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February 23, 2018


A Look at Weedings

Among the most delightful and joyful celebrations performed by a pastor is that of a wedding, as it affords him the opportunity “to minister in a joyful and spiritual celebration for couples and their families and friends.”  However, it can also turn out to be most embarrassing and disappointing for the same should certain and key guidelines be ignored and not adhered to.  Accordingly, I attempt to share the following suggestions. 

Purpose of a Wedding

The purpose of a Christian wedding is to unite in a legal and spiritual manner a man and a woman in holy matrimony as noted in Genesis 2:24. The legal requirement recognizes the laws of the land or a given jurisdiction which are not to be ignored, as God never advocated a disregard for the laws of the land, except for where they conflict with His laws. Spiritually, marriage is ordained of God, and a couple in “tying the knot’ recognizes God and His gift of love and marriage.  Therefore, a couple requests the presence of a pastor. Additionally, careful attention should be given to simplicity and affordability.

Prior to Marriage Ceremony

To call upon a pastor to perform a marriage without sufficient notice for counseling is unfair to both the pastor and the couple. The pastor is charged by God to perform diligently and honestly before God and man, and how can he/she when he/she would not have sat with the couple to counsel? The couple does an injustice to themselves and the pastor when he/she is not contacted in a timely manner.  Essentially, they deny themselves the opportunity to intelligently and prayerfully examine each other’s ways and motives.  A couple through counseling may determine that marriage with each other is not for them, and maybe there may be reasons to delay the process.  So omitting counseling can have serious consequences, which are likely to result in a separation and/ or divorce.

Pre-marital counseling addresses subjects such as temperament, finance, family background, religious background, communication, intimacy and -- where deemed necessary -- recommendation of a blood test, etc.

Legal Requirement

As marriage is not just a spiritual matter, it is necessary that all relevant forms are completed and required documents supplied to the appropriate government agency, to ensure that all requirements are met prior to the actual ceremony.  Of course, during the counseling, the pastor will see to it that the marriage form is signed and a receipt of the same with an issued license is provided, which is used in preparing the marriage documents to be signed at the end of the ceremony.

Church Requirement

Equally important is attention to church procedures involving use of church, permission to move furniture, use of appropriate music and counsel regarding attire as well as availability of the sanctuary. Paying little or no attention to any of these could result in embarrassment and disappointment.

Plan in Advance

Essentially, it is necessary that a couple planning to unite in marriage sit with their pastor some time in advance to allow for all of the above mentioned to be attended to. Unfortunately, there would seem to be greater emphasis today on what one wears, guest attendance list and where the reception may be hosted. It should be noted that simplicity and sound judgment regarding affordability are critical; for it is after the crowd would have dispersed that life for the couple begins, and unfortunately for many, it begins with significant bills that tend to stress a couple when they should be enjoying themselves and the extended honey moon. Instead, bills consume their thoughts, time and discussion. This provides a formula for frustration and, at times, for one partner to resort to various means seeking to repress the stress.  The key is to plan and plan in advance seeking the guidance of God.


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 

February 16, 2018


Funeral Etiquette
The passing of a loved one results in grief and in some ways much stress having to relate to insurance companies, place of employment, funeral home, cemetery, family members, and in no way least, a pastor or elder, etc. And yet, these interactions do not constitute the end of the ordeal for family members, as the funeral service itself can take on the unexpected, turning into a long and drawn-out sitting.  Accordingly, I share a few observations and suggestions.

Condolences, Remarks, and Tributes
Pastors and elders should assist the family of the deceased in preparing the program. Thereby, counsel could be given with regard to the number of persons to bring condolences, remarks, and or tributes. My observation is that after two or three persons would have spoken, there is repetition and there seems to be a challenge to stick to the time of 2-3 minutes allotted. It appears that there is an aura about funeral services that influences even the shiest of persons to speak longer than required, especially if encouraged on by hearty “Amens!” from the congregants.  Even pastors and elders could extend the time with each speaking. It is not necessary for all pastors and elders to offer condolences. The conference president, ministerial secretary and /or a church pastor could represent the other pastors and or elders. There is a need to assist the family of the deceased in avoiding the pressure to yield to some last minute requests to speak or sing. 

