November 21, 2013

Annual Council Ends With Flurry of Administrative, Ministry Actions

Deacons and deaconesses in the Seventh-day Adventist Church—a force of 700,000 who support church activities worldwide, particularly in congregations lacking a full-time pastor—will now be supported by the church’s Ministerial Association, thanks to an October 16 vote by Annual Council delegates.

The move was one of several actions taken on the final day of the yearly gathering of Seventh-day Adventist leaders from around the world, held this year in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Jonas Arrais, associate secretary for Elders and Ministerial Training, asked delegates to officially place deacons and deaconesses under the auspices of the association, which already supports church pastors and local elders.<strong>CHANGES PROPOSED:</strong> Adventist Church undersecretary Myron Iseminger introduced several suggested policy adjustments at Annual Council on October 16, 2013.

Arrais explained that fewer than 30,000 pastors oversee the Adventist world church’s 140,000 congregations. The church’s 250,000 elders are often recognized—rightfully so—as surrogate pastors, he said, but the work of the church’s 700,000 deacons and deaconesses often goes unacknowledged and unsupported.

“When Jesus came to earth, He came to serve. The ministry of Jesus as a servant is the model for the ministry of deacons and deaconesses,” Arrais said. “They have a deep spirit of service. We need to recognize, we need to value, the work of these volunteers.”

Delegates approved the request unanimously.

At the meeting, Andrews University president Niels-Erik Andreasen introduced a new Bible commentary to be published by the university’s press in 2015. The commentary is a companion to the previously released Andrews Study Bible, Andreasen said. It is being edited by former Biblical Research Institute director Ángel Manuel Rodríguez and written by an international team of Adventist Bible scholars. 

Andreasen said the new commentary would deepen readers’ understanding of biblical themes, going section by section rather than verse by verse. Verses, he explained, were not added to the Bible until later, making thematic study of the Scriptures essential.

Delegates each received a printed sample of selected portions of the commentary. The General Conference is assisting Andrews University in funding the project.

During the meeting, GC president Ted N. C. Wilson took to the microphone to draw attention to the “distinction” between church and institutional structure. Some church entities, he said, now use the title “vice president for finance” instead of the traditional “treasurer.” Similarly, he said, some church administrators now favor “vice president for administration” over “secretary.”

“This is not as it should be. Please use the correct nomenclature,” Wilson said. “When you use the other nomenclature, you are setting up a presidential system. Within the church, we report to the Executive Committee, not the president. We work in consultation.”

Later delegates approved several reorganization requests from local church administrative units. The Indian Ocean Union Mission and Botswana Union Mission will each become union conferences, a move that recognizes self-sufficiency in leadership and finances.

“It hasn’t been easy to gain union conference status in some parts of the world,” said Pardon Mwansa, a general vice president of the General Conference. “This is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations and blessings.”

Delegates also approved the reorganization of the Kenya Union Mission into two union conferences—the East Kenya Union Conference and West Kenya Union Conference. Similarly, the Tanzania Union Mission will split into the North Tanzania Union Conference and the South Tanzania Union Mission.

Delegates also voted to grant union mission status to the North East Congo Attached Territory. All reorganizations will go into effect by December 31, allowing the newly created administrative units to send delegates to the 2015 General Conference session.

Earlier in the week, Annual Council delegates also voted to receive a statement from the recent International Urban Mission Conference, in which the church pledged to make significant efforts to reach large cities, particularly those without a Seventh-day Adventist presence. The statement calls for a “twice-yearly reporting and assessment system that informs the church about urban mission objectives, activities, and progress.”

Delegates this week also celebrated the success of the Great Controversy Project, an initiative to distribute copies of The Great Controversy, authored by Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White. More than 142 million copies have been distributed since the initiative launched in 2011.

Many people joined the Adventist Church through the initiative, including Marcelo Pereira dos Santos and his family, from Brazil. “We understand that this is only the beginning of a new life,” said dos Santos, who addressed delegates from the stage. “I hope my life and testimony will be useful to many brothers and sisters who have not yet realized the infinite love of God.” n

—additional reporting by Mark A. Kellner