News from the 58th General Conference Session

58th General Conference Session in St. Louis, USA (2005) New World Church Division in Africa

The first major item of business conducted at the 58th Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Thursday afternoon June 30 was the acceptance of three new divisions, or world church regions, all of which are in Africa, into the Adventist Church.

The East-Central Africa, Southern-Africa Indian Ocean, and the West African church regions have been operating since Jan. 1, 2003, when a major reorganization was carried out. However, this move needed to be ratified by a formal business session of the church for the regions to be officially recognized.

The reorganization of world regions and the recognition of new regions was “evidence of the growth of the church,” said Vice President of the Adventist world church, Lowell Cooper, who chaired the business session. Over the last five years, 5 million new members have joined the Adventist Church, many of whom have been in Africa.

Church Growth

Matthew A. Bediako, executive secretary of the world church, shared his joy in the growth of the church across the world. He stated how the church’s focus on growth, unity and quality of life has attracted people to join the church. The delegates applauded as they recognized that growth in the last five years has been the fastest in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: 5,049,157 accessions have led to a membership in December 2004 of 13,936,932. This means that there is now one Seventh-day Adventist for every 459 people in the world. However, Bert Haloviak, director of Archives and Statistics for the world church, added that nearly 1.5 million left membership during the time period 2000 to 2005. “The bottom line for this quinquennium is that for every 100 accessions, more than 35 others decided to leave,” he told delegates. “That total is considerably more than the 24 subtracted for every 100 added as reported at our last session” in 2000.

Bediako reported how this growth has led to a third division in Africa along with new unions and conferences, or administrative church regions, in Inter-America, South America, Southern Asia and Euro-Asia.

One-third of all Adventist church members now live in Africa. Two million members make Inter-America the largest of the 13 divisions with an annual growth target of 10 percent. Brazil is the country with the greatest number of Adventists in the world: 1,329,662.
These statistics hint at stories of individually changing lives. Division reports during the coming evenings will turn the statistics into stories. Yet even the statistics talk. Over the last five years more than 1,000 regular missionaries have served across the world alongside more than 8,000 Adventist volunteers. The Institute of World Mission has trained 500 missionaries, adding to the 5,000 already qualified.

Those missionaries have given of their best; some have given their lives. As the report was voted, Bediako made an extra presentation: Mellisa DePaiva is a missionary daughter. Her parents, Ruimar Duarte and Margareth DePaiva, served as a missionary pastoral team on the Micronesian island of Palau. In December 2003 they were murdered, along with their son, Larisson.

Tears came to delegates’ eyes as Mellisa came to the platform and indicated to delegates that her goal in life is to be a missionary and return to Palau. Statistics become reality as that kind of Christian commitment and zeal is repeated across the world.

Jan Paulsen Re-Elected Adventist Church President

Jan Paulsen
Jan Paulsen
Pastor Jan Paulsen, 70, was re-elected July 1, 2005, as world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church during the movement’s 58th General Conference Session. He was elected by a unanimous vote of delegates to the church’s 58th General Conference Session in St. Louis, Missouri, United States.

“It is a privilege to serve the Lord and the Church in the leadership role that you have asked me to fulfill. It is an honor, and I want to express appreciation for the trust you placed in me. And I will do my very best to serve the Lord and His church,” Paulsen said immediately after the vote.

Paulsen’s re-election comes on a day when he and his wife, the former Kari Trykkerud, are celebrating 50 years of marriage. The Paulsens have three adult children: Laila Paulsen Becejac, Jan-Rune, and Rein Andre.

What those who work closely with Paulsen want others to know about him is that this is a church president who is passionate about mission, about his work promoting mission, and about the church family.

“It is exciting to work in the president’s office because Pastor Paulsen has a global vision of the church and has a good grasp of what needs to be done,” said Orville Parchment, assistant to the president. “He is very, very much interested in the mission of the church.” Parchment adds that this is why Paulsen’s office has pushed initiatives that encourage mission, such as Sow 1 Billion, Grow One Million and Let’s Talk — an initiative that involves a series of conversations with young people.

Paulsen would like to see all parts of the church and every individual involved in the primary purpose of the church, which is to share Christ with everyone, said Bettina Krause, special assistant to the president for global initiatives.

Newly re-elected leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Dr. Jan Paulsen held a half-hour press conference. Opening questions from the more than 100 reporters, representing Adventist-oriented television, radio and print media, focused on the role of young people in the church and their apparent lack of involvement. “We need to do better at talking with our young people,” Paulsen confessed. “They need to feel that we are sincere about wanting to hear them … We have not done terribly well in giving young people a sense of ownership and involvement in the church.”

