At 9:03 a.m. Eastern chairman Don Ward called the 2017 meeting of the General Conference of Elders to order. He called on Ellis Stewart from East Texas to open in prayer.
Dr. Ward introduced the first item of business and asked the general conference to approve or amend the minutes of the 2016 meeting. The minutes were approved. He then called on secretary Gerald Seelig to lead the general conference in this year's ballot.
Dr. Ward then took the stage again to introduce president Victor Kubik for his address to the General Conference of Elders.
Mr. Kubik expressed his appreciation for the spirit of fellowship among the elders of the general conference. He also welcomed those elders watching the webcast from home who were not able to make it to the meeting this year. He said that he was asked again what the purpose was for the recent church-wide fast we had. The Church hasn't fasted together in anticipation of the meeting of the general conference for some time. In Isaiah 58 the prophet seems to be answering questions about fasting at that time. He then lays out the spiritual purpose of fasting: to humble ourselves before God and draw closer to Him and to make His purpose our purpose. Fasting is not to get our way; it is to orient ourselves to God's way. Through this fast he has come to understand who and what we are. He sees how small we are but how much potential there is for growth, both spiritual and in numbers. God wants the Church to flourish.Though we're small we're at a place where we can be united like Gideon's army in performing God's purpose for His Church. We're working on a video to show the Church's work in fostering and developing relationships across the generations that make up the Church. It's important that we develop strong relationships among all God's people. The younger generation coming up is very engaged in the Church and its work. We need to be ready to "hand the keys" off to those who will be the next to do that work.
He said there have also been questions about the structure and function of Ministerial and Member Services. He says it's functioning very well, and what he would like to do is put together a chart for the ministry to express how the department works and functions. Mr. Kubik is the acting director of MMS, and Chris Rowland is the administrator, and this situation has worked well. He has a lot of respect and appreciation for the work Mr. Rowland has done in that role. Kathe Myers was also hired to help Mr. Rowland administer the department, and she's been a big help in the day-to-day function of MMS.
Mr. Kubik, Chris Rowland, Steve Myers, Darris McNeely and Randy Urwiller have been hard at work developing and administering a ministerial education program that has had success so far. Elders have the opportunity to be part of classes covering books of the Bible, doctrines, pastoral functions and many other topics. This is separate form the Pastoral Development Program, which is a 10-day, intense in-house program at the home office for new hires and others who want extra training in the ministry. We've had the opportunity to host several international pastors in the PDP as well. This program will be backed up by an ongoing education portion that adds on to the training experienced at the home office.
Regional conferences have focused on making and developing disciples of Christ. The next conference is scheduled this summer for northern Ohio. International conferences are also on the docket, and we hosted one in Australia last year.
We would like to develop our manpower to the point where we can relieve pastors from three-to-four church circuits. Two congregations is much more ideal to maximize pastoral care and not run our pastors down too much.
He is thankful to God first for His blessings on the Church and also to the faithful service of the ministry of the Church for making the work their priority.
At 9:46 a.m. Dr. Ward took the stage again to talk about the importance of leadership. A person, a family a church, will eventually go in the direction of its spiritual leadership. A small group of men at one point led the church toward heresy. That's why we must be continually strengthening our relationships with God to make sure we are following Him and His way. We must beseech Him for the wisdom to lead God's people in the right direction. Solomon got off to a great start in seeking God's way but eventually lost his way. He who endures to the end shall be saved.
Where there is no shepherd, the little ones are scattered, as the prophet Jeremiah said. It's encouraging that the focus of MMS is to provide enough pastors to make it so ministers have two-church circuits rather than four or five as is common today.
In the society we're in people are expected to adopt certain unbiblical values to be considered part of the accepted group of society. We need to have the will to lead despite the outside pressures of society and lead people toward God regardless of where society wants us to go.Ezekiel prophesied of a time where God looks for men and women to stand in the gap (Ezekiel 22). Today we are in need of godly men and women who will stand in that gap and lead by example against the evil spirit of the times. Hebrews 11 chronicles a long list of men and women who stood in the gap at a certain time in history. We have been called for that purpose.
John the Baptist turned the nation of Israel upside down in a period of six months by following the example of godly leaders before him who sought God. Do we have the will to lead in these crucial and trying times? How do we define leadership? "Leadership is the art and gift of influencing and motivating people to achieve their God-ordained potential" was one definition developed at one point in the Church. Our potential is incredible as a member of God's family. A leader then will develop strategies to help people work toward achieving that eternal goal. We must convict people that we have their best interest in heart and that they can achieve their goals.
If we expect high performance and set high expectations, people usually work to achieve that goal and meet expectations. He believes we have one of the finest groups of young people he's seen since he's been a part of the Church. The generations are not really so different. We all have the same goal.
The great plan that God developed for us can't be fully described by human words. But we know enough about it to know that it is of upmost importance for all mankind. Therefore it must be our goal and must be our purpose to do the work of serving God in His work of making that plan a reality. May God grant us the courage to lead our people to that purpose and to achieve their goal of becoming sons and daughters in God's family. We need to follow the example of those who came before us of standing in the gap and leading people toward that goal. At 10:20 a.m. the meeting entered a short recess.
At 10:48 a.m. the meeting reconvened, and chairman Don Ward introduced the Church's operation managers, Rick Shabi, Peter Eddington, to deliver their presentations, as well as Greg Thomas to lead the group in the tribute to deceased elders and wives.
Treasurer Rick Shabi took the stage to deliver the report for Financial Services. He said that the Church's finances are in very good shape this year, and there are several highlights to cover.
The annual audit was completed and published in United News, there were several church buildings purchased for local congregations, and a new media studio was approved for construction during the next fiscal year.
