Church Governance

Don't Delay!

Name: Max Ferguson

City, State: Bridgeport, CT

I am pleased to hear that our church is finally addressing this pressing issue. There is a growing conclusion, at the local church level, that the SDA Church structure and it's refusal to change since 1901 is resulting in the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg. The local church is the only place where funds are generated in the church and the local church is the primary place where ministry emanates yet the local church is the most improvised. At the same time so called "higher organizations" are flourishing without having income producing sources. This cannot continue to be. If we fail to take bold and decisive actions more and more of our members will look towards independent churches where emphasis can be placed on local mission and community service related ministries. If we are to be effective in reaching this generation we must show that we care about people and their needs. If we want to get better name recognition then we must be present in a bold way in local communities. When we show that we care about people then and only then will they want to listen to what we have to say.

Delegates at all levels should represent Church demographics

Name: Andre Weston

City, State: Laurel, MD

I am appalled that women and young adults were underrepresented among both the nominating committee which selected the highest levels of leadership and among the delegates who voted on the business of the world church. The results at any General Conference session will be questionable at best if those doing the nominating and voting do not proportionally represent the church's age, racial, and gender demographics. We cannot allow church representatives and nominators into any democratic process if they collectively do not look like the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. How can we then turn around and say that the Holy Spirit moved, and the Church spoke with authority. Authority!? I suppose the Sanhedrin pat itself on the back and said it spoke with authority when it authorized the execution of Christ without representing the values of the people at large. Two things happened at San Antonio: 1.) The church uplifted the status quo at the expense of progress, and 2.) the church lost moral credibility in the eyes of millions of its members.

Conference Reorganization

Name: Ed Stacey

City, State: Kerrville, TX

 

In the times we are living, administrative cost need to be minimized and duplications eliminated. This can be done with the incorporation of "regional" churches into the regular conferences and eliminating the regional conferences.

Thoughts on Church Governance

Name: LeRoy Washington

City, State: Kamuela, Hiawaii

In recent months a Hot Topic has resurfaced again in the North American Division (NAD): Regional Conferences. This is but a symptom of a larger, festering problem for the 21st Century.
The question is can we continue to manage a 21st Century church form a 19th and 20th Century modal with roots dating much further back to mid-evil times. We live in the present with historical knowledge; that knowledge giving us hope for the future, but how do we make it relevant for today? CHANGE IS INEVITABLE, WHILE GROWTH/PROGRESS IS OPTIONAL.
Our Church is being dragged into the 21st Century whether we like it or not. We do have choices and options. In 2015 we are at a crossroads, which can be progressive or regressive. What choices will we make? Will we attempt to enforce uniformity at the expense of unity in diversity allowing divisional autonomy? What is our goal, our end game?
Definitions are important. Unity and Uniformity have different meanings. Abusing their meanings or using them interchangeably clouds the understanding and when it is done intentionally becomes a form of deliberate manipulation. (Does that sound in anyway like current national politics?) Unity is a process which takes time and is achieved through leadership with power given and growing up through the masses. Uniformity on the other hand is usually coerced and demanded for control and conformity with power being top-down.
Sameness and conformity masquerading as unity, is uniformity without wholeness.



Ole-Edwin Utker on a Spectrum blog on November 11, 2013 stated it this way:
“The only possibility for a global church is unity-across-differences, not
unity-through-sameness. The command to "Go ye and teach all nations"
doesn't mean to make all nations and cultures fit one hegemonic frame.”

Our SDA Educational System has done its job and we have an educated membership who have abilities of learning, research, independent thinking, ability to read and interpret the bible as well as our trained clergy/theologians, and the membership does not easily conform to autocratic, dictatorial, and manipulative, attempts at leadership.
Therefore the hierarchical church structure of the 19th and 20th centuries needs to be revisited for this century if it is our desire to retain a committed membership and especially the children of the Baby Boom and Millennial generations who are better educated in general and are better at accessing information than generations preceding them. We (referring to the Adventist education system) have done our job. Now we have to adapt to it, accommodate, and willingly, surrender, as we pass on the torch, and trust as we together grow.

