Pastor Jan Paulsen, world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, recently gave an interview to the new Adventist World magazine (see ANN, Aug. 17, 2005) in which he said he wants the church to be known as the “church of the open door.”
In the interview—excerpts of which are reprinted here by permission of Adventist World—Pastor Paulsen explains to Dr. William G. Johnsson, the magazine’s editor, what he means.
Dr. William G. Johnsson: Pastor Paulsen, in your sermon Sabbath morning at the close of the General Conference Session you expressed the hope that the Adventist Church will be the church of the open door. What did you mean by that?
Pastor Jan Paulsen: I want this church to be known for its drive to become inclusive. There is a negative way you can look at it, to define yourself in terms of what you exclude. Yes, there are some things that are incompatible with our values and our lives, and they must be excluded; but it is more important, from my perspective, that the church be reaching out and exhibit a profile of wanting to include rather than to exclude. This, I think, becomes increasingly important as our church becomes a global church.
Johnsson: It’s really a message as much for the Adventist body itself that we should be open to one another in our own interpersonal relationships.
Paulsen: Yes, it is that. We need to be clear about who we are, the values we project, and what we will die for. At the same time, we’ll also talk together about things that may not be so easy, and we will discover that there is a wonderful life to be had when the family can be sufficiently strong to talk about our differences. I use the word “strong” very deliberately, because I feel that it is an indication of strength when we can deal with anything. Why are we afraid? We are God’s people, we are a strong faith community; so I will talk with other churches, I will talk with the secular world, I will talk with politicians. Why should I not? I’m the Lord’s servant.
Johnsson: Probably the most dramatic news at the Session was the election of Dr. [Ella Louise] Simmons as a general vice president [of the world church]. What other opportunities do you see for women in the church in terms of leadership involvement and participation?
Paulsen: Let us not stumble over the issue of ordination, because this is not what it is about. But we have a large range of services that are linked to education, to health, to society, and to issues involved with family, women, children and community outreach. There are many capable professional women committed to the Lord and to the church, strong in faith and strong professionally. We need to make deliberate efforts to make sure they have a place in the ministries. Furthermore, we need to do rather better in finding—I’m speaking to myself also—more women who can be brought to the counseling table, so they can be part of our process of dealing with issues, even though they may not be employed by the church.
Johnsson: You often refer to youth and young adults. What plans are there to involve them in the life and decision-making of the church?
Paulsen: Look, I don’t come with a wealth of ideas and plans as to how this can be done. My primary concern is to change our mindset. I want the youth to know that they owe it to Christ to step up to the plate; to say, “I want to take part.” This has to do with a sense of ownership. I think it is important that students and young professionals accept what Christ puts on them and the church places in their laps.
Johnsson: What would you like to see happen in the Adventist Church during the next five years?
Paulsen: I have a strong conviction that a spiritually strong church is a church involved in mission, that spirituality flows from commitment. I will continue to talk to our youth. I’m going to say to them, “Come, be serious. Come and join us.” I want the youth to be a stronger and more visible and more creative partnership in what we do as a church.
Today we have 15 million baptized members. I expect that by the end of this quinquennium we will be no less than 20 million baptized members, and a community of some 30 million. I want this community to be one of strength and visibility. I challenge the church in the Western world: What are you doing so that the secular world in which you are placed knows that you are there? Be bold. Go out and be very public.
Johnsson: Let’s talk about Adventist World.You have been the key player in initiating it. What are your hopes for this new periodical for the world church?
Paulsen: That it will be received by the world church as an instrument that expresses our global family, and that they will discover in it the heart, the pulse, the identity, the core initiatives, and the values of our church. I see this global issue as an instrument of the unity that we have in the Spirit.
Johnsson: Do you have a word for the pastors? In many places their work is very difficult, and increasingly so.
Paulsen: I would say to our pastors: Remember that we are all servants of God. It’s where we are that we express our servanthood and give leadership. In some places the church grows rapidly, and the challenge we face as a pastor is, “How can I cope with this rapidly growing challenge?” The challenge in other parts of the world is, “How can I realize any growth when the Christian faith, hope and message are drowned out by all kinds of non-Christian matters?” I think it’s important that the pastors in those situations remember that God’s presence is not defined by the explosive moments. I, as a minister of the gospel, just have to take comfort in the fact that I am serving the Lord, giving the Lord the very best that I have. That is all God asks of me.
Johnsson: Adventist families face tremendous pressures today, worldwide. Do you have any counsel for parents?
Paulsen: In a day when so much is permissive in society, give love and affection to your children; and at the same time, give them emotional guidance. Do not allow the entertainment industry to invade your home indiscriminately. It will destroy your home and your children. Establish an environment of love and understanding, of love and acceptance, where you can deal with difficult issues. I think of a statement made by one of my teachers. He asked, “What is the greatest gift a father can give to a son? It is to love his mother.” In that kind of environment there is a good family.
Johnsson: For many people today Christianity has gone beyond denominations—we are in the post-denominational era. What is your perspective?
Paulsen: The Seventh-day Adventist Church can never deny its specific identity and still be loyal to God. We are who we are, and that is our historic identity. Who we are is defined by what we believe and what values we hold. But I think we need to step out of the history of being content with being viewed as a sect. And this, in part, is why I advocate openness, because this openness will also lay to rest some of these caricatures that are not correct. It is important that we display our spiritual roots, our value roots, and our biblical roots to the public. We are not a new religion; we have old historic values. But there is a mission that is entrusted to us that we hold sacred, and that we will pursue.