Be agents of change in both the church and the community, Seventh-day Adventist world church President Jan Paulsen told more than a dozen young, urban professionals gathered at church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States yesterday.
Urging active engagement, Paulsen addressed questions from the twenty- and thirty-somethings -- all of whom work in or around the nation's capital -- during an hour-long live, unscripted broadcast yesterday.
While the church leader has talked with young Adventists from 30 countries worldwide over the series' five-year run, Let's Talk Washington, D.C. is the first installment held at the world church headquarters.
The unedited conversation focused largely on broadening roles for young people and women in ministry, politics and community involvement. On all fronts, Paulsen urged the group to assert themselves and not passively wait on church leaders to suggest roles for them.
"You need to, if necessary, push yourself on the leadership of your local church," he said, adding that the local level is the best arena to enact change in both the church and the community.
"Far too few of our members are engaged in any way in the community," Paulsen said. "How are we going to reach people if we do not bother to step into their world? We have to stop and ask ourselves a critical question: 'Have we got it right?' The answer is, 'No, not quite right."
One participant asked whether more tithe money should stay at the local church level if in fact each church acts as a ministry hub for the surrounding community. Paulsen agreed that tithe distribution should be reevaluated to better support outreach at the local level.
With several participants employed in government jobs, the conversation naturally turned to political involvement. When one participant asked whether members should exercise caution when choosing careers in politics, Paulsen said, "If anything, I think we have erred by being too reticent to get involved."
As long as members don't muddle their church's agenda with their civic duty, Paulsen said he saw no reason members shouldn't seek elected public office.
"The church is a voice for right values," Paulsen said. "If laws are compromised and freedom is in danger, we shouldn't be afraid to influence public opinion. We should weigh the issues carefully, know what we're defending and let our voice be heard."
In his answers, Paulsen urged participants to help answer each other's questions, particularly when one panelist questioned the continued existence of "regional" conferences, historically African American conferences in the eastern U.S.
"We've grown up in an increasingly multicultural society, yet when many of us go to church, we worship relatively among our own," one participant said, calling on church leadership to dismantle what he called seemingly race-based conferences.
"We are one family," Paulsen said. "If we don't act like one, shame on us." Diversity, he added, should be celebrated, not allowed to become a "criteria for value judgments." He then asked the group for their suggestions on resolving the issue.
One participant reminded Paulsen that when church leadership discussed the issue a decade ago, they promised a follow-up. "To my knowledge, that conversation hasn't taken place," he said, adding that any forthcoming discussion should involve young people who "may not be as entrenched in these old ideas."
Other participants suggested that churches receive incentives for building diverse membership bases. "Like an affirmative membership policy?" discussion moderator Bryan Collick asked.
"You can't rely on the conference or the churches to integrate themselves," one participant said. "There has to be some reason for churches to say, 'We can't continue the status quo, we're going to do things differently.'"
Once again, Paulsen urged the group not to wait for change. "Tell leaders you think the reasoning behind regional conferences is no longer valid. I also tell them, but it is good if they hear it from you as well."
The church, he said, is not a "static" organization, but one that should adapt to the "dynamics of living in a modern world." The important thing, Paulsen added, is to "carry with us and make relevant our church's core values."
When the issue of women's ordination came up, Paulsen suggested that church regions should be responsible for involving more women in ministry where appropriate.
"I think as a church we must ask ourselves, 'Can we resolve this issue so that what may be possible in one part of the world can be done there, even if it is not acceptable or possible in another region,'" he said.
Shortly before the broadcast, Paulsen commented on why he'd decided to continue Let's Talk after announcing last year the series would end.
"A conversation is something you've always got to keep going," he said. "Let's Talk began with teenagers and college students, and it seems only right that the series should mature to include young professionals."