Retain Unions

Name: Stan McCluskey

City, State: Naches, WA

Our structure is Union Conference based and that should remain, but with improved means of travel and communication a compromise should be made by eliminating local conferences while at the same time creating more Union conferences; but smaller in size.
In our area that would mean one Union Conference for OR & WA west of the Cascades plus Alaska. The other would be OR & WA east of the Cascades plus Idaho and Montana. Office staff would be adjusted accordingly; but overall staff would be reduced. Exceptions to general territory guidelines should be considered.

Regional-State Conference Integration Ideas

Name: Nelson Fernandez Jr.

City, State: Greenville, South Carolina

I once heard that the movement to bring change to our church would have to be a “grassroots movement”- that would work its way through the system. That is a half-truth. While a grassroots emphasis is important, any lasting change will also necessarily have to involve a top-down process for follow through. Besides, churches and pastors may drag their feet, so it is up to Conference, Union, and Division leaders to build in areas where they too can bring about change. Division administrators must see this issue primarily as their issue also. Here are some ideas to move integration forward:

1. Consider a pilot city initiative, whereby each Union would chose a major metropolitan area with a high concentration of both Regional and State conference churches could be merged to form an independent entity.

What if each union were to choose a major metropolitan area (e.g. New York, Washington D.C., Miami) where there are many Regional and State conference churches and have those cities be pilot cities to build a microcosm of what can be done as a whole? For a set time (2-4 years?), the churches in that area could be administered by the Division, Union or a joint coalition between the comprising conferences. Afterward, all cities can talk about what worked and how a broader expanse to this idea could work. I have more technical details on how this could work, but I’ll just throw this out for now.

2. Consider funding an incentive whereby local churches could qualify more evangelism funds if their evangelism plan is done jointly with a Regional/State conference mix.
3. Consider sponsoring small scale ministers retreats (overseen either by the Division or the Unions) once every few years in Unions that have the State-Regional conference mix.
4. Consider sponsoring joint evangelistic events once a year in a different Union that has the State-Regional conference mix.

Here I am offering baby steps toward change. Of course, the drastic approach would be to establish a joint integration committee comprising various delegates from Regional/State conferences, Unions and Division officials which will meet regularly for 1-2 years to brainstorm how an entirely new administrative organizational structure could look like and how it could feasibly operate and propose a 5-10 year integration plan. This isn't too far fetched because it’s been done before (see: "http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/february/black-and-white-pentecostals-mend-assemblies-of-god-upcag.html", although, to be fair, our church did not completely split like in this example; we simply formed separate administrative units within the same organization).

Reorganization

Name: Richard Teller

City, State: Scottsbluff, NE

After just over 35 years of existence the church had changed so much its structure had to be radically changed to meet the worldwide needs. It has been over 100 years since the first reorganization and the church and the world has radically changed. Should we not at least consider a radical restructuring to meet the needs of the church and time we live in. The comments I have read and hear continue to focus of a modification of the structure we already have. That may be the answer, but because of the great changes over the past 100 years should we not at least see if the Lord wants a completely different structure that could make us much more efficient at accomplishing the task we have been commissioned to do. I believe with all my heart that if we seek to do His will no matter what it means He will make his way plane.

