Church leaders talk re-elections, ordination

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Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders spent the second day of Annual Council addressing two major issues relating to next year’s General Conference Session—administrators’ own re-election and a potential vote on the theology of ordination as it relates to gender.

Whatever decision is ultimately made on the ordination of women . . . my prayer is that nothing but God’s unified and prophetic mission will be the central focus of our lives.

In no uncertain terms, church officials prepared the more than 330 delegates to face the reality that they might not be asked to return to their present job. Also, longtime evangelist Pastor Mark Finley, who is an assistant to the president, highlighted how church leaders in the New Testament settled their differences to focus on mission. 

Pastor Finley’s presentation was a preamble for next week when delegates are expected to discuss the matter of women’s ordination and set it as an agenda item for GC Session. While the Adventist Church has women serving as licensed ministers, the Church currently ordains only men as ministers.

The denomination has engaged in a two-year study on the theology of ordination following at least four decades of discussion, Pastor Finley said. This week’s seven-day meeting of the Executive Committee could be the last time the matter is officially deliberated before potentially being sent to July’s GC Session, which is held every five years and is the denomination’s top governing body. 

Friday morning’s meeting began with a deep dive into the issue of elections, a “taboo subject” this isn’t typically discussed openly, leaders said.

Vice president Pastor Pardon Mwansa offered a devotional titled, “The Nominating Committee Decided to Make a Change”. His talk was a nod to next July when many in the auditorium might see their current position assigned to someone else.

Invoking lessons from Old Testament characters Daniel and Samuel, Pastor Mwansa said that a person elected to an office has replaced someone, and that it would also happen to them.

“We are called to serve and minister and not to an office or a position,” Pastor Mwansa said.

Several church officials from various parts of the world offered case studies on how to prepare for a change in leadership, or in some situations, how to make a needed change at an administrative unit within their territory. Several delegates said a change in leadership can help both the Church and send a signal to the person being assigned to another position.

“Change brings innovation. Change ensures that we keep focused, and we might step back if we do not change,” said Maria Fraser, a lay member from the Southern Africa Union Conference. “There will be weaknesses in everyone, but the secret is for the team to synergise all their attributes and energies so that we can have the best for the Church.”

Pastor Don Livsay, president of the Lake Union Conference in the North American Division, urged his colleagues in the room to subject themselves to periodic evaluations. 

“We as administrators typically would rather have a root canal than be evaluated. Therefore we don’t know where we’re hitting it right and missing it wrong,” Pastor Livsay said.

Pastor Livsay also called for evaluations to be formalised throughout the denomination, which would enhance accountability and balance in an administrator’s leadership and personal life. 

“If our life falls apart because we’re not re-elected, we verify not being re-elected,” he said.

Ultimately, secretary Dr G T Ng implored delegates, who include officers of the 13 divisions and presidents of each of the 132 unions, to view their job as one of stewardship.

“If you are elected to the same position, then you will become a steward of that new position.”

Dr Ng urged delegates to follow his custom at the end of each term by bringing a moving box into his office and thanking his administrative assistant for the time they worked together. 

Each delegate lined up to receive a miniature box to remind them of Dr Ng’s request. While delegates filed down the aisles, an organist played the hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, a more-preferred song during election season, Dr Ng said, than songs such as I Shall Not Be Moved or I’m Pressing On The Upward Way.

Later in the morning, Pastor Finley took to the platform in a nearly one-hour speech titled, “Toward Unity in the Body of Christ.”

The well-known evangelist addressed how leaders on both sides of the women’s ordination discussion would react if a potential vote next year at GC Session was different than their own convictions.

Pastor Finley said the issue went beyond women’s ordination and had implications on how the Church works out points of disagreement. He spent most of his time on three “flash-points” from the book of Acts that threatened unity of the early church. “Dissention deters you from mission. That’s the devil’s strategy,” he said.

The New Testament patterns for resolving differences, Pastor Finley said, included prayer, seeking biblical answers, discussing the issues, considering what is best for the Church’s mission and then finally making a decision on the issue together.

At one point he paused to offer his thoughts on the need for the process to move forward.

“May I make a humble suggestion? When you’ve studied an issue for 40 years and discussed it and discussed it and discussed it, pretty soon people have pretty well made up their minds on either side of the question. Continual discussion and debate only furthers division.”

Pastor Finley said he hoped the Adventist Church, like the early church, could learn to live with the decision on a major issue because people on both sides of the debate “were committed to the same Jesus”.

“Whatever decision is ultimately made on the ordination of women, and I pray that this Church make the right decision, but whatever decision is ultimately made, my prayer is that nothing but God’s unified and prophetic mission will be the central focus of our lives,” Pastor Finley said.