Africa: Be Participants, Not Spectators, World Church Leader Says to Young People

December 5, 2006 Cape Town, South Africa .... [Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN]

Let's Talk South Africa, the 14th in a series of unscripted, unedited conversations broadcast live between Seventh-day Adventist Church world president, Pastor Jan Paulsen, and a group of young people, might well be dubbed 'Let's Get Involved.' 

Continuing his commitment to "feel the pulse of the youth and young professionals of our church," Pastor Paulsen on Sunday, December 3, met in Cape Town, South Africa, with 50 Adventist young people representing 11 countries across the church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region. 

Throughout Let's Talk South Africa, Pastor Paulsen reiterated that young people themselves are often the answer to their questions. Specifically regarding young people who have left the church, he said, "Why don't you reach out and try to talk to them? Tell them 'we miss you,' and that life is richer in the church. That is an initiative that I want to place on the shoulders of you who are young. Please minister to your own peers and your own colleagues. Encourage young people to hear each other out, because they are more likely to listen to each other. And then we as leaders have to reexamine what we do to support you in that ministry." 

During the broadcast, several young people posed questions with a common premise: why world church administration is not more visibly involved in local congregations. Continuing his 'ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church' theme, Pastor Paulsen responded to a question regarding church unity with the following: "I think young people, particularly here in South Africa, because you live in such a diverse society ... are better placed than many who are older than you. So I see you have a ministry." 

"I think it's very important that our churches at the local level should truly become integrated churches where you share in worship and share in leadership, and where you affirm each others' genuineness in Christ and you are blessed by the richness which we may experience in that diversity." 

In answering several questions, Pastor Paulsen took the opportunity to remind young people to safeguard their personal relationships with Christ. "Don't be passive, but active in the life of the church. And be serious about looking after your spiritual life. Nobody else is going to do it if you don't; you have the primary responsibility." 

Throughout the hour-long Let's Talk South Africa, audience members repeatedly questioned the church's efforts to combat HIV and AIDS. In response, Pastor Paulsen readily admitted more work could be done, but that local churches and individual members hold as much responsibility as church administration to that end. "The church must be a place of hope. It must be something people can turn to and find that the value God has placed in every human being is recognized by the church." 

When some young people implied that the world church is not doing enough to regulate the behavior of church members, Pastor Paulsen made it clear that world church administration is not a micromanaging body. "You don't deal with people that way. You can minister to people, you can love people, and you can tell them about Christ and the gospel and demonstrate the richness of the Christian life to them and make an appeal to them. But at the end of the day, it's going to be [their] personal choice," he said. 

Encouraging young people to make that choice is one of Pastor Paulsen's greatest hopes for the Let's Talk series. He says young Adventists are the church's future and its most important asset. "I don't believe you can build [that future] without Jesus Christ," he said during the broadcast. Paulsen urged the audience members to fully integrate themselves in the activities and initiatives of the church. "Participate in every aspect," he said, and "allow your talents, energy and creative initiative to ... flow into the life of the church."