Special Music or Musical Selection
Musical selection implies just singing or an instrumental rendition. However, if you have attended a few funerals, you may have witnessed persons giving remarks or a “sermonette” prior to singing or playing, oblivious to the fact that time is moving and that others are to follow, including the pastor with the sermon or homily. In some churches, just before the musical item, an usher escorts the musician/singer to the front and reminds him/her of what he/she is expected to do. Then, as soon as the person before him/her leaves the podium, he/she (the musician/singer) is in place to sing or perform without unnecessarily extending the song or the service. 

Reading the Obituary
Most persons read the obituary during the funeral proceedings or as soon as they sit down to await the commencement of the service, especially if they are on time and fortunate to obtain a copy of the funeral brochure. So when someone reads the obituary aloud from the podium during the service or requests that everyone reads it silently together, time is being utilized that could be used for another item.

Sermon/Homily
It is unnecessary to preach a long sermon, especially after the family and others have been sitting for a long time; neither is it fair to the pastor to have to cut short his or her sermon because persons speaking or performing before the sermon consumed the time, and as a result, a good number of persons leave before hearing the message.  This raises a question: “What is the purpose of a funeral service?”

Follow-up
Following the burial of a loved one is the time when it really counts to stay in touch with the family. Visits, telephone calls and assisting with meals and chores could be very helpful. Of course, while there is no spotlight on them, these acts may be necessary. Pastors and elders, let us do our part to make funeral services shorter and on point. And above all, pay attention to post funeral care and support.


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 


February 9, 2018


Baptism in Grand Style

In 2011 when I attended UNDECA, the Adventist University of Central America in Costa Rica, to pursue a short Spanish intensive, I witnessed a baptismal service that impacted me. As I recall, it was at the end of a Week of Prayer, conducted by two pastors in the University chapel, one speaking in the morning and the other in the evening. As a church pastor and administrator, acquainted with baptismal services, I observed with keen interest, and to my liking I note the following points that caught my attention:

Baptism Was not ad Hoc

It was clear to the worshipers, at least to me, early in the service that a baptismal service was to take place. At the point of baptism, it did not seem an intrusion but very much a part of the divine service. It was also encouraging to see the support for the three candidates as they walked toward the front of the chapel. It appeared to me that these dear ones were fully aware of the service and were ready for the occasion. Equally impressive and touching was the taking of the vows.

The two pastors, who conducted the Week of Prayer services, presented the vows. Sitting and watching, I got a chance to objectively observe what I would have done over the years, and to objectively consider similarities and possible dissimilarities. Listening to the vows allowed me to place myself in the position of a candidate and not the usual role of pastor. This is good, as one is presented with the opportunity to listen and internalize. Do we really think about what it means to live for Christ and to help others be ready for His return? Internalizing the vows forces us to consider what we are doing.  For those of us as elders and pastors, it may be a good thing to take out the baptismal certificate and look over what we pledged.  Hopefully, reviewing the pledge will lead to a renewal of that initial commitment.

In the Pool

In the baptistery, which could be seen by all worshipers as the pool was elevated with a transparent glass allowing the audience to see the baptism. And guess what was in the pool? - -rose petals, at least that is what they appeared to me, floated on top of the water. But also impressive was the manner in which the pastors were dressed. Yes, adorned neatly in white robes and buttoned shirts with neckties, two pastors conducted the baptismal service. What a sight!  They were smartly dressed for this service. Here is an example for us as pastors and elders. We should ensure that we are always well dressed for the occasion. Observers should be able to tell the difference between the pastor and the candidate.

The Lord's Supper

Now if that was not enough, a communion service followed. A short sermon followed the baptism, and the audience was separated for foot washing. That was extra special for the new believers who participated in the foot washing. I was happy to be a part of a group that washed the feet of one of the newly baptized.

So what is the point? It is simple! Let us ensure that we make each baptismal service special and not something to get done or get out of the way. It should be a blessing to the candidate/s, their family, and the wider church body. It should be a service that one never forgets. Above all, it should signal a marriage to Christ. Therefore, let us make it such, Christo-centric and Christo-friendly.


