In the history of Ministry, 1928 has become a very important year. The first issue of Ministry was published in January of that year. We are delighted that for 80 years we have been able to serve Seventh-day Adventist ministers; and since the 1970s, the journal has been made available to clergy of various denominations. The magazine has come a long way—the first issue was distributed to approximately 1,200 Seventh-day Adventist ministers in North America, while today more than 750,000 copies are annually printed in English and other language groups.
While we are happy to recognize that Ministry started 80 years ago, we’ve devoted this issue to the work of the church in Inter-America and South America. These two organizational units represent some 45 countries that start south of the United States and go as far south as Chile. With 1928 as a significant year for us, what did the church look like in 1928 in Inter and South America, and what does it look like today? In 1928, the total membership of the two divisions was just under 32,000. The total membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was about 285,000.1 Now, the Inter-American and South American Divisions have a combined membership of nearly six million members.2 These two geographic units of the church represent a very significant part of the world membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that now numbers more than 15 million.
Not only do we recognize the change in membership numbers as significant, but also the makeup of church workers. In 1928, nearly 40 percent of all of the missionaries that left North America were sent south of the border into Inter and South America.3 Today, the picture has changed. Inter and South America send missionaries to other parts of the world.
As important as statistics seem, they do not tell the whole story. We hope that the articles in this issue of the journal will show to our readers around the world the quality of work, leadership, and writing that exists in these two divisions. In this issue, you will find commentaries that deal with biblical topics, evangelism, leadership, church growth, and other aspects of the church work. All of the articles are written by individuals from those two divisions or deal with subjects from those two divisions.
Why should we take an interest in the work of the church in other parts of the world? For one, Seventh-day Adventists have always accepted the entire world as their mission field. That in itself is sufficient reason to share with the readers of Ministry what happens in other parts of the world. But there’s another reason; it can be a great learning experience. I have traveled extensively in both of these divisions and I believe there are some specific things that we can learn from these two church units.
Elders.These two divisions give us some of the best examples of how to train, utilize, and empower church elders. It’s all too easy to talk about the importance of church elders in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But these two divisions have carefully trained these individuals, and thus they perform a very significant role in the growth and nurture of the church. I have, on several different occasions, addressed groups of elders when more than 500 elders have gathered for training. Also significant, the conferences treat the elders as co-laborers with pastors in many parts of these divisions. In several locations, the conferences brought together the pastors and the elders to spend days in prayer and training. That represents teamwork of the best kind.
Small groups. For a number of years throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church, attention has been focused on the function of small groups in congregations. I have noticed that many parts of the world have tried to implement the concept with varied success. I believe somewhat of a misunderstanding exists on the part of many that in these two divisions, baptisms always result from meetings. Yes, they have large meetings, but I have noticed that much of the growth comes from the work of the small groups. Many parts of the world have recognized this, and as a result, they have sent individuals to various countries in these two divisions to observe firsthand how small groups function.
Focus. I have been impressed with the focus evident in these two divisions. The focus seems to be more on the implementation of the mission of the church rather than prolonged discussion as to what is the mission of the church. Of course, we need to ask ourselves to define the mission of the church; but the best definition will not accomplish the mission. It seems to me that these two divisions are good examples of going beyond the discussion of the theory into the implementation of the mission of the church.
In this second issue, we showcase a geographic area of the world, and in future Ministry publications, we plan to feature all areas of the world. In all instances, we do it for the purpose of sharing among ourselves what our brothers and sisters are doing in other parts of the world and then asking ourselves what blessing we can gain by learning from our church in other parts of the world.
1 1928 Year Book of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination, Review and Herald Publishing Association: Washington, DC, 1928.
2 Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 2008, Review and Herald Publishing Association: Hagerstown, MD, 2008.
3 The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, vol. 106, no. 4, Washington DC, January 24, 1929.