With President Ted Wilson’s latest retribution document sent back to committee on Monday, General Conference Executive Committee members breathed a sigh of relief. The tension in the air evaporated. Who would have ever guessed that they would be personally targeted for actions voted by constituencies?
Tuesday the topic of the day was “Nurture and Retention,” and over three hours was devoted to the issue, the most it has been given in all the years that I have attended Annual Council. The sobering statistic that in the last 52 years, the church has lost 14 million members was made by David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, in his presentation of data on losses over the years. “We look at these charts and are horrified, but we do need to be realistic so that we can put it right,” he said. “Every millimeter on that screen represents a soul that Jesus died to save.”
And this year, a strategic plan was detailed to address the losses. Notable among the recommendations made was the call for comprehensive and practical training in conflict resolution.
“Won’t it be nice for the church to be known as a peace-making church, to be looked to for peace,” said Anthony Kent as he noted that conflict in some form is very high on the list of why people leave the church. Returning to the story of the prodigal son which had been reviewed earlier, he asked, “What happens in our churches when a member leaves? Do we say, ‘Thank goodness that troublemaker has gone?’”
He answered his question by suggesting that we need to be peace makers, not conflict avoiders. Thus, the need for conflict resolution, so each church can be a place where peace can be made and when that brother comes home, all can participate in the celebration.
Mark Finley explained the Dropout Cycle that begins with discomfort when a person is not socially integrated and begins saying this is not my church. It is followed by discouragement and then defensiveness. “Sure, I work on Sabbath, but doesn’t God expect us to care for our families?” Next, come cries for help that need to be responded to immediately. There is a waiting period that goes on for about six weeks, he noted, and then old habits kick in. He urged a quick response when discouragement is evident. “If you love ‘em, they are going to come back,” he predicted.
“Solutions need to be something that church members will use,” he said. A small book on discipling was distributed along with a mentor’s guide.
The importance of listening in conflict resolution was highlighted by L. Ann Hamel, a psychologist who heads the International Employee Support Program at Andrews University where she focuses on mental health care for missionaries. “Conflict is inevitable with human beings,” she said. “we have to learn how to manage it in such a way to draw us together.”
She told stories of missionaries with whom she had worked to solve conflicts and also the heartbreaking conflict in her own life with her own children. Having someone listen to the story of the wounded person was a key component for healing in each of her stories.
“Jesus has a strategy,” she reminded the audience. “Love is that strategy. ‘If you love one another.’ We need to rethink church. It is not baptizing people into beliefs. It is baptizing them into a family.”
The love of Jesus was the point of Wayne Blakely’s testimony that he gave during the worship hour on Wednesday morning. Blakely, a leader in Coming Out Ministries, asked the audience if they had shared God’s love. “Can you put your arms around someone who has a different sin from you?”
“Because of the years of wrong choices that I made,” he said, “it is often difficult for me. I’ve been told that there are people watching me, waiting for me to fall. Well, I’ve fallen. But I got back up. Don’t invalidate my testimony. Jesus doesn’t. If you won’t provide me with grace, you are invalidating the word of God.”
He recommended inviting people home to dinner. “Be Jesus to them. Show them love and compassion. Remember that you are not Holy Spirit, Junior. It is not up to you to bring conviction.”
The highlight of the day on Wednesday was a short silent film shared by the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research of 1930s footage shot in China by Ellen White’s grandsons who went there as missionaries, including the first missionary baptism photographs.
Packing up to go home, I had to stop by the Fed Ex shipping store. The accumulation of reports, brochures, Bible lesson studies, sermons, and books was more than my extra suitcase could handle. Here’s a list of the books that I received.
The Books of Annual Council
1. Last Day Events, by Ellen G. White – a compilation that Ted Wilson says is one of his current favorites. Quotes from it were sprinkled throughout GT Ng’s Secretary’s Report.
2. Madison: God’s Beautiful Farm:The E.A. Sutherland Story, by Ira Gish and Harry Christman – special edition sponsored by ASI on its 70th anniversary with forward by Robert H. Pierson
3. An Appeal for Self-Supporting Laborers to Enter Unworked Fields: A Call to Finish the Work, An E.G. White compilation
4. Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, by Clifford Goldstein, his latest. He told me this is the one that he worked the longest and hardest on to be sure that he got it right.
5. Narrative Meaning & Truth: Fulfilling the Mission in Relativistic Contexts, edited by Bruce A. Bauer and Kleber Goncalves with chapters by David Trim, John Stackhouse, Jr., Abigail Doukhan, Stanley Paterson, Kathleen Beagles, Jonathan Beagles, Bruce Bauer, Felix Cortes, Kleber Goncalves, Zane Yi, Gary Krause, and Sam Never. This is the one that I packed in my carry-on bag to read on the plane one the way home.
6. Altogether Wonderful: Exploring Intergenerational Worship, by Karen Holford
7. Ministry to the Cities, by Ellen G. White
8. New York City: A Symbol, compiled by John Luppens
9. It’s Time: Voices from the Front Lines of Urban Mission, by Bettina Krause
10. Adventist Churches That Make a Difference, by May-Ellen and Gaspar Colon
11. What does Holy Qur’an say about the Descent of Isa al-Masih? Dr. Babar Shah
12. Discipleship Handbook (with Mentor’s Guide) by The Training Center Church Committee of the Michigan Conference
13. The Missing Power by Dr. Paulo Macena. I haven’t looked inside this one yet. I found the cover photo of a dove on fire very disturbing.
14. We Are All Seventh-day Adventists: An Introduction to the Adventist Identity System (with the creation grid system) no author listed – picture book.
Yes, we are all Seventh-day Adventists. It was good to spend time together, to pray and discuss our concerns and our joys, and to sing “We Have this Hope.”
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
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