General Conference Governing Body Marks 150 Years, Does Routine Business
by Adventist Today News Team
Update Appended on April 17
The executive committee of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is in Battle Creek, Michigan, this week for its yearly spring meeting. Over the weekend, members from all over the world celebrated the 150th anniversary of the denomination. The divisive issues surrounding ordination at last year’s meeting were evidently off the agenda this time.
The anniversary is actually being observed a month early and leaders took pains to say that they were not “celebrating” because the Adventist faith is focused on the soon return of Christ and a history of more than 150 years is somewhat embarrassing. The founding meeting of the denomination was held in Battle Creek in May 1863, two decades after the “Great Disappointment” of 1843-44 when early Adventists predicted the Second Coming.
The committee received recommendations from a health ministries summit last month to make the outreach of the denomination “more comprehensive,” meeting physical, mental, emotional and social needs as well as spiritual needs. Dr. Allan Handysides, director of health ministries for the General Conference, quoted from The Ministry of Healing by church founder Ellen G. White, “If less time were given to sermonizing and more time were spent in practical ministry, greater results would be seen.” Pastor Ted Wilson, the denomination’s president, also referred to White’s urging in the early 20th century that the best approach to reaching large cities is “medical missionary work.”
“Some delegates, however, questioned whether the … current budget … could fund a quality, appealing program that will impact the community,” reported the denomination’s official news services, Adventist News Network (ANN). A committee member from Australia “strongly urged the executive committee to review existing successful community programs and incorporate them into mainstream ministry.” Pastor Mike Ryan, a vice president of the denomination, agreed. “We have so many programs, but bridging them to create something big, we’re weak on that.”
Earlier in the meeting the committee voted to appoint a replacement for Dr. Handysides, who is retiring in September. The new director of health ministries is Dr. Peter Landless, a physician and ordained minister who has worked with Handysides as an associate since early 2002.
In other personnel changes, the committee appointed Kimberly Westphall as associate director for quality control at the General Conference Auditing Service (GCAS). She has been the GCAS regional manager for North America and is a Certified Public Accountant.
The committee also appointed Jesse Johnson to fill a vacancy on the board of Adventist World Radio. He is president of a vendor in the technology field that provides services to the General Conference.
For two days on the weekend (April 13-14) the committee squeezed into a replica of the small church in which the first General Conference Session was held and listened to presentations by scholars among the GC officers. Dr. Ella Simmons, an educator with a PhD and a vice president of the denomination, spoke about the Battle Creek headquarters of the movement and the crisis it faced at the turn of the 20th century. Simmons recalled that the denomination’s major medical institution was taken away, its publishing house burned down and its college eventually collapsed—all located in Battle Creek at the time—and quoted White that this was “necessary.” ANN reported that Simmons said, “White feared the concentration of institutions in one place would indulge insular thinking and jeopardize the church’s mission.”
Dr. David Trim, a PhD historian and director of archives, statistics and research for the GC, recounted the change in the Adventist sense of mission from solely announcing the soon coming of Christ in the solidly Christian northeastern United States to taking a the full gospel into all the world.
At first, early Adventists were preoccupied with the United States’ “providential” place in history, Trim said. They were reluctant to take biblical phrases such as “all the world” and “every nation,” literally, concluding that they “did not need to leave America to fulfill prophetic destiny,” he said. Indeed, some of the church’s first missionary work was to reach immigrant populations in the U.S.
By 1873, it was James White who called for a change. In one sermon, he mentioned that the Advent message should “go to all people” 14 times. Ultimately, Trim said, it was influential leaders such as White, the visionary views of his wife and good communication—constant reports from Europe detailed the need for mission work there—that led to world mission. Together, “these implanted passion for mission in the Adventist DNA, which I hope will never be extracted,” Trim said.
Reflecting on the shifts in focus and realizations early church leaders came to, Wilson thanked the afternoon presenters for highlighting the need for humility and flexibility in leadership, drawing this lesson from the life of a 19th century GC president, George Butler: “You can’t be a leader and think you know it all. You’ve got to come to the cross every day,” Wilson said.
Total income to the Tithe Fund in local conferences was over $2.3 billion in 2012, reported Robet Lemon, the GC treasurer. This represents an increase over the previous year of one percent in North America where it totaled $933 million and 4.4 percent in the rest of the world where it totaled $1.4 billion. Offerings for world missions totaled $83 million, with $23 million coming from North America and $60 million from the rest of the world. This is 2.6 percent less than the previous year in North America, while the total giving in the rest of the world increased six percent. Lemon hastened to add, "I want to point out that in North America, local churches often give to many projects directly, or their members go on mission trips." This "mission giving goes uncounted" in the official reporting procedures. Past research has indicated that very likely total giving to world missions in North America has increased significantly, but not through the official channels.
The executive committee voted to approve a supplemental appropriation of $300,000 to assist the Adventist Church in South Sudan due to the disruption caused by the conflict there. It also approved a $7 million dollar addition to the 2013 budget for the denomination's auditing service as it transitions to a new arrangement under which it will be funded by auditing fees instead of the GC budget. Over the next four years the new fee structure will be phased in so that at the end of the process, Adventist institutions will pay 80 percent of the cost of operating the auditing service and conferences, union conferences and divisions will pay 20 percent of the cost. Up to this point, denominational organizations have not paid for the audits conducted by the service; it has been entirely funded by the GC.
Committee members were also told that at its annual meeting in the fall it will likely be asked to authorize an increase in the budget for the denomination's official television network, the Hope Channel. It "will require approximately $8 million more than is currently budgeted for the network to continue providing current satellite coverage through 2020," ANN reported. Adventist Today could not determine if this means an additional $8 million a year over the eight years or an additional $1 million per year on an eight-year contract. It is proposed that the amount be paid for from the $102 million in "extraordinary tithe" that the GC received in 2007.
The committee also received a report on the external audit of the GC, presented by the auditing firm Maner Costerisan and Ellis. In the past the committee has agreed "that it would be impractical to try to consolidate financial information from all the world divisions and [GC] institutions," ANN stated, but one committee member asked "why financial information from the separate audited statements of the church's 13 world divisions wasn't available." Lemon responded that his staff is working on a 10-year comprehensive report to be released at the time of the committee's annual meeting in the fall of 2013.