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There are broad patterns of growth: plateau, decline, and ultimately renewal or death among Christian denominations and networks. One of the factors that catalyze movement dynamics early on—as well as their potential renewal—is the degree to which a church’s founding leaders embody and transfer the apostolic function for future generations (cf. Saarinen 1994; Morgan 2017). This article traces the initial function and decline of apostolicity among Seventh-day Adventist ministers as a case study with implications for contemporary Adventism and beyond.

After providing an analysis of leadership in the New Testament—with particular emphasis on apostles, apostolicity, and their relationship with elders—an examination of early Adventism’s attempt to implement this approach will be explored. Capacity-building practices that enabled itinerancy among ministers including the function of elders, member-ministry, and simple reproducible structures are also surveyed. The decline of apostolicity and transition into the modern notion of a “pastor” will be chronicled from early Adventist pioneer comments, as well as the development of key historical documents including official Church Manuals and handbooks. Finally, a synthesis of the shifting function of apostolicity in Adventist ministry will be provided with recommendations for contemporary Adventism and other Christian churches.




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