Last month we discussed briefly how the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized, and why organization is important. If we are not careful, however, organization can become an end in itself. We must always keep in mind that the purpose for organization is to accomplish the church’s mission effectively: to reach a dying world for Christ, proclaim His
How Your Church Works
Understanding its unity, structure and authority
By Ted N. C. Wilson
Last month we discussed briefly how the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized, and why organization is important. If we are not careful, however, organization can become an end in itself. We must always keep in mind that the purpose for organization is to accomplish the church’s mission effectively: to reach a dying world for Christ, proclaim His message, and herald His soon return. Christ is the head of the church.Sometimes people think that the conference, or union conference, or General Conference is the head, but it is not. All who serve in leadership positions are there to lead as Christ led, not through authoritarian commands, but through godly examples and loving service.
Based on the Bible
We base our church organization and activity on biblical and Spirit of Prophecy principles and counsel. “It was at the ordination of the Twelve that the first step was taken in the organization of the church that after Christ’s departure was to carry on His work on the earth,” we read in The Acts of the Apostles.1 As the early church grew, it became apparent that the apostles needed assistance. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables,” they said (Acts 6:2, NIV).2 Thus the first deacons were appointed (see verses 1-7). They were to be men “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (verse 3). In addition to the 12 apostles serving as spiritual leaders, and deacons to take care of more practical matters, the early church also ordained elders, as described in Acts 14:23. Elders are also mentioned in Acts 11:30 and 15:6, 22 and they served as spiritual leaders.
The model they followed was that given to Moses by his father-in-law, Jethro. As he observed Moses serving alone “from morning till evening,” Jethro told him, “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Ex. 18:14-18, NIV). Qualifications for these assistant leaders were given: “Select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain— and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” (verse 21, NIV). Following this “Jethro principle” certainly helped the early church to grow. Ellen White wrote, “The organization of the church at Jerusalem was to serve as a model for the organization of churches in every other place where messengers of truth should win converts to the gospel."3
Order and Harmonious Action
God led in the establishment and organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Although the church began with a small group of believers, it quickly grew to thousands by the time the General Conference was officially organized in 1863. As the church continued to grow, so did the church structure and organization so that “order and harmonious action might be maintained.”4 The reason for the existence of the General Conference and its divisions, union conferences, and local conferences is to be a system of service, maintaining order and harmonious action as the church moves ahead in its God-given mission of Revelation 14, proclaiming His truth as revealed in His Word for these last days.
A Representative System
We Seventh-day Adventists believe in a representative form of church governance. Our church is not organized in such a way that policies actions, and activities of the church are dictated by any one leader or leaders of the General Conference. We are here only to facilitate the collective wishes of God’s church as indicated through regular representative processes.On every constituent level a process selects delegates who will represent their group. At the local church level we have nominating committees.
The local church votes to accept or not accept the names brought forward by the nominating committee. On the local level, we also have church board meetings, during which the pastor and elected church officers discuss items pertaining to their local church. In addition, there are church business meetings, where all members are welcome to participate. On the conference and union conference levels, we have constituency meetings, during which delegates discuss and vote on items pertaining to he carrying out of the mission of the church in their areas. On the Genera Conference (GC) level, there is a GC session every five years, where more than 2,400 delegates from around the world gather to discuss and vote on items pertaining to the world church.Between GC sessions, the Executive Committee of the GC meets at Annual Councils to carry out the business of the world church. More than 300 representatives from all 13 world divisions and attached fields sit on the GC Executive Committee.
No church members should feel cut off or separated from this church structure, feeling as if they have no voice.
These members come from all areas of life: women and men, young people, lay members, local pastors, teachers and other workers. Most are selected and recommended by their division executive committee. All division officers, union presidents, GC officers, and department directors serve on this committee. Because each level of the church works in harmony with all other levels in our system of service, initiatives can come from any level of the church and are processed through committees. Sometime initiatives began at the grassroots level and become part of policy. Ours is a very dynamic system. No church member should feel cut off or separated from this church structure, feeling as if they have no voice. Every church member has a voice in this organization. They should not be intimidated by position, and should feel free to contact leaders withtheir ideas, thoughts, or concerns.In next month’s column we will look at the important role of the local church, and will address the process of how to bring about change within the church.
Ted N. C. Wilson is
president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 18.
2 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New
International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by
Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
3 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 91.
4 Ibid., p. 92.