The North American Division (NAD) recently sent out a newsletter informing the world church of its up and coming Union / Conference Meeting.
It was alarming to me to discover that there would be over 700 employees attending this meeting. Alarming because the conference is being presented for Union and Conference employees only. Most of us have little conception that the Unions in North America are so heavily employed. Some are aware of the top heaviness of the local conferences, but who would have imagined it gets worse the farther up you go? (till you reach the General Conference where they operate too lean).
And to be honest, what’s wrong with that anyway? If we have sufficient means and opportunity wouldn’t it make sense to have more laborers working in God’s vineyard? Aren’t the fields white and the need for laborers high?
What feels like a sharp stick in the eye about this is the overabundance of administrators and supporting workers and the woefully insufficient number of pastors! Look around and see how many churches are sharing a pastor these days. Some see a pastor only once a month! A few see one only once a quarter!
How did this happen? About 3 quinquennia ago (if you aren’t sure what that is, you need to bone up on your conference administrator speak). It’s the amount of time the administrators have voted themselves to serve in office for each term elected. Five years. In Ellen White’s day it was two years. But those elections are SO bothersome, so they have been extending their terms since those days (we are currently up to five years). Another factor was a tithe deficit inversely proportionate with the rise of Spectrum’s paradigm in our church administration and those employed by them to fill pulpits. When the data was analyzed, the North American Division’s interpretation was that our economy was bad, and hence giving was down. No one in Administration gave much consideration of the counsels that were given to us by God. Counsels like:
Men refuse to give for the love of God, but for the love of pleasure and the indulgence of appetite for selfish considerations they will part with their money. Is it because there is not power in the lessons of Christ upon benevolence, and in His example, and the grace of God upon the heart to lead men to glorify God with their substance, that such a course must be resorted to in order to sustain the church?
The plan of Moses in the wilderness to raise means was highly successful. There was no compulsion necessary. Moses made no grand feast. He did not invite the people to scenes of gaiety, dancing, and general amusement. Neither did he institute lotteries or anything of this profane order to obtain means to erect the tabernacle of God in the wilderness. God commanded Moses to invite the children of Israel to bring the offerings. Moses was to accept gifts of every man that gave willingly from his heart. These freewill offerings came in so great abundance that Moses proclaimed it was enough. They must cease their presents, for they had given abundantly, more than they could use (Welfare Ministry, pg. 291-292).
When was the last time you heard that sermon? Consequently, rather than pressing forward and trusting God by and large, administrators felt the need to explain in theological terms the reason for the financial shortfall and necessary cuts to the budget. The end result was to teach that it was a Catholic idea to have a pastor in every church. A new doctrine emerged thanks to the fiscally disadvantaged conferences which stated the “New Testament model was that a pastor should be an overseer. He should be training and equipping lay leaders to serve and divide his time and talents among several churches.” After all, look at Paul and Timothy / Silas / Barnabas. They didn’t have just one church!
While pastors SHOULD be training and equipping, somehow everyone missed the reality that Paul was not a “pastor,” but rather he was an Apostle. They conveniently overlooked Paul’s own counsel:
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages' (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
The Greek word for “elder” here is “presbuturos.” It is translated in the New Testament as either elder or bishop, but clearly defines the position of pastor. If these are to be paid, and worthy of “double honor,” and there are elders / bishops in each church, then how is it that the NT model is pastors should have several churches? Simple, it’s not. The NT model would suggest that an Apostle… an overseer for the elders and bishops (like a conference administrator perhaps?), should be out meeting and working with the elders in churches to build them up like Paul! And maybe they can even be “bi-vocational” and make tents if necessary! Anyone seen a conference administrator out working in the field with pastors for months as Paul did?
Suffice it to say, for the pastors to be handed more and more churches, and the congregations having to pony up more servants, while conference and union administrators follow Jabez and expand their territory is offensive.
