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. This includes additional comments not included in the print edition of the March GLEANER.
You have left the Upper Columbia Conference after helping the staff transition to temporary quarters following the devastating fire that destroyed the former headquarters building.
It is difficult for me to leave Upper Columbia under any circumstances. Spokane has been home to us for more than 20 years—longer than I have lived anywhere in my entire life. It is here we have invested more than half of our ministry in pastoring, departmental leadership and administration. It is here we finished raising our girls, added sons-in-laws and have wonderful colleagues, friends and memories!
With the fire happening as it did, three days after my last day in the office, it felt like I was abandoning the ship in the middle of a horrible storm, so I slowed the pace of my transition to the Union, to add as much stability and consistency as possible to the conference during the initial emergency. Through daily meetings with administrators and different department heads, a strategy emerged. An intense search for temporary office space uncovered an excellent facility at 15918 E Euclid, in the Spokane Valley. The office operations including the Adventist Book Center, have been successfully relocated there, and the staff will have a place to call "home" while our office is being re-built.
All of this has been a reminder that the conference is not just a building—it is a team of God's people who are united in accomplishing His mission in their part of the world. Upper Columbia's team of 25,000 members and all of their leaders are still in place and doing their jobs well and to the glory of God. Soon the new conference president will be in place and a semblance of normalcy will return.
GLEANER: What gave you certainty that God has called you to this position?
When confronted with major decisions, I always plead with God to make His will clear—and I always hope that THIS TIME, He will write my answer in the sky or send a sign. He has rarely communicated with me in that way, and He did not do so this time. My certainty about this call is based on the positive convergences of numerous factors that all pointed in this direction, AND a decision making process that was bathed in prayer at every step.
Some of the factors include:
1) I feel greater certainty about this call because I will be working in a place and with many people that I have established relationships with through the years . I have had the privilege of serving the church in the Northwest for more than 26 years, and that shared history makes me more comfortable and more confident about leadership here, as we make decisions for the future of the church.
2) The call to serve as president came from the NPUC Executive Committee, a group of respected, prayerful leaders, who I believe God uses to direct His work, and communicate His will in the Northwest. Their confidence in me was deeply meaningful.
3) It is an opportunity for parts of my family to be closer together than we have been in a long time—and my wife actually agreed to move.
4) Mrs. White speaks of the value of leadership change periodically and I think it will bring new energy and creative ideas to have new leadership for Upper Columbia Conference. It is good timing for a change there.
GLEANER: You're stepping into a position left vacant by Jere Patzer's death.
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. The thing that saddens me the most is this time, he won't be here to mentor and coach me as he did before. I will miss him.
GLEANER: What does it mean to you to fill the position once occupied by your own father?
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be just like my Dad. While I never anticipated following in his footsteps quite this closely, it is 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's still my desire.
GLEANER: In this time of economic downturn, do you feel our church needs to re-evaluate its structure?
Times of economic hardship are times of uncertainty and challenge. They are also times of opportunity—opportunity to reevaluate and reprioritize. In the months ahead, the church at every level will have to reevaluate every service and every function to make sure each aspect of the work is mission driven and essential to the task God has given us. Wherever possible, I believe that the resources need to be prioritized at the front line of mission which is located at the local churches and schools. The structure of the church must always serve the needs of the local fields and not the other way around.
GLEANER: What do you see as the three most critical challenges for Northwest membership today?
The greatest challenge is to keep our focus on the task we have been commissioned to do, and that is to take the Good News to every man, woman, and child in the Pacific Northwest. Every individual, every congregation, every school, every department, 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?
A second 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? Are we trusting them with significant responsibility? 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.
A third critical challenge is how we will respond to the economic downturn which is likely to affect us for years to come. It is time we get serious about ways of doing church which are less dependent on money and buildings and more dependent on real Holy Spirit power. The early Christian church had few earthly resources, but was rich in spiritual energy which empowered them to reach the entire known world with a knowledge of the life and work of Jesus. We who are called to "finish the work" in these last days, will undoubtedly be successful, only through the Spirit's power.
