But I know the core reason for this gathering in my estimation. Let me illustrate through the lives of two people in Atlanta. One is retiring and the other was elected today (June 27). Both impacted me at significant points on my life's journey.
"Mark" had the daunting assignment of taking Seminary students from the theological seminary at Andrews University and molding them into an evangelistic force in the city of Chicago. The Lake Union Soul Winning Institute was the practical training for us eager young ministers-to-be on the cusp of embarking into full-time employment in a church. Day upon day, Mark (as he was called with friendship and respect by all his students) taught classes on giving Bible studies, leading people to decisions for Christ and the Bible, conducting door-to-door religious surveys, and how to answer difficult Scriptural passages. Then at night he modeled for the school "how to do the work." Mark was a friend to all. Warm, kind, patient with our questions, and a master at discipling. (It was always amazing to be able to conduct evangelistic visits with him.) We graduated and took our notes to our churches. I still have these in my files at the office.
"Mark" went on to become "Pastor Mark Finley" of It Is Written, then "International Evangelist Mark Finley", and ultimately "General Vice President of the General Conference Elder Mark Finley." But he always remains a leader and role model who loves pastors desiring to win people for Jesus. His influence in my life was profound at the threshold of my ministry. As he retires this Session I've been watching him around the delegate floor moving with energy. I blink and then he's back again to 30 years ago standing on the lighted stage of the Yugoslav Hall in South Chicago giving the appeal for the Sabbath--still showing us how its done. Mark made a difference in my life!
When "Ben" arrived at the Downers Grove, IL Church in 1973 he was fresh from the theological seminary and assigned as the assistant to Pastor Gunnar Sjoren. Ben worked with the youth, preached, and towards the end of his short internship at the church conducted an evangelistic series in the nearby community of Bolingbrook. A public high school freshman who had just moved with his family from Orange, CA responded to an appeal at church to help with the meetings. On Wednesday nights this young man helped the young pastor set up the room and then sat in rapt attention as Pastor Ben Schoun took the class through his own unique materials on the book of Revelation. The young pastor was encouraging to the high school student. He modeled what a pastor could be to a young person. At the close of the meetings, I reviewed the lessons and began to imagine what it would be like to help people know about God and the Bible like Pastor Ben. He modeled a professional ministry to me that persists to this day.
Pastor Ben Schoun went on to serve a district that I would also begin my ministry in 10 years later. The town of Bolingbrook where we had those Revelation classes would 20 years later become my district. Often I would pass the elementary school where I sat and listened to the truth of Revelation. Through the years "Ben" served at the Seminary, was elected Atlantic Union President, and President of Adventist World Radio (how fun to read my youth pastor talk about sharing God's love through radio around the world by shortwave). My heart was thrilled when today (June 27) my youth pastor was elected one of the General Vice Presidents of the General Conference. I was proud and thankful that a man who loves God and models genuine Christianity was today one of our world leaders.
My friend, the cynical among us think that the General Conference Session is about politics and unrelated to the "real mission" of the church. Well, I certainly don't know everything and everyone. But I know "Mark" and "Ben." General Conference is about this core thing--people who love God and who He uses for the Great Good of His Kingdom.
This is Why General Conference. This is why I'm thankful to be a Seventh-day Adventist.