I HAVE A DREAM!
by Pr. Juan Prestol-Puesán
The uniqueness and the genius of the administrative structure of the Adventist church is this: I have my hand in your pocket, and you have your hand in mine! The church is structured so that tithe and offerings serve not only in the local field, but are sent on a percentage basis up through the administrative levels of the organization and to the General Conference.
"Treasury and Stewardship Ministries need to team up!"
The church is then able to support mission in places in the world where there is no income or where there is greater need. Without our structure, this would not be the case.
I also see the church as a completely voluntary organization that includes every member. People give because they love the Lord! In fact, the most powerful transaction that happens, one that really explodes like an atomic bomb, is when someone comes to church, simply extends his or her arm, grabs a tithe envelope and fills it with his or her tithe and offerings. This simple action has an impact around the world and the person hasn't even moved from the chair. It's like an enormous wave of energy has been released!
A challenge to church finances has presented itself in the form of the changed economic landscape, since around July, 2015. The financial markets have exhibited unusual volatility. The strengthened US Dollar affects our income at the GC level from most of our overseas divisions, negatively. The impact is evident on the 2015 financial reports, our working capital and liquidity. This also came in a Session year that has extra expenses. That has an impact on what is available for mission. This is the beginning of the 5-year term ending in 2020 and so these factors affect how one plans for the next few years.
"Brazil, for example is the country with the largest population of Adventists in its division, and is third on the list of largest incomes for the GC after the USA and Canada, and the financial impact on the church does not go unnoticed."
In addition to the challenges in the world economy the unfortunate reality of violence and political uncertainty in some countries, affects the flow of funds of those countries. Allow me to explain. If the economy of China goes down, the impact on the GC income is indirect. If, however, things go down in Mexico or Brazil, I will feel it immediately in the GC Treasury, because the income from those economies is larger owing to a large Adventist membership. Brazil, for example is the country with the largest population of Adventists in its division, and is third on the list of largest incomes for the GC after the USA and Canada, and the financial impact on the church does not go unnoticed. Their money does not translate into as many US Dollars anymore. Brazil is in the second year of it’s economic downswing and is expected to pull out of it by 2018.
The strength of the dollar does not always play out negatively, because when we do send it back to the field, it increases in value again in the local currencies, so we are grateful for that.
The last few months, the Brexit vote in the European Union brought additional volatility, although the markets have now shown a certain return to normality. The church is subjected to these realities. It all began in a GC Session year typically higher in expenses.
I, nevertheless, want our members to know that our church depends primarily on the mercy of the Lord and the members’ faithfulness never goes unnoticed!
What I want the members to hear is that, yes, these are the current situations, but the church is resting in the hands of the Lord, and in one fashion or another, the work of the Lord will continue. The work the Lord has entrusted to us will be done. We are 100 percent convinced that all doors will be opened to us by the Lord when they need to be opened (2 Cor. 2:12, 13). We rely on His wisdom to open those doors (1 Cor. 6:9).
We are also extremely grateful for the North American Division's membership. This continent has, historically and in the present, been an enormous and stable giving base which has helped the GC to be able to serve the whole world so effectively for so many years.
We are in the middle of a new stewardship initiative, where the GC is investing in assisting the divisions with a full stewardship director for 3.5 years. Stewardship ministries suffered somewhat in the past when GC departments were combined as the Church Ministries department and the people who would specialize in stewardship have therefore decreased in number. In the 1990s, stewardship became its own department again. Now, I have a dream that this department should focus on it’s core purpose, and that is to encourage Systematic Benevolence again, an approach to that is unique to the Adventist church. We are here to tell people what the divine purpose of our wealth is. Ellen White assures us that in the end times, we should be divesting our personal wealth and investing it in the mission of the church! We need to renew our efforts to talk to our members about tithe and offerings and giving of their property to the Lord. I so wish that we could get closer to our members with regards to this topic, and I think I know one way in which we can do that.
"I have a dream. It's nothing extraordinary. I dream that each pastor will preach one sermon—one, truly convincing sermon about tithe and offerings, once a year."
I have a dream. It's nothing extraordinary. I dream that each pastor will preach one sermon—one, truly convincing sermon about tithe and offerings, once a year. I would be happy with one sermon, per pastor, once a year. One sermon where people will leave the church that day and say, "Wow!" This is my dream. Perhaps it is not too much to ask? Can we find a way somehow to make this happen? Other leaders may preach the sermon, but it is not going to be the same. It has to be the pastor. Our pastors are the ones with the greatest influence on their members.
I also have a dream that stewardship educators in the field will partner with the administration of the organization, with the Treasury, as they minister, so that all areas and questions with regards to stewardship and spending by the organization can be covered. This will serve to improve transparency and build trust in the organization and the way it is serving the mission of the church.
Ellen White tells us that in the end times, there are more urgent needs than there were in the time of Israel. Spiritual sacrifice must be broadened and deepened. People are giving. If we were to consider everything that people are giving to institutions and projects within the church, we’d see that it is a lot of money. When funds are channeled through the organization, the church is able to maintain the operation in places in the world field where there is no promotion.
"I also have a dream that stewardship educators in the field will partner with the administration of the organization"
As the Financial Officer of the General Conference, I can assure our membership that we are not overspending or operating beyond the budget at the world headquarters. We are not exacerbating the problem. We are doing all that we can to be measured and effective in our operations. We want to apply every dollar that we can to the mission of the church, where ever it is in the world. The fact that the NAD is moving out of the GC building into their own building, will add to our overhead cost, but we are preparing for that scenario.
As the Treasurer of this church, when I wake up in the morning, I take my Bible, and often I turn to Psalms 46 and I read and I re-read, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Ps. 46:1, 2).
We will meet the mandate of the Lord. I can’t wait until things in this world reach that tipping point when the Lord will find it appropriate to close this chapter of earth’s history, and come to rescue His own. Even so, come Lord Jesus!