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Health, Ministerial departments summit explores comprehensive ministry

Blended approach would re-emphasize church’s original focus, leaders say

Health, Ministerial departments summit explores comprehensive ministry

Dr. Allan Handysides leads a discussion with the 13 world division Health Ministries directors about core health philosophy goals for the denomination. The breakout session was part of the March 4-6 Health Ministries department and Ministerial Association summit, a presidential initiative to develop a more comprehensive approach to ministry and mission [photo: Ansel Oliver]

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Top leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Health Ministries and Ministerial Association are examining how the two entities can encourage a comprehensive approach to mission and evangelism.

With a nudge from the church’s president, Ted N. C. Wilson, regional world leaders from both departments met earlier this month at the denomination’s headquarters to discuss and identify potential integrated models for ministry.

Over the next few months, leaders plan to define a core philosophy of health and prepare for implementation of comprehensive ministry at local congregations for the coming years. For now, it’s a first step in a process of what many summit attendees said was the first top-level meeting of its kind in their church career. Many said it harkens back to what the denomination was first founded on.

“This is all counsel we’ve had from the beginning,” said Jerry Page, secretary of the Ministerial Association. “We just want to have it re-emphasized,” he said, referring to the Adventist Church’s historical emphasis on healthful living.

Health Ministries Director Dr. Allan Handysides concurred. “Our church co-founder Ellen White gave advice that the church’s work could be more effective when the health professionals and ministers are working hand-in-hand,” he said.

A comprehensive approach, Handysides said, would also help ensure that the church’s teachings on healthful living are more consistent throughout the world.

“We need administrators, pastors and lay people all on the same page of what health ministry is – based on the Bible, the writings of Ellen White, and evidence-based practices,” Handysides said.

Leaders also said they would address support from independent ministries. “Some people are very zealous about health ministry, but if they’re going to be an Adventist supporting ministry, they need to be in the Adventist Church and truly supporting it,” Handysides said.

What comes out of this month’s summit will depend on support from local administrations, leaders said.

In the coming years, leaders said possible methods of supporting the health emphasis could include bringing back a combined master’s of divinity and master’s of public health degree at the church’s Loma Linda University in California, releasing a modern and abbreviated adaptation of White’s 1905 book “Ministry of Healing,” and developing training resources for Adventist schools. Leaders emphasized, however, that the future direction wouldn’t be limited to a few resources or events, but a whole renewed approach.

“We want to use Christ’s methods of developing relationships and meeting people’s needs before we try to share the gospel with someone,” said Mark Finley, assistant to President Wilson for evangelism, and organizer of the summit.

Finley said the highlight of the summit was public outreach during the meetings. For two evenings, the group modeled health evangelism, inviting the public to attend health lectures and cooking demonstrations in the world church headquarters auditorium. The first night drew more than 400 people; the second night – even despite most businesses and government agencies being closed due to inclement weather – drew 250 people.

“We were blessed to be able to model comprehensive, total health evangelism,” Finley said. “I think this is a real model for the future.”