The most recent report from the General Conference reveals that there is an immediate need to reduce workforce from the local conference level through the NAD. If even half of the myriad of employees of the conference and union levels were to be discharged, and we were to replace them with pastors, we would increase the number of ministers by almost 10 times! And still have over 50,000 employees in the unions and conferences. That would almost make the ratio of pastors to union/conference employees 1 to 1. That is a ridiculous number! One conference worker for every pastor?! It's time for an overhaul.
So here is the report broken down. Feel free to email your conference leaders and union leaders together with the NAD leaders and share your thoughts about the situation!
You may also wish to pray for the meetings taking place now at the General Conference Level where they are considering downgrading a couple of unions into missions. Perhaps we should also downgrade the NAD?
Here are a couple of links to get you in touch with the leaders so you can express your thoughts (lovingly of course) . . .
North American Division Statistics. Most Current Information available as of 10/7/2016
Taken from Adventist Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, eAdventist.net, and the 2016 GC Statistical Report.
Where statistics differ between the three sources the most conservative number is represented so as not to arbitrarily inflate the statistics. Discrepancies were few & minor and ratios would change little or not at all depending upon which source is considered most accurate.
- Numbers of employees in Unions does not reflect teachers, missionaries, or Bible workers. Other categories are unknown as the report did not designate specifically, but merely gave the number of employees. See pages beginning with pg. 49 in the report.
Here is a list of Unions and Conferences that serve under them:
AUC – Atlantic Union Conference
- Bermuda Conference
- Greater NY Conference
- NY Conference
- Northeastern Conference
- Northern New England Conference
- Southern New England Conference
Church in Canada
- Alberta Conference
- British Columbia Conference
- Manitoba – Saskatchewan Conference
- Maritime Conference
- Ontario Conference
- Quebec Conference
- SDA church in Newfoundland and Labrador
CUC – Columbia Union Conference
- Alleghany East Conference
- Alleghany West Conference
- Chesapeake Conference
- Mountain View Conference
- New Jersey Conference
- Ohio Conference
- Pennsylvania Conference
- Potomac Conference
LUC – Lake Union Conference
- Illiniois Conference
- Indiana Conference
- Lake Region Conference
- Michigan Conference
- Wisconsin Conference
MAUC – Mid-America Union Conference
- Central States Conference
- Dakota Conference
- Iowa-Missouri Conference
- Kansas-Nebraska Conference
- Minnesota Conference
- Rocky Mountain Conference
NPUC – North Pacific Union Conference
- Alaska Conference
- Idaho Conference
- Montana Conference
- Oregon Conference
- Upper Columbia Conference
- Washington Conference
PUC – Pacific Union Conference
- Arizona Conference
- Central California Conference
- Hawaii Conference
- Nevada Conference
- Northern California Conference
- Southeastern California Conference
- Southern California Conference
SUC – Southern Union Conference
- Carolina Conference
- Florida Conference
- Georgia-Cumberland Conference
- Gulf States Conference
- Kentucky-Tennessee Conference
- South Atlantic Conference
- South Central Conference
- Southeastern Florida Conference
SWUC – Southwest Union Conference
- Arkansas-Louisiana Conference
- Oklahoma Conference
- Southwest Region Conference
- Texas Conference
- Texico Conference
Over the last 20 recorded years, this chart represents the number of churches being added to each pastor working in the North American Division (NAD)
More churches = more work, and less time for needed evangelism and individuals in the congregations. It means more expectations and more burnout. Should we ask who have been the division leaders, union leaders, and conference administrators in office over the last 2 or 3 quinquennia (10 – 15 years)? How would someone fare if this were their record in the private sector?
Sure, things have gotten tougher over the last decade, but if we consider the reality that the ratio of conference employees to pastors is nearly 20 to 1 in some places, should we ask ourselves why the administrators are being so easy on themselves?
You can review the latest General Conference Report (2016) here.
John Howells works as an echocardiographer, and lives in Centerville, Ohio.