June 16, 2010

17CN: Local Pastors Shape the Church, Adventist President Says During Webinar

Local Pastors Shape the Church, Adventist President Says During Webinar
Paulsen fields questions from North American pastors in online discussion


capLocal pastors are an “enormous creative force” in shaping the church and defining its values, Seventh-day Adventist world church president Jan Paulsen said during an online seminar last week.

Paulsen fielded questions from nearly 100 pastors in North America during the hour-long Webinar, a more convenient and cost-effective outgrowth of the world church leader’s Pastors: In Conversation telecast series.

The May 20 Webinar was presented by the Church Resource Center, part of its “Best Practices for Adventist Ministry” series.

In answering questions, Paulsen reiterated his hope that the more than 22,000 Adventist pastors who serve the church worldwide—many of whom he said may feel burdened or even forgotten in their posts—would know they are the “bedrock” of the church.

“I suspect that very often, this group has a very lonely assignment,” Paulsen said, listing the exhaustive speaking, counseling, administrative, and financial skills essential to successful pastoring, as well as the “energy and humor” the job demands.

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IN CONVERSATION: Adventist world church president Jan Paulsen in a Webinar with pastors in North America from his office in Silver Spring, Maryland, last week. PHOTO: A. Oliver/ANN

Paulsen urged pastors who may feel isolated not to fall into insular thinking, but to minister at the local level with the global nature of the church in mind.

“The local congregation is only a small segment of a community, which is very large,” he said. “We must interact around the globe. We give to each other, we receive from each other. Together, we create hope or we create discouragement; we empower or we sow cynicism.”

Several questions from Webinar participants were those Paulsen is frequently asked during his live, unedited, unscripted conversations, which began with Let’s Talk, a series geared toward teenagers and young adults.

When one pastor asked why the issue of women’s ordination was not included in the General Conference session agenda, Paulsen said results of a world church survey indicated such a discussion in Atlanta would be counterproductive, but that there are “no biblical grounds” on which the church should “shun or push away” the issue. “With some more time, some more education, we will accomplish something that, if we try to address before we’re ready, could do greater damage to the global church,” he said.

Several pastors expressed frustration with the church’s current method of distributing tithe, which they said often drains the local church of vitally needed funds.

In his answer, Paulsen cited the ongoing Use of Tithe Commission, which is expected to deliver its final report during the General Conference Executive Committee’s church’s autumn business meeting in October. While no one can question that tithe’s “primary function” is to support the pastor and the ministry of the church, its specific distribution can seem “arbitrary,” he said.

“I recognize the fact that the lines which we draw, and the definitions which we have [for tithe use] are often imprecise,” Paulsen said.

In answering a related question, Paulsen addressed whether the church planned to restructure its administration to eliminate what some perceive as a duplication of responsibilities and resources.

“We have to keep in mind that the organizational structure of the church is a function of its mission,” Paulsen said, adding that General Conference session delegates would consider increasing the union of churches administrative model, in which a group of local churches replaces the church’s conference level of administration, reporting directly to the next level of administration, the union conference.

Other pastors asked Paulsen about the current controversy over teaching origins at Adventist universities, most recently church-run La Sierra University in Riverside, California.

Denominational institutions of higher learning should reflect the church’s identity and values, Paulsen said. “I would hope that those who teach there, and those who administrate, would make it a priority to do precisely that,” he said, adding it should be a “matter of integrity.”

When one participant thanked Paulsen for his willingness to talk with young people during his tenure, the world church president took the opportunity to reiterate his case for involving young people in ministry.

“It is clear to me that if we do not trust our young people’s ability to carry responsibility, to have good judgment, to be committed to the Lord, they will walk away,” Paulsen said, adding that he is “prepared to take all kinds of risks to engage them.”

Further, Paulsen said local pastors should be instrumental in making sure young people sit on their church boards and are given responsibility beyond “making the occasional comment.” For his part, Paulsen said world church administration would include young professionals on the 300-member General Conference Executive Committee.

With almost 100 unanswered questions left at the end of the hour, Paulsen invited pastors to send their questions to his office.