Below are excerpts from the “Let’s Talk” series that didn’t make it into print due to space constraints. Please note that this is not the entire transcript of any “Let’s Talk” event. This is material we edited but were unable to use in our print journal. For more, click here.
--Editors. Main Story
CONCERN: I think one of the major weaknesses I see in our church is in nurturing. We are very good at taking our message out, of giving programs but if the new folk are not nurtured, they will not stay. Christianity to them is not about so much the Word, it’s about acceptance. And if they don’t get that acceptance then people just go. I find that we, as Adventists, could learn a lot about nurturing from other denominations, as well from Christ’s example.
PAULSEN: This is very important,. I should have mentioned that. I agree with you. Nurture of the church is critically important. In certain areas of the world we are growing very rapidly, but unless we nurture that growth, they are gone--90 per cent of them are gone! Nurture is incredibly important, including areas where we have been established for some time. You know somebody may have been born into the church, but if there isn’t the right nurturing attention given to them, they may leave [the church].
PAULSEN: We have had a good conversation going and yes a number of questions have been put to me. Let me ask you a question: “What would you--you are young professionals in the creative stage in your life--like to see the church do differently or in addition to what we are doing at the moment? What do you expect of leadership, not just my office, but elected leadership in the church?”
HOST: There’s a challenge--who wants to jump in?
PARTICIPANT 1: Not so much from a higher leadership higher area, but more in the local church. I know that my youth friends and I want to do things differently, to change a little bit; but this is stopped by the older people. Some of the elders have always done it this way, so that’s how it’s got to be done. You try something and you get stomped on and you try again and you get stomped on again. You start to think of different ways to do things but you never really get there.
PARTICIPANT 2: It’s also [important] for the church leaders to have a bit more faith in the young people because I think that lots of times they are scared to give us the reins. They think that we just might take the church off the rails. A bit of faith in the youth so that they can actually accomplish something good [would be helpful].
PARTICIPANT 3: I think I would like to see us become more vocal in the media if we can--about hard issues, and what we stand for. Being courageous--obviously that’s a risk and we may be misquoted or something, but if we can, we should be out there and recognized as people making a stand and not moving.
HOST: That’s kind of in line with your profession isn’t it?
PARTICIPANT 3: That’s correct. I work for the Record in the South Pacific Division. I know sometimes we have to be careful what we report on, and dare I say sometimes we are not allowed to report certain things (hopefully I’ve still got my job when I get back). Maybe we can be more open.
PARTICIPANT 4: I want to just elaborate on what [PARTICIPANT 1] was saying, especially at the local church level. I think that we have to be relevant, we have to be contemporary, we have to be dynamic without compromising the Bible’s message.
PAULSEN: Yes, this is very helpful.
QUESTION: Is there any type of literature being released that is directed specifically to youth, possibly to youth who don’t attend Adventist schools, like myself from a rural area, people who are not in contact with many Adventist youth. What kind of literature is available or is being produced directed at that?
PAULSEN: We have one journal that is published specifically to meet the needs of, or speaks to students on, secular campuses. But one journal (this is the journal Dialogue) on its own is not going to do this. You have to in a sense also take responsibility for your own spiritual nurture. So you need to pro-actively go out and say, “OK, where am I going to find this?” There is a smorgasbord of many spiritual types of material that the church is providing. You have to find that which meets your particular need (and needs vary), and I have to go and select that which I feel I need to have to help me where I am today and what I am dealing with now. There is a range of both books and journals that the church produces for people with whom we share the life of faith. You have to go and select and choose, but I think the material is there.
QUESTION: I help run Sabbath school at a college church for the college age students. One of the things I notice is there is certainly the passion for understanding our Bibles, but I notice often that my peers just don’t know their Bibles as well as people in the past have. I am wondering if you could suggest a few specific strategies for encouraging people to get into their Bibles.
PAULSEN: Why do you think they don’t know the Bible as well?
FOLLOW-UP: As a church we have almost become too afraid of what we might find in there and that it might challenge us too much.
PAULSEN: OK. Yes. I think that is a very perceptive point. Clearly, we don’t read the Bible as much as we should. I think reading the Bible and doing it maybe in smaller groups, groups of youth or individuals who are at the similar type of stage in life would help. For planning and thinking [people should] seriously sit down as a group and read the Bible and let the Word of God speak to me and to you at the stage just where we are.
PAULSEN: The world of science and the world of faith are really two different worlds. We get torn sometimes between them. You have to remember that when a person speaks about God, when you take the Bible, you are stepping into the world of faith and it has its own realities which are not subject to the findings of science. I believe in God, I believe in salvation by faith--how do you scientifically prove that? You don’t. It’s a question of what you believe and what you have found in Jesus Christ. You accept that as a reality. Christ lived, died and was resurrected and ascended to heaven. There were witnesses to all of these things. That is as far as Christ’s salvation acts are visible and identifiable. He did this. He said, “I will come back.” I believe this to be a reality that will mark the end of history. Prove it scientifically--of course it can’t be done but I would say [in advice], “You who are a mind and a voice of faith, don’t become intimidated by the intellectual, scientific mind that want to have proofs in order for something to be respectable. You live in the world of faith and the realities that God brings to you, they are dependable.”
