By the time you receive this issue, the 59th General Conference Session will be taking place in less than a few months. Even though these sessions were once held every year, they are now held once every five years. The session has always been a major event for the world church, but in an age of instant communication, why do we consider these events, in a chosen location, so important?
Then and now
The first General Conference Session began on May 20, 1863, in Battle Creek, Michigan, United States—nearly 150 years ago. In 1863, the session opened with 20 delegates, representing a total church membership of approximately 3,000.
The 2010 Session, scheduled to open with more than 2,400 delegates, represents a worldwide membership of more than 16 million. I cite the figures, not so that we can boast, but to recognize the work of God— for we know that God grows the church. What started as a movement (a term the early pioneers preferred) of a handful of people, has indeed become a worldwide movement.
In addition to the radical differences between the number of delegates in 1863 and 2010, perhaps we should consider the composition of those delegates as even more significant. The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia uses only about 30 words to describe the first delegation: “Twenty delegates were in attendance—four from the state of New York, two from Ohio, 10 from Michigan (eight ministers and two laypersons), one from Wisconsin, two from Iowa, and one from Minnesota.”*
In 2010, more than 2,400 delegates will come from around the world. Until the session actually commences—because of visa and travel issues—it won’t be known from where exactly, but we can safely say that these selected representatives will come from most parts of the world. The 2010 delegates will not only represent a diverse church, but we will also see a higher ratio of lay members, when compared to the 1863 session. We do know that the 2010 delegates truly represent various people and languages from throughout the world.
Why do it?
Occasionally I hear the question, “Is it really necessary to bring these people together and spend the money for such a gathering?” Logically, that same question could have been asked of the first General Conference Session held in 1863. Though the delegates traveled shorter distances, it probably took longer for them to arrive at the session than some delegates traveling long distances today. While now we have additional ways of transmitting information (telephone, video conferencing, and more), important issues are always best addressed in person.
Aside from the agenda items, we know of another important reason for such gatherings: a time when fellow believers from around the world either meet for the first time or renew their acquaintances. These personal relationships are important for the edification of the church. In the Old Testament, the Israelites came together for worship and fellowship. In the New Testament, Paul, for example, looked forward to meeting with fellow believers.
A request to congregational pastors
Congregational pastors, I have a special request to ask of you. If you have an individual in your congregation or district who has been selected as a delegate to the 2010 Session, please send them with your congregation’s special blessing. Even though delegates do not represent particular congregations at the General Conference Session, your congregation is their home. Perhaps you can introduce them as a delegate to the congregation and have special prayer for them. I believe that something like that would have been done in the New Testament times—send them to Atlanta with the blessing of their church family.
If you or your congregation are unable to be at the General Conference Session in Atlanta personally, you can visit www.HopeTV.org to view the session live via Web streaming.
One more request
Before the 2010 General Conference Session takes place, another important event should be included in every pastor’s schedule. The Ministry Professional Growth satellite broadcast takes place on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 (one day delay for some parts of the world), at the First Congregational Church of Pasadena in California, near Fuller Theological Seminary. Clergy from various denominations, and from various parts of the world, will participate in this event. Please invite other ministers—including those from other denominations—to join you for this special broadcast. Our colleague, Anthony Kent, has put together a quality program that will bless all of us. In addition to inviting other ministers, invite some young people who, you believe, are potential candidates for the ministry, to join you. Let them participate in a program that has quality presentations. This kind of encouragement may help them make the decision about preparing for the ministry. (If you need additional information about this event, visit preach.ministerialassociation.com.)
Fellowship—whether at the General Conference Session or the April 20 broadcast—is one way we strengthen each other.
* Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996 ed., s.v. “General
Conference Session”; for this quote and other statistics.