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Pastoral Roles in Adventism's First Century

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Archives / 1997 / June

 

 

Pastoral Roles in Adventism's First Century

Stan Hudson
Stanley A. Hudson, D. Min., is pastor of the Nampa, Idaho, Seventh-day Adventist Church and the ministerial secretary for the Idaho Conference.

 

 

The Seventh-day Adventist Church did not have a developed concept of a localized pastorate until well into this century. Through the years the pastor's role has changed significantly from what it was in the 1800s to what it is today.

To understand the beginning of pastoral care issues in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church, we need to look back at our Millerite origins. At the time William Miller force fully presented his prophetic interpretations, other church pastors often urged their members not to consider Miller's teachings. Those who accepted Miller's message were frequently disfellowshipped. Millerites, in turn, saw the disfellowshipping churches as part of Babylon.

During the first two decades after 1844 Adventists purposely resisted any organization resembling these churches. Nevertheless, by the 1860s the emerging movement had to address organizational questions such as the ordination of pastors, church nurture, evangelism on a national scale, and remuneration of workers.

At the urging of James and Ellen White, organization did take place in 1863 at Battle Creek, Michigan. But the desire not to copy "Babylon" inhibited much organizational growth. For instance, the use of the title "Reverend" was abandoned for the more humble "Brother," later "Elder," and then "Pastor."

However, tying a pastor to a local Adventist church was considered a danger to be avoided. James White commented in 1858: "Ministers of Jesus, 'preach the word.' ... Point them... to our mighty Savior..., then leave them to obtain a living experience . . . while you go on your way to proclaim salvation to others. Should you enter into all the particulars of the duty of your brethren, you would be sure to get in the way of ministering angels... .And the effect would be, that the church would look to you in stead of the Lord." 1

Uriah Smith added other revealing expectations: "We see no reason why ministers cannot labor, sixty hours at least out of every week.... He can study with his might five hours, visit from house-to-house with his might four hours each day, and each day preach one hour.... He has then left him fourteen hours for sleep, recreation, prayer and meditation."2

Visitation meant evangelistic visits of nonmembers. Members were visited only when ill or in some crisis. Most ministerial efforts involved evangelism, and in particular, church planting in "dark counties," which had no Adventist churches.

A growing church and changing ministerial roles

When the church began to keep official statistics in 1863, it had about 3,500 members, with 30 ministers (22 ordained and 8 licentiates). By 1870 the numbers grew to 5,440 with 72 ministers. By 1880 we had 15,570 members with 260 ministers, including 144 ordained. Ten years later we had 29,711 members, 227 ordained ministers, and 184 licentiates. At the end of the century membership stood at 75,767 with 847 ministers, 510 ordained.

The increased growth inevitably called for increased organization. However, the fear of organization and the tendency to equate it with Babylon persisted. In addition, the fears related to the instituting of local pastorates were bolstered by the strong belief in the imminent return of Jesus. It was difficult for the church to plan anything long-term without someone expressing concern about the shortness of time. Evangelism was most important, not nurture, and financial stability was something for the future. Evangelist-pastors were most successful in debating and not as effective in developing and nurturing congregations.

By the 1880s two key influences emerged that would change the focus of the church. The first was theological, led by E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones. The emphasis on Christ as the believers' righteousness led to an entirely different focus for ministry: following Christ in all things. On this basis, Christ was the Great Physician, so it was urged that the church should operate sanitariums to minister as Christ did. Christ was the Great Teacher; therefore the church should operate schools in a manner reflecting Christ's teaching ministry. And since Christ was the Great Shep herd of the church, we should look this nurturing aspect of at Christ's ministry as the example for our ministers to follow. By its nature this shepherding had to include caring for the sheep already in the fold.

In 1883, at a pre-General Conference ministerial institute, Ellen White pushed for a more Christ-centered approach to minis try: "If you would preach fewer sermons, and do more personal labor in visiting and praying with individuals, your ministry would be more like that of Jesus."3

The second key factor influencing the role of the minister was what may generally be called maturing influences from within the church. A large second generation of Adventists growing up in the church demanded nurture. Youth, as well as new converts, were dropping out of the church. Church leaders noted and lamented this fact. James White himself said in 1881: "We are evidently losing nearly as much in old fields of labor as we are gaining in the new . . . Should not our ablest men . . . labor where they can accomplish most?"4

Yet despite these pressures the original influences against long-term local pastors continued. In 1891 General Conference secretary W. A. Colcord pointed out: "Unlike most other Protestant denominations, Seventh-day Adventists have no located pastors except in certain large cities where they have missions established." 5 He spoke of city evangelism centers that had ministers who came the closest to pastoring a local congregation as we understand it today. But these workers were yet essentially evangelists.

Colcord's reference to the difference be tween Adventists and other Protestants showed his desire to remain distinct from those others by not having "located pastors." A. G. Daniells, one of the church's greatest administrators, said in 1912 to a group of ministers in Los Angeles that he hoped churches would never need local pastors! 6

But pressures continued to come from the churches to have local pastors, first from institutional ones such as Battle Creek College, and then increasingly from many of the rest. By the 1920s churches had their pas tors, despite widespread unhappiness among many denominational leaders.7 As late as 1940 General Conference president James McElhany complained in St. Paul, Minnesota, "You brethren and sisters here tonight who are members of our churches doubtless like to have pastors, but do you know that the majority of our preachers ought to be out preaching as evangelists in stead of pastoring you folk? This is the Lord's plan."8 Many leaders shared his frustration and saw the trend toward having localized pastorates as both a curse to local churches and to evangelism.

So for the first century of Adventism, pastoral concerns ranged from uniting God's remnant people and overcoming sin in expectation of Christ's soon coming (early period) to providing nurture for young Christians, training them for missionary service, and taking the gospel to every nation (later period). At first laypersons provided this pastoral care, and only later did fixed pastors follow.

Today, the number of local members per ordained minister continues to expand in the world at large. In the late 1800s the number was about one pastor per 130 members. In the past decade it has risen from 463 to 719 members per pastor. In all of this, the role of the pastor inevitably tends to change and expand. Such influences as the expectations of baby boomers and generation Xers will also affect the kind of pastoring expected of ministers in local churches. Add to this the effects of dwindling resources felt in local churches and in the church as a whole, and it becomes quite safe to predict further significant changes in the role of the Seventh-day Adventist pastor.

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1 James White, in Review and Herald, Apr. 1,
1858.

2 Uriah Smith, in Review and Herald, Aug. 1,
1865.

3 Ellen G. White, "Consecration and Diligence
in Christian Workers," remarks to ministers at
the 1883 General Conference session, Review and
Herald
, June 24,1884.


4 James White, "The Cause at Large," Review
and Herald
, July 5,1881.

5 W. A. Colcord, in New York Independent,
October 1891.

6 A. G. Daniells, The Church and Ministry (Riverside,
 Jamaica: Watchman Press, 1912), in John
fowler, Adventist Pastoral Ministry (Boise, Idaho:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1990), p. 3.

7 Bert Haloviak, "Longing for the Pastorate:
Ministry in Nineteenth-Century Adventism, "
unpublished paper.

8 J. L. McElhany, in Fowler, p. 11. This was at
the Autumn Council of 1940. He decried the
developments he saw in pastoral care: "I wish to
call the attention of this assembly to the fact that
to a large extent we have departed from the Lord's
plan."

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