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History, Mission and Organization
History of Adventist Health Ministries

Joseph Bates, as early as 1827 began working for the cause of temperance. But the first united move to start a temperance program came in 1863 with the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

In the April, 1877 issue of the Health Reformer, Ellen White penned the words, "True temperance teaches us to abstain entirely from that which is injurious, and to use judiciously only healthful and nutritious articles of food."

Shortly after that the church organized the American Health and Temperance Association, which later became the International Health and Temperance Association. In 1893 the SDA Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association was organized for over-all guidance of the denomination's medical work, including temperance, with J. H. Kellogg, M.D., as president.

Later, an attempt of the General Conference to bring this more or less independent body into closer denominational control resulted in the withdrawal of the association from its denominational connection. In 1905 the Medical Missionary Department (or council) of the General Conference was organized. The temperance work, however, continued to be conducted primarily by the American Temperance Society, and later by a separate Temperance Department.

The Medical Missionary Department name was changed to the Medical Department at the General Conference and, in the late sixties, the name was changed to Health Department. In 1980, when departments were being down-sized, it was voted to combine the departments of Health and Temperance. Then in 1996 the North American Division recommended that the name Health and Temperance Department be changed to Adventist Health Ministries Department.

The Organizational Structure of the SDA Church

NAD stands for the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The United States, Canada, and Bermuda comprise the NAD territory. The following is the basic structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: A group of churches comprises a conference. The North American Division has 4,911 churches, 461 companies and 58 conferences. A group of conferences form a union. There are nine unions in the North American Division.

The local church health ministries leader is elected by the church nominating committee as is any other church officer. The health ministries leader is responsible to the church board (and is probably a member of that board). The health ministries leader works with the church pastor, the health ministries committee-if there is one, and the director of Health Ministries at the conference.

The conference Health Ministry director is responsible to the conference president, and works with the directors of Health Ministries at the union and division levels.

Areas of Concern and Responsibility

The Department of Health Ministries currently provides the following functions for the church:
  1. Serves as a resource for information and counsel on health and temperance affairs.
  2. Advises the church and its departments and agencies, in the development and administration of health and/or temperance policies and programs.
  3. Promotes a healthful lifestyle among church members through literature, programs, and Sabbath services.
  4. Provides through publications, services, and programs, an ongoing witness to the world concerning the physical, mental, and soul-destroying effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other harmful substances.
  5. Sponsors and/or organizes societies to effectively involve church and non-church organizations in united endeavors to promote the non-use of tobacco, alcohol, and other harmful substances.
  6. Encourages involvement in the evangelistic thrust of the church by developing and using health and temperance programs and media that will gain the trust and confidence of people.
  7. Provides support of Seventh-day Adventist healthcare institutions, clinics, and health/temperance programs. This is done through memberships on boards, inspections, assistance in recruiting personnel, cooperation with community programs, and support for spiritual ministries including the work of chaplains.
  8. Maintains liaison with Seventh-day Adventist health professional organizations such as dentists, dietitians, nurses, optometrists, and physicians.
  9. Promotes and/or sponsors health and temperance seminars and workshops.
  10. Develops and/or catalogs resource material for health and temperance education and programs through the Church Resources Consortium.

Mission for Adventist Health Ministries

Adventist health ministries is dedicated to promoting an integrated wellness lifestyle through modeling and through needs-based, scientifically supported, gospel-oriented materials. The aim is to raise health awareness and standards in all the communities of North America. The Division Health Ministries Director promotes the following goals:

Goal 1: To create geographic networks of Adventist churches for the purpose of:
  • Certifying Lifestyle Consultants, Specialists, and Trainers (See Chapter 22.)
  • Sharing concepts for successful local ministries
  • Scheduling major wellness events
Goal 2: To publish the health ministries newsletter HealthWorks once every two months..

Goal 3: To schedule national Breathe Free, Regeneration, and other specialty training programs.

Goal 4: To inform Adventist churches of the growing incidence of AIDS within the church, and to educate members in prevention and loving responses to people affected by the virus.

