The Adventist University of Haiti (UNAH) recently held its annual Theological Forum on its main campus in Carrefour, Port-au-Prince, March 9-11. The forum included more than 100 theology students and district pastors in a hybrid online and in-person format.
Themed “Towards a Pastorate for All in the 21st Century,” the event was hosted by the UNAH School of Theology and sought to equip pastors and theology students for inclusion and non-discrimination in pastoral ministry.
UNAH School of Theology dean and main event organizer Edgard Etienne explained the rationale for the event.
“We considered the evolution of society and the fact that we are preparing pastors for the current generation,” Etienne said. “We cannot prepare people who look back, but who first understand their ministry and those to whom they minister.”
Etienne went on to emphasize that the pastoral ministry does not take place in a vacuum, and it is there to respond to the needs of the times.
“The way the Adventist Church was run in 1990 may not be the same in 2023. While the church hasn’t changed its identity, it must find ways to respond to each group in society,” he said.
A Pastor for All
At the same time, he explained that being a pastor for all does not mean that anyone can be a pastor. “Such a statement would be contrary to biblical teaching on spiritual gifts. What it means is that the ministry of the pastor extends to everyone and goes beyond the congregation that one has under their care,” Etienne added. “An Adventist pastor must be a pastor for the community, offering his services to community residents who are not members of the congregation.”
In his message to officially open the event, Leonard Johnson, executive secretary of the Inter-American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, addressed the issue of member retention. “It is a major challenge for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 21st century,” he said.
Johnson invited event participants to follow Jesus’ methods, which included winning people’s hearts and being an active part in their lives. “Being a pastor is more than preaching and teaching; you have to win people’s hearts,” he said. “You must strive to understand people against the background of their experiences, their pain. You need to spend time with them.”
Mission and Church Growth
During his presentation on church growth in a post-modern context, UNAH vice president for academic affairs Watland François drew the attention of pastors and students to their mission, something that, he said, can ensure the growth of the church. François showed the connection between quantitative growth and qualitative growth. “You need quantity to have quality, but you need quality to have quantity,” he said.
François also showed some challenges postmodernism brings. “Everything is questioned; binarism and any pre-established truth are rejected,” he explained. According to François, millennials want the same things as other generations regarding the mission of the church but with other methods. “Being a pastor in the 21st century requires holding firmly to the principles of the church but being creative and innovative,” François said. “Be firm in principles and open in habits,” he advised.
Topics for the Times
Plenary and breakout sessions included topics such as relationships with other religions, human rights, technology, personal spirituality, and independent ministries. In a Sabbath plenary, UNAH president Sénèque Edmond invited those who would like to collaborate with independent ministries to choose those ministries that support the mission of the church. He mentioned Maranatha Volunteers International, a ministry that has supported UNAH, especially after the 2010 earthquake.
Etienne, on the other hand, explained how the Adventist Church’s cordial interreligious and interdenominational relationships can help limit persecution and contribute to the mission of the church. “When you are on good terms with others, they can help and support you,” Etienne said.
He mentioned the recent unfortunate incident in the Philippines in which a helicopter disappeared over the ocean. “People who were not church members have been involved in the search for the missing, thanks to the good name of the church,” he shared. Etienne also warned against looking down on non-Adventist believers. In Haiti, he said, we need to do more to connect with other believers.
Facing Unique Challenges
These and other topics are topics relevant for the current challenges Adventist pastors must face in Haiti and elsewhere, Etienne said.
“Currently, in Haiti, the challenges of pastors are multiple. We have a church mostly made up of young people, who are less and less involved. And at a time when the world church is promoting ‘Total Member Involvement,’ the lack of youth involvement is really problematic,” Etienne said.
It’s not that those who are not involved don’t like the Adventist Church, he said. “They go to church on Sabbath morning for the worship service, but it might be that what we offer them does not meet the minimum of their expectations.” That becomes a major challenge for a pastor who must have most of their church members involved in church mission.
Haiti is also facing major socio-political challenges, Etienne explained. “Presently, there are churches that cannot meet on Wednesday evenings, and other congregations that cannot even meet on Sabbath mornings,” he said.
A Turning Point
In his Sabbath sermon, Haitian Union Mission president Pierre Caporal called pastors to be “neither indifferent nor insensitive to the suffering present in the environment where he exercises his pastoral ministry.” He invited church members and leaders to cry out to the Lord in the face of the current state of their country. “When God hears our cries, He will act,” he said.
Caporal also invited students to rely on and keep trusting God, even amid an uncertain context.
Lauvenson Lauvin, a student who participated in the forum, said that his expectations were met. “We witnessed an emphasis in a Christocentric pastorate,” Lauvin said. “For me, this is a turning point in our work.”