November 12, 2019

Not for Sale

The room watched in anticipation as G. T. Ng, general secretary for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, approached the table onstage and took a chair. Rolling it to the front of the platform, Ng then began, as can be expected, with a joke. As the laughter rolling through the auditorium quieted, the secretary asked, “Have you ever been disappointed with an election?” 

Ng then shared questions he has received from various individuals over the years: 

“Is it true that God appoints, but the nominating committee disappoints?”

“Why am I not elected to a higher position?”

“The church is not fully utilizing my skills; when is my turn to serve in a larger capacity?”

“What does it take for me to be elected?”

“Why isn’t God fair with me?”

At this point, Ng moved to stand next to the chair at the front of the platform. 

“This chair represents the positions we fill in the church,” he explained. “It is magnetic, it is addictive, and it is talkative.”

The chair, as Ng continued to explain, is magnetic because it follows you everywhere you go. It is addictive because the more you sit on it, the more you like it. The chair is talkative because the longer you sit, the greater the relationship you have with it, and it begins to talk to you.

“My chair says, ‘Oh G. T. Ng, I love you,’” Ng said, to a room erupting in laughter. “And I reply to my chair, ‘I love you too.’”

Understanding Elections

Ng continued, “When we understand what election is all about, we will not allow the chair to talk or exercise its magnetic power. We will do away with the addiction that can come from sitting in the chair.”

The definition of election in the Adventist Church is as follows: a corporate process in which duly constituted committees of the body of Christ prayerfully select leaders to serve in positions of trust as stewards of the designated term of service. At the end of a period of service, elected leaders relinquish their stewardship positions. They are ready to be reassigned to other service opportunities that fulfill the mission of the church and advance the kingdom of God.

“I’m not an owner of the chair,” Ng stated matter-of-factly. “I’m a steward of the chair for a specified period. If I think I am the owner of the chair, the position owns me, and we become inseparable.”

Being owner of the chair, Ng explained, means our position defines us. The position gives us identity, and our self-worth is predicated on our position. People respect us for our position and not necessarily for what or who we are.

However, if we are instead a steward of our position, we are not defined by it. Our term of office is limited, and we refuse to talk to our chair, vacating it at the end of our term of office, ready to be reassigned.

“As a steward,” Ng said, “I have peace of mind. There is no bereavement or disappointment when we are separated, and I can sleep like a baby every night.”

No Such Thing as “Re-Election”

No definition exists for “re-election” in the Adventist Church, Ng pointed out. With a pause, he then explained that the job of the nominating committee is to elect someone for a term of office for a specified amount of time. It is simply an election.

“So, how do we prepare for the 2020 General Conference session in Indianapolis?” Ng then asked. “We do one thing: we pray for the Holy Spirit to anoint the session itself.”

Then Ng shared how he prepares for the General Conference session. On the last day in the office before the session, he collects all of his belongings in the office, boxes them, and says farewell to his colleagues. 

“I leave with my box, and I walk away in peace, praising God,” Ng said. “He has blessed me during the last five years, and He will continue to do so during the next five, because I am His servant, and I will go where He calls me.”

True to Duty 

Then Ng quoted Ellen G. White: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men — men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall” (Education, 57).

In The Desire of Ages, White also wrote, “Before honor is humility.... When men exalt themselves, feeling that they are a necessity of the success of God’s great plan, the Lord causes them to be set aside. It is made evident that the Lord is not dependent upon them. The work does not stop because of their removal from it, but goes forward with greater power” (436). 

“Jesus is the right leader,” Ng proclaimed with passion. “He is always right, and He is always our leader. We need to follow Him as our true north. Are you for sale? A true north leader refuses to be bought or sold. My integrity is not for sale. My principles are not for sale. My leadership is not for sale. My loyalty to God is not for sale. I cannot compromise.”

Taking the Pledge

To conclude, Ng made a call to all delegates present to commit themselves as elected officials of the church by signing a commitment card. The commitment card states,

“In preparation for the 2020 General Conference session, I commit myself to Jesus, the true north. By God’s grace, I pledge to (1) Vote according to my conscience, not for political expediency; (2) Work transparently and not conspire in elections; (3) Be driven by pure motives and not by promised positions; (4) Vote as an individual and not as a block or political alliance; (5) Be a faithful servant and not an engineer currying favors for another term; (6) Evaluate qualifications and not only representation; (7) Remain content and not covet the positions of others; (8) Look to the true north of Jesus Christ and not to be bought or sold; (9) Relinquish with grace my current position at the end of my term of office; and (10) Sing the hymn It is Well with My Soul instead of I Shall Not Be Moved!

The room filled with murmurs and rustles of suits as hundreds of delegates stood to receive their pledge cards, after which everyone sang It Is Well With My Soul together.

“Every election should have an ICU [Intensive Care Unit] to care for those who are not elected after a term of service,” Ng suggested. “Leaders who have not been reassigned to their previous positions need comfort, assurance, and prayers. We need to understand that it’s not about us, it’s about putting the right leaders in the right places every five years; God will assign us each another post of duty proportionate to our spiritual gifts. And that is all I need to know.”

The original version of this commentary was posted by the Adventist News Network.