When you’re sitting in the pews for service and working among your peers in your local church (or skipping weekly church attendance) it can be easy to forget that you’re part of a church that is much larger than yourself. When you’re looking at an organization as large as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it might be difficult to understand. Here is a general breakdown to help you out.
The global church is governed by the General Conference and consists of world divisions:
- East-Central Africa Division
- Euro-Asia Division
- Inter-American Division
- Inter-European Division
- Israel Field
- Middle East and North Africa Union Mission
- North American Division
- Northern Asia-Pacific Division
- South American Division
- South Pacific Division
- Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division
- Southern Asia Division
- Southern Asia-Pacific Division
- Trans-European Division
- West-Central Africa
We live in a great big world and God has allowed an Adventist presence in every corner of it. The global church and individual world divisions are led by an administrative staff that is elected every 5 years at the General Conference in Session. The next general conference session is to be held June 25-July 4, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Each world division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is divided into “Union Conferences” or “Union Missions” which operate within their division. Union conferences are self-supporting financially, whereas a union mission is not. There are 112 total unions within the global church, and these are divided into local conferences or missions at an even smaller level. The conference and union are led by elected officers and the conference and union preside over the local churches in the region.
Local conferences or “missions” are organized and grouped by states or regions. The area is then divided into districts of churches, with some districts sharing an employed pastor between 2-4 churches. In some instances, two churches in the same state may be part of two different conferences. This is due to some conferences being organized and grouped in other ways. For instance, the Central States Conference is made up of 40 multi-cultural congregations in a nine-state region of Mid-America Union, independent of the other conferences which make up those states.
At the local level, the church is made up of local leadership which includes elected officers and a paid pastor. There may also be paid employees at the local level that work on a stipend or are paid through the conference. These can include Bible Workers, evangelists, and youth workers.
It can be easy to get bogged down in the great big global church when you’re just a little person warming a little space on a blanket in the Ethiopian sun, sitting on a pew in a church in Southeast Missouri, or under a tent on a hurricane-ravaged island in the Mediterranean.
Sometimes it does our heart good to know and understand we are a part of something bigger. The people “at the top”–the President of our conference or our union, for instance–can feel very far away from us. Evangelists we see on television and in magazines can feel like celebrities. When we’re worshiping and working in the local church it can seem like the pastor and the members are all we’ve got. It seems sometimes as if we’re just working for the conference and the world church. The reality is that the conference officials exist to serve us in our God-mission, just as we exist to serve others, and while we serve Jesus, He has and continues to serve us.
The Church of the Living God
The following is an excerpt from the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (2016) concerning the church as a local and global entity:
Scripture uses various expressions to describe the church, such as “the church of God” (Acts 20:28), “the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), and “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15).
To belong to the church of God is a unique and soul-satisfying privilege. It is God’s purpose to gather out a people from the far corners of the earth to bind them into one body, the body of Christ, of which He is the living head. All who are children of God in Christ Jesus are members of this body, and in this relationship they may enjoy fellowship with each other and fellowship also with their Lord.
The Bible uses the word church in at least two senses: a general sense applying to the church in all the world (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 12:28) and a particular sense applying to the church in a city or a province, such as to those at Rome (Rom. 1:6, 7), Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1) and of Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1), Asia (1 Cor. 16:19), and Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41).
Christ, being the head of the church and its living Lord, has a deep love for the members of His body. In the church He is to be glorified (Eph. 3:21). Through the church He will reveal the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10). Day by day He nourishes the church (Eph. 5:29), and His longing desire is to make of it “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Is it difficult to find your place in your church? Begin by connecting with one person, serving one person, making yourself available to one person.
Are you unsure of or distrusting of the conference or union level of leadership? Do they seem too far away, too powerful, too good? Send them a nice encouraging note via email or send a treat to their office. Invite them to speak at your church and meet your members. Involve the conference leaders in your church’s celebrations and sorrows.
Pray for your church, and when you do pray for the local, conference, union, division, and global levels of workers, leaders, and constituents. Here are some great resources for prayers of Revival and Reformation.