“You are called by God and you’re a gift given by God to our church, to continue helping the church grow and mature,” said Elie Henry, Inter-American Division president, as he recently commended thousands of local church elders for their dedication and committed service in shepherding the membership throughout the Inter-American Division (IAD) year after year.
Pastor Henry was addressing the more than 43,000 church elders taking part during a short certification online session, meant to highlight the continuing education to equip, strengthen, and train them to be effective leaders in their local churches and offset the limited number of ministers available in the IAD. There are over 23,000 churches and congregations throughout the IAD. Pastors could have five, ten, or as many as twenty-four congregations to oversee.
Importance of Church Elders
Local church leaders are the ones who consistently “build the body of Christ” every week during the weekly services, visiting members, teaching the Word of God, and ensuring all members are discipled and growing in Jesus, said Pastor Henry, adding that it’s been like that for nearly 100 years since the Inter-American Division was established in 1922.
More than 35,000 local church elders completed the certification program last year, reported Pastor Josney Rodríguez, ministerial secretary for the church in Inter-America and main organizer of the initiative. The online program, held on February 19, 2022, represented the closing of the annual certification program for church elders throughout the IAD since 2017 and the start of the new certification for 2022, he said.
“During the past five years, we have been forming and working with thousands of church elders to closely disciple them, tend to their spiritual needs, and motivate them and their families in sharing the love of Jesus in their communities,” said Rodríguez, adding that it’s all about preparing a leadership that can transform.
Caring for the Members
“The church elder is not someone that ensures that the Sabbath program flows smoothly every week, but one that cares [for] the membership, analyzes their needs, and goes after each member to ensure that they pursue a close relationship with God,” said Rodríguez. More than 5,000 churches have registered its members and been closely following up with each member and the member’s family throughout the territory so far, reported Rodríguez, adding that leaders hope to ensure more than 15,000 congregations will be closely catered to by 2023 throughout the IAD.
The certification program has been about building a discipleship lifestyle—a culture within the church to bring members together in total involvement, along with the leadership of each district pastor overseeing the spiritual growth of the church and its evangelistic efforts.
Recognizing the Role of the Church Elder
So far, it’s been a thorough success to see the commitment of the church elders, pastors, and conference, mission, and union administrators working together each year in understanding and recognizing the vital role of the church elder in each congregation, according to Rodríguez.
Jerry Page, Adventist World Church ministerial secretary, challenged church elders to continue to serve like never before. “I want to challenge you to be filled with the Holy Spirit to be the kind of elder who can really make a difference for eternity in the family, in the church, so we can see the revival in our churches,” said Page.
He indicated 80 percent of Adventist churches around the world are led largely by church elders each Sabbath. “We don’t have enough pastors for every church. What a responsibility and influence you have on these churches.”
Studying and Knowing Jesus
The certification program is important, said Page, “but it’s nothing if we don’t know Jesus and deepen our study and get to know Him. Take time with God and ask how you can deal with circumstances in the church and broken relationships in the family or in the church, so that the church can be united in the image of God.”
Page encouraged elders to pray to have the mind of God. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit to do God’s work.”
Union administrators spoke briefly during the online event to report on church elders being certified in their territory, outstanding elders who have reached the most baptisms in 2021, and exemplary churches that are closely nurturing and discipling their members across Inter-America.
The event also marked the start of the next level of certification this year, with training under the IAD leadership as well as union leadership, church leaders explained. This year, the spouses of the elders join in the certification program—an added part that seeks to strengthen the church elders’ families in their dedicated service every week.
“We’re looking to continue to provide elders and their spouses with new skills so they can be prepared and equipped to continue teaching, ministering, preaching, and administrating alongside pastors as they adapt to the challenges the church faces today,” Rodríguez said.