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 


February 2, 2018


The Value of Personal Visitation

Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy Basis for Visitation

The word “visit” is recorded approximately 36 times in the King James Version and about 26 in the New King James Version of the Bible. This amount of times underscores to me the importance of visitation. In fact, Christ states in Matthew 25:43, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” Additionally, the Lord’s brother, James, explains in James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Given the aforementioned, one can appreciate the example of the Apostle Paul, in Acts 15:36, when he said to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. Furthermore, in the book Evangelism, Ellen White stressed, “Not only is the truth to be presented in public assemblies; house-to-house work is to be done” (Evang., P. 431). Therefore, in keeping with the biblical and Spirit of Prophecy mandate to visit, the Ministerial Department of the Inter American Division encourages pastors and elders to visit members consistently and regularly.

Visitation Is a Must!!

Undeniably and unarguably, pastors and elders cannot be effective in ministry without personal contact. Neither can churches be vibrant and mission driven without inward and outreach visitation. In considering Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, it can be said that it had a positive impact on them and others in Bethany. Even throughout the following years down to the current period has this positive impact continued. Personally, I have been blessed through the ministry of visitation and seek to carve out time for visits in the home and hospital with my wife, reaching out to members and non-members. It reminds me of my calling as a pastor.

Reaction to Visitation

Many members feel a sense of belonging and appreciation to be visited. It conveys the message that they are cared for and thought of. And that is what we want, among other blessings, for members to feel valued and appreciated. Additionally, we would do well as pastors to train members to visit one another as well. It does something for one engaged in ministry and service. This will lighten the pastor’s load and spur the church membership to be active and involved. Members are valuable and should be made to feel that way. Without them there is no church. But more, we get to fulfill and address some of their needs whether for encouragement, understanding of doctrines and clarification of issues. It helps us to be sensitive and considerate of their needs. After all, Jesus was master at this and still is through us today. Therefore, let’s prove faithful in doing His biddings. Our local church, mission, conference, union and division will be stronger.


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 



January 26, 2018


Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry
A Focus on the Family reports “a whopping 1,500 pastors will leave their churches . . . due to moral failure, burnout or contention within the congregation” (Pastors and Wives at the Breaking Point - Adventist Review online). Essentially, the above reference underscores problems and challenges within pastoral ministry. Given this reality, how does one handle the challenges and woes brought on by parishioners and colleagues? In this regard, I share the following points: 

Remind Yourself of God’s Call

To remind oneself of God’s calling is to reassure oneself of his/her purpose and reason for being in ministry.  It is like asking the questions, “Who am I?” “What am I doing in ministry?” “Why should I continue?” It is human to be affected and experience hurt and even failures, but it is crucial to know why one is in ministry and why one should continue. The Apostle Paul referred to his calling to the Gospel Ministry about three times in the book of Acts, chapters 9, 22 and 26. Additionally, this allows for refocusing and a deeper sense of commitment. It also allows for a sense of fulfilment and meaning as one engages in ministry to the church. 

Expect Criticisms

Admittedly, no one enjoys being criticized, even at times if the criticisms are constructive. We would rather receive praises, accolades and even flattery.  However, that would not be right, especially flattery, as it fails to confront honesty. Hearing week after week, “That was a great sermon” may lead one to expect this always; and when it does not come, it may be disappointing.  Personally, I enjoy when members remark, “I have been touched,” or “I never thought that was in the text,” etc.  I feel good as the person is likely to look forward searching the Bible him/herself.

By your anticipating criticism, it tends to cushion the blow. Also, if a pastor can accept the criticisms objectively, he or she may discover some good advice for free. And except for the discomfort of the criticism, he/she will be better off for it (depending on one’s personality, for some of us handle criticism well and some not so well). 

Establish a Prayer Ministry

It is no secret that one of the most effective weapons that a pastor has is that of prayer.  Prayer enables one to elevate his or her thoughts on a power bigger and higher than self, as opposed to focusing on problems, issues and the mundane.  Develop the practice of praying for difficult persons by name. It is hard to pray for one and wish a person evil. More so, it is in praying that one depends on God to grant wisdom, solution and courage if required to confront albeit tactfully or in a Christ-like manner.

