so Dr. George Reid, of the Biblical Research Institute, invited Maranatha Flights International to go to Jerusalem last April and renovate it. They redid the plumbing, upgraded the kitchen, and installed 40 new electric circuits to prepare it for use as a study center.

Accommodations at the center will be hostel style. There is a large sleeping room for men and another for women. An apartment is provided for the guest teacher. A volunteer cook will prepare meals.

A maximum of 25 persons may attend sessions at the center, and each session will last only a few weeks. Academic credit or continuing education units will be available through Andrews University. Part of the time will be spent in the classroom with a guest lecturer and part visiting significant sites, museums, and libraries in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. Dr. Siegfried Horn will be the guest lecturer at the first sessions. Pastors are encouraged to enroll.

The center is to be financially self-supporting, but the cost of attending is not high. For additional details, contact Dr. William Shea at the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference, 6840 Eastern Avenue NW., Washington, D.C. 20012.

Evangelistic campaign accounts

The following action was passed: "The income and expense of evangelistic teams shall be audited regularly by responsible auditors. These audits should include the sale of materials at evangelistic meetings. . . . No special offering shall be taken at evangelistic meetings that directly benefits an employee or team, nor shall items, including recordings, be sold for personal gain at evangelistic meetings."

Interschool sports study

A committee is being formed to study the problem of competitive sports in our schools. Some of our schools are holding to a more conservative stand than our local churches take and are requesting a consistent stand within the church. A portion of the action creating the committee reads:

"The primary concern of this request is athletic competition between Seventh-day Adventist schools. However, since this activity is considerably influenced by practices in local churches and denominational institutions, the focus of this study and subsequent recommendations should address activities within those units as well."

The study will review competition between Adventist schools, Adventist with non-Adventist schools, Adventist churches, Adventist churches with non-Adventist churches, and Adventist institutions with community organizations. The committee will bring a report to the 1987 Annual Council.

Baptismal teaching guide

A revised baptismal teaching guide that closely follows the 27 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been prepared by the General Conference Ministerial Association. The guide has been written largely by Ken Wade. It will be published in loose-leaf form so the instructor can pass out each lesson separately to the class. It emphasizes a personal relationship with Christ and helps participants make practical, everyday applications of our doctrines.

The Ministerial Association was requested to proceed with the production of this guide, and each division is being asked to make appropriate translations.

Toward a global strategy for our work

The last day of the 1986 Annual Council was one that should have long-lasting effects on the church. After the Harvest 90 reports had been given, Elder Neal Wilson challenged the church to do an in-depth study leading to formation of a specific global strategy for finishing our task. Presently we have no specific, formal, written plan for reaching every language, culture, and ethnic group.

He insisted, "We spend far too much of our time tinkering around with policies. God gave us three things—a message, a mission, and an organization. All three are necessary, including the organization. But we spend too much time on the routine of organization and too little on a global strategy."

Responding to our president's invitation, delegates stood together pledging themselves to prepare and implement a global strategy for our church. Please let me extend that same invitation to every reader of MINISTRY magazine. Let's join hands with one another, with our leaders, and most of all with our Saviour to find the lost and finish His work.

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Floyd Bresee is the secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

February 1987

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