It's Time

Name: Ardis Stenbakken

City, State: Loveland, Colorado

What is the basic purpose of our conferences and Unions? I assume it was/is to support the local churches, but for the most part I don't see that happening. I will speak of the ministry about which I know the most:: women's ministries. I believe it is a powerful ministry for evangelism and outreach, but at the local church it is often entirely absent. I think part of the reason is that it is often absent at the conference and union levels or staffed by a volunteer who has little or no stipend or budget. Materials are sent from the General Conference and Division that can support the local churches and it sits in the union or conference office and the local church never sees or hears of it. Why? Because at those levels they either have no interest or no finances. So what do we do?
At this time in our electronic world we could have resources go directly to the churches and eliminate the middle men (and it usually is men). With that money we could have resource people who go directly to the churches and help them become aware of possibilities and resources. There might need to be some people available for conducting special programs: commissionings/ordinations, constituency meetings and pastoral searches and such, and maybe a few to forward and keep track of the monies, but more money and resources could be spent on developing and resourcing the local church. A lot of money is being spent on new conference and union offices when much of the money could be used for helping local schools, church plantings, and support. With electronic conferencing, Skype, instant messaging, and such, most meetings could be held from any distance. I would suggest that there be fewer union and fewer conferences or eliminate the conferences entirely and have a few more unions (NAD may need more unions to keep representation in the world church body--GC Executive, GC Sessions, etc. But we don't need the number we have now for the number of conferences there are. If the union were to cover the territory it would probably be more economical if funds were allocated to resourcing the local church.

Consolidate and Strengthen

Name: Dick Stenbakken

City, State: Loveland, Colorado

Our current Union structure was necessary when trips across any Union was a huge time taking event. It is my belief that because of the increased rapid travel and electronic messaging, conferencing and opportunities, we would do well to look at dividing the US into four Unions. This consolidation would save funding, trim duplication, and allow the missions and educational institutions to be more appropriately and effectively accomplished. We are seeing the collapse of many of our Academies already. By widening the span of territory for each Union, the church could better focus on and support academies in their area as well as better coordinate the mission of the churches in their area. Local members still seem to crave a local conference because leadership and management are closer to home. And, while consolidation of conferences makes sense financially, the emotions involved by distancing people from conference leadership would/could be an issue. Unions tend to be much more seen as "out there" so combining Unions would cause much less anxiety to the local churches.

 

Restructure

Name: Roger Walter

City, State: Vancouver, WA

As a pastor, I've seen the organizational structure from the inside. Our structure was created before cell phones, before the Internet, before cars, before airplanes, before fax machines, etc. I serve on a committee in the NAD that when I attend, my reimbursment usually is about $1,000. 25-35 people come to this meeting 1-2 times per year. So, between the Conferences and the NAD, the cost for a meeting is hyper-expensive. Thankfully, Ivan Williams is beginning to use technology to get us together rather than spending so much money for a one day meeting.

The business world has figured out that they can lead a world-wide organization, or even a multi-national corporation from its regional settings. It seems to me, we could do the same. Close the conferences, beef up the Unions a bit, and run from the regional area. I think locally, you'd want a someone for ministerial, for education, and for youth (possibly also Trust Services). But the millions of dollars we could save in office expense, staffing, programming, etc could be funneled back to the local churches for pastoral help, evangelism dollars, and many other areas. It seems the time is right for this, now, when so many conferences are struggling. Yet, in doing this, I wouldn't want to shift the total staff from the Conferences to the Union. I think this concept is designed to minimize the contact and structure so that the local church becomes much more aggressive in its own care and feeding. Church Health becomes the major issue, not programming from the Conference or Union.

In the NAD, 80% of our churches are small 100-125 or less. Yet 80% of our members go to a large church of 500+. Yet, our large churches are vastly understaffed, and getting more so as conferences find ways to tighten their belts. This solution, above, would provide the funding to fix much of our understaffed churches - large or small.

Dissolve the Local Conferences

Name: Milt Erhart

City, State: Boise, Idaho 

For 19 years I was a very successful pastor, serving 8 years on two different conference executive committees. Chaired two college/university planning and endowment programs. All three kids graduated from SDA College and two from LL Medical School. For a number of years virtually all Union conferences used my services in investing their Revolving Funds. Thus believe I know the "good and the bad" of the church.

The overriding reason the local conferences need to be dissolved, is they serve no purpose or Mission. Especially the smaller conferences act like they are in competition with their own churches promoting Mega Book sales, etc., yet have no vertical marketing plan to bring those interests developed into a local church, since they are not affiliated with a local church.