Goal 5: To encourage the Adventist community, especially elementary, academy and college students, to adopt and maintain a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.

Goal 6: To conduct vegetarian congresses and to train a core of vegetarian instructors.

Goal 7: To use satellite links-Adventist Communication Network (ACN)-to train workers and to reach out to the public through such programs as HeartBeat.

Job Description for Conference

Directors of Health Ministries

Most conferences have health ministries directors who carry various responsibilities depending on their organizational structure. Each conference has its own job description for the health ministries director. The following is a generic job description:

Purpose: To uphold the healthful lifestyle given by God and to develop and promote its wise presentation as a means of introducing others to the fullness of the gospel message which encompasses the physical, mental, social, and spiritual nature of humankind.

Accountability: The conference health ministries director is accountable to the conference president.

  1. Possess and demonstrate a deep interest in personal and public health, health education and health evangelism.
  2. Be competent in planning, equipping, implementing and evaluating health programs, utilizing youth, laity, and health professionals.
  3. Be educated in the area of health and preferably to hold a health professional degree (e.g. M.P.H., M.D., R.N., D.D.S., Dr.P.H., etc.)
  4. Engage in continuing education in health annually and be active in one or more appropriate professional organizations.

  1. Maintain communication with local church health ministries leaders to motivate and encourage, as well as make sure they are aware of the resources available.
  2. Promote a healthful lifestyle among church members through literature, programs, seminars, workshops, and Sabbath services.
  3. Train youth, laity, pastors, and health professionals to conduct health education/evangelism programs.
  4. Promote publications, services, and programs that provide an ongoing witness to the world concerning the physical, mental and soul-destroying effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other harmful substances.
  5. Sponsor or support organizations such as Youth Alive (formerly AY2Y), Collegiate Adventists for Better Living (CABL), and others to effectively involve church and non-church parties in united endeavors to promote the non-use of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful substances.
  6. Publicize news-worthy health education and health evangelism activities in the conference through the pages of the union paper.
  7. Encourage participation in special projects and emphasis during the year such as:
    • Temperance Emphasis Day (usually in January/February): The sermon and other presentations emphasize drug-free living. The Listen, and The Winner subscription campaigns are also promoted at this time.
    • Health Education Emphasis Week (usually starts the first week and ends the second week in October). The sermon, special seminars, fairs, health screening and other health promotion events are held at this time. The Vibrant Life (the church's health outreach journal) subscription campaign is promoted at this time.
  8. Plan with the administration for health programs at camp meetings, special speakers for workers' meetings, and the marketing of health programs to the local church via the pastors.
  9. Educate food service directors to improve the healthful quality of food served at our churches, schools, youth camps, camp meeting, and other conference and church-sponsored meetings.
  10. Chair and give leadership to the conference health ministries committee.
  11. Appoint, where possible, area coordinators for health education/evangelism. The area coordinators are members of the health ministries committee and work as assistants to the director in planning and coordinating all health-related activities wthin the conference.
  12. Work through the area coordinators to assist the church and the pastor in planning a year-round health ministries program for the church.
  13. Give support to Youth Alive drug-free programs in conference schools in the following ways:
    • Encourage Adventist schools to send representation to Adventist youth conventions.
    • Encourage each school to organize action groups that will present drug, alcohol and tobacco education programs to students in public schools.
    • Encourage SDA schools to be active in alcohol, tobacco and other drug education so the peer pressure among youth will not push them to drink, smoke, and use drugs.
  14. Attend and participate in health ministries advisory meetings.
  15. Encourage and promote wide circulation of Ellen White's health publications.
  16. Make budgetary provision for the acquisition of health screening vans and health expo displays for county fairs and other community events
  17. As the budget allows, maintain a current library of health resources, (e.g. training manuals, participants' materials on various programs, audio-visual resources [slides and videos], approved speaker lists of health topics and health programs), and make sure all requests for resources are promptly supplied.

Job Description for a Church Health Ministries Leader


A deep interest in personal health, health education, and health evangelism; good organizing abilities; membership in the church in good and regular standing.


