Adventist world church leader urges greater role for young people

Mandeville/Jamaica | 30.10.2007 | ANN/APD | International

Seventh-day Adventist world church president Pastor Jan Paulsen gave a resounding endorsement of Adventist young people October 27 -- even offering a "yeah mon!" in Jamaican slang -- during "Let's Talk Caribbean", the 17th such program in a series of unscripted, unedited conversations between the Adventist church president and its under-30 crowd.

"You don't have to be elected to an office to own the church. You don't have to be a local elder to own the church. The church is a place of mutual ownership -- we're in this together," Paulsen told nearly 40 eager young people during the conversation, based at Adventist-owned Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica, and broadcast on the church's Hope Channel.

Paulsen, president since 1999, anchored his remarks during the hour-long broadcast -- as he often does during "Let's Talk" -- on empowerment and church ownership. While it's a key message worldwide, he said, it's particularly important in the church's West Indies region where young people make up some two-thirds of the Adventist Church's membership.

Early on in the broadcast, Paulsen turned briefly to the camera for remarks meant largely to amend some of the church's older generations' opinions of young people. "I'm more preaching -- and I am preaching -- to those who are watching. You need to make sure that you trust those who are young with responsibility. It is an indisputable fact that if you do not engage those who are young, they will walk away from the church."

Following a question on civil engagement, Paulsen said Christians should not only ask what they can contribute to the church, but also what they can contribute to the communities in which they live. One way to impact society is to hold political office, Paulsen said. But, he cautioned, someone considering candidacy must ask, "Is this something I can do without compromising who I am and my loyalty to God?"

Let's Talk Caribbean again touched on protecting personal spirituality when one young delegate asked what the church was doing to shield young people from the "ill effects" of the media. Paulsen reminded the group of both the "colossal" good media can do, and its potential to propagate vice. "The church is not going to make the choice you will have to make," said Paulsen, who often advocates private rather than corporate responsibility while answering Let's Talk questions. Entertainment choices, he said, are inherently a matter of conscience. "When you switch on the set, it's not, 'What does the church say on this one?' It's 'Is this going to make [me] a better person?'"

During the second half of Let's Talk Caribbean, many of the young delegates addressed issues of sexuality in their questions.

One student asked a question regarding young women who are pregnant outside of marriage, specifically when a pastor or other church official is accused of molestation or rape and the victim is too afraid to come forward. Paulsen answered adamantly: "Look, if you've committed a crime, you go to jail. The church will not provide shelter to people who are abusing their role or engaged in criminal activities condemned by society." He added that the church should "provide a safe haven and healing for those who carry wounds and scars."

The conversation then turned to AIDS, and whether the church's message of abstinence was enough to combat the disease's rampant growth. "Should we be preaching something else?" one delegate asked.

"Look, let's be perfectly frank," Paulsen said. "Sex belongs in marriage. Promiscuity is never condoned in the Bible as a lifestyle. Let's not look for ways to accommodate it or make it safer. Save the good things for the right time."

Following the broadcast, Paulsen said he was pleased by the young delegates' pointed questions.

Other questions addressed the church's methods of ministry. When one student asked whether Paulsen thought so-called "tent" evangelism was "outmoded," he said traditional evangelism still works "amazingly well" in most parts of the world. But church leaders, he said, should not depend on the initial effects of an outreach effort to produce "enduring, in-depth decisions" for Christ, something he said long-term small groups are better at. "For a person to stay in the church, you've got to have friends in the church." He said large-scale events might be better if they focused on celebration rather than conversion.

The church may spend too much time on outreach at the expense of "inreach," one delegate said. For a new Christian still struggling with drug addictions, the counsel to "trust Jesus" may not be enough, he said, suggesting that the church oversee more addiction and skills training programs. Paulsen agreed more inreach should be done, so long as funds aren't diverted from outreach.

Let's Talk tapered off with a lighter question: whether or not Adventist young people should play competitive sports. Paulsen said if sports consume players and fans to the point of ousting God and religion as their priorities, they were certainly not healthy. But generally, he said, sports encourage strong relationships.

A special Let’s Talk web site is intended to continue and broaden the conversation between church leaders and Adventist young people, 15-25 years of age, that was started with the Let’s Talk broadcasts. [Editors: Elizabeth Lechleitner and Christian B. Schaeffler for ANN/APD]

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