The annual savings in staff salaries, conference operations, travel, insurance, secretaries, etc. approaches $70 Million per year in North America. This is an insane waste of money and energy that as Ezekiel says is just "wheels within wheels." In the olden days conferences had youth departments, lay activities departments and even viable education departments. Now in addition to a president there are various VP's, even in some instances a paid appointed prayer coordinator. Go figure.

Several years ago my suggestions were published in Adventist Today. The full article is online if interested.

The reality is that local churches have been psychologically emasculated ---waiting for the conference to provide guidance. Thus while Evangelicals and everyone else is growing with dynamic lay involvement most SDA churches are stagnant, filled with old people and dying. There is absolutely no empowerment.

My proposal includes having church expense and tithe merged into one---the local church pay 28% of those funds to the Union conference, some of which go into the retirement fund. Since the school system is almost gone. Turn the entire operations over to the local churches, let them allocate their resources between ministerial and educational, not the conference. This includes the academy system which in too many instances the number of board members equals at least 40% of the student body. Again, it is absolutely insane to see this enormous waste of dollars and energy.

Having chaired two pastoral search committees know there is no "data" base to work with when looking for a pastor. Usually the administration either supplies no names or no one under 55, having no clue who would be the best fit for that church.

The Union should add at least 2, possibly 3 presidential regional assistants to help mediate local church disputes either between themselves or with their pastor. These are minor costs compared to the approximately 50 conferences eliminated.

With the advent of Skype-----churches could conference directly to these assistants, many times eliminating the travel requirements.

In all likelihood the educational system is on its last legs having been run into the ground by well-meaning church leaders. At a time when most of nation is getting more religious, our churches are shrinking. Empower the laity---nothing else has worked.

Keeping the conferences---eliminating the Unions doesn't save near enough money and again the conferences no longer serve any useful purpose. Yet to have some structure and keep in place a unified Mission the Union conferences should remain. And the Unions already run most of the trusts, insurance, religious liberty, education. The cost of running payroll out of a local conference should have been eliminated 50 years ago. I worked for a Wall Street firm with 125,000 employees----received my check (pay) twice a month and never a mistake for twenty plus years.

Again go to Adventist Today for more "meat on the skeleton."

Milt

We Are Stronger When We Work Together

Name: Sharon Crowder

City, State: Jacksonville, IL

I sat down to read my Bible one night many years ago. I read about the Tower of Babel and found myself astounded by God’s words. Our all powerful, all knowing, omnipotent God said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Huh??? And He goes on with His solution, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Say what? That’s the solution? I was confounded. In my way of thinking there are some oddities with what God had to say there:
1- He is all-powerful, so why is He worried about what people are capable of doing, that “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”? And, um, nothing’s impossible??!! There is a lot we are NOT capable of doing, and only God is omnipotent, all-powerful, not humans.
2- His solution was not to reduce our innate abilities, not to remove our ability to make bad choices, not to…. I don’t even know what else, His solution was to “confuse their language so they would not understand each other”. Hmmmm.
Ok, so at this point in my Bible studies I had learned to do something as I read and considered God’s points. I had learned to look at the converse meaning. For example, it had occurred to me that the golden rule, as I had always considered it since I was a small child as instructions on how to treat other people, had another application. I should also consider how I should treat myself. (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Means that I should forgive others for their sins/inconsiderate actions/etc. Yes, I got that. I really did try to do that. But suddenly I realized that meant that I should also forgive myself. This was a much more difficult thing for me to do. Yet, there it was, tucked safely away in that beautiful command.) Sooooo- if we were to turn that statement of God’s around in what sounded like a very odd statement to me about the Tower of Babel, that people working together would find nothing that they plan to do impossible for them- what would we end up with?
First of all, it was obviously in their best interest that God confused their language, preventing them from doing various things. He loves us and wants what is best for us, so He was simply protecting the people from themselves since they were off on their own marching orders, doing things He had told them not to do, because they would only end up hurting themselves. He was preventing injury and hurt, like we do when we childproof the house for a baby. Therefore God created divisions between people- presumably with each people group with their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses. It was kind of like taking the beauty that still remained in His creation despite sin, and while looking at that picture, cutting it into various, beautiful, puzzle pieces.
So the next question that I asked myself was this: ‘So… is that still the case? If we were once again speaking one language, could we once again get to a point where “nothing we planned was impossible”? NOT that we should do this for bad purposes!! No, obviously! But what if it were under good circumstances? What if we gathered together under the banner of God and asked Him to help us ‘speak the same language?’ How might this help us to do His work better, spread the gospel better, finish the work sooner???!!!
And might this one language be the language of Godly love and obedience?

