December 27, 2006

What I Learned From Bill Johnsson

2006 1536 page31 caps I reflect back over 2006, this year will truly be a memorable one for me for several reasons.
During the year, I marked my twentieth anniversary of working on the Adventist Review staff, my daughter began a whirlwind senior year of academy, and I became a cancer survivor. I’ll also remember 2006 because it’s my last year of working with Bill Johnsson. The editor and publisher of the Adventist Review and Adventist World retires on December 31 after serving 24 years in the position, and after more than 40 years in denominational service.
In January 2007 the tenth editor of the Adventist Church’s flagship journal will be replaced by associate editor Bill Knott.
Much has been written about Johnsson, the New Testament scholar who has touched scores of Adventist ministers around the world as a seminary professor. Johnsson is also a prolific, award-winning author who has written 24 books and more than 900 articles. He has also made significant contributions to Adventist theology and represented the church on several interfaith dialogues.
2006 1536 page31While these accomplishments are very impressive, I’ve been moved by Johnsson’s leadership. His example has taught me so many lessons that have helped me to grow as a person and a professional. Here are a few of them.
1. Taking Risks. In 1986 I came to the General Conference because Johnsson was willing to hire a person who had no previous service in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. From the beginning, he has allowed me to be creative, stretch my imagination, think big, and inform and challenge our readers.
He also put together an international staff that models ethnic, gender, and generational diversity.
2. Servant Leader. Above all, Johnsson has shown me that a Christian leader must first be a servant. He works hard, demanding as much from himself as he does from his staff. He is always willing to roll up his sleeves and do the nitty-gritty jobs when necessary, and going the extra mile to help staff members when they need it.
3. Grace Under Fire. Every journalist comes under fire at some point. It’s part of the job. I’ve often heard it said that “if everyone likes what you write, you’re not doing a good job.”
In this imperfect world critics will always find something to talk about. There’s always some shortcoming to harp on. In these times of enormous pressure, Johnsson consistently maintained an attitude of graciousness, being kind to others, no matter how harsh the criticism.
4. Affirmation. Editors live in a world of headlines and deadlines. The production demands are relentless, with precious little time to reflect and to collect your thoughts. There’s always another editorial to write, another article to edit, another news event to cover.
Despite this frantic pace of work, Johnsson made sure that the staff took the time to have fun. Affirming the staff by celebrating birthdays and acknowledging our achievements was a high priority.
He often took the time for one-on-one visits with staff members—not to focus on work, but just to see how we were doing personally.
5. Editorial Courage. One of the first lessons I learned as a journalist is that truth is not always popular. It’s not always welcomed with open arms. Journalists must display editorial courage, presenting truth in love, regardless of the outcome.
Throughout the years Johnsson has shown editorial courage. He believes that the Adventist Review has a prophetic calling as well as a pastoral calling. And in a judicious, restrained manner, Johnsson expressed his convictions.
6. Looking Ahead. Perhaps one of Johnsson’s noblest attributes is his willingness to look ahead and spot new trends, to be willing to adapt to changes in the marketplace, as well as changes within the church.
He was quick to reach out to young adults and welcome their contributions to the pages of the Review. In doing so he has nurtured a segment of the church that has often felt alienated.
While such practices may seem to be minor, they are important because, as Johnsson acknowledges, the future of the church is in their hands.
“The path of men who are placed as leaders is not an easy one. But they are to see in every difficulty a call to prayer. Never are they to fail of consulting the great Source of all wisdom” (Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, p. 31).

Carlos Medley is online editor of the Adventist Review.