“You are called by God and you’re a gift given by God to our church, to continue helping the church grow and mature,” Inter-American Division (IAD) president Elie Henry said as he recently commended thousands of local church elders for their dedication and committed service in shepherding the membership throughout the IAD year after year.
Henry was addressing the more than 43,000 church elders taking part in a short online certification session, which was meant to highlight the continuing education to equip, strengthen, and train them to be effective leaders in their local church and to offset the limited number of ministers available in the division. There are over 23,000 churches and congregations throughout the IAD. Pastors could have five, 10, or as many as 24 congregations to oversee, church leaders said.
Importance of Church Elders
Local church leaders are the ones who consistently ‘build the body of Christ’ every week during the weekly services, visiting members, teaching the Word of God, and ensuring that all members are discipled and growing in Jesus, Henry said. It’s been like that for nearly 100 years since the Inter-American Division was established in 1922, he said.
More than 35,000 local church elders completed the certification program last year, Josney Rodríguez, IAD ministerial secretary and main organizer of the initiative, said. The online program, held on February 19, 2022, represented the closing of the annual certification program for church elders throughout the IAD since 2017, and the start of the new certification for 2022, he said.
“During the past five years we have been forming and working with thousands of church elders to closely disciple them, tend to their spiritual needs, and motivate them and their families in sharing the love of Jesus in their communities,” Rodríguez said. It’s all about preparing a leadership that can transform, he added.
Catering and Assessing Members’ Needs
“The church elder is not someone that ensures that the Sabbath [Saturday] program flows smoothly every week, but one that caters to the membership, assesses their needs, and goes after each member to ensure that they pursue a close relationship with Jesus,” Rodríguez said. More than 5,000 churches have registered their members and have been closely following up with each member and their family throughout the territory so far, reported Rodríguez. Leaders hope to ensure that more than 15,000 congregations throughout the IAD will be closely catered to by 2023, he added.
The certification program has been about building a discipleship lifestyle, a culture within the church to bring members together in total involvement along with the leadership of each district pastor overseeing the spiritual growth of the church and its evangelistic efforts.
Recognizing the Role
So far, it’s been a thorough success to see the commitment of the church elders, pastors, and conference, mission, and union administrators working together each year in understanding and recognizing the vital role of the church elder in each congregation, Rodríguez said.
Adventist Church ministerial secretary Jerry Page challenged church elders to continue to serve like never before. “I want to challenge you to be filled with the Holy Spirit — to be the kind of elder who can really make a difference for eternity in the family, in the church, so we can see the revival in our churches,” Page said.
Eighty percent of Adventist churches around the world are led largely by church elders each Sabbath, Page said. “We don’t have enough pastors for every church. What a responsibility and influence you have on these churches.”
The certification program is important, Page said, “but it’s nothing if we don’t know Jesus and deepen our study and get to know Him. Take time with God and ask how you can deal with circumstances in the church and broken relationships in the family or in the church, so that the church can be united in the image of God.”
Pray to have the mind of God, Page encouraged elders. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit to do God’s work.”
Union administrators spoke briefly during the online event to report on church elders who were certified in their territory, outstanding elders who have reached the most baptisms in 2021, and exemplary churches that are closely nurturing and discipling their members across the region.
The event also marked the start of the next level of certification this year, with training under the IAD leadership as well as union leadership, he explained. This year the elders will participate in the certification program along with their spouses — an added component that seeks to strengthen the church elder’s family in their dedicated service every week.
“We’re looking to continue to provide elders and their spouses with new skills so they can be prepared and equipped to continue teaching, ministering, preaching, and administrating alongside pastors as they adapt to the challenges the church faces today,” Rodríguez said.