Profile: The McClure Years
by Monte Sahlin
Elder Alfred C. McClure served as president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America during the decade of the 1990s. He was first elected at the 1990 General Conference session in Indianapolis, re-elected at the 1995 GC session in Utrecht, Holland, and announced some months in advance, that he would retire at the time of the 2000 GC session in Toronto.
McClure has presided over a period during which the North American Division (NAD) became fully organized as a division of the world church. Prior to 1980, the NAD really did not exist, although references were made to it in denominational publications. The affairs of the church in North America were directly administered by the GC.
Throughout the 1980s, Elder Charles Bradford, first elected as the GC vice-president for North America in 1978, and then assuming the title division president in 1985, set the stage for the organization ofa real NAD structure. In 1979, he initiated a strategic planning group for the NAD. At the 1980 GC session, an associate director in each GC department was named as the representative for North America. At the 1985 GC session, separate departments were established for the NAD.
At the 1990 GC session, McClure became the first person to start his tenure with the title NAD president. Amendments to the GC bylaws also established the NAD on the same policy as other world divisions.
The emergence of the NAD as a self-governing section of the GC has created “ripple effect” changes within the denomination’s bureaucracy. These have, at times, caused confusion and resistance, and McClure spent long hours patiently working through these issues.
But the real question that faced the McClure administration in 1990 was what to do with the NAD’s new ability to come into its own. Wanting to make the church more mission-driven, McClure focused his team on evangelism and church growth.
He convened a “think tank” group that developed the concept of using satellite links to bring major evangelistic campaigns live to thousands of sites simultaneously. McClure led in the NET initiatives that have made public evangelism more accessible and less costly for local churches. The Adventist Communication Network (ACN) was created and has brought satellite dishes to more than half of the local churches in North America, connecting them to a wealth of training seminars, Sabbath sermons, and special events, as well as evangelistic meetings.
McClure presided over the transfer of the media ministries, such as It Is Written and Voice of Prophecy, from GC to NAD sponsorship. He brought renewed emphasis to church planting, and established a “reclaiming” ministry to reach former and inactive members, both without creating new departments by contracting with resource centers instead. (The NAD Evangelism Institute supports church planting, and the Center for Creative Ministry supports reclaiming ministry.)
The impact of his evangelism strategy can be seen in the fact that baptisms have increased, and the growth rate of the Adventist church in North American is up. In 1999, the number of baptisms in the NAD exceeded 40,000 for the first time in history!
In the last few years of his tenure, McClure launched new initiatives to: (1) reach the 80% of the North American population which lives in the major metropolitan, (2) increase the visibility of the Adventist church through the secular media among the general public, and (3) empower lay ministries. These goals mark out the future of Adventist mission in North America.
A new and more efficient delivery system, bringing information, resource materials, training and consultants to the local church was constructed under McClure’s leadership. The NAD Church Resources Consortium has been established to bring together “all the players” in a coordinated fashion; the departmental ministries, resource centers, and publishing houses working together, instead of costly competition and top-down planning.
The McClure administration also achieved a significant expansion of the humanitarian work of the church.
McClure is widely respected as an even-handed chairman, a careful administrator and sensitive listener. During his time at the helm, most Adventist institutions have prospered, enrolment in Christian education has grown, giving has increased significantly, and a number of major crises have been dealt with; Waco, of course, and a number you will never hear about because of the care with which they were handled.
Monte Sahlin is vice-president for Creative Ministries, Columbia Union Conference.
Photos should be available in the package of photos.