Jan Paulsen Marks 11 Years
at Adventist Church Helm
From Norway to world church, people are “most important asset”
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Adventist News Network
S SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS worldwide geared up for a new decade, their church’s president, Jan Paulsen, celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday, affording the veteran leader an opportunity to reflect on a different decade—the more than 10 years he’s spent at the helm of the 16-million-member global Protestant denomination.
During those years, Paulsen said he has seen Adventists unite to focus perhaps more deliberately than ever on their mission to spread the church’s message of hope.
“It’s against that backdrop that the significant growth we’ve seen in the past five, six years should be viewed,” he told Adventist News Network the day before his January 5 birthday. “Our mission is reflected in our agenda and continues to drive our budget.”
The success of that mission, Paulsen said he’s observed, depends in part on a commitment to greater openness—from administrative and financial transparency to a willingness to “acknowledge, validate, and work with diversity within the church.”
Paulsen’s long-running Let’s
Talk television series, consisting of unedited, unscripted conversations with teenagers and young adults worldwide, helped the church embrace its younger generations, and, more recently, “Adventists About Life,” a YouTube channel offering an Adventist perspective on current issues, is opening the church to yet another audience.
ADVENTIST LEADER: Pastor Jan Paulsen, elected in January 1999 as president of
the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, marked his seventy-fifth birthday on January 5, 2010, at the world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Openness also involves engagement beyond the church pews, said Paulsen, who has long stressed that churches should serve as community centers, where the church’s message of hope finds its practical expression as members offer friendship, spiritual support, and humanitarian aid to their neighbors.
As the Adventist Church entered 2010, Paulsen said he’s particularly troubled by the continued pervasiveness of poverty. “The church has such a huge responsibility to not only address poverty and alleviate suffering, but also to engage politically to affect change in the interest of those who are disadvantaged. We must carry the interests of those who cannot do it themselves,” he said.
Paulsen, who was born in Narvik, Norway, completed an early ministerial internship and pastoral work in his native land. Later, a missionary stint in Ghana and posts as professor and principal of Babcock University in Nigeria and afterward at Newbold College laid the foundation for what is now more than 50 years of denominational service.
Paulsen served as general secretary and education director of the church’s Trans-European region, and later its president, bringing to each post broad experience and an educational background in theology—Paulsen earned his master’s degree from Washington Theological Seminary, a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in theology from the University of Tübingen.
A post as a general vice president of the world church began in 1995, ending with his election in 1999 as world church president.
Empowering people, Paulsen said, is one of the greatest lessons he has learned during his years at the world church headquarters.
“People may be your most complicated—and, at times, troubling—assets to handle, but they are your most important,” he said, adding that it’s members, not administrators, who are ultimately the church’s “owners.” Paulsen added that he hopes they continue to invest in their church and, as a unified force, shape its future.