FOLLOW-UP: I just wanted to respectfully disagree just a little bit, because a number of us here are actually science students (they are possibly angry at me now for identifying them as science students!) and we find our scientific training as being valuable in having the intellectual tools to process our faith. It liberates us, it gives us dates, it give us our mind, so that when we come to talk about our faith it is just so much more free, and that sort of thing. I just wanted to throw that in as another perspective.
PAULSEN: I accept that.
FOLLOW-UP: Can I also add that we are told that the heavens declare the glory of God. If we don’t look at nature and don’t use science as a tool, I don’t believe we can understand God properly.
PAULSEN: I do not disagree with what you say. Not at all. I think there are many areas of science and life that merge very nicely and visibly and identifiably with faith. But you cannot hold faith subject to the findings of science.
FOLLOW-UP: Yes, that is very true. We do need to accept belief in God by faith alone, but our science should be able to support that faith to a large degree.
QUESTION: My question was not so much how to get people involved, but what we can do for the youth. I think that the church needs to be doing more along the lines of sexual education and talking about contraception and sexuality with the youth because my mum deals with pregnant teens all the time. Not only at the school level, but we need to be looking at it in our local churches in groups like Pathfinders, and also in our homes. I know there are a lot of parents who aren’t comfortable in talking about sex, but I think its something that we need to be doing with our children to protect them from things like teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
PAULSEN: We do have ministries in our church that are specifically set up to help address that issue. Family Ministries, for example, has a part of their “Portfolio Issues” on this topic specifically. I agree with you. This is something that needs to be part of what the local church should teach, both in Pathfinders and in other gatherings that involve the youth. I think that institutions or schools should also be teaching this.
There are two different aspects to this that I think are important to keep in mind. One is what should we teach on this, where the biblical standard is quite clear on what you should do and what you should not do. Then I think you also have to ask yourself, as a young person, in addition to what the Bible says, “Is this what is pure living?” You have to ask, what are you doing to yourself? What is going to happen to you as an individual? Are you going to like yourself better if you let all the standards go and let yourself slide? Are others going to respect you more or are you in fact doing something which is damaging and destructive to your own life? I think these are critical questions [to ask].
The other aspect is when somebody has, through whatever circumstances, brought themselves into the situation where they are carrying a child maybe outside of marriage, or are very young and it is just simply something that they lost control of and it happened. It’s important for us as a church to show love and care for that individual. They should not feel ostracized or that they are rejected always by God and by the church. We have to remember also with them in mind that God is in the business of saving people and He cares for them and He loves them.
QUESTION:I was wondering what the Adventist church is doing over in Iraq for the people.
PAULSEN:Iraq, as you know, is a Muslim country. Two thirds Shiite Muslim, but the previous government was really a secular one in the sense that it was technically Muslim, but really it was secular in that they allowed latitude for a number of other religions to practice openly, more so than in many other Muslim countries. They abused the people in many other ways, but in this respect they allowed them to choose their religion and practice it openly. We have a central church in the city of Baghdad. It is located in a good area. It wasn’t destroyed during the upheavals [although it has sustained damage], and we have people, our church members--our brothers and sisters--who meet there every Sabbath morning for worship. So we have an active church in the city of Baghdad. I don’t know about the countryside.
QUESTION: What do you think about our young people becoming involved in politics?
PAULSEN: If I could change the wording and say: “What do I think about young people becoming involved in civil government and the leadership of a nation?” Yes, I think it’s a good idea. Remember that you are first of all a child of God--a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. He has implanted in your heart and mind some values that you are going to live for; and die for if necessary. So just be true to Him first and foremost and then remember that the best way anyone can live his or her life is to give it in service to somebody else. Devote your talent, give it in service. We have many Adventists on the continent of Africa who sit in key leaderships positions in government and in the judiciary, and I think they serve the nations and God well.
QUESTION: I’m from Papua New Guinea and I know a lot of us are dealing with the issue of war. In the Bible it says that God is going to protect His people and some people take that as we should not engage in warfare, we should let God protect us. What’s your feeling on that?
PAULSEN: I think war is a terrible solution. That’s my very short answer. I think that there are, in this day and age, a lot of other resources and recourses that should have been taken to resolve issues. If tensions arise between nations, to go to war is a defeat in itself. I just think it is most unfortunate. Why? First of all, the ones who pay the really heavy price in any war are those who are least able to defend themselves--the children, the women, the old ones. I just am not a supporter of war.
QUESTION: In regard to the war issue, what are we doing as a people to make sure that we are truly [one] in Christ? For example, [look at] what happened in Rwanda a few years ago. Nationality, especially in the Western Hemisphere, seems to be more predominant than our Christianity. What are we doing to try to make our Christianity first-place?
PAULSEN: You are dealing with the heart of a critical issue between nations, between peoples, between races. What happened in Rwanda [in 1994] is a terrible blight on humanity and on Christians because, frankly, there were many Christians who slaughtered others and dishonored the name of Christ and the church in the process. That really is a tragedy. What we can do as a church is in our teaching, in the value system that we promote among our own members and to the public in general, to use our opportunities to address public forums of various kinds. [Think about] how you resolve conflicts within the community or between segments, between tribal groups in a given nation. You have to communicate a message, a message that has to do with tolerance--and understanding. Understanding really is a very deep thing. You don’t just “understand” by having understood the other person’s sentence. You have to try to enter into the life, the dynamics, the depths that drive a person and a community for there to be true understanding. That is what Christ wants us, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to be--a healing component in a community which, were it not for the healing forces of Christ, would so easily tear itself completely asunder.