June 7, 2022

Hearing the Heart of a Leader

Adventist Review Team

For decades, the first interview given by a newly-elected General Conference president is with the editor of the Adventist Review. This interview was conducted in the former St. Louis Rams locker room by Bill Knott, executive editor of Adventist Review Ministries, and Marcos Paseggi, news contributor to Adventist Review Ministries, minutes after Elder Wilson’s reelection as president.

AR: It’s been almost 50 years since the Adventist Church has invited a leader to a third term. What does that feel like for you in terms of the opportunity to help make an impact over time?
TW: It’s certainly a humbling experience. It does not embolden me in any way. I do recognize that we need to maintain focus on what God has assigned His remnant church to do, and that is the proclamation of the Three Angels Messages. I hope to focus even more on helping church members realize their responsibility and also to help local church leaders, as well as through the ranks of church administration, to recognize that we are coming to the end, and things need to be focused on what God intends for this church to do.

Are there any initiatives that are on your mind, perhaps some that you have not tackled?

We’re going to be redoubling our efforts on Revival and Reformation. It’s what we need every day. Also, we now are focusing on Comprehensive Health Ministry 2.0, which is going to involve a reemphasis on the right arm of the gospel, the kind of work Jesus did. These things are a natural outgrowth of our relationship with the Lord. It’s actually doing the gospel in a practical manner. So we’re going to emphasize in a greater way the connection to the Three Angels Messages, because we’re told in the Spirit of Prophecy that the third angel’s message is vitally connected to medical missionary work. The medical missionary work is not the message, but it is the right arm. So we’re also going to emphasize that in Mission to the Cities. And we haven’t run out of cities to work in. We still have a lot of work to do, but I don’t think we have much time because the Lord is coming very soon. 

And, of course, Total Member Involvement, our strategic plan; I will Go will continue through the rest of this quinquennium. The I will Go campaign has just caught on all over the world because it’s so personal and it’s so focused on mission. The one thing that I’m also going to be focusing on in a stronger way is inviting all of us to plead for the latter rain of the Holy Spirit.

We are talking in a locker room where coaches used to talk to sport teams. Picking up that metaphor for a moment, what do you think that means for the role you’ve just accepted again?

Well, it certainly means that we have to do this in a team effort. Let’s tie that in. You cannot just pull a few strings and expect everything to happen. And especially within the church structure, which is basically a voluntary organization, people are part of it because they love the Lord. That’s what we call Total Member Involvement, that everybody is doing something for Jesus. It’s not something I can sit in an office and pull a few strings and send a few emails. No, it has to be caught in the hearts of leaders and members alike that we are part of something much grander than simply an earthly endeavor. This is a movement led by God. So, talking to the team—a large team of almost 22 million members—it’s very important to get the message out. In some ways, it’s more challenging because there are a lot of other messages out there. We’re called to a very special purpose. I would encourage our team, our wonderful church members, to focus on where we are in Earth’s history and realize every person has a job and place that God has given to them.

Many people say that one of the key roles you fill is helping to develop people to be leaders in other units, tens of thousands of Adventist pastors, hundreds of conference presidents, about 160 union presidents. Thinking about that group of people in leadership, what do you want to say to them?

Each leader has to find his or her own way of relating to this magnificent call that God has given to us as a church, but they can’t shy away from that call. They can’t change the dynamic of what it is to be a Seventh-day Adventist. Some people I think would like to turn that into some other definition, but the church is built on a biblical foundation. [This] has to be internalized by administrators and leaders who recognize that this mighty movement, born of God, is something that they have to invest in with everything they have in order to help move it along through God’s power.

It’s interesting that you should mention “leadership” because we have in the works; something that we’re calling the General Conference Leadership Development Program. We have taken steps to put it into an arena where leaders have looked at it and they’re excited. We will be voting it in, in a more dynamic way where we will develop leaders who have a focus on organization, structure, and mission. It’s just part of who we are.

So I would encourage every leader to truly know they are part of something much bigger than themselves. They need to understand that that big picture can only happen when they’re taking time with the Word, spending time reading the Spirit of Prophecy, taking time in prayer. God will open the way for them because it’s not just pulling strings and a few votes we take and everybody gets into lockstep. No, it doesn’t happen that way in the church. We know that. Instead, it’s inspiring people to tell them we’re part of something so fantastic.

If I were to ask you where you wanted to be tonight, you would say right here; I know that. So I’m going to ask you if you could be anywhere you wanted to be in two weeks from now, where would you and your family be?

In a couple of weeks part of our family will be in a beautiful valley in the mountains, in one of our favorite places to hike. We have been able to take each one of our daughters and their families there. The last time was about four years ago and COVID has kind of thrown stuff in. But we’ve made plans. So, barring some COVID mishap, we hope to be hiking in the mountains.

This is an edited version of an interview with Ted N. C. Wilson shortly after he was selected as president. Watch the full video interview included at the top of this story.