The following is a comprehensive job description indicating the scope of possibilities a church health ministries leader can become involved in. The health ministers leader, in cooperation with the health ministries committee, can determine the specific responsibilities that are necessary to meet the needs of each church and community.

1. Health Awareness

These events help people become aware of their personal health needs and the available resources to meet those needs. A need may be something indispensable to good health such as nutritious food, or it may be something desirable to enhance enjoyment of life such as a new jogging suit.

Community awareness: To plan events such as health screening and testing, information articles in newspapers, radio and television spots, public advertising, health fairs, or cooperation with national health events such as The Great American Smokeout, World Health Day, and the National Cholesterol-Screening Program.

The purposes of community awareness events are:
  • To increase the health awareness of the participant.
  • To attract the community to the Seventh-day Adventist church.
  • To establish friendships between church members and the community residents.

Church awareness: To plan and supervise effective church health ministries awareness programs on the dates set aside in the church calendar for this purpose:
  • Temperance Emphasis Day (usually in January/February): The sermon and other presentations emphasize drug-fre living. The Listen, and The Winner subscription campaigns are also promoted at this time.
  • Health Education Emphasis Week (usually starts the first week and ends the second week in October). The sermon, special seminars, fairs, health screening and other health promotion events are held at this time. The Vibrant Life (the churches health outreach journal) subscription campaign is promoted at this time.

2. Health Promotion/Disease Prevention

The purpose of health promotion/disease prevention programs are:
  • To provide information and strategies for lifestyle change.
  • To help motivate participants to actually make lifestyle changes.
  • To support and encourage participants as they make changes.
  • To improve the participants' quality and length of life.
  • To develop lasting friendships between caring church members and participants.
  • To help participants understand the inter-relationship of body, mind, and spirit.

The health ministries leader's objectives for the health promotion/disease prevention area are:
  • To plan, supervise, and market a cyclic 1-5 year education program for church members and for the community at large, such as smoking cessation, addiction prevention and support groups, AIDS awareness, nutrition education and cooking schools, weight control, stress management, physical fitness education, employee wellness, coronary risk reduction, and parenting/family life.
  • To participate and encourage the participation in conference or union-wide seminars in health leadership to prepare more effective health promoters.

3. Health Information/Bridge Building Events

These events and activities are designed to introduce participants to an understanding that health includes not only the biological or physical dimensions but also the mental, social and spiritual. Objectives might include:

1) To assist in the planning of events that have a social/spiritual component, such as the following:
  • Giving personal Bible studies on health topics.
  • Helping with fellowship dinners and parties.
  • Planning a health series for camp meeting.
  • Developing out-patient or residential health-conditioning programs.

2) To foster the study and reading of periodicals and Ellen White books through small group discussions or church health education programs. Reading materials should include:
  • Magazines: (such as: Vibrant Life, Listen, The Winner, The Journal of Health and Healing (Wildwood)
  • Ellen White books (such as: The Ministry of Healing, Temperance, Welfare Ministry, Counsels on Health, Counsels on Diet and Foods)
  • Other books about the health message, such as Legacy (about Loma Linda University), and Take 10 (see chapter 5)

4. Specal Nurturing Activities

The purpose of nurturing activities is to maintain and continue lifestyle improvement by updating information on a regular basis and to share strength through the community of believers learning and growing together. Specific objectives might include:

1) To plan and supervise one or more special activities such as:
  • Health promotion between Sabbath School and church by using short presentations with slides, videos, or posters.
  • Giving sermons on health
  • Community support activities with county and volunteer health agencies
  • Film and slide programs
  • Neighborhood health visitations and surveys
  • Health/Bible study series
  • Bloodmobile sponsorship
  • Literature racks
  • Retreats
  • Walking, jogging, or health clubs
  • Dental health promotion
  • Mental health promotion
  • Radio spots
  • Health fairs
  • Health conditioning centers

2) To acquaint new members and converts with the health message. This might be accomplished by:
  • Providing each new member with the pamphlet, "Good Health in One Package" available from The Health Connection. This little pamphlet explains the eight basic principles of health and temperance. (See Chapter 4 for a more complete list of resources for new members.)
  • Invite the new church members to members' homes and fellowship dinners to acquaint them with vegetarian food.
  • Loan or give new members the Ellen White health classics, especially The Ministry of Healing.
  • Invite new members to camp meeting and other special health ministries meetings.
  • Ask new members to assist in your local church health ministries outreach programs.
  • Send new members to conference-sponsored training seminars on health topics.

