Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Annual Council-1988

Pastor's Pastor: Annual Council-1988

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

It is 3:00 a.m. The plane I'm in is winging me home from a month's itinerary of Africa, including a week spent at the Annual Council held in Nairobi—the first ever held on the African continent. Since this article is due the moment I touch down in Washington, I am pondering council events of special interest to Adventist ministers.

Leadership planned the 1988 Annual Council as a recognition from the world church of the growing significance of the African church. During the past 12 months, membership in the Eastern Africa Division has increased an amazing 11.4 percent, and in the Africa-Indian Ocean Division, 8.5 percent. Some 4,600 were recently baptized in a single Kenya campaign. In Malawi, 40 Muslims were baptized in one evangelistic series and 31 in another. Presently, 29 percent of all Adventists live in Africa; North America, the mother division, now has only 13 percent.

Ralph Thompson, secretary of the General Conference, pointed out in his Annual Council report that by the end of this century Africa may be the most Christianized continent in the world. He said that by that time there could be 5 million Adventists in Africa—as many as in the whole world today.

Why such stupendous growth? The many reasons would surely include the dramatic changes taking place in all of African society, but we must also recognize Africa's strong reliance on lay leadership. It is both humbling and thought provoking for us as ministers to admit that throughout the world, the church grows fastest where economic difficulties allow so few pastors that churches are run mostly by lay leaders.

These lay soul winners are often persons of great faith. One layman who was holding a series of meetings said to those who had responded to his invitation to follow Christ, "For six years there has been drought here in Botswana. You have decided to follow God. I want you to join me in praying that it will rain at midnight tomorrow night." They did. At 11:00 the next evening, as he was outside praying, the clouds started to form, it began to sprinkle, and he headed for shelter. At midnight, rain came down in torrents. In the ensuing meetings, 300 persons decided to join the church of the praying layman; 80 have already been baptized.

African Adventists are appreciative and cooperative hosts. Nairobi, Kenya, is in the East African Union—the largest in the world, with 256,000 members. Between 2,000 and 3,000 attended the Annual Council meetings each- evening, and 30,000 came to the Sabbath services, one of the largest Adventist gatherings ever.

This year's Annual Council will without doubt go down in Adventist history as the most musical of all time. As chair man of the platform committee, I was overwhelmed when Baraka Muganda, chairman of the music committee, informed me that 86 choir numbers were planned. He assured me that the count would have been much larger had he not turned down many requests. Two hundred choirs had offered to sing. We wished we could have heard them all.

In commemoration of the 1888 General Conference session, the council's motto was "The Lord Our Righteousness." Why talk about 1888 and righteousness by faith when those events and issues are so far removed from Africa? They aren't. Independent ministries with special views on the subject are filling Africa and other developing countries with their literature. Members there are hungry for religious reading and tend to presume anything from Adventists in developed countries is dependable. As a result, whole congregations have been split apart. Speakers Neal Wilson, Jan Paulsen, George Knight, and Calvin Rock gave our delegates and African members outstanding help in understanding 1888 and righteousness by faith.

Here are a few items from the council business of special interest to Adventist ministers:

We are experiencing unprecedented soul-winning success. Between July 1, 1987, and June 30, 1988, 482,010 new members joined the Adventist Church. Just five years ago, we for the first time averaged more than 1,000 baptisms a day for a 12-month period. This year we averaged 1,324. More than 1,600 were baptized in Russia last year. In China, where our official records peg our membership at 20,000, careful estimates suggest we actually have some 65,000 members. Shanghai alone has more than 30 house churches.

One Harvest 90 goal is to baptize 2 million souls between July 1, 1985, and June 30, 1990. Already we have baptized 1,322,000. Three unions and seven local conferences have reached their entire Harvest 90 goal. The council agreed to launch a worldwide evangelistic campaign from July 1989 to June 1990, climaxing Harvest 90.

With growth come challenges to retain those baptized. The South American Division exemplifies a needed emphasis. Their motto is "Sowing, Reaping, Keeping." But how do you train and salary enough pastors to shepherd new flocks? How do you provide churches to house them?

A council report from Archives and Statistics suggested that one way a field may assess its success is by comparing the seating capacity of its church sanctuaries to its membership. A church seating capacity that too greatly exceeds member ship may mean growth has slowed. On the other hand, a membership that is too much greater than church seating capacity may indicate we're doing well at "sowing" and "reaping," but that we're not well equipped for "keeping."

