by Loren Seibold   |  16 October2018  |

My apologies that I didn’t write a report yesterday—Monday. I confess that after the vote on Sunday, some of the energy drained out of me, and left me a bit less motivated than I was on Sunday.

Let me start with a couple of policy items from Monday. You can see all of the policy changes here, (though a few were updated after this copy was made.)

The first is a change to the model constitution. The model constitution is what the General Conference wants every judicatory—conferences, missions, unions—to adopt. (Many have, but not all.) You will immediately see reflected here the stronger stance toward lower judicatories than we’ve seen in the past. (Underlined sections are added.)

The purposes, policies and procedures of this union conference shall be in harmony with the working policies policies, voted actions, and procedures of the enacted by the Executive Committee of the __________ Division and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

I wonder which “voted actions” might be referred to here? Hmmm.

The second set of changes has to do with the policy related to ministerial education. The first one that caught my eye: whereas in the past, the Masters of Divinity degree was listed as the basic degree for entering ministry, that requirement has been altered. As Dr. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy explained, that degree requirement has been replaced with personal qualities, skills, and knowledge competencies, leaving the precise entry-level degree to be earned to the discretion of the divisions themselves.

While I’m a fan of advanced education, I can see the need for this change: not every pastor needs an M.Div., and the requirement hasn’t been complied with. Instead, the document now says, “It is recommended that conferences/missions/fields, healthcare institutions, publishing houses, and schools make provision for giving employees the privilege of formal, advanced ministerial education in light of the individual’s aptitude for and promise of future service as needed by the Church and its institutions.” Still, I wonder whether that is going to give an “out” to those  judicatories that aren’t inclined to spend the money to sponsor students to seminary.

There were some other interesting discussions about sexist (masculine) language in the document. We’ll discuss that later.

Tuesday started with a review of changes to the Church Manual. Let me take you briefly through a few of them.

  • A new section on pastors and church employees. It isn’t clear what was done beyond just expanding it. One thing that hasn’t changed is that “The conference president should be an ordained pastor of experience and good reputation.” That leaves at least one NAD conference president out.
  • I’ve heard for years that a guest speaker had to be approved by the conference office—yet I’ve rarely seen that done. The wording has been changed from “No one should be allowed to speak to any congregation unless he/she has been invited by the church in harmony with guidelines given by the conference,” to delegating that task specifically to the pastor, the local elders, or church board—still in harmony with guidelines given by the conference
  • A new section entitled “Supreme Object of Christ’s Regard” seems to strengthen the focus on Adventists as a distinctive people, by quoting Testimonies to Ministers 16-17: “There are clear, decided distinctions to be restored and exemplified to the world in holding aloft the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” and additional passages.
  • A section on membership records removes this line: “Under no circumstances should a church keep a retired membership list.” It isn’t clear why this was here in the first place.
  • A new section called “Redemptive Membership Auditing”: “Membership records are kept up to date by the local church. They are subject to audit by the next higher organization.” It specifies that the process “provide the maximum privacy of members’ personal information and shall comply with legal requirements.”
  • “Church Board Cannot Remove Members.” It can only recommend to a business meeting the removal of members.
  • Many congregations have a board of elders. A new section in the Church Manual recommends the practice, specifying that it is accountable to the church board.
  • A new section adds that church boards can have people meeting by means of electronic conference. Of course, votes by proxy are still not allowed.
  • Finally this one: the title “head elder” is changed to “first elder.” (I always thought “head elder” was kind of strange.)

Some months back, Adventist Today published one side of the story of the Hope Center, an evangelistic center in Southeast Andhra Conference/Section. The story was noted by a Facebook friend of mine, Suranjeen Prasad Pallipamula, a medical doctor in India and a lay member of the GC ExCom. Suranjeen had no contact with the Hope Center, but he was very concerned about the perception that Indian church leaders are untrustworthy with money and other assets. As we talked, he asked me how he could begin to improve the matter. I suggested a letter to the GC leaders asking for a discussion of the matter at the GC ExCom meeting that he’d be attending. The answer wasn’t encouraging—and as it turned out Suranjeen’s father-in-law had a health emergency that caused him to not be able to attend this meeting anyway.

I was pleased to be able to tell Suranjeen today via Facebook that the discussion did happen!

The lead-in was a rather discouraging report from GCAS, the GC auditing department. I’m not a financial person, but I’m smart enough to see that the report shows a lot of sub-standard audits. I’ll attach a copy of a few pages of the report here. Suffice it to say that the report shows enough problems that we should be concerned. Listen to the comments starting here.

That was followed by a teaching sermon by Elder Juan Prestol, GC treasurer. He talked about the twin values of integrity and transparency, and illustrated them in the Bible. He talked about what it should mean to be a spiritual person. But, he said, we need more than the illumination of the Holy Spirit: we need intentionally to cultivate transparency and integrity. These are learned skills. We want to be holy, of course, but it’s something else to be holy in the context of corporate governance.

Trust, he said, is really all we’ve got. I tried to get this as quote and I hope I got it close: “Our money is not in our bank accounts, but in the bank accounts of the people, and if they don’t trust, they won’t give. Our responsibility is to reassure them. Things can go wrong, but they have to know that they will be corrected. And, that we will do all we can to be sure that nothing does go wrong.”

This was followed by a discussion led by Ann Gibson, professor emerita of accounting and business ethics from Andrews University. Dr. Gibson led a discussion on a series of hypothetical situations having to do with leadership ethics. Naturally, a discussion with that many participants isn’t going to be able go deep or far. I was just thrilled they had the discussion at all!

After it all, Elder Wilson thanked Elder Prestol, and said, “This discussion was suggested to us by a member of this committee from another country.” And I thought, “Suranjeen, you did it!”

World Mission’s reports are always interesting. A amazing report by a young woman on mission work in Siberia. Watch it! Doug Venn recommends the book The Ephesus Model, by Jeffrey McAuliffe and Robert McAuliffe.

Loren Seibold is a pastor, and the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.

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