More than 600 Seventh-day Adventist ministry leaders gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States, January 13-16, 2019, for the “Stronger United: Many Voices, One Vision” Adventist Ministries Convention (AMC). Conference, union, and division ministry partners came together to inspire, educate, and renew church ministry leaders across the North American Division (NAD) through daily devotionals, music, church resource exhibits, TED Talk-style presentations, breakout sessions, and awards given to individuals for ministry achievement.
NAD ministry directors hosted cooperative breakout sessions that were planned, according to AMC organizers, to “ensure that the spirit of collaboration is evident in each of the NAD core values through the breakout sessions.” Regardless of the ministry they represent, attendees were encouraged to join breakout sessions they felt would help them discover “best practices relevant for their ministry.”
The eight core-value concentrations included (1) alignment within the church — connecting effectively within our diverse church family; (2) community outreach and evangelism — connecting with our communities, sharing hope and wholeness; (3) digital ministries — the gateway to transformation evangelism; (4) education for discipleship — every youth and adult learning, growing, and becoming more like Christ; (5) freedom of conscience — protecting the rights and freedoms of society’s most vulnerable and overlooked; (6) healthy leadership and management — God’s stewards insisting on personal and church-wide excellence; (7) revival and transformation — connecting with God through public and personal worship; and (8) stewardship — inspiring God’s people to fund the message of hope and wholeness.
Many NAD ministry departments also conducted advisory meetings — intense half-day or full-day sessions — devoted to addressing challenges, sharing new resources and programs, and planning for future ministry opportunities. Before the convention began, NAD Prayer Ministries held a two-day “Praying Our Way Through!” event, a special prayer services meeting.
Before the opening general session on Sunday night, the NAD Stewardship department showed the movie The Mysterious Note, followed by an exhibitor dinner reception.
One Body in Christ
The opening keynote address was delivered by G. Alexander Bryant, executive secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. Bryant’s presentation, titled “A Diverse People Shaped by a Diverse God,” drew from the example of the God who demonstrates the power and strength of unity through presenting Himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. “It is God’s design and desire to replicate this strength in diversity through His people and His church,” Bryant said.
Bryant unpacked a passage from 1 Corinthians 12, challenging attendees to recognize that “God has put the conservatives in the church. God has put the liberals in the church. God has put the people in the middle in the church. God has set the members of the body as it has pleased Him. … God knows — the body cannot be the body without the distinct and separate functions of the members. That’s what Paul is saying. What if everything was an eye? What if everything was an ear?
“We need the diversity in the church to carry and fulfill the mission of the church, the will of God,” he added. “We also need the diversity to reflect who God is. Do you think one group can reflect who God is?
“You see, we are stronger united,” Bryant said, reflecting the theme of the convention. “But more than that, we are not even the body of Christ without our differences and our diversity and uniqueness that God has set in the body.”
Other plenary addresses at AMC included TED Talk-style presentations from Gary Moyer, vice president of administration for the Carolina Conference; Jose Cortes Jr., associate director for evangelism for the NAD; James Black Sr., Prayer Ministries director; Tony Anobile, vice president for Multilingual Ministries; Pamela and Claudio Consuegra, Family Ministries directors; Adam Fenner, director of Adventist Learning Community; John Mathews, NAD Stewardship director; Melissa Reid, associate director of the North American Religious Liberty Association; and Pierre Francois, director of Sabbath School, Children’s Ministries, and Prison Ministries for Southeastern Conference.
Worship through music each day was provided by renowned pianist Sam Ocampo and the duo of soloist Denise Josiah and musician Donnell S. Josiah.
More than 50 exhibitors were present at AMC, ranging from official ministries and services of the North American Division, including Children’s Ministries, Education, and Adventist Retirement, to ministries of the global Seventh-day Adventist denomination, including the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), and the Office of Adventist Mission. Exhibits also featured independent ministries seeking to gain exposure and spread awareness of their particular focus.
“This exhibit is one of the best we've had in a long time,” said Cornice Williams, volunteer at the Disabilities Ministries booth, which represented an Adventist church in Rochester, New York with 30 members, all of whom are disabled. “A lot of [visitors] are really, really interested and concerned about the disabled in the church, and that’s really stuck with me. It really warms my heart to know they’re now ready for this space.
“We’ve been going around spreading the word, getting people to incorporate and embrace disabilities. We have information in French, Spanish, and English, and books on disabilities ministries at AdventSource,” continued Williams, who later received a lifetime achievement award at the convention for her work in personal ministries within Northeastern Conference and for being instrumental in launching the church in Rochester for people with disabilities. “We’re open to come to your church to do workshops and to help you wherever you’re stuck on what to do about disabilities ministries, to show you how to move forward.”