I love "our leaders",we just have way too many at the top. Scale way back on the Eld. So n so's, and get more Young!, more Lay members!, lots more women!!!

Name: Marjory Bodi

City, State: Grayling, MI

I see too many committee mtg pics with none or too few women. We make up 80% of God's church, tho very underrepresented !!

Our young progressive, well (expensively) educated minds need to take over some "pieces of the pie"!!

I trust our youth, some stuck elder statesmen's, not so much. No disrespect intended.

Segregated Conferences

Name: John Lewis

City, State: Springfield, IL

I started attending the Seventh-day Adventist church while in my early 20's. When I discovered it had segregated conferences I truly questioned if this could be the true church of God. I believe that this segregation is out-dated and a poor witness to our communities. We are telling others that we cannot work together because of different ethnicity. I am not suggesting that dismantling regional conferences is the solution. State and regional conferences must in some way be merged. I know that this would certainly result in reductions in jobs, but the cost is worth it. I hope that it will start a movement in which local churches segregated by racial lines would start merging as well.

Over-all contribution of the Union Conference level of our organization

Name: Dr. Bill Richardson

City, State: Berrien Springs, MI

Regarding the NAD discussion about reviewing church structure: This would be a good time to re-activate a discussion about the over-all contribution of the Union Conference level of our organization. The Union Conference officers travel a great deal, attend many committee meetings, often at some distance from the home office. The total expense of this travel has to be staggering. Would the mission of our church really be weakened if this level of our organization were radically reduced or dismantled. Since jobs are at stake, assembling an objective study commission would be difficult. But if we are serious about looking at our structure, this suggestion seems reasonable. I do hope that the talk about our structure is real and that the results would be transparent for all of us who are interested.

One on One = Too Much Oversight

Name: Andy McDonald

City, State: Orlando, Florida

According to the 2013 GC Statistical Report p. 8 there are 26,859 Evangelistic and Pastoral Employees and 27,788 Administrative, Promotional, Office, and Miscellaneous Employees. This is worse than 1:1! If we simply went to 2:10 we would save over a billion dollars a year @$50k per employee! We have a moral obligation to be better stewards. One payroll office for all of North America would save enormous amount of funds. With cars, cell phones, and the internet Union Conferences could absorb Local Conferences with minimal if any negative impact to the local church. A few years ago one of the conference presidents in the Columbia Union did a study that demonstrated that eliminating the conferences and going to Union oversight only would, at that time, save $7,000,000 per year in perpetuity that could be pushed to the local congregations where the vast majority of ministry occurs. While this is about "Church Governance" it may also be a means to infuse our educational system with desperately needed economic resources that could mean their survival. Consider looking at the reorganization of Red Cross which was set up very similar to our denomination until its re-organization eliminating duplication of services saving Red Cross $320 million and making their administrative overhead 9-10 cents of each dollar donated.

Duplication of Staffing

Name: Richard Coder

City, State: Springfield, MO

Why do we have a duplication of staff at the Union and Conference? Do we need a superintendent of education at the Union level and a superintendent at the conference? What exactly does the Union level staff do? We have a president, ministerial director etc. etc. at the Union doing the same work as the conference. The use of tithe money needs be viewed more prudently. One gets the feeling that the officers at the Union are in their positions as a reward not a need. We definitely need to flatten the organization. Money should be driven back to the churches for more evangelism and more pastors (many pastors are serving 3, 4 and even 5 churches) this leads to fewer members and more church issues.