On January 14th and 15th former president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church visited Riga.
Jan Paulsen has served as a leader in Adventist Church for 51 years, he was a dean of Newbold college (UK), president of the Trans–European Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church and finally president of the General Conference. During these years he’s accumulated lots of knowledge and experience, has taught many students theology and has raised many new church leaders.
Paulsen’s visitation started with worship service in Riga I church where he preached to the church members and visitors from Estonia and Lithuania who came to meet him. During his sermon Paulsen encouraged church members to pay close attention to the last 10-12 hours of Jesus’ life which are described in detail in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17. Jesus Christ gave three promises and had three requests from His disciples. “He knew as He stood before his disciples that in a matter of hours He would not be with them. So you can expect that what He would say to them during these last few hours were not peripheral or trivial things, but that He would come to the core, He would come to the heart of what would really really truly matters for their spiritual journey,” said Paulsen.
In the afternoon Paulsen met with the youth and answered their questions. “You may ask any question you like,” said Paulsen. “I’m not professional in all areas, but I’ll try to answer as honest as I can.” Many participants felt that the time devoted for questions and answers has gone in a blinking of an eye.
On Sunday Jan Paulsen met with the ministers. In the first part of the meeting guest shared his experience what it means to be a leader in Adventist Church. He divided his lifetime experience into ten points, starting with integrity, avoiding being maverick to your fellow workers and trusting local leaders, trusting they know the situation and know how to deal with it, and closing with the minister’s personal spiritual life and loving one’s own church. “How you love your Lord, so you will love your church members,” in the closing of the first part said Paulsen. The guest answered questions how to serve the church and what he’s learned during fifty years of his ministry in Africa, Europe and North America. “Looking at Jesus as example, I see two things: firstly, it’s better to serve than being served. This is most important. Not thinking what benefit I will get out of it. Secondly, Christ constantly demonstrated presence of His Father, and that is very important to me. Heavenly Father is watching you. On these two perspectives I’m asking myself, what have I learned. I’ve come to realisation that despite all my shortcomings God expects two things from me. Be trustworthy, obeying Him and do the best you can. I’ve noticed that if I do these things I can sleep better at night.
Jan Paulsen encouraged to read and study the Bible daily, and devote enough time for meditation and prayer. The effectiveness and spirituality of the leader is depending on ability of the Holy Spirit to guide us.
At the end of the meetings I asked local church leader thoughts and opinions about Paulsen’s visitation. For Baltic Union Conference president Valdis Zilgalvis this meeting reminds the return of Adventist churches in the Baltics to the Trans–European Division in 1994:
“I know Dr Th Jan Paulsen since 1989. When Baltic Union Conference returned from the Euro-Asia Division to its historical home at the Trans–European Division, I felt his fatherly help. He is excellent educator and at the same time world class theologian. He was the first of our world church leaders who was interviewed by the Bloomberg Television, world’s largest business and financial news network TV company.
This time we had opportunity to listen his sermon, discussions with youth and lectures to ministers about the leadership. I was moved by his personal ten advices to the leaders. He taught to trust leaders who are responsible for specific tasks. It means not to be a person who makes all the decisions and controls every step of his or her inferiors. I think Dr Paulsen touched important leadership topic when he reminded ministers that every church leader serves not only his or her local congregation, conference or union, but has to keep in his or her eyesight whole worldwide mission field where we learn from each other and depend on each other.”
Latvian Conference president Viesturs Reķis shared his impressions about Paulsen’s challenge to the churches to accept people with different opinions:
“Church members showed interest about Dr Paulsen’s reminder that we all are different, that God has called us and we have to practice love towards God and our fellow beings to make Jesus’ promises true into our lives.
This visit was very saturated and helpful, everyone could receive something to think about and to practice in ministry. I’m happy and delighted that representatives from Estonia and Lithuania could come and take part in these meetings. I’m thankful to Dr Paulsen for taking time visiting us. We wish him abundant God’s blessings in his ministry.”
“Jan Paulsen’s rich, practical and international experience in different levels of church work and leadership is significant and unique for the Adventist church,” said David Nõmmik. “I appreciated his willingness to share some valuable characteristics of leadership in a manner of openness, tactfulness and sensitiveness. Personally, I have highlighted some keywords that will help me to know what is the essence of being a leader and a child of God.”
“I’m thankful to leadership of the Baltic Union Conference for organising these meetings,” said Lithuanian Field president Bertold Hibner. “Paulsen’s emphasis on leader’s qualities which are necessary in today’s dynamic world gave me opportunity to evaluate my ministry. His answers to youth and ministers’ questions gave additional material which I will share with my colleagues when we will discuss the ways we can improve church ministry for the local society. This meeting gave me refreshment.”
In conclusion I asked pastor Tālivaldis Vilnis from Talsi church to share his impressions. “For me personally meetings with brother Paulsen gave many counsels and encouragement because he talked about leadership principles which he learned from his own experience, from both success and failures. It’s interesting that most of all he’s learned form his failures, because failures have motivated him to change and improve his ministry. He also encouraged church members to be open to changes which make church work and mission more effective, because the society around us is changing. At the same time Dr Paulsen asked to stand firm against changes that compromise or devalue biblical teachings or principles. All he said was very practical and was meant to give us at least small amount of wisdom from his vast lifelong experience serving Adventist church at the different leadership levels. Therefore I am thankful to all who organised these meetings. Let God bless those ideas which we heard and which we will put to practice in our ministry!”
Guntis Bukalders, Baltic Union Conference communication director
Baltic Union Conference Communication Director