Minister to Your Community, G.C. President
Says in Conversation
Diversity both a challenge and an opportunity, Paulsen says
eventh-day Adventist Churches need to tailor ministry to the community, and members who intend to spend eternity together ought to begin by getting along in the pews, Pastor Jan Paulsen, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, said in a live May 28 telecast aimed at leaders of the 16 million-strong Protestant denomination.
Six Seventh-day Adventist ministers from across Europe joined Paulsen for the second installment of the unscripted show, “Pastors: In Conversation,” held in Gerrards Cross near London. During the boardroom-like discussion hosted by Bertil A. Wiklander, president of the church's Trans-European region, Paulsen answered questions ranging from church involvement to diversity. The Hope Channel, owned by the world church, aired the program.
GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
IN CONVERSATION: Six Adventist pastors from across Europe joined world church president Jan Paulsen for the second installment of “Pastors: In Conversation,” which was aired live on May 28. [Photos: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]
When Pastor Ashwin Somasundram, whose London church represents 52 nationalities, said he was worried by a trend toward more ethnocentric churches, Paulsen asked, “What does the community where the church is look like? The church should be a reflection of the community.”
Paulsen added, “People must feel that the church is a good place to establish a spiritual home. If they don't, the church has failed the community.” Addressing the steady influx of new immigrant members into previously indigenous congregations, Paulsen said the challenge of diversity demands mutual respect and tolerance for differing worship styles.” I count it a privilege that the church represents the broadness of humanity,” he said.
Paulsen also called for latitude regarding different attitudes toward Adventism. Reidar Olsen from Oslo, Norway, wondered if the church should be concerned when young people embrace conservatism with more fervor than their elders. “Should we aim at being more progressive?” he asked.
“We should aim at being biblical,” Paulsen said. Beyond that, “there are many human qualities--care, tolerance--that have to be displayed in a church that are not locked into a particular doctrine.” Labeling people, he added, does a disservice to individuality and only encourages rifts between believers.
“Our church has to have room for a broad range of personality,” he said. “I am so concerned with the kind of climate we establish in churches now, where a person is described as ‘liberal’ by one and ‘conservative’ by another.” Adventists “care for the same Lord, the same church, share the same identity and intend to spend eternity together.”
When the discussion turned to evangelism, Pastor Ian Sweeney from Leeds, England, asked if the certainty of evangelical preaching might bring people into the church without challenging them to think for themselves. “In a sense, many people are not ready for questions because they've come into the church on the basis of definite certainties,” he said. Other pastors agreed, suggesting that the culture of evangelism may hand people answers rather than help them find the answers themselves.
Paulsen responded by asking pastors “not to create a climate in our churches where the very process of searching and asking questions is somehow looked upon as an unholy exercise.” New members, he said, should not think of baptism as a final step, but rather the beginning of a “process of growing we are all involved in.”
Paulsen also urged growth in the area of women in ministry. “I think all of us have some serious rethinking and praying to do on this issue,” he said after Somasundram pointed out that he was ordained after four years of pastoring, yet his sister--who “was far more experienced and had done far more work” during her decade of ministry--was not ordained. Paulsen said his niece encountered a similar roadblock to ministry, but said the issue would not be resolved until the global church makes a collective decision.

During the hour-long broadcast, Paulsen also stressed the increased involvement of young people in the church. “Young people often tell me they don’t believe the church trusts them, or they would be giving them leadership roles. This is a fair comment,” he said. “There’s a sense that you've got to be 50 or at least 40 before you're entrusted with responsibility in the local church.”
Bert Nab from Holland suggested that the best way to involve young people in ministry--even those who show up late and sit in the back of the church--is to put them to work.” Give them some responsibility and they will be there on time,” he said.

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
SPIRITUAL GROWTH: During the live boardroom-like discussion, Pastor Ian Sweeney from Leeds, England, left, asked if the certainty of evangelical preaching might hinder new members from thinking for themselves. Pastors should emphasize that baptism is just the beginning of a lifetime of spiritual growth, Paulsen said.
"I’m tired of this comment, ‘The youth are the church of tomorrow,’” another pastor said. “It’s incorrect--the youth are the church of today.”
When Pastor Kaarina Villa from Joensuu, Finland asked Paulsen for some guidelines on fulfilling the obligations of ministry without asking for burnout, he urged her and the other pastors not to “feel guilty for taking time off to renew yourselves,” adding that even God said to “‘Come apart and rest for a while.’”
Another participant concurred: “Last year I had to take a break at age 27,” said Pastor Steven Wilson from Ireland, describing dueling pressure from church administration and local church members.
Paulsen said his concerns were legitimate and that taking time to “unwind” is crucial if pastors are to “survive in ministry.” He also urged pastors to prioritize their families. “Plan your calendar with them,” he suggested. “If you decide Monday is family time, when the conference president advises you to attend a meeting on that day, you will of course advise him that a prior engagement prevents you from attending.”
Toward the end of the program, Paulsen asked the pastors, “How would you like the public, who may not be a part of your worshipping community, to know your church?” One pastor suggested that church members make more of an effort to involve themselves in the community during the week rather than just “take up parking spaces on Sabbath and then leave.” Paulsen agreed, and urged the pastors not to cultivate a “closed environment” at church.
The next “Pastors: In Conversation” is set for July 1 at the church's media center in Jacarei, near Sao Paulo, Brazil with two separate groups of pastors representing the Portuguese and Spanish regions of South America. Another conversation is planned for Africa in August.


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