Recently Jonas Arrais, editor of Elder's Digest, sat down with leaders of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division to discover more about the church and the role of local church leadership in that part of the world.
Miguel Luna Ministerial Secretary in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division
Our division territory includes China (the most populated country in the world), Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Mongolia. The church, long established and thoroughly developed i n Korea and Japan, is relatively new in Mongolia the very first converts there were baptized in 1993. In China, we have a limited organizational structure, with most Adventist churches and believers like all other Protestants affiliated through the national Three-Self Movement, which oversees and controls most religious groups in the country. Nearly 2,500 individuals serve as pastors in China, and many of them are women. Korea actively sends pastoral couples as teams to plant new work in other countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia, or China. Likewise, the ministerial training program at Seoul's Sahmyook University provides an abundant group of theologically-trained graduates each year.
Yukio Ebihara MinisteriaI Secretary in the Japanese Union
The Japanese Union Conference focuses just on Japan, home to approximately 120 million people. The primary religion is Buddhism. Our Union has 114 churches and 40 companies. Pastors, including pastoral interns, number 115, along with nearly 200 elders.
Robert Wong Ministerial Secretary in the Chinese Union
Our mission area includes mainland China, as well as the Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan Conferences and other overseas Chinese districts. This territory is home to 1.5 billion people, and the main religions are traditional Buddhism and Taoism. There are 3,170 churches and companies in the Chinese Union Mission. Approximately 230 pastors and Bible workers cover this territory, but we don't have exact numbers because there are thousands of lay pastors in China. The exact number of elders is also hard to pinpoint.
Elbert Kuhn Ministerial Secretary in the Mongolia Mission
Mongolia has 2.6 million people. The population's main religions are Buddhism and Shamanism. Mongolia has 23 churches and companies, with Adventist church membership reaching nearly 1,000 members; these members are served by 10 pastors and 15 elders.
Sung Sun Hong Ministerial Secretary in the Korean Union
Our Union covers just one country, Korea, with a population of 50 million people. The religions, in order of size, are Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Confucianism, plus a few other smaller faith groups. The Korean Union has about 900 churches and companies served by 901 pastors and 2,700 elders.
What support do the elders give to their pastors?
Ebihara: Elders pray for their pastors. They work in partnership with pastors to train church members and plan evangelistic programs.
Hong: Elders are very important for the church, and pastors need their help as partners in mission. Elders should lead church members into mission activity as well.
Kuhn: In Mongolia, local elders are the ones who lead the churches and companies to make them grow.
Wong: Elders are the right and left arms of their pastors in preaching, planning, holding board meetings, and visitation. Without faithful, gifted elders, church work would be almost impossible.
Does your field provide training for local church elders?
Kuhn: We have four training sessions each year for our church elders and pastors. We cover all subjects relating to the church from theological and practical issues to relational and evangelistic themes. We still lack material and resources even though we are translating as much as we can. Next year we will start translating Elder's Digest.
Ebihara: We provide each elder with the Elder's Handbook. Each conference provides regular training seminars for our elders.
Hong: In Korea, each conference provides training programs for the elders and their wives at least twice each year, and the union also sponsors an educational program for newly elected elders which utilize both the Elder's Handbook and Church Manual.
Wong: We have distributed the Elder's Handbook as a helpful resource. A few churches sponsor elders' fellowships. Sometimes there are training classes for newly-elected elders, but most elders are also experienced ministers.
How important is the role of the elder in the local church?
Hong: Elders are very important for the church, and pastors need their help as mission partners. Elders should lead all members to join the church's mission activities.
Ebihara: Without elders, our churches would lack unity and become weak. Pastors could not accomplish their work without elders.
Wong: In our structure, the role of lay people and even the role of the elder is often neglected or not adequately emphasized. When laity leadership is weak, the church is weak as well. In certain churches, the church board and elders find difficulty in their relationship with their pastor, particularly new, young pastors and women pastors. Even though we are not the same as other denominations, we still should mobilize and bring the initiative of elders into full participation. Some need to be re-educated. Pastors themselves should realize the very important role of elders and delegate authority to them to accomplish the work.
Kuhn: Local church elders are people called by God to lead His church. In Mongolia, they are the ones who are making the church grow, and we can easily see how much God is using them in His service.
What types of recognition do the elders receive from their pastors?
Kuhn: Pastors can recognize what elders are doing, both publicly and privately. Pastors must also encourage laity leaders in both their church and personal challenges. Pastors are not only to lead the elders; they must minister to them as well as to the rest of the congregation.
Hong: Without elders, pastors cannot minister to the church. Pastors should recognize their authority and role, especially in front of the church members. It's very motivating for elders to be regularly recognized by their pastors.
What are the challenges the church is facing in your area?
Wong: Secularism and individualism. People are often so busy that they miss the true priority to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. We also need repentance and zealousness. Our church members urgently need to focus on the true spirit of the Adventist movement.
Kuhn: In Mongolia, the challenge is to reach the hearts of nomadic people and a population who existed under Communism for more than 70 years, which only now is beginning to open to the outside world. The Mongolian culture currently faces harsh extremes. On one hand, the population still preserves many Shamanist and Buddhist habits. On the other hand, in a free country, most are now seeking to make money and have better lives, so there's not much interest in religion. We are preaching the gospel in many ways, such as public evangelism: in 2006, we conducted nearly 25 evangelistic series. We also provide community service, personal evangelism, and small groups.
Ebihara: The most serious challenge that churches face is to keep the vision, to keep faithfully following God and His commission, and to develop steadfast love for Jesus and our neighbors in this materialized and secular society. Our churches deal with these pressures by encouraging a deep devotional life and involvement for evangelism. Church pastors and elders are key to accomplishing these objectives.
Hong: Our biggest challenge is that all church members should constantly maintain a spirit to spread the gospel through their personal lives of discipleship. We try to encourage them in this endeavor through education programs for pastors and elders.