Mark A. Kellner/ANN
Leaders at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have a special challenge: think globally, but also work to serve the interests of the church’s fast growing membership. A faith community of 25 million, Adventists live and worship in more than 200 countries around the world, with a wide variety of local needs. Pastor Jan Paulsen, world church president, works with a team of nine vice presidents whose responsibilities range from overseeing specific departments and institutions to chairing committees. According to the church’s bylaws, a general vice president is “elected to assist the president with the general administrative work” of the world church.
Beyond those simple words, however, the nine general vice presidents elected, or re-elected, at the recent world business session are likely to view their roles as ministries, within the headquarters and around the globe, since they are also tasked with serving as contacts with various world church regions and institutions.
The church’s Administrative Committee, or ADCOM, recently recorded new assignments for each of the vice presidents, something that happens at the beginning of each quinquennium, or five-year term. The vice presidents are assigned the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of various institutional boards and committees, and advise various departments at the church headquarters.
Two vice presidents, Dr. Ella Louise Simmons and Pastor Mark Finley, are new to the positions. Simmons is a former top leader at La Sierra University, and will have a number of education-related responsibilities in her portfolio. Finley, a veteran evangelist and speaker/director emeritus of the church’s “It Is Written” television program, will oversee several outreach efforts, including the church’s satellite-based Hope Channel television network.
Other vice presidents include Pastors Lowell Cooper, Eugene Hsu, Gerry Karst, Armando Miranda, Pardon Mwansa and Ted N.C. Wilson. Pastor Donald Schneider, who is president of the church’s North American Division, is also a general vice president of the world church with specific responsibilities assigned by the president, including chairmanship of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, one of the two publishing houses in North America owned by the denomination. Other divisional or regional presidents also serve as vice presidents of the world church.
“From an institutional standpoint,” says Cooper, a general vice president since 1998, “the task is to see each institution in the context of its place in the world church. Each has a particular geographic setting, but there’s an element of involvement in [the whole of] church life.”
A 35-year veteran of Adventist ministry, Cooper also chairs the various boards that comprise the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, as well as those of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the Pacific Press Publishing Association. He was one of three world church vice presidents who shared comments with Adventist News Network.
He added, “apart from thinking of the institution’s success, you always have to be conscious of the institution as an expression of the church. We have to continue to have a consciousness that this particular institution is a Seventh-day Adventist [one].”
Among his headquarters assignments, Cooper is now the chairman of the church’s Council on Evangelism and Witness, which, he said, “looks at the place or the priority of evangelism in global church life and addresses the challenge we have with carrying on our church’s mission across cultures.”
While that means contextualizing the Gospel message in places where Christianity is little known, Cooper said it also involves reaching out to “even the secular societies that to a large degree have jettisoned the Christian framework and moved to an [individual] rights basis.”
Each of the vice presidents has new or differing assignments in this five-year period, in part because the executive team, from which Pastor Harold Baptiste is retiring and which Dr. Ella Louise Simmons is joining, has a different skill set than before, said Gerry Karst, a five-year veteran vice president.
“We anticipate these changes because the composition of the team and its expertise changes,” he explained. “When you have the arrival of a vice president who’s a professional educator, it was realized that my connection with the Education Department would change.”
He said his new assignment as an advisor to the world church’s Ministerial Association “puts me in a reasonable zone because I come from a ministry background. ... I look forward to my association with [them].”
At the same time, Karst said making such changes has its bittersweet moments: “During the time you work with a department, you develop friendships and relationships. As a result, there is some sense of separation and loss” when changes occur, he said.
One of Karst’s continuing assignments is to chair the International Health Food Association, a network of church-run health food businesses that create products for the public as well as members.
“These are commercial ministries in which the production of healthful foods is part of the [church’s] health message,” he explained. “The profits help fund the [evangelistic] ministries of the church. ... One of our challenges is to keep the mission of the food industry focused on ministry, while remaining competitive and viable in the commercial world.”
One of the newest general vice presidents, Michael L. Ryan, will focus on strategic planning, global mission and communication matters for the church.
“It’s very obvious that you’re going to have to rely on the good people that surround you,” he said in an interview. “The responsibilities are far more than I could accomplish if I had to plan and handle every detail.”
He said he was very concerned about planning for the future, and that the strategic planning function was designed to help “organize and position the church so it can align its resources and be more effective ... for the purpose of mission.”
Is the work—which involves extensive overseas travel and numerous meetings—enjoyable? Do the vice presidents have fun in their tasks?
“Yes,” Karst said. “I love it, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t enjoy doing it.”
He added, “Success in this job is not a personal thing; success is when the church thrives.”