Though Christian discipleship may occur in other denominations, discipleship in the Adventist context differs slightly. First, the context of the last days must be taken into consideration. The theological term would be eschatological discipleship, where eschaton refers to the last days. Not that disciples in the last days are better or holier than those before them, but Adventist discipleship must reflect the unique mission and message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As simplistic as it may sound, this may not always be obvious. The distinctive message, entrusted by God to His remnant church and firmly established in the Bible, is the foundation of faith and practice for so-called eschatological disciples.
These followers of Jesus at the end of time must be taught from the Bible how God raised up the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They should be led to understand their special identity as part of a prophetic movement with a rich history and a divine mission and message.
In an age when many are skeptical of organizations and establishments, it is especially important to know the primary mission of the organization you choose to be a part of, as well as how it is structured and to what end. The Adventist Church is much more than a local church or a global organization. In many ways, it pioneered the glocal organization, where the local impacts the global and the global has a reciprocal effect on the local.
The Adventist Church has four levels with four different jurisdictions; it differs from traditional hierarchical structures in a way that reflects this glocality:
- Local church—a body of individual believers that has authority over membership and local mission (often reassesses leadership every one to two years)
- Local conference—a body of local churches within a particular area that has authority over tithe and the pastors (often reassesses leadership every two to three years)
- Union conference—a body of local conferences within a particular area that has authority over regional policies and regional mission (often reassesses leadership every five years)
- General Conference—the complete body of union conferences that has authority over church mission and church governance, regionalized into various divisions for further efficiency (reassesses leadership every five years)
The General Conference meets in business session once every five years, with one of its primary responsibilities being to review the Church Manual. This book is a collection of principles and procedures that the world church has agreed upon for operations. It seeks to actualize the unique responsibility of eschatological disciples in pragmatic form. Unlike biblical principles, it is subject to review and adapts with the times. Interestingly enough, in the section on the church board (2015 edition, p. 129), the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual states:
[The church board’s] chief concern is having an active discipleship plan in place, which includes both the spiritual nurture of the church and the work of planning and fostering evangelism.