AT THE GC SESSION: WHY?
Dr. Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 1
Because I posted on Facebook some of my pictures at this year’s GC session, I’ve been receiving emails and phone calls from friends around the world, requesting that I offer them my take on this 60th Session of the General Conference in San Antonio, Texas (July 2-11, 2015).
In the coming days, I will be sharing my personal observations. In this first post, allow me to repeat what I shared with friends five years ago, giving reasons why every bonafide Adventist should attend a GC session—if they have the means and time to do so. I will also share why I am here in San Antonio. In my subsequent posts I will begin offering some updates on the discussions currently taking place.
Why Attend A GC Session?
GC Sessions are presently conducted every five years. The planning and execution of these events literally cost millions of dollars. I know some people think that these Sessions are a waste of time and resources. But I disagree.
Although we need to explore better ways to do certain things, I really feel that it is healthy for the church to have these 5-year events. To question holding GC Sessions is like questioning the legitimacy of holding business meetings at a local church level. Among other things, General Conference Sessions are occasions for the worldwide church to take stock of how it is doing, elect new leaders, and set an agenda for the future.
It is a privilege to attend GC Sessions, either as a delegate or as an observer. As I used to tell students on public university campuses, converging at GC Sessions is like Muslims attending their Mecca. Though we don't have any holy ground, GC Sessions can be spiritual high points for the SDA church. You get to meet old friends and make new ones. You get to hear the exciting reports of church growth in different parts of the world. You learn from the successes and failures of others. And you get to see different expressions of faith in different parts of the world.
The fact is, when you live in your own little Adventist ghetto in whatever region of the church you live in, you think Adventism is only circumscribed to your narrow area. This can breed myopic or inward-looking perspective on things--one cause for the racial or cultural arrogance that is often expressed by people who mistakenly believe their regions of the world should be the center of the Adventist universe. However, at GC Sessions you get to see Adventism in all of its diversity. And you get humbled by your parochial view of things.
Another reason why GC Sessions are important is that it is a time to gauge the temperature of the church—the theological and spiritual temperature of the church. For example, when I attend GC Sessions, whenever opportunity allows,
- I visit the various exhibition booths and get to see what items are being displayed. Some of these have theological implications.
- I observe and participate in the worship services and get a feel of the direction the church is headed on such issues as worship, worship styles, mission strategies, and things like that.
- I listen intently to the sermons and workshops, read carefully the documents and brochures passed out, not only for edification and inspiration, but also to ascertain the nature and extent of the kinds of doctrines being peddled around.
- Through the election process and the mission reports I get to see God's leading of His church.
- Finally, by evaluating the reasons given for its actions, I get a sense of how the church arrives at its theological decisions: Is it through opinion polls, referenda, political action, subjective feelings, pragmatism, or through a sound reflection on inspired writings?
What I mean is this: GC Sessions, in my opinion, constitute one of the highest experiences for the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide. And it is worth the effort, time, and money. Yes, sitting through the GC business Sessions is at times boring and frustrating. But it is worth all the investment by the Church and its members.
Thus, since 1985 (when I first attended a GC session), I have, by divine appointment, attended all the GC sessions to date—New Orleans(1985), Indianapolis (1990), Utrecht (1995), Toronto (2000), St. Louis (2005), Atlanta (2010), and San Antonio (2015)—serving as an official delegate in five of the seven sessions (Atlanta and San Antonio being the exception).
As a delegate on these occasions, I was privileged to participate in the actual decision making processes. That is, I made my voice heard in the lively discussions and debates, and got to vote on issues. But taking that privilege seriously also meant that I was essentially stuck on the “delegates’ floor,” with very little time to do anything else other than the business of the church. However, as an observer (2010 and 2015), my non-delegate status allows me greater freedom to move around, observe some things more closely, and interact with key decision-makers, connect with old and new friends, and autograph some of my books.
