EDITOR'S NOTE: Although the transition was delayed by enormous challenges following the devastating fire at the Upper Columbia Conference headquarters, Max Torkelsen II has now taken up his duties as North Pacific Union Conference president, a position his father held from 1976–1980. It's our hope this brief interview will give our readers a snapshot of the new Torkelsen at the helm. A more complete interview is available at www.gleaneronline.org.
GLEANER: You're stepping into a position left vacant by Jere Patzer's death and once occupied by your own father.
MAX: In my opinion, Jere Patzer was one of the finest church administrators of this generation and it was my privilege to work closely with him for more than two decades. I've lost a mentor and a coach. I will miss him.
And, yes, as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be like my Dad. I never anticipated following in his footsteps quite this closely, but it's an honor to do so. Through the years, my deep respect for my Dad has made me think twice about certain decisions or temptations—because I always wanted him to be able to be proud of me. Now I'll be walking past his photograph in the hall every day at the office, and I'll be reminded that it's still my desire.
In this time of economic downturn, do you feel our church needs to re-evaluate its structure?
While economic hardship brings uncertainty and challenge, it also gives us opportunity—opportunity to re-evaluate and reprioritize. In the months ahead, the church at every level will have to re-evaluate every service and function to make sure each is mission-driven and essential to the task God has given us. And, wherever possible, I believe our resources need to be put at the front line of mission which is at our local churches and schools. The structure of the church must always serve the needs of the local fields and not the other way around.
What are the three most critical challenges for our church mission in the Northwest?
First, I believe the greatest challenge is to stay focused and loyal to our commission to take the Good News to every man, woman and child in the Pacific Northwest. Every individual, every congregation, every school, every department and every conference must be willing to ask the tough question: "How are we making a positive difference in reaching our corner of the world for Christ?"
Second, a significant challenge is keeping our church responsive to and engaged with youth and young adults. Are we listening? Are we integrating them into the life of the church? Do we trust them with significant responsibilities? And how can we grow and change without compromising the essential principles of the Adventist Movement? It will require love and understanding on the part of both young and old.
Third, is how we'll respond to the economic downturn which is likely to affect us for years to come. It's time we get serious about ways of doing church that are less dependent on money and buildings and more dependent on real Holy Spirit power. The early Christian church had few earthly resources, yet was rich in spiritual energy which empowered them to reach the entire known world with the message of Jesus. We who are called to "finish the work" in these last days will undoubtedly be successful only through the Spirit's power.
What do you look forward to the most in this new position?
It's a bit of a sentimental journey for us. Linnea and I began our pastoral ministry in the Woodland and Cedar Creek (in the Oregon Conference) district just a few miles up the road from the NPUC office. So in a way, we're coming full circle—it's like coming back home.
I also look forward to meeting thousands more of the wonderful Seventh-day Adventist Christians who live in the Pacific Northwest. I look forward to working together to do great things for Jesus. What a privilege if we could together be among that special group who live through the last days and are translated without seeing death. It could happen in this generation...it could happen NOW!
Who do you consider mentors in your life?
Well, no two people have had a greater impact on my life than my parents. They have encouraged and counseled me and held me accountable in ways no one else could.
My wife, Linnea, has been a mentor. Since we first met at Pacific Union College, she has made me want to be a better person. She encourages me, loves me, prays for me and says things I need to hear whether or not I want to hear them. We are, in every way, united in our desire to minister faithfully in the area God calls us to serve.
Finally, the impact of Adventist teachers is probably immeasurable, but there are two teachers who stand out in a special way. Elder Winston DeHaven was my seventh- and eighth-grade teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. He believed in me and inspired me to believe in myself. He encouraged me to develop leadership gifts I didn't know I had. Elder Carl Coffman has had a profound effect on my life and my ministry. As my professor at Pacific Union College, he allowed me to see what a true pastor's heart looks like. He showed us how to love the church and how to be practical, faithful servants of God.
What is a "guiding principle" at the core of your ministry and leadership?
Servanthood, like it is found in Matthew 23:11. I want to be a faithful and devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
What is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your life?
You can't do it all by yourself. You have to depend on God to see you through the stress and complexities that have to be met as a church leader. And, you have to learn to trust those God has called you to work with. Delegate responsibility to them and let them utilize their gifts even if they do it differently than you.
Is there a book that has made a great impact on your life?
My favorite book is The Ministry of Healing by Ellen G. White. Soon after I met Linnea, I discovered Olov Blomquist, her father, offered to pay his three daughters five dollars each time they read the last five chapters of the book. Naturally, wanting to raise some additional capital to properly court his daughter, I asked if he would include me in the deal. He did. So...I have read those five chapters of Ministry of Healing lots and lots of times! In the process of falling in love with Linnea, the words on those pages became very precious to me as well. Here are just a few: "Often our plans fail, that God's plans for us may succeed." (p. 473) And here's another thought: "In the future life, the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings." (p. 474)
What about a favorite, meaningful Scripture?
Philippians 1:6, which says, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." I began claiming that promise the day I left to serve as a student missionary in Djakarta, Indonesia, and I'll continue to claim it until Jesus comes.
PULL QUOTE: It's time we get serious about ways of doing church that are less dependent on money and buildings and more dependent on real Holy Spirit power.