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Annual Council Diary, Sunday, October 9, 2011

What is the goal of the Great Commission? Is it just to baptize or to also make disciples? What is the future of the church in the Middle East?  

Those were the significant questions of realignment that marked Sunday’s session of the Executive Committee of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

General Conference Secretary G. T. Ng (pictured) asked the questions about the Great Commission in the liveliest statistical report in many a year. Leavened with his trademark humor and as heavy on philosophy as on actual numbers, Ng said the imperative (goal) of the Great Commission is to make disciples, that baptism is simply a means to that goal, and teaching is to continue even after baptism.  

Decrying the numbers game, Ng said the Adventist church added 25 million members in the last 50 years, but then lost 8 million of those members creating a tremendous missiological black hole. In myth-buster fashion, he examined the contributing factors to that black hole.

“We have become over-dependent on public evangelism,” he said noting the problem of post-evangelism care and short-term mission trips. What happens when everybody goes home? Those newly baptized people become nobody’s child.

Adventist soteriology would seem to suggest that in the churches we believe in justification by grace, in the classroom it is justification by works, and in administration it is justification by numbers, he said, evoking a wave of laughter. What we don’t mention about the numbers game is that numbers accord status. We like to talk about glowing numbers because they mean success. “Why bother with nurture? There will be no stars in my crown for that,” he said.

With apologies to the accountants in the audience, Ng suggested that those who live by numbers sooner or later will be compromised by them, citing The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse: How to Spot Moral Meltdowns in Companies by Marianne Jennings.

In conclusion, he returned to the goal of the Great Commission as being to make disciples. He said that in reality the church’s numbers game is not about numbers, it is about people. And baptism is not an end product, rather it is a means in the making of disciples.

Next he introduced the rest of the secretariat team, including Archivist David Trim who also gave a very different report from past years in that there were no charts of numbers. Trim talked about the problems in the membership statistics rather than the actual numbers. He said that without the mortality rates being factored into the statistics, we get an unrealistic idea about the total number of members. He said the statistics cry out (like the rocks) that our membership numbers have been overstated. Membership audits have taken place in some divisions, he noted, such as South America. And where it has been done it has cleared the way for significant gains. He recommended that divisions and unions encourage audits and that the GC provide training for doing the audits.

In addition to church membership, Trim talked about the need to get better figures about church attendance. He said he would be asking that churches count people in attendance on the 2nd and 7th Sabbaths of each quarter.

Encouraging better record keeping at the churches could be the first step in seeking those who have been lost sheep, Trim said, echoing Ng’s desire to address the black hole of membership. It also is significant for the research element that has been added to the newly named Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.

David Trim, director of the office of Archives, Statistics and Research—photo: Ansel Oliver/ANN.

The Middle East realignment was the last item on the agenda for the day. An extensive rearrangement of the work in the Middle East was proposed by the Greater Middle East and Mediterranean Survey Commission created by the General Conference. In the proposal:

  1. South Sudan would become part of East-Central Africa Division.
  2. Pakistan Union would become part of Southern-Asian Pacific Division.
  3. Afghanistan would become part of the Southern Union of Euro-Asia Division.
  4. Israel Field would be attached directly to the General Conference
  5. South Cyprus would be left with the Trans-European Division.
  6.  The new union would be called the Greater Middle East Union (GMEU) Mission and would include the countries of Algeria, Bahrain, North Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yeman. It would have a population of 500 million (larger than all but three of the divisions).
  7. The Greater Middle East Union Mission would start with approximately 2,000 members in 70 churches and organized companies, and 300 fulltime workers. The headquarters location for the GMEU would be located in Beirut, Lebanon, where the current Middle East Union Mission has its newly created offices. It is next to the campus of the Middle East University which is key to training leaders for the union.
  8. The General Conference Greater Middle East Union Oversight Committee will be chaired by Michael L. Ryan with Harald Wollan as secretary and George O. Egwakhe, treasurer and 13 other individuals.

By the time the extensive presentation about the proposed changes to the Middle East Union had been made there was very little time left for discussion. The current president of the Middle East Union, Kjell Aune, was only the second person at the microphone and it was 5 minutes before the 5:30 scheduled end for the meeting. He asked if the item were going to be continued to the next day. President Ted Wilson was chairing the session and he instructed Aune to go ahead with his comment because, “We will finish tonight.”

Aune responded that process was one of his first points. He said that while the GC Commission had met with many people, the Middle East Union Executive Committee had not been consulted on the proposed change.

This became a matter of concern to others in the audience, too. In consulting the Working Policy it was not clear exactly where this kind of change fit into the rules, since it was not the same as simply changing the boundaries of one conference. The official word was that the process the Commission followed met the intention of the rules.  

Bertil Wiklander (Trans-European Division), Bruno Vertallier (Euro-Africa Division)—photo by Ansel Oliver/ANN.

Bertil Wiklander, president of the Trans European Division (TED) which stood to lose a significant amount of territory in the move, was gracious in his expression of love for the people of the territory and wanting the best for them. He did ask to keep Israel as part of the TED territory, and asked that it be voted on separately. The motion to vote separately on Israel was defeated.

The vote for change went ahead and was approved at 6:07 pm, 37 minutes after the scheduled close of the meeting.

[Top Photo: GC Secretary G. T. Ng shows chart of the world church’s membership—photo by Ansel Oliver/ANN.]

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