The North American Division Year-end Meetings (NADYEM19) kicked off on Thursday afternoon, October 31, and run through Tuesday, November 5.
Delegates were eased into the meetings Thursday afternoon with just two reports: from NAD Ministerial, which highlighted its CALLED Pastors’ Family Convention happening in June 2020, and the Adventist Learning Community, which is a free resource for continuing education courses open to anyone with an internet connection.
On Friday morning, November 1, NAD President Daniel R. Jackson concluded his President’s Report by announcing that this would be his last report to the committee.
“At General Conference [Session] time, I am going to officially retire… I will retire sometime in June or July, whenever it is that we work it out with everybody. But what an honor you all have given to me to serve you and to serve this Division. It has been a privilege for me and it will be a privilege that I will always cherish…. I want to thank you for that privilege,” said Jackson, to a standing ovation from the audience, and a shout of “five more years!” from one delegate which elicited cheers and more applause. “I have a response to that, but I won’t say it publicly,” laughed Jackson.
During his President’s Report, Jackson discussed “Matters Trending” in the Church in North America, including Church Planting, Education, Youth & Young Adults, Women in Ministry, Hospitals, Christian Record Services, and more. Each of the topics in his report will be covered in more depth during individual reports throughout the week.
On the topic of education, Jackson lamented that in the last seven years, 256 Adventist schools have closed, and the church has lost access to 16,000 students. Speaking of youth and young adults, Jackson encouraged the unions and conferences to select young people as delegates to GC Session 2020. “Please, please make sure our young adults are represented in those corridors of power,” he said.
"I hope no one in the world…will ever get the impression that the North American Division will somehow pull back on this idea of having women in ministry. Because we won't," he declared during his section on this topic. He then recognized and affirmed the three women presidents of Adventist colleges in North America: Andrea Luxton (Andrews University), Joy Fehr (La Sierra University), and Vinita Sauder (Union College). Jackson also spoke to his desire to see the number of women pastors in North America increase. That number currently stands at 170-75 and has been steadily growing for the last several years. “I hope I live long enough to see the day when we have 1,000 women pastors in the NAD,” said Jackson, to cheers from the audience.
Executive Secretary G. Alexander Bryant followed with his Secretary’s Report. According to the most recent membership numbers (as of December 31, 2018), there are 1,257,913 church members, 5,606 churches, and 865 companies in the NAD. The membership has been steadily increasing, with a gain of a little over 91,000 members in the past five years.
The Southern Union has the highest membership with approximately 300,000 members, and the Pacific Union follows with about 225,000. The Southern Union also has the highest overall growth, while the Southwestern Union has the fastest percentage growth, stated Bryant.
The overall accession rate for North America has been declining, from 3.41% in 2012 to 2.66% in 2018. But, Bryant added, the accession rates for all of the other mainline denominations (Baptists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, etc.), have been negative for the last seven years, with the exception of the Mormons whose rates have been positive.
Bryant then turned to the membership losses (due to dropped/missing and deaths). “These are the numbers that always break my heart,” he began. The total losses for the years 2013-2018 stand at 123,593 (77,496 dropped/missing and 46,097 deaths), while the total baptisms and professions of faith stand at 214,621, leaving the net gain at the just over the 91,000 mentioned previously. Unfortunately, added Bryant, the net gain has been getting smaller and smaller each year and if current trends continue, the rate of membership losses will soon match the gains.
Despite the disappointing trends, Bryant ended his report with a fiery sermon on what God will do through the North American Division. He delivered a humorous, allegedly true story about an Adventist pastor who drove a brand new 1966 Chevelle but could not manage to catch up to a rusted-out 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. It turned out the Beetle had been retrofitted with a 911 Porsche engine.
“I just want to tell you, we may look like a Volkswagen on the outside, but according to the promise of God we got Holy Ghost Porsche power on the inside! And I don’t know how God’s gonna do it, but the North American Division will finish God’s work in North America with a blaze of fire because we got Holy Ghost power! … God says we’re going to finish the work of God in this territory, in the United States, in Canada, in Bermuda, in Guam with the Holy Ghost power because the latter days will be greater than the former days,” concluded Bryant to cheers and a standing ovation from the delegates.