Plan Your Days

To leave your day open is to leave time to pity self and situation.  On the other hand, strategizing to have an effective ministry allows for freshness, innovation and a sense of structure. Ensuring that I make time for personal devotion, exercise, family, sermon preparation, visitation, and personal development is important. There is some truth to the expression, “the devil finds work for idle hands.”

Finally, observe that when one does his/her best, he/she must accept that and not allow others to place guilt trips on him/her. Do your best each day, and leave everything to God.


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 



January 19, 2018


Revisiting the Call

 In 2 Timothy 1, the Apostle Paul counseled young Timothy to remember his calling and ordination to the gospel ministry. It came at a time when Timothy was being affected by the arrest of his mentor, Paul, who could perish anytime as noted in chapter 4:6: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.”  The likelihood of a possible death may have led Paul to confront Timothy to be bold and not timid, for he said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Tim. 1:7, NKJV).  Consequently, Paul admonished Timothy, “That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Tim. 1:14, NKJV). Additionally, he advised him “to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).

When Last Did You Reconsider Your Call to Ministry?

As a pastor, departmental director or officer and by implication, local church elder, it could have been 50, 30, 10 or 5 years ago since you were ordained. But with time and the daily demands of the church or office as in my case, it is possible to get caught up in the maize of doing things, meeting deadlines and preparing for some board or committee, not to mention travels; and rightly so, for these need to be attended to. Notwithstanding the need to address these, time must be found to revisit the uniqueness of God’s initial communication or impression upon us to enlist in His work. That confronts me every now and then especially when I engage in some outreach. To explain, it is never easy to break away from the routine of the office as an administrator and engage primarily in evangelism. However, there is such a joy that I experience when I do this.

Why Get Involved?

Apart from the need to get in the trenches of crusades and revival pulling us away from the office, the upcoming LTM Celebration from March 23 to April 7 in Haiti accords some of us throughout the Division territory to get involved. In fact, it is personal for me and the Atlantic Caribbean Union as LTM will be hosted in the four conferences that make up the union. Already, our LTM union coordinator, Pastor Peter Kerr, is working assiduously in targeting key personnel, providing ongoing training and attention ensuring that ATCU will be ready for possibly 50 pastors, who will conduct short reaping campaigns in all four fields of the union. With a soul goal of 10,000 members for the period 2016 to 2020 and somewhat now behind our target, we are determined to have a great time of harvest across our union. As such, the support of each member in accordance with Total Member Involvement is being pursued by each local field. Furthermore, the focus of Lord Transform Me allows for each member to visit his or her call to some form of ministry in the context of the priesthood of all believers. What a privilege! What an honor to work for God and to be reminder of the initial call to ministry!


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 

 



January 12, 2018


Pastoring Made Easy

The above caption may prove to be misleading, especially when one considers the demands of pastoring today. Nevertheless, pastoring can be fun? I declare yes, it can be exciting and fulfilling. Here are a few basic but far reaching steps.

Staying in Touch with the Source

Unlike other professions, pastoring is a calling. However, that is not to say that one may not sense a spiritual pull or liking to a given profession. My point is to underscore the need for a deep spiritual conviction before getting into pastoral ministry. Otherwise, one is likely to be unhappy or non-committal in the midst of opposition and pressure. Ellen White notes that “The greatest work, the noblest effort, in which men can engage is to point sinners to the Lamb of God (Gospel Workers, p.18). And the Bible confirms, “No man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb. 5:4).

Given this fact, it is absolutely necessary that one who ministers to others engages in meaningful time with God daily- if he or she is to be effective in reaching others. That involves daily devotion and reading to feed one’s soul, praying consistently.

Love People and Love to Serve

It is not easy to love in every instance, but to be a pastor is to model Christ. He demonstrated an unparalleled caring disposition for people of all ages. Recall in Mark 10 that children were brought to Jesus, but His disciples thought that Jesus was too busy to concern Himself with such little ones. But how mistaken were they, for He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14, NKJV).

Not everyone possesses an outgoing nature, nonetheless one can still foster a caring attitude for parishioners. Even when he or she is met with opposition and/or coldness, a pastor can determine that he/she will reach out and minister. That involves picking up the phone and calling to inquire how the member is doing. It involves sending e-mails and yes, answering emails, returning calls in a timely fashion. Additionally, it involves visiting members and their relatives at home and in the hospital. Members love it when they know that their pastor cares. You have heard that “people are not interested in how much you know until they know how much you care.”

