Only the presence and work of the Holy Spirit can help the members of an increasingly international Seventh-day Adventist Church to get along and stay together in unity for mission, General Conference secretary G. T. Ng said.
Ng’s remarks were part of the Secretary’s Report for the 2020 Annual Council of the church’s Executive Committee on October 7, 2020, which is taking place virtually this year.
The Secretary’s Report marked the first major item of the official business agenda. Ng shared church members’ statistics, emphasizing differences and similarities between world church regions, and he suggested how such an international body of believers could achieve harmony, which allows it to move forward.
Church Statistics to the End of 2018
World membership in 2018 was 21,414,779, according to Ng. That was an increase of 687,432 over the previous year. “We praise God for the healthy growth,” he said. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, members are counted once they are baptized into the church, which means no babies, children, or unbaptized supporters are included.
Membership varies widely from one region of the world church to another, Ng said. According to official church statistics, updated to December 2018, totals go from 106,000 members in the Euro-Asian Division and 268,000 between the Trans-European Division and Inter-European Division to 4.4 million in the East-Central Africa Division. Other church regions with higher numbers of members are the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division with 4.3 million members and the Inter-American Division, with 3.7 million.
The same statistics report shows 1.3 million members in the North American Division, a church region than encompasses the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Guam. Other church regions include the Northern Asia-Pacific Division with 286,000 church members; the South Pacific Division with 567,000; and the West-Central Africa Division, with 862,000. There are also 1.1 million members in the Southern Asia Division based in India; 1.6 million members in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division based in the Philippines, and 2.5 million members in the South American Division based in Brazil.
Besides the rest of the world regions, statistics include two special attached fields to the world church, the Chinese Union Mission with 472,000 members, and the Middle East North Africa Union Mission, based in Beirut, Lebanon, with just 5,120 members.
In 2018, Ng reported, 1,383,427 joined the church by baptism and profession of faith. That number represents 30,000 more accessions than in 2017, he said.
An International Church
Statistics show that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in an increasingly international church, with presence in 215 of the 235 nations recognized by the United Nations, Ng said. Why so international? he asked. To answer that question, Ng reminded Executive Committee members about the early history of the denomination.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a global reach because it is meant to be ... because Bible prophecy designates it to be,” Ng said. “The church is rooted in prophecy, and Revelation 10 speaks of a divine appointment in 1844, when Jesus entered the most holy place in the heavenly sanctuary, interceding for us. ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings,’ he reminded listeners as he quoted Revelation 10:11 from the Bible.
From a small beginning of 3,000 members in 1863, the Adventist Church started an incredible missionary movement like no other, Ng said. Quoting Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, he read from Testimonies for the Church, volume 6, page 23, where she wrote, “God’s people have a mighty work before them, a work that must continually rise to greater prominence. Our efforts in missionary lines must become far more extensive. A more decided work than has been done must be done prior to the second appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s people are not to cease their labors until they shall encircle the world.”
How to Get Along
With hundreds of nationalities, languages, and dialects around the world, how do we get along as a church? Ng asked. “How do nationalities which are super punctual for appointments get along with nationalities that regard time as something to enjoy and never meant to be kept? How does a culture of confrontation get along with a culture of consensus?” he added.
According to Ng, this problem is nothing new. “Just look at the disciples. How did the disciples get along? The short answer is they didn’t,” he answered. “The disciples weren’t all crazy about each other. Look how quickly they went their separate ways after Jesus was gone. The disciples had an explosive mix of personalities. They were highly competitive. The recurring question was, ‘Who is the greatest?’ Rivalries among peers was nothing new.”
Ng reminded Executive Committee members that he finds it interesting that the gospel writers did not “Photoshop” away the arguments among the disciples. “Some were impetuous; others were more thoughtful. The disciples often squabbled like children. They had a rocky relationship with each other,” he said.
But a sudden changed transpired, Ng said, according to what is recorded in the Bible in Acts chapters 1 and 2. The Bible says, he said, that “they assembled. They prayed together. They stood together. When Peter started preaching, the eleven stood with him.”
“What happened?” Ng asked, before answering, “The outpouring of the Spirit made the difference. [The Holy Spirit led them] from confusion to organization, from competition to collaboration, and from jealousy to charity,” he emphasized. He led them “from fear to confidence, from backbiting to praising, and from despair to hope.”
Thus, according to Ng, the solution for an international church to get along is to allow the Holy Spirit's presence and influence. “Getting along is not something we can do of ourselves,” he said.
At the end of Ng’s presentation, other members of his team presented on various aspects of the Secretariat’s work, including the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research director David Trim, Adventist Mission director Gary Krause, and others.*
Feedback from the Floor
At the time for comments and questions on the report, several General Committee members thanked Ng and his team for the useful information shared and their visually appealing presentation. “I am very thankful for the Secretary’s report,” Women’s Ministries director Heather Dawn-Small said. “I always enjoyed reports from the Secretariat, but in the last few years, I have found they have become more informative, even exciting.”
Nana Mimako, an Executive Committee member from the West-Central Africa Division, seconded that thought. “I have found this report very inspiring. It makes me proud of my church, and it pushes all of us on,” he said.
At the same time, at least one member asked for clarification. Inter-European Division treasurer and chief financial officer Norbert Zens asked about how funds are allocated to mission programs. He expressed a concern that figures shown by church mission leaders seem to show an imbalance between missionaries serving at Adventist institutions and frontline workers. “Some church members may need an explanation on that,” he said.
Adventist Church president Ted N. C. Wilson thanked Zens for the question. He explained that full-time international missionaries are often called to serve in regions of the world church where their expertise is needed. “More and more, the requests we receive are for very specific tasks that cannot be covered with indigenous workers,” Wilson said. However, the steady trend is to allocate more funds for frontline mission workers and less for missionaries working at Adventist institutions, Wilson told Zens.
Special assistant to the president Mike Ryan agreed, and added, “We should also remember that not only the General Conference but divisions are sponsoring an increasing number of missionaries. So more and more funds are being allocated to the frontline mission.”
The vote to record receipt of the Secretary’s report as presented was passed unanimously.
*Some of these presentations will be covered in future reports.