‘It’s Time to Move from A, B, and C to D,’ General Conference Secretary Says

Erton Köhler calls the church to go beyond attendance, buildings, and cash to disciple-making.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
‘It’s Time to Move from A, B, and C to D,’ General Conference Secretary Says
General Conference executive secretary Erton Köhler addresses the delegates and invitees to the 2023 Leadership Experiences and Development Conference at the General Conference headquarters. Photo: Lucas Cardino / Adventist Media Exchange (CC BY 4.0)

“Disciple-making is not something that belongs to the General Conference or to one or two divisions [of the world church],” Erton Köhler, secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) said at a presentation at the GC headquarters building in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. “Everyone can be part of this movement.”

Köhler closed a day of presentations, discussions, and breakout sessions as part of the Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) Conference, a day before the official start of the church’s 2023 Annual Council.

The October 5 program shared three basic steps of any discipleship initiative, including (1) the call or preparation, (2) the journey or integration, and (3) the mission itself. Köhler emphasized that no matter the disciple-making initiative, leaders should consider these three elements or some variation of them.

Beyond that, he called the church to make disciple-making the basis of its endeavors. He referred to an unnamed division of the world church where 27.6 percent of the members has been baptized within the past five years and 48.9 percent within the past 10 years.

“What does this mean?” Köhler asked, before answering, “Their religious identity may be fragile,” he said. “It is very likely many of them are already local church leaders. Who is equipping these new members? Who is discipling them? We need to urgently care for God’s most precious assets — His children.”

Köhler quoted South African mission writer Alan Hirsch, who said, “You can create a stronger movement with 12 disciples than with 1,200 consumers.”

Disciple-making and Mission Refocus

Disciple-making is also part of mission refocus, or the renewed emphasis of the Adventist Church in mission-driven initiatives and programs.

Köhler shared that, just as a Christian author said, many churches are focused on the ABCs — attendance, buildings, and cash. “But the true success of the church does not depend on the ABCs, even though they are important,” Köhler reminded his audience. “True success depends on the D — a disciple-making process.”

“Disciple-making is the best way to grow as a church in the qualitative and quantitative aspects,” Köhler. “The only formula to make this growth healthy is by offering personal work, caring for people and multiplying disciples. These two elements are vital.”

Beyond Just Counting Numbers

A renewed emphasis on mission and disciple-making also may prevent the church from just focusing on counting numbers of accessions, Köhler said. “Mission refocus is a call to go beyond just counting our numbers; it is an invitation to also develop in our numbers. We invest large amounts of money in bringing people through our doors but, how much are we investing to keep them there?”

He explained that that church cannot reduce investment in reaching out, but that it should be more intentional in retaining those who come to Jesus. “Baptism is enrollment, not graduation,” Köhler said. “Baptism is not the finish line; it’s just the starting point.”

Everyone Doing Something

After Köhler’s presentation, General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson called on leaders of the worldwide Adventist Church to be part of disciple-making as part of Total Member Involvement (TMI), an initiative of the world church to get every member involved in mission.

Wilson called the GC Executive Board members to invite people to the knowledge that Jesus is coming soon, “and that if you taste and see, you will recognize that the Lord is good,” he said. “I challenge each one to recognize that disciple-making is not only for our parishioners, not just for our members.… We are included as leaders. Let us be part of disciple-making for Jesus because we have been chosen for mission.”

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review