Observations on Day 1 of the General Conference Session in San Antonio

I am a lifelong Adventist.

My dad’s dad was a pastor in the Ohio Conference and my mom’s dad was an Adventist university professor and missionary to the Far East. My parents took my brother and me to Sabbath School and church. Bottom line: I know the church. I love the church.

My wife and I were both at the General Conference Session five years ago in Atlanta. Aside from finances and the arrival of two little bundles of joy in this quinquennium, we would have done our best to attend at least a portion of the session in San Antonio. We were glad to be able to see and hear what was going on at session via the internet.

Here are some things I really enjoyed about the first day of this session.

  1. Praise God for the internet. And Twitter. How did we stay up to date on GC Session before streaming video and social media? In the dark ages, there was a time when you had to wait for the Adventist Review to show up in your mailbox. I’m so glad that members around the world can get near instantaneous updates of the proceedings and be able to share in the wonderful worship experiences at session.
  2. Our church is blessed with talent. This shows up in many forms, but I’m talking right now specifically about music. It’s always a blessing to hear groups from around the world performing all kinds of music. I was especially blessed by the little girl playing the violin.
  3. Prayer time is being emphasized. I can’t remember seeing so much individual and small group prayer time being part of the agenda. I’m so glad to see it included as we earnestly and fervently seek the Lord’s direction in this session.

However, after watching the morning and evening meeting and following along on Twitter, here are some thoughts about things that could be or need to be better or different.

  1. We need less cheerleading and more honesty. Listen, I’m happy to be an Adventist Christian and I’m not going anywhere. The President’s Report was filled with worldwide success stories, and I’m truly glad for them. But let’s be completely honest here. Our church growth is coming primarily from Africa and Asia, and to a lesser extent, Inter- and South America. In certain places in the world (like the North American Division), we’re not growing like the rest of the world. We need to spend some time as a church body examining the reasons why and developing a game plan for improvement. Let’s honestly acknowledge the challenges we face, because by admitting we have a problem is the first step to addressing it.
  2. We need to keep praying for unity, humility, and for God to lead us. I appreciate the attempts thus far to drive this point home to the delegates. But on day one of session, on one of the most innocuous things that session does – voting new unions into Adventist fellowship – the issue of women’s ordination was raised by a dear brother from Central Africa. We need to continue praying that God will move among the delegates so that He can lead instead of being constrained by personal agendas.
  3. We must address the issue of young people in leadership. The delegates to General Conference Session are old, in general. It is true that with age comes wisdom.  Sometimes. However, God gives the gift of administration to old and young. The nominating committee, which is tasked with prayerfully recommending names to fill the various offices in the General Conference, has 5 people (out of 250+) under the age of 30. Further, 2/3 of the nominating committee is 50 years old or older. Why are our young people leaving our church? One reason might be that they feel they have no say in the direction of the church. This is, of course, not the only reason. But it needs to be addressed.
  4. We must address the gender gap as well. The role of women in ministry and the reports from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee will be one of the most passionate discussions at this session. And that’s putting it nicely. Much like the age gap discussed above, the gender gap is a real problem for the church. Partially due to the lack of ordination of women throughout the world (and the attendant dearth of female administrators), the delegation is overwhelmingly male. In other words, it is not at all representative of the church as a whole. To move forward, we must consider putting bylaws in place instituting “affirmative action” for women and young people.
  5. Technology must be fully tested before being deployed. I realize that there is a built-in disadvantage since we do not have a great deal of time to get everything set up for session since the Alamodome does not belong to us. But how much time was wasted trying to get the electronic voting devices to work? We can and should do better.

I will continue to pray for the Lord to move among His people and for His will to be done at session.