Members of the General Conference Executive Committee (GC EXCOM) elected South American Division president Erton Köhler as the new secretary of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on April 14, 2021. The vote came after a recommendation from the Nominating Committee, on the last day of the Spring Meeting, one of the two annual business meetings of the world church.
“I feel humbled and honored by your confidence,” Köhler told the hundreds of church leaders meeting through Zoom this year, a few minutes after the vote. “I am praying for God to give me the skills that I need.”
Köhler was born in southern Brazil and grew up with a desire to follow in the footsteps of his father, who served as an Adventist pastor. Köhler completed a bachelor’s degree in theology at the Adventist Teaching Institute (now Brazilian Adventist University) in 1989 and graduated from the same school in 2008 with a master’s degree in pastoral theology. Currently, he is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from Andrews University.
From 1990-1994, Köhler served as a local church pastor in São Paulo. He was then elected Youth Ministries director of the Rio Grande do Sul Conference in 1995, and in 1998 he became the Youth Ministries director of the Northeast Brazilian Union. In July 2002, Köhler returned to the Rio Grande do Sul Conference, where he had previously served, to become the executive secretary. The following year he was elected as Youth Ministries director for the eight countries comprising the South American Division. After serving for four years as youth director, he became the South American Division president in 2007.
Köhler is married to Adriene Marques, a nurse, and the couple has two children.
Adventist Church president Ted N. C. Wilson highlighted some of Köhler’s characteristics as a leader. “He is a very professional person, a very mission-focused person, a very skilled administrator,” Wilson told the GC EXCOM members. “He is a visionary, a very careful planner, and a system specialist. He knows how to approach things in a very articulate and systematic way.”
After a 197-to-16 vote confirmed Köhler as the new secretary, effective immediately, he said he believes God leads His church. “I believe in God’s leadership [by] using human beings,” he added. “And I believe God is in control of everything and that God leads my life.”
Köhler thanked his predecessor, G. T. Ng, who recently announced his retirement, and vowed to do his best to learn from Ng’s “great and superb work.” He added that despite the challenges, he knows there is no other way than to move forward. “God leads my family, and God leads my ministry as well,” Köhler said. “As a consequence, my only answer needs to be, ‘I will go.’”
Finally, Köhler vowed to be available, serving with a heart “completely focused” on the mission of the church. “I will be open to [listen] and to learn,” he said. “My job is to build bridges, not walls.”
Felipe Lemos and Jefferson Paradello, South American Division News, contributed to this report.