From the vantage point of 2010 it seems incomprehensible that early Adventists once debated whether the call to “go into all the world” meant actually leaving the North American continent, or merely working among the immigrant communities already established here. And yet, I wonder whether today we’re confronting a similar paradigm shift when it comes to thinking about our mission.
Pastor Paulsen greets church members at a midweek meeting in the Wuxi, China, congregation. His May 2009 visit to the People’s Republic of China was the first official visit by a General Conference president to that country since 1937.
Have we grasped the many implications of our rapid growth as a church? Do we understand the strength of our voice and presence in many parts of the world? That we should no longer be thinking in terms of our “smallness,” but our “bigness”? (And, conversely, have we dared to really acknowledge the vast scale of those unentered areas of the world where the name of Christ—let alone “Seventh-day Adventist Church”—has never been heard?)
Pastor and Mrs. Paulsen interact with young adult members during a televised Let’s Talk event in April 2006. The president hosted 28 Let’s Talk events with young adults, pastors, women, and laypersons around the world during the past five years.
The community of the Spirit to which we belong exists for one purpose only: to call men and women from death to life and to prepare them for an eternity that begins now—among the realities of this world. As we plan for tomorrow we must articulate a mission that is broad, that both embraces and builds on traditional models of witness, and that acknowledges the changing terrain on which we operate.
As I look through the minutes of that first General Conference session of 1863, I picture a small group of men and women just beginning to comprehend the enormity of the task before them; individuals struggling to define the community they should become. In the years that followed, these early Adventists demonstrated, time and again, their courage and their vision. They didn’t tailor their plans to their limitations, but to their mission—no matter how overwhelming that seemed.
Today, we meet here as a significantly larger group of believers, with resources and opportunities greater than our forebears could ever have imagined. I pray that our vision, our courage, and our commitment will not be less than theirs.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph. 3:20, 21).