To visit requires a bit of discipline. Schedule regular visits on given days, and eventually it will become a pattern.

Teach and Preach the Bible

Teaching and preaching demand study, and study demands discipline. Fortunately, there are numerous resources to aid a pastor in sermon preparation.  However, he or she must pull away and read and pray, and read and pray until God gives understanding. Now that takes time, and hence the need to set aside study time. He or she may not be dynamic or the best orator, but when people sense an anointing upon the pastor’s life, they will trust him/her and call upon him/her for prayer and counsel. Stay with God long enough and He will give you something to say. So you can be a great pastor by adhering to these simple steps.


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary 



January 5, 2018


Preventing Drop Outs

So often pastors and church administrators are questioned and criticized about the retention of new believers. There are those who feel that the same energy and enthusiasm that go into bringing persons to baptism need to follow post baptism. Some observe that there would seem to be a cut off period. In some instances, the observation and criticism are true. As pastors, leaders and elders we can do more and need to do more even with the training of members to assume their role in helping to nurture and anchor new converts. Therefore, in this article, I will seek to make some observations that may prove beneficial in this regard.

Looking at New Believers

As the caption denotes, new believers are new believers just like new babes needing love, food, changing and attention again and again and again. Noted Evangelist Mark Finley states, “Baptism is not a panacea to solve all spiritual problems.” In fact, from my personal experience and observation, the act of baptism may result in problems and difficulties for new converts.  From unwarranted criticism to isolation of family; to transitioning to a new church and making new friends, pose challenges and difficulties, to say the least. Then, adjusting and living up to the high standards of the new faith are not easy! Compounding the situation is the lack of acceptance or tolerance of “old members” – Old, not so much as in age, but as persons who have been in the church for some time. With a slip here and there, or a failure to maintain a certain “walk” may draw uncalled-for remarks such as “I told you he was not ready,” or “They are not serious.”
 
Time and Attention Are Needed

It takes time to assimilate and adjust to new ways, practices and make new friends. Have you ever visited a new church, or attended a new school or university? That calls for serious adjustment for some of us. Becoming a member of the Adventist church can be radical. For example, up to three weeks ago, you went out on Friday evenings and did house chores on Saturdays. Now three weeks later, you are attending church, and with the crusade having ended, there is no Friday night meeting, and you are at home with a non-Adventist spouse and possibly children. The television channel is turned on to basketball or some weekly sitcom that you watched. If only the world could come to a stop and all observe the Sabbath, but that does not happen. And if you are without family and friends to assist, it gets really unsettling. Of course, your appetite has not necessarily changed. It may be changing, so if the conch or pork is being cooked, or your spouse desires that you continue preparing his favorite dish of “pig feet,” you have real issues. How does one transition? These are not imaginary questions; they are real.

What Can the Church Do?

Ellen White makes the point: “Those who have newly come to the faith should be patiently and tenderly dealt with, and it is the duty of the older members of the church to devise ways and means to provide help and sympathy and instruction for those who have conscientiously withdrawn from other churches for the truth’s sake, and thus cut themselves off from pastoral labor to which they have been accustomed” (Evangelism, p. 351). 

As pastors and elders, we must teach our members to share the load and responsibility of caring for one another. There by not every eye or person will be focused on the pastor to do evangelism and conserve new believers following crusades.  Also, we need to teach them how to be practical and patient; so with certain dress styles worn by some recently baptized ones, the older members need not hit the roof and say the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, place a loving arm around the young brother or sister in the faith and offer to assist. Take the person home regularly, or if this is not possible, ensure there is a meal at church in order to assimilate and establish the new member. Also, invite him or her over to your house on Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath, or if situation allows, go to their house for the same. Call regularly and visit. Just as it takes time to nurture an infant, it takes time to nurture babes in Christ. We can do better, and we need to. 


Ministerial Weekly is a weekly article for pastors and elders produced by the Ministerial Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Inter-American Division / Author: Pastor Leonard Johnson, IAD Associate Ministerial Secretary