3) To encourage young people to participate in the appropriate health ministries and health/ temperance peer education programs.
  • For teens, this is Adventist Youth Alive
  • For college-age young people it is Collegiate Adventists for Better Living (CABL) For information on these programs contact the Institute for the Prevention of Addictions at Andrews University (616) 471-3558. (Also see Chapter 10 on Youth Ministries.)

5. Records and Reports

To keep records of programs and activities and to report them quarterly to the church board and conference Health Ministries director. Include the following:
  • Participants in health programs (Count Person Visits (PV), i.e. the number of individuals at each session held.)
  • Follow-up activities of community members
  • Income and expenses
  • Names of church members who are health professionals (physicians, dentists, nurses, physical therapists, and others)

Why Change to Adventist Health Ministries Department?

Change is difficult, but sometimes it's necessary. Changing times and conditions dictate new approaches to the same problem. For several years now strong voices have been advocating that the name of the Health and Temperance Department was no longer relevant. The basic problem was with the word "temperance." The North American Division Health and Temperance advisory studied this question in January 1996 and unanimously recommended renaming the department to Adventist Health Ministries Department. Here are the reasons:
  1. Clarity: The word "temperance" is not understood in our culture today. Most people think it means "moderation." I had one non-Adventist man tell me, "Yes I drink wine, but I drink it temperately." Older members know that temperance means total abstinence from anything that is harmful, and judicious use of things that are good. But the younger generation has not been exposed to that concept.
  2. Consistency: Today, the term "health" is a broader, more inclusive word. People understand that cigarette smoking and addictions of all types are detrimental to ones health. They understand that the avoidance of harmful drugs comes under the term "health." Years ago when the department was founded the term "health" was primarily linked to healthcare institutions or public health work. Today health and wellness are synonymous.
  3. Opportunity: The word "ministries" imparts the idea of service and outreach, "Temperance" does not convey this concept. Adventist Health Ministries is a name that implies taking advantage of the opportunities around us to care for the hurting, helpless, and hopeless and to bring them to a state of wellness. Ministries implies using the right arm lovingly to open doors for the gospel message that we are preaching.
  4. World-wide Unity: At the World Health and Temperance Director's Summit in March 1996, with all of the World Health and Temperance Directors present, this problem was discussed and a recommendation was made to the world divisions that, "whereas the general public has difficulty in understanding the meaning of the word 'temperance' as it has a connotation for moderation rather than abstinence, and whereas the word 'temperance' is difficult to be translated in other languages, and whereas several divisions have already adopted the name of 'Health' (without using Temperance, i.e., the Adventist Health Department is the official name of the South Pacific Division), it was voted to give study to changing the Department's name but maintaining the word 'health.'"

To those who feel we are straying from the temperance work that Ellen White so strongly advocated in her book, Temperance, I want to assure you, that temperance will remain the core of our work. It is, after all, one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). Changing a name to be culturally acceptable does not change our mission!

- DWitt S. Williams

Ministries of Health and Healing Manual The above information was taken from Chapter 3: "The Mission and Organization of Adventist Health Ministries" of the manual Ministries of Health and Healing. The complete manual can be ordered from www.HealthConnection.org or by calling 1-800-548-8700. You can also order the manual from www.AdventSource.org or by calling 1-800-328-0525.

The material in this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any illness, metabolic disorder, disease or health problem. Always consult your physician or health care provider before beginning any nutrition or exercise program. Use of the programs, advice, and information contained in this website is at the sole choice and risk of the reader.

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