GLEANER: 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 started our pastoral ministry in the Woodland and Cedar Creek district just a few miles up the road from the Union 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!
GLEANER: Who would you consider major mentors in your life?
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.
Second, I consider my wife Linnea a mentor. Since we first met at Pacific Union College, she has made me want to be a better person than I am. She encourages me, loves me, prays for and takes care of me, and says the 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 Adventist teachers have had on my life is probably immeasurable. From a one room school in the basement of the Jamestown, North Dakota Church to graduate school at Andrews and Loma Linda Universities, I have been blessed with an outstanding education. 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 PUC, 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.
GLEANER: What is a "guiding principle" at the core of your ministry and leadership?
Servanthood. Matthew 23:11—"He who is greatest among you shall be your servant." I want to be a faithful and devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
GLEANER: What is the most important lesson you have learned in 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. Second, 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 would.
GLEANER: Which person in history would you most like to meet?
Nothing could compare with sitting down to have a heart to heart with the Lord Jesus Christ. I try to do that every day, but to see Him visibly and face to face—that would be the ultimate!
Second choice would be the Apostle Paul, the greatest evangelist of all time. I would have a whole list of questions related to advice on what he would suggest in helping us be more successful in finishing the Gospel Commission. I think he would likely say something like, "Do not throw away your confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all he has promised. For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay." Hebrews 10:35,36.
GLEANER: Do you have a most influential book that has made a great impact on your life?
My favorite book is The Ministry of Healing by Ellen White. Soon after I met Linnea, I found her father, Olov Blomquist, had offered to pay his three daughters five bucks each time they read the last five chapters of the book. Naturally, wanting to raise some additional capital to properly court his daughter, I inquired if he would include me in the deal. He did. So, you will understand 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 some quotations that over the years have become my favorites:
"Our life-work here is a preparation for the life eternal. The education begun here will not be completed in this life; it will be going forward through all eternity, ever progressing, never completed. More and more fully will be revealed the wisdom and love of God in the plan of redemption." MH 466
"What a man is has more influence than what he says." MH 469
"The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian." MH 470
"The fact that we are called upon to endure trial shows that the Lord Jesus sees in us something precious, which He desires to develop." MH 471
"Often our plans fail, that God's plans for us may succeed." MH 473
"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." MH 474
"Not by their wealth, their education, or their position does God estimate men. He estimates them by their purity of motive and their beauty of character." MH 477
"Of all the gifts that heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honor." MH 478
"God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as coworkers with Him." MH 479
"Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service of God supreme, will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet." MH 481
"We are to live, not to guard our feelings or our reputation, but to save souls. As we become interested in the salvation of souls, we cease to mind the little differences that so often arise in our association with one another." MH 485
"If we have a sense of the long-suffering of God toward us, we shall not be found judging or accusing others." MH 489
"Christianity will make a man a gentleman. Christ was courteous, even to His persecutors; and His true followers will manifest the same spirit." MH 489
"Do something every day to improve, beautify, and ennoble the life that Christ has purchased with His own blood." MH 491
"Always act from principle, never from impulse." MH 491
"The power of self-restraint strengthens by exercise." MH 491
"By dwelling upon the faults of others, we are changed into the same image." MH 492
"Should Jesus deal with us as we too often deal with one another, who of us could be saved?" MH 494
"Whatever your work, do it with exactness, with diligence; overcome the inclination to seek an easy task." MH 499
"Man can shape circumstances, but circumstances should not be allowed to shape the man." MH 500
"Every one who accepts Christ as his personal Savior will long for the privilege of serving God." MH 502
"We need constantly a fresh revelation of Christ, a daily experience that harmonizes with His teachings. High and holy attainments are within our reach. Continual progress in knowledge and virtue is God's purpose for us." MH 503
"We must have less trust in what we ourselves can do, and more trust is what the Lord can do for and through us." MH 513
GLEANER: What is your favorite text of Scripture and why?
Philippians 1:6 "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 plan to continue claiming it until Jesus comes.