So far for this fiscal year, our tithes and offerings is at 97.3% of what was budgeted, while Holy Day offerings are above budget at 108.8% of the budget, while our cash balance as of May 2017 was at $7.6 million, down slightly from the $7.8 million we had in May 2016. The fund for the recording studio is at $528,000, short about $70,000 of the goal. Construction will move forward as planned.
Among our fiscal challenges identified by Mr. Shabi are an aging membership, flat or declining income, an aging ministry and rising expenses. As our ministry ages, many will retire. We have ongoing commitments to our faithful ministry to provide for them in their retirement, and we also have increasing salaries due to hiring new pastors to care for the congregations.
Media and Communications Services operation manager Peter Eddington took the stage at 11:11 a.m. to deliver his report. He started by expressing thanks to God the Father and Jesus Christ for their tremendous blessings in enabling us to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to millions of people. Thanks also goes to the Media and Communications Services staff for their work in preaching the gospel and serving the Church.After Paul's conversion he became one of the most vocal proponents of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. The gospel was spread to all the people in the region. Today the gospel needs to go to the entire world. We're not confined to geographic locations. We have access to every nation on earth. It is a work of making disciples. God the Father is the One who determines who the disciples are. We have to sow the seed broadly, and then God will determine where the fertile soil is. At the same time, not everybody is going to respond, so it will be a witness as well.
Mr. Eddington delivered an update on the new media studio that will soon be under construction at the home office. Civil Engineers will soon review the piece of land adjacent to the office, and mechanical and electrical engineers will be brought on board shortly. Our goal is to break ground in July of this year if all goes as planned.
Also, a new booklet on the topic of angels has now been produced and printed. It’s titled Angels: God’s Messengers and Spirit Army. It will be advertised to all of our U.S. Beyond Today magazine subscribers in our May subscriber development letter. Members in the United States will automatically be mailed a copy later this month. And all of our international offices will be sent bulk copies to distribute in their regions.
Third, we have just concluded the latest round of Beyond Today Live events. After 17 events, a grand total of 579 new people were reached through this campaign. All these viewers and readers have come to see and hear our Beyond Today presenters live and had the opportunity to meet our local pastor, the local brethren and the Church’s president. One of the main reasons we have undertaken these live appearance campaigns is to help bridge the gap between our formal media efforts to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom and direct congregational contact. The plan is to encourage our most interested readers, viewers and subscribers to make the effort to actually call one of our pastors and plan to attend our Sabbath services. We are spending only 1% of our Media and Communications Services budget on Beyond Today Live events, but we see it as an exciting opportunity to connect with our audience and encourage them to take the next step in becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
Mr. Eddington asks that everyone pray for our efforts to proclaim the gospel so that we can honor God in all that we do and be effective in taking that message to a world that needs it.
At 11:29 a.m. Greg Thomas took the stage to lead the general conference in honoring elders and wives who died this past year.
At 11:55 the general conference recessed for lunch. Dr. Don Ward called on Ken Skorseth of South Dakota to lead a prayer on the meal.
At 1:15 p.m. chairman Don Ward reconvened the meeting and introduced Lee Cole from Eastern Pennsylvania to begin the session with prayer. He then introduced Aaron Dean, international advisor, to deliver his report on the Church's international areas.
Mr. Dean says that we've been given an incredible work to take the gospel to the whole world—an enormous work in both scope and importance. He's looking for servants who can be bold in taking the Bible's mission into challenging and sometimes dangerous situations around the world; men like the apostle Paul. It's often in the developing world where people don't have much in material wealth that people respond most eagerly to God. Many of our congregations and individuals who would like to associate with us in remote areas don't have elders to serve them regularly.
There's a big need for more hands on the ground in Africa, where the brethren are spread over extremely large geographic areas. It's a broad work with so many languages and so many people. It's a monumental amount of work, and we need to pray for more laborers. India and Latin America are also areas chiefly in need of more help from the elders to serve the brethren in these areas. Paul asked how people can believe if they haven't heard, and how they can hear if they don't have someone to preach to them. That question is still relevant today. We have faith that it is God who provides the workers to serve His people.
At 1:41 p.m. Chris Rowland began a roundtable session for small groups to break out and discuss different aspects of judgment, mercy and faith. The roundtable discussion will take up the rest of the afternoon's session.
Following the last roundtable discussion, secretary Gerald Seelig announced the ballot results, which follow:
Approve the 2017/2018 Strategic Plan: Yes 241; No 16—Passed
Approve the 2017/2018 Operation Plan: Yes 235; No 21—Passed
Approve the 2017/2018 Budget: Yes 235; No 21—Passed
Approve the proposed amendment to Constitution Section 5.1.1(1)—amendment to the governing documents: 140 Yes; 115 No—Failed
Approve the Proposed Revisions to the Rules of Association: 221 Yes; 23 No—Passed
Council of Elders Seats
Rainer Salomaa (international)
Mr. Seelig announced that the last Council spot on the ballot was too close to call. Auditors are reviewing to confirm the General Conference of Elders' choice, which should be announced tomorrow, May 8.
*UPDATE, MONDAY, MAY 8
Secretary Gerald Seelig took the stage at 3:43 p.m. on Monday, May 8, to announce that the third domestic Council of Elders seat will be occupied by Dan Dowd.
*END UPDATE, MONDAY, May 8
After the ballot results chairman Don Ward took the stage again. He expressed that he found the afternoon activities very profitable. The questions were tough, and it was a good learning opportunity for everyone involved. He thanked Chris Rowland for his work in putting the questions together and moderating the discussions.
At 4:30 p.m. Dr. Ward called on David Morker to close the session in prayer.