In the Euro-Africa Division, church seating capacity is 273 percent of membership—in other words, there are 2.73 seats for each church member. In North America it is 126 percent, in Trans- Europe 122 percent. But in rapidly growing Africa-Indian Ocean, only 56 per cent!

These statistics also point out the overwhelming financial strain our fastest-growing divisions face. Around the world, the majority of our converts are the lower income members of low income societies. Consequently, income to the field does not increase in proportion to membership growth. The good news is that, after a decline between 1982 and 1985, world tithe per capita has begun to rise again. It now stands at the 1983 level.

Leadership changes were made. General Conference leaders retiring by the end of 1988 include Warren Banfield, Human Relations; Wallace Coe, Presidential; Victor Cooper, Communications; Helen Craig, Church Ministries (children's Sabbath school); and Robert Woodfork, Secretariat.

Rosa Banks was elected to lead Human Relations, and Meade Van Putten joins Secretariat. Director of Communications Bob Nixon is transferring to Legal Services and will be replaced by Shirley Burton. So the council chose women to lead two significant parts of the General Conference.

The size of the General Conference staff is being studied. The General Conference is feeling considerable pressure to reduce expenses at the headquarters complex, particularly from North America, the principal source of General Conference funding. There limited growth and income have necessitated considerable retrenchment. Others argue that although growth at headquarters does not have to keep pace with that of world membership, it is unrealistic to try to serve a larger church with a smaller staff. Still others reason that the church could best be served by enlarging division staffs and keeping fewer personnel at world headquarters. The council voted an in-depth study that is expected to bring recommendations for change to the 1990 General Conference session.

Meanwhile, two vacancies in Church Ministries and several in Presidential are being left unfilled. At one time there were eight vice presidents. More recently there have been five. By not replacing Elder Coe, their number is being reduced, at least temporarily, to four. And the retirement of field secretary Lowell Bock and the upcoming retirement of presidential assistant Charles Taylor are creating two more vacancies.

Adventists in the U.S.S.R. are organizing. The Soviet government has tended to assume that only clergy have authority in church matters. Now, finally, they have begun to understand our insistence on lay participation in church business. They have allowed us to hold the first constituency meeting of Adventists in the Ukraine in modern times. Two hundred Adventists attended, 120 of them laity. They formed the Ukraine Union, electing N. A. Zhukaluk president. It is possible that as early as 1989, we could be granted permission to organize a U.S.S.R. division of the General Conference.

Our Soviet brethren have been re questing help in putting together an effective organization. They want to develop sound business practices within the church there. We are still negotiating with the government regarding the establishment of a publishing house in the Soviet Union, and are discussing the opening of health food restaurants and industries.

General Conference president Neal Wilson announced that he is asking Harold Otis, currently president of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, to become his special assistant to advise our Soviet brethren as the church grows and becomes better organized in their country.

Teachers will now receive "Ministry of Teaching" credentials. The present "Missionary" credential issued to Adventist teachers has little significance to their profession. The new credential emphasizes the unique spiritual calling of the Christian educator.

An interschool sports policy is being prepared. The council passed guidelines detailing why the church opposes interschool league play (varsity athletics) in its educational system. The world divisions are to study these guidelines during the upcoming year, with the understanding that the 1989 Annual Council will establish a formal policy.

The church must minister to AIDS victims. The council discussed ways the church can show it cares about those suffering from AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), many of whom contracted the disease innocently and all of whom are suffering and have little hope in this life. We want to do the humane and loving thing, protecting them from ridicule and rejection.

But how can our institutions protect AIDS victims while at the same time protecting those frightened by exposure to the disease? Adventist educators are wrestling with such questions as: Should a student with AIDS be allowed to live in a school dormitory? If so, should the illness be kept confidential, or should the roommate or other students and their parents be told?

Dr. Elvin Adams of the General Conference Health and Temperance Department asked us to advise ministers that they need not be fearful of ministering to and baptizing those with AIDS. Continuing research indicates that it is not as contagious as many have thought. Adults contract it through being invaded by the blood of or having intimate sexual contact with someone infected with the disease. Adams says research now indicates that a person who is pricked by a contaminated needle has less than 1 chance in 250 of contracting the disease. This should reassure pastors that they need have no reticence in baptizing someone with AIDS.

There is considerable similarity between the attitude of people in Jesus' day toward leprosy and that of those today toward AIDS. In Jesus' day, society considered lepers incurable and held over whelming prejudice against them, in variably assuming their disease to have resulted from their sin. Yet Jesus ministered lovingly to lepers. As pastors in His church, we can do no less for AIDS-sufferers today.


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

December 1988

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