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Adventist Church in Inter-America tackles stagnant growth, commits to discipleship initiative

Leader said, "we must broaden our minds to reach the needs of the multitudes around us."

Adventist Church in Inter-America tackles stagnant growth, commits to discipleship initiative

Top Seventh-day Adventist leaders from Inter-America sign Agreement as a sign of commitment to train, motivate, involved and commit to the growth of each member to be true disciples of Christ in their territories, in Miami, Florida, on Feb. 2018. Church leaders spent three-days discussing, studying and uniting efforts to double efforts in inspiring leaders for steady growth. [Photo credit: Libna Stevens/IAD]

Top Seventh-day Adventist leaders across the Inter-American Division (IAD) have taken a hard look this week at finding a way to reach more believers with the truth of the gospel throughout the territory. The goal is for the growth of the church to keep on a straight upward path.

Leaders reported that for more than 15 years, the growth of the church in the IAD has not reached 200,000 new members in a year like previous years. Also, less members are actively involved in the missionary work of giving Bible studies across the 42 countries and islands in Inter-America.

“We have to broaden our minds to reach the needs of the multitudes around us,” said Pastor Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America, as he addressed presidents and ministerial leaders from across the 24 major church regions in the territory during a council meeting in Miami, Florida.

“We need to regroup and find out how to better fill Inter-America with the gospel and capture the vision to reach more souls and allow the Holy Spirit to use every member to reach that,” said Leito. “Our evangelism methods must change to reach more for the kingdom.”

There are approximately 307 million people in the division territory. The challenge is to connect them to the gospel with the help of only 3.7 million Adventist church members – a little over 1 percent of the territory’s population. The task is enormous but not impossible, church leaders said.

 

Changing the Paradigm

It’s about changing the paradigm the pastor and the church has been following for years in bringing in more believers into the fold, said Pastor Josney Rodriguez, ministerial secretary for the church Inter-America. That paradigm change has to first take place with each local church pastor and his elders.

“Our church culture needs to change,” said Rodriguez. “It’s all about going back to the basics and focusing our attention on engaging the membership in discipleship.” That will only be possible as the pastors and elders unite across the more than 22,000 congregations in Inter-America to involve each member in fulfilling the mission. And it can only happen when the pastor takes more time in discipling the members to be disciple-makers, so they in turn can go and preach, teach and baptize new believers as Jesus commanded, said Rodríguez.

While visiting Inter-America’s major church regions, Rodríguez found that pastors in Inter-America are spending more time in administrative duties—making calls, preparing events, working on reports, and preaching, but very little time spent visiting members and almost no time teaching.

Discipleship Training

“What the new model needs to show is for the pastor to spend the most time teaching, or discipling, the members…teaching them how to make more disciples,” said Rodriguez. “It is the part where church members are strengthened in their spiritual walk in order to share hope.” That will be accomplished when the more than 3,200 pastors and 30,000 church elders capture the new vision of discipleship, mentoring, and motivating the membership to share the gospel in their communities.

An initiative is already in place to train church elders to better assist overworked pastors in shepherding the members across the churches and congregations in the IAD. The church in Inter-America has had the goal for every pastor to at least obtain a master’s degree in theology from the Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary (IATS). Plans in the coming weeks will involve talks with Adventist university leaders across the IAD to ensure that the curriculum emphasizes responsibilities in discipleship and care of membership, said Rodríguez.

Discipleship has to be an ongoing, permanent thing in the church, explained Rodriguez. “Once our members are actively working toward reaching others with the message of salvation, changes will be seen, because I’ve seen this take place,” said Rodríguez. Rodriguez said he saw that change take place in East Venezuela, where he served as church president, and saw the church grow significantly within three years of the paradigm change there.

“The pastor is not just there to preach but to form disciples of all the believers,” said Rodriguez.

During the three-day council, church leaders took time in group sessions to discuss the challenges facing the ministerial team in their regions, and how to work together on developing plans to strengthen the membership in their territories. Each president signed a commitment agreement to ensure that:

  •      Each member can be cared for individually and grow in their spiritual experience and commit to witness, participate in a ministry and be faithful to God.
  •      The pastor develops discipleship skills and is personally mentored in the areas of leadership that requires attention.
  •      The elders receive all the necessary pastoral formation for the exercise of their ministry in caring for the members and discipleship in the church.
  •      With the help of the pastors and elders, each congregation will bring one new member into the church per month, during 10 months of the year.
  •      The elders whose congregations reach more than 10 percent of active members in evangelism will receive the privilege of officiating a baptismal ceremony.
  •      Reflections from the territory

Pastor Arturo King, president of the church in North Mexico, was excited to see that the church is acknowledging the current reality. He too has seen a decline in baptisms within the 1,204 churches and congregations in his territory in the last few years.

“I strongly believe that the most important task at hand is to involve pastors in discipleship so they too can disciple others,” said King. King has been visiting each of the 10 fields of his territory and has seen that it’s important to keep church members involved in every aspect of the church.

“We need to teach people to become missionaries wherever they are,” said King. That means every department and ministry has to work together to disciple the members, from children to the deacons and deaconesses, he said.

Conversations with the 189 pastors and the more than 4,000 church elders throughout his territory is bringing them to the drawing board in order to find better ways of doing evangelism and reaching more people with the bible truths, especially cosmopolitan cities like Monterrey and Guadalajara.

“We leave with the vision of working hard to promote a change in the culture of the church to involve more members to be active witnesses of the gospel,” King said.

For Pastor Pierre Dufait, who leads as ministerial secretary for the church in the French Antilles Guiana Union, bringing the vision to the 80 pastors in his territory should not be a difficult task, he said.

“It may take some time to change the way pastors and elders are used to managing the church but it will be a welcomed vision among church members,” he said.

Getting all 170 churches involved in discipleship training is the formula that will help increase the growth of the church in the French territory, said Dufait. Already he has seen a drop since 2013, a year in which 1,322 members were added. Only 494 were added last year.

“This new vision is inspiring us to plant that vision in our territory,” said Dufait. In a few weeks the leadership of the union will meet all the pastors for a special retreat that will allow for more dialogue, planning and planting of the new vision, he said.

Leaders went over the function and challenges of the Ministerial Association, Evangelism plans, specific goals and initiatives as well as new available resources

New Available Resources

Pastor Josney Rodríguez unveiled his new book called “Soñemos en grande, Un liderazgo que impacte” or “Dream Big, Lead and Make a Difference” which helps motivate and prepare church leaders to be effective leaders through a positive impact in their ministry. The English and French versions of the book will be available in print next month. Contact your local union to order the book.

The IAD Ministerial Association is now publishing a weekly newsletter available online written by Pastor Leonard Johnson, associate ministerial secretary for the church in Inter-America. The newsletter is designed to encourage pastors and church elders and the person in the pew as to what he or she can expect of their leaders. In addition, the newsletter features key messages on a number of responsibilities that pastors and elders perform such as how to conduct baptisms, church board and business meetings, ordination services, the role of elders and deacons, as well as resource material for preaching, and more.   You can find the newsletter in English, Spanish, and French at pastor.interamerica.org

Rodríguez believes that as the churches jump on board with a strong on-going discipleship program, the fruits of that investment will be seen in many areas in the life of the church, not only in the growth of new members, conservation of members but greater faithfulness in tithes and offerings to further the mission of the church. “We need to keep reaching people, connecting and witnessing to the transforming power of Jesus in our lives. It’s about Christians living the experience of Christ in their hearts in the process of discipleship,” Rodríguez said. 

To learn more about Inter-America’s Ministerial Association, visit us at interamerica.org