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Church Chat: In Russia, Eastern Europe, Adventist leader focuses on training

Treasurer-turned-President Biaggi on improving pastoral, leadership basics

Church Chat: In Russia, Eastern Europe, Adventist leader focuses on training

Guillermo Biaggi, president of the Adventist Church's Euro-Asia Division, is pushing professional training as one of the division's top goals for mission. Here, he speaks at a recent division-wide training event for pastors. [photos by Homer Trecartin]

The top leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Euro-Asia Division said at Spring Meeting in April that one of his chief priorities was training employees.

That's why earlier this month President Guillermo Biaggi and his team of leaders brought together all 1,300 of the division's pastors for a six-day training forum at Zaosky Adventist University in Russia's Tula Region. Leaders from the Adventist Church's world headquarters offered workshops on family life, biblical doctrines, and even basics such as delivering effective sermons, giving Bible studies and visiting members -- things that he says may seem common in some parts of the world.

The division hosted a similar event in 2006.

By population, Euro-Asia is the second smallest of the denomination's 13 world divisions. It has about 140,000 members, more than 40 percent of whom live in Ukraine. The division includes 12 countries of the former Soviet Union and covers 11 time zones.

Biaggi, 58, is originally from Argentina and previously served as the division's treasurer. He's a Certified Public Accountant, holds bachelor's degrees in business and theology, and has a master's degree in administration.

Following this month's conference, Biaggi corresponded by email with ANN. He discussed some challenges the Adventist Church faces and why reviewing the basics is necessary in his part of the world. Some excerpts have been edited for clarity:

Adventist News Network: What training did you feel was necessary to bring all 1,300 local pastors together?

Guillermo Biaggi: We need to have pastors connect with Jesus if they are going to be used by God. Not hustling to get home after work, but connecting with Jesus. It should be about mission and creating centers of influence, not getting caught up in movements that aren't biblical. We need them to remember the importance of their own family and to become strong speakers of God's word.

ANN: What kind of challenges is the church facing in your division?

Biaggi: There is a significant rate of apostasy, and there are several factors. One is that during the 1990s the Church experienced symptoms of a newly organized church structure. It enjoyed religious freedom and rapidl growth, which made these factors more evident. Two, many pastors aren't well trained and aren't able to offer proper nurture and support. Then there is the lack of chapels, or you would say "temples" or "churches." Many of our congregations have to rent, and then a landlord will not rent to them anymore and they have to find a new place to worship. It doesn't offer much security when that happens. And another thing, too, is that people are migratory. People want to go to the United States or Canada or Europe.

ANN: Why such a strong focus on training?

Biaggi: Many places you have people who worked at a church, then go on to conference and union -- as they gain more experience they are invited to serve in positions of higher responsibility. But in our division we have people without great experience filling some of the [leadership] positions. We're newer than most of the divisions. Only in 1990 did the General Conference set it up. We're not 100 years old like some divisions. But keep in mind, this kind of thing can happen anywhere, even in the Americas, where you have pastors not getting out visiting members or not giving Bible studies that are very effective. Everyone can use training.

ANN: Speaking of everyone, what are you doing to develop your own skills?

Biaggi: I am finishing with a group of leaders the Doctorate of Ministry program through Andrews University. We will graduate in May. Next summer, we are asking Andrews University's Dr. Skip Bell and his team to start in our division a new cohort for 28 ministry doctoral candidates. Besides professional degrees, I enjoy spiritual development through daily early morning time with the Lord. In prayer I repeat by memory about 35 to 40 texts to praise the Lord for His wonderful promises, love and grace.

ANN: How is it possible to conduct more of the needed training for managers and treasurers when the programs aren't offered locally?

Biaggi: It can be hard, but we are now working with [the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines] to implement a Master's of Business Administration and simultaneously a Master's of Science in Administration degree program in our division.

ANN: What other goals do you have for the division?

Biaggi: We want to reach the goal of 60,000 church members involved in the mission of the church. This would be approximately 50 percent of our church members. Also, we settled on a goal to distribute 5 million missionary books and 100 million published materials to be distributed [by 2015]. We will also develop 25,000 evangelistic campaigns, including the [division] yearly satellite program and many other regional and local church evangelistic programs.

ANN: What is the progress of your division's initiative of reclaiming former members prior to conducting a large-scale membership audit?

Biaggi: We are working on it. We are trying to convince pastors and local church leaders that they need to visit and call back home former church members, or members who are not coming to church or whom are discouraged, before they will finally make the audit. We are asking them to have seasons of prayer to claim God's promises, for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of members who have lost their passion and love for the Lord, or are hurting and need healing. Also, to pray that we have a caring, loving and kind atmosphere at the local church, to receive them back with a big smile and hug of sincere love. Many are returning to church where they feel genuine love and care. We need to follow Christ's example -- searching for the lost sheep or the ones that went astray.