My Interests At GC Sessions
Although several issues are discussed at GC Sessions—church manual, constitution and bye-laws, auditors’ report, etc.—the issues that tend to interest me the most are theological issues. I'm sure you will appreciate it because my training is in systematic theology—a fancy phrase for the study of doctrines. My specialty is in biblical authority and interpretation (hermeneutics), and the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology).
My interest in theological issues also has to do with my Ghanaian educational background and my previous training in engineering. This background encourages serious thinking and reflection on issues, instead of the annoyingly, shallow “sound-bite” pop-theology that is pervasive in our “feelings-based,” poll-driven society. So at GC Sessions, I try to comb through the agenda materials that are passed out to delegates (or are freely available on the website), with a keen interest on the theological issues recommended in Church Manual revisions. Then when the occasion lends itself I try to speak to the issues clearly, pointedly, and sometimes vigorously. I do so in both my official and personal capacities—as either a delegate or an active observer.
Although I have the luxury of not being a delegate in San Antonio, and thus I’m able to move freely around, because of the theological issues at stake in some of the discussions I have been mostly in the Alamodome—the Hall where the business sessions are taking place. I have been unable to observe trends and worship practices in the Halls for Youth and Prayer Ministries—two major areas that merit attention because of the inroads within our ranks of emergent philosophy and contemplative spirituality. Had I had the time, I would have visited these areas to gauge whether or not these practices are being purveyed to well-meaning members—as are often done in the name of spirituality and church growth.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I also frequent the Exhibition Booth of Remnant Publications, which is located in Hall B, Aisle 700, near Pillar #B8. (Remnant Publications is well-known for producing good quality Spirit of Prophecy Books, the bestselling Remnant Study Bible with EGW Comments, and many other works) Though I currently direct two Centers of Leadership Development under EAGLESonline (www.EAGLESonline.org), I also volunteer as a consultant on Bible Projects for Remnant Publications.
Thus the Remnant Publications booth is a natural meeting point for those who want to meet me or obtain copies some of my most recent books. (I have published six books in the past four years, but I only have two of the bestselling works available in the booth. They are the hardcover versions of the books: Six More Chances: Success in the Midst of Failure and Good Night: Suffering Sickness, Death, & Hope; www.store.EAGLESonline.org).
Finally, those who stop by the Remnant Publication booth can receive complimentary copies of my latest book COURAGE: Taking A Stand on Women’s Ordination. (A free download of the book is available at: http://drpipim.org/documents/courage.pdf).
But more than anything else, I have the distinct privilege of lavishly spreading around millions and millions of germs, which is another way of expressing the many handshakes that are taking place at the GC Session.
Seriously, though, my wife and I have been very humbled by the outpouring of love expressed to us by hundreds of people around the world. Many of them had prayed for us during the past four years and were so glad to see their prayers answered. Others, who knew how the Enemy did everything in his power to prevent us from attending this GC session, were so thrilled to see us at in San Antonio. Words cannot adequately my deep appreciation for all the outpouring of love we have already experienced at the 2015 GC session.
What a joy it will be when, one of these days, our Lord Himself welcomes all His prodigal sons and daughters Home. Plan to be at that Great Campmeeting!
SAFE AND SOUND
In Christ’s parable, the prodigal son returned home and his father gladly “received him safe and sound” (Luke 15:27). God knows how to lift us up out of our predicaments. He knows how to fix our broken worlds. He brings beauty out of ugly situations. New growth out of dead ashes. Sweet-smelling life out of foul-smelling rottenness. Prodigals, are you discouraged by the crushing weight of failure and the un-redemptive attitudes or actions of your elder brothers and sisters? Don't give up! Don’t stay down! Keep getting up! If there’s anyone that can help you handle your failure well, God can. He’s done it for me. He can do the same for you as well. Restoration? You also will return, “safe and sound”!—Samuel Koranteng-Pipim
THE FIRST WEEK (July 2-4): Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 2:
(For a free download of my latest book COURAGE: Taking A Stand on Women’s Ordination, click on: http://drpipim.org/documents/courage.pdf).