The report from the Adventist Education team, led by NAD Vice President of Education Arne Nielsen, garnered the most discussion during Friday’s business session. Leisa Morton-Standish, director of elementary/curriculum, reported on the strategic vision planning the team has been doing, which has included significant research into current trends and data in education. Based on their research, the team explored four categories: economic trends, social trends, education trends, and Adventist roots. These trends include:
• 47% of today’s jobs will be eliminated in the next 20 years
• we’re in a “treadmill economy,” working harder and longer with no appreciable gain
• people are more connected to technology than each other which has led to declining social skills
• there is a mental health epidemic, with almost 1/3 of today’s children having been diagnosed with an identifiable mental illness
• experiential learning where students can gain skills and knowledge through problem-solving projects increases critical-thinking skills
Morton-Standish outlined six reasons, based on Ellen White, that Adventist education exists:
1. It helps “restore the broken relationship between God and the student”
2. It helps students pursue intellectual greatness
3. It teaches occupational skills
4. It establishes the framework of a biblical worldview
5. It ensures essential courses of study about the Bible, science, and physiology
6. It includes “recreation as necessary as study and labor”
She then concluded with “three big ideas” based on the above trends:
1. “The economy and society is changing radically, and education is changing with it”
2. “To face our challenges effectively, we need to work collaboratively”
3. “Adventist education is extraordinarily well prepared to work to meet the challenges because we are built on divine counsel that was far ahead of its time”
“We want to transform lives to tackle big problems,” said Stephen Bralley, director of secondary education/accreditation. The team said they were committed to working on strategic objectives which include: celebrating the intrinsic value of the students and teachers, focusing on preparing for eternity, infusing the Adventist worldview through the curriculum, creating emotionally-healthy environments, and integrating service learning.
Nielsen then ended with three goals for Adventist education in the 21st century:
1. Ensuring accessibility
2. Creating a warm environment of inclusiveness
3. Attracting all students, parents, and communities to Adventist education
When the floor was opened for questions, several of the teachers on the committee expressed concerns about the state of Adventist education and its current inability to address the needs of students with mental health problems, learning disabilities, English-language learning, and various other special needs.
Evelyn Sullivan, director of early childhood/REACH, responded by discussing the REACH Program that outlines for teachers how to provide an inclusive environment for students with special needs, and future plans to come up with a certification program within REACH. Nielsen spoke to the issue of mental health, saying the team recognizes this issue needs to be addressed in the Adventist school system. “We know it [mental health] is a problem and so we are in the process right now of developing. We just don’t know what that looks like yet.”
Delegate Jeff Richardson, a teacher in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, said his conference has done extensive research over the past 2.5 years in the area of school safety and they feel that “the resources provided by the church are lacking.” We’d like to see more collaboration and more updated materials, he told the team. Nielsen responded that they have discussed school safety in their directors’ meetings, but that it is the conferences who are in charge of developing procedures in each of their areas, so there should be safety plans in place, as developed by each conference. He added that he understands part of Adventist Education’s role is to provide resources and so they will take Richardson’s comments under advisement.
Tracy Wood, NAD director of youth & young adult ministries, spoke to his desire for more collaboration between his department and Adventist Education. We’re working with the homeschoolers and the public schoolers, and somehow we need to be able to connect our work with yours, said Wood to Nielsen. Wood continued, “My appeal to you, and to all of our leaders, is let’s figure this thing out. It’s not rocket science, for us to get into each other’s events… We need you at our Pathfinder events, we need to be at your events, we’ve got to connect this thing. And we can do it. We just have to be intentional about it.” He concluded his remarks saying that his hope is that over the course of the next five years the two departments will sit down to strategically connect on this issue.
Nielsen thanked Wood for his comments. “They are well-received…and we recognize that there are more Adventist young people in Pathfinders than there are in Adventist education, and so we know that’s very fertile ground,” remarked Nielsen.
Delegate Vanessa Pujic, a teacher in the Minnesota Conference, addressed the lack of support staff and systems currently in place in Adventist schools which adds to the difficulty in providing students with special needs the support they require. “At the Adventist schools I’ve worked at, we are 10 people or five people or three people trying to do the work of 20 or 30 or 40 people that would be present in the public school system providing support. So how are we addressing those…ideas?” she asked. Morton-Standish responded to say that public schools receive most of the funding for working with students with special needs, but that the Adventist school systems “do our very best to service every need we can with the resources we have.”
Nielsen concluded by letting the audience know that Gordon Bietz will speak to higher education during a report on Tuesday.
Three names recommended by the nominating committee were also voted during the Friday business session. The voting was done via the electronic voting devices the NAD has used for several years for its meetings. All of the names were approved:
1. Bonita Shields, currently NAD Stewardship Director, was elected General Vice President for Church Ministries to replace Debra Brill who is retiring (177 yes, 13 no, 4 abstain).
2. Judy Glass, currently CFO of Advent Source, was elected Undertreasurer to replace Mike Jamieson who is retiring (192 yes, 9 no, 0 abstain).
3. Michael Harpe, currently Stewardship Director for the South Central Conference, was elected NAD Stewardship Director to replace Bonita Shields (190 yes, 4 no, 0 abstain).
The NADYEM19 meetings are being live-streamed and are available on the NAD’s website here: https://www.nadadventist.org/news/2019-nad-year-end-meeting-video-coverage as well as on the NAD’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/NADAdventist/
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org
Image credit: NAD on Flickr.
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