The exhibit hall also benefited ministries that are not as new as disabilities ministry. The Philanthropic Service for Institutions (PSI) has served the division for more than 30 years, and its team is still seeking ways to reach constituents, especially in the division’s territories outside of the U.S.
“When we think about all the people we service in Canada, it's a lot more difficult for me to get to them. And I've talked to over a dozen Canadians today who are in churches, administrations, and children's ministry. It's been very helpful from that standpoint,” said Michael Brown, associate director of PSI.
The same goes, he said, for reaching members who can benefit from the services of PSI but need to learn more in their own language.
“I just helped a [Hispanic] couple who has land to build a church, but they want to know what the next steps are,” said Lorena Hernandez, service coordinator for PSI, who is also Hispanic. “A lot of the times [people] don't know what to do after they’ve saved money, such as how to make it sustainable, how they can build a church, or how to have some kind of training. I was excited to be able to help them in Spanish.”
Brad Forbes, director of AdventSource, served as the AMC exhibitor coordinator. The exhibit hall was given a “Route 66” theme, since Albuquerque is located along the route. Route 66 was one of the original highways across the U.S. In its heyday, it started in Chicago and took travelers all the way to southern California.
“This is a great opportunity for me to meet people, to ask them what's working and ask what we can do to assist in promoting these ministry resources,” Forbes said.
“I [also] hope that visitors make connections with whatever people are in their ministry area. That's the number-one thing,” Forbes added. “Sometimes at conferences you're on own for long periods of time … [but here in the exhibit hall], you can connect with people who are dealing with the same ministry challenges as you across the country.”
The lifetime achievement awards banquet was held the evening before the final AMC general session. Before the awards portion, social researcher, author, and speaker Shaunti Feldhahn spoke about making the most of marriage relationships. She debunked myths that circulate in churches and among leaders about the rate of divorce among Christian couples and urged those in leadership roles to provide support for parishioners who need help with family relationships.
Feldhahn reminded audience members that Bible-based instruction and living is paramount. “Here’s what the people sitting in the average church are thinking: If, on something as important as marriage, doing what the Bible says makes no difference, what does that say about the Bible? This causes this poisonous doubt down under the surface.”
The evening closed with the presentation of lifetime achievement awards: Eloise Symonds, Personal Ministries; Ron Vincent, Prison Ministries; Gary Swanson, Sabbath School (Adult Ministries), Minnie McNeil, Adventist Community Services; Joe Watts, Adventist Community Services; Barbara Manspeaker, Children’s Ministries; Cornice Williams, Disabilities Ministries; Larry Blackmer, Education; Ron and Karen Flowers, Family Ministries; Minner Labrador, Men’s Ministries (Family Ministries); Arnold Trujilo, Multilingual Ministries; R. Ernest Castillo, Multilingual Ministries; Harold L. Lee, PSI; Patrecia C. P. Langley, Prayer Ministries; Darrel Huenergardt, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty; Gordon Botting; Stewardship; John Mathews, Stewardship; Paul Smith, Stewardship; Nancy Buxton, Women’s Ministries; and James Black Sr., Youth Ministries. The excellence in ministry awards were presented throughout the AMC, with recipients acknowledged during a video slide show at the banquet.
Forward with Community
Through its mission statement, leaders said, the NAD has committed “to reach North America and the world with the distinctive, Christ-centered, Seventh-day Adventist message of Hope and Wholeness.” AMC organizers shared the idea in convention materials: “Although the areas of concentration in ministry are essential, ministries operating with the ‘silo mentality’ have become the new normal. Spreading the gospel is too important to continue with this as our normal.”
Armando Miranda, associate director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, issued a challenge at the AMC’s final general session in his talk entitled, “2gether: Because 2 are Better than 1.” He said that God, who models community in the trinity, instituted community from humanity’s beginning (in Genesis 1-2). “From the start,” Miranda said, “God gave us this — the utmost example of community, of unity, of togetherness; [it] is that of the family, when they become one flesh.”
Miranda quoted Ellen G. White: “The holy pair were not only children under the fatherly care of God but students receiving instruction from the all-wise Creator. They were visited by angels, and were granted communion with their Maker, with no obscuring veil between” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 50). Adam and Eve, Miranda said, “were together with God too. The plan of God, in a perfect world, has been to be in community — together.
“God is with us, He gives us the power to defeat the enemy. We need to get back to that [sense of community.] People need to see that we are Christians by our love, by our actions,” Miranda concluded. “Jesus came into this world, He walked with us, with everyone — if He did so, why shouldn’t we? He preached through example; we should do the same.”
As attendees prepared to leave the meeting hall, the convention closed with a group of NAD leaders and church members with a rich diversity of age, race, gender, and profession, reading aloud the passage from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 on unity and diversity in the church.