Responding to a fellow Norwegian’s concern about the lack of church growth in Europe, Paulsen said that people should not see lack of growth as evidence that God is not involved; “God is there,” he said. He also pointed out that church members and leaders should not compare their situation with that in other parts of the world and that the best solutions to regional problems are usually homegrown.

In a related question one reporter asked whether or not the church was facing a financial crisis due to its rapid growth. “Income is not declining,” replied Paulsen. “Where the church is growing rapidly so is her capacity for self-sufficiency … As a church we are always ‘broke,’ but the resources are there.” Paulsen related finances to a sense of mission. “When the church is being ‘the church,’ our laity give.” Summing up the spirit of giving, which is ingrained in the Adventist psyche, he added, “No Seventh-day Adventist wants to meet the Lord with his bank balance intact!”

When pressed further on the challenges posed by the church’s growth, Paulsen pointed that new churches were not growing as quickly as they could simply because ‘capacity’ could not keep pace with numerical growth. New congregations need to have pastoral care and they need to “have to have a physical facility where people can meet,” he said. A more important challenge though is that of maintaining the church’s unity, he said. “Where you grow rapidly there is a danger of forgetting that we are a world church.” He emphazised that the Adventist Church does not want ‘regionalism’ and that unity is something that has to be worked on.

“Will you remain in office for the full term?” was the final question put to Dr. Paulsen. “I’m happy with what I do,” he replied. “I have a wonderful team of fine colleagues. I have been wonderfully blessed.” The Lord “owns the future,” he continued, choosing his words carefully, but “I go into it as an open assignment.”

Finances Strong as Giving Supports Global Church Work

Treasurer of the Seventh-day Adventist Churc Robert Lemon reported that the 14.3 million-member church averaged U.S. $1.87 billion in tithe contributions for each of the past five years. He pointed out that tithe-giving, which is 10 percent of a church member’s income, has kept pace, increasing from U.S. $398 million in 1980 to what it is today. Over the past five years worldwide tithe has been up by 29 percent, from U.S. $1,029,257,377 in 1999 to U.S. $1,333,482,562 in 2004.

While this number stays consistent, the church treasurer expressed concerns that for the last 25 years giving to missions has remained around U.S. $50 million each year with no distinct increases. “We praise the Lord, but mission giving does not seem, at this point, to captivate the imagination of the church as it should,” Lemon said.

Steve Rose, undertreasurer for the world church, explained that while mission giving has not increased substantially, members are still giving, just through other channels.

Of the total world tithe and offerings, only 1.5 percent, or an average of U.S. $28 million, is spent operating the church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Lemon expressed concern that the actual costs of headquarters operations — which includes building maintenance and staff — are inching closer to the spending limit.

The world church draws funding from church members around the world, and then allocates or appropriates funds to a variety of areas in of great need. Lemon emphasized the church’s commitment to mission; to increasing funds that will make possible programs that introduce the Gospel to the millions who have not heard it.

Adventist Meeting Votes to Affirm Bible

“The Scriptures constitute our supreme rule of faith and practice and the standard by which all teaching and experience is to be tested,” according to a resolution on the Holy Bible voted by delegates to the 58th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Bible resolution came from an earlier Spirit of Prophecy measure that was adopted by the Adventist business session in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 2000. At that time, Jurrien Den Hollander, an Adventist pastor from the Netherlands, reminded delegates of the primacy of the Bible in Adventist belief, and asked if a resolution affirming that could be presented.

The Bible resolution reads:

“As delegates to the 2005 General Conference Session in St Louis, Missouri, we reaffirm the centrality of the Scriptures in the message and life of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In them the beauty, love, and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ are revealed and offered to us as a gift of salvation through faith in His atoning sacrifice. Through them God reveals Himself to us, conveying an authentic expression of His character, a true conception of the nature of reality, a reliable record of His acts, a revelation of His purpose and an expression of His loving will for us. The Scriptures constitute our supreme rule of faith and practice and the standard by which all teaching and experience is to be tested. Their divine origin invests them with an authority and a message that is relevant to and transcends all cultures and can satisfy our deepest needs.

Given the unique nature and importance of the Scriptures and the manifold benefits their systematic study brings to the Church, we the delegates of the General Conference in Session appeal to all Seventh-day Adventist believers around the world to make intentional provision in their daily routine for regular, prayerful reading of the Scriptures. Moreover, because biblical truths are for the benefit of all, especially those who will come to Christ, we urge every believer to actively seek ways to share the message of th Scriptures with others in order to prepare the world for the soon coming of our Lord.”