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Money for the Younger Set, Lessons for the Leaders: Annual Council Diary, Day Four


Annual financial reports were presented to the Executive Committee of the General Conference on Monday and a $175 million budget was voted. Treasurer Robert Lemon’s report mixed philosophical musings with the reality of the numbers. For a variety of reasons, he said, the September financial statement shows the church is $9 million behind where it was last year at this time. In other words, he said, he did not anticipate that there would be a supplemental budget later this year, like there often is.

But the burden on Lemon’s heart was not just on the numbers. He wanted to talk about the youth of the church. “We say that the youth are the future of the church, we say that they are the present of the church, but we don’t let them have a say in how we plan and fund the church.” So he proposed that the General Conference offerings in 2015 be put into a fund to be used for outreach projects as planned by youth 25 and under. “Its time that we tell them we trust them not only in doing the work, but in planning it, too.” His proposal received approval.

To introduce the $175 million appropriations budget for 2014, Juan Prestol reminded the leaders of the constrictions with which the budget was drafted. He said that, as previously voted, the North American Division’s contribution to the budget from its tithe funds was 7% (compared to 2% from all the other divisions). Last year the NAD amount had been 7.5 % and the year before that 8%, so although that was a drop of just 1% over two years, that 1% represented $10 million dollars. Even so, the budget appropriations to the divisions were raised 2% in the new budget. The operating budget for the General Conference Office was set at $46 million, a $2 million increase over 2013.

After the votes were taken on the money, it was time for GCWP 201, a course in foundational concepts of church organization and governance. For the second year in a row, time has been spent with the church leaders reviewing the key concepts in the church’s working policy. Secretary G.T. Ng makes sure there is plenty of pomp, circumstance, and laughter mixed into the sessions. His introduction of “guest professor and GC vice president Lowell Cooper’s” background in and love for policy, had Cooper blushing and wondering if it was a good thing or not. Then it was on with the show.

When people ask Cooper to give them an organizational flow chart for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he tells them that it can’t be done — at least not in the traditional form of boxes with descending lines to more and more boxes. Neither can the church’s structure be explained by either of the two most common religious structures — hierarchal or congregational. “Adventism does not fit either of those terms,” he said. “I’m not sure that we’ve found the right word to describe it. We are interlocking and interdependent,” he said, as a wooden puzzle appeared on the screen.

Cooper described policy as the family code of conduct whose purpose is to protect the organization. It defines how work is done. He said that policy is dynamic and can be changed when it doesn’t work.

Beginning with the fact that membership is the basis of the organization, he went through eight key concepts. Status as a part of the organization is conferred rather than self-determined. A conference or union is voted into being rather than self-declaring themselves as such. Authority is distributed to the whole through a representative, constituency-based system. Decision-making is done through committees and administration is shared among three officers rather than a presidential system. There is a unity of entities through mission, purpose, beliefs and bonds of fellowship. And organizations, while separate, are not independent.

Once he had described the structure, he moved on to the model governance documents: constitutions, bylaws, and operating policies. At the 54th General Conference Session, he noted, in its consideration of the Role and Function of Denominational Organizations, it was pointed out that the constitutions, bylaws and operating policies of all denominational organizations should be consistent with the Seventh-day Adventist concept of the church, its organization and governance. To ensure that happened, sections of the model bylaws that appear in bold print are considered essential to the unity of the Church worldwide, and “shall be included in the bylaws as adopted by each union conference.” Other sections of the bylaws may be modified, provided they continue to be in full harmony with the provisions of the model.

These model constitutions are to protect the voice of the membership, Cooper said.

Undoubtedly the lessons reviewed today will come in handy later in the week, because there are proposed changes for the model constitution documents to be considered.

Frankly, it seems to me that a lot of the tension that has developed over the last couple of years could be very simply resolved by unbolding certain sections in those model constitutions. But I doubt that Dr. Ng would give me an apple for that response, like he did for those who correctly answered the questions during the verbal quiz at the end of the session. More likely I would be handed a copy of the three-inch thick Working Policy to study up for next year.

Image: Illustration of the interlocking and interdependent nature of the Adventist church, used by Lowell Cooper in his presentation.

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