(Thoughts and reflections as I watched the General Conference Annual Council 2017.)
It happened when I was pastoring a smaller church in a large metropolitan area. We had a growing number teens and young adults in that church--but most of them weren't involved in church beyond weekend attendance.
Silvia and I invited this growing group of young people to a social evening. At some point in the evening I asked these teens and young adults why they weren't involved more. They responded that the "old people did everything" and they "felt judged if they did it any way but the way it has always been done."
So I asked them what they wanted. They wanted inspiring music--not just hymns (yes, even in the early 2000s, some church were still singing hymns, and this church was still using the 1941 edition of the SDA church hymnal--not even the 1985 copy!) They wanted to be involved in worship. At that time, my church had two elders and they always accompanied me on the platform. One did the offering appeal--the other the morning prayer. Next week, they traded. And they wanted more social activities. And they had quite a simple list of things that most Adventist churches had addressed a decade before.
"In that case," I responded, "why don't all of you who are baptized come to the next church business meeting and make it happen?"
"The adults won't let us..." one said.
"They will contradict us and overrule us..." said another.
"I don't know," I told them. "Not many people come out to church business meetings."
Fast forward a couple of weeks later to the next church business meeting. Everyone of those young people were present. Some of their parents--instead of coming in like they should have, dropped their kids off and told them to call when they were ready to be picked up. Long story short, the young people outnumbered the adults significantly.
The votes went a different way that night.
Needless to say, the next church business meeting was well-attended. And while at first there was some attempt to reverse some previous decisions, it was quickly realized that with an army of young people, the dream for growing a church could more easily be realized. When I left that church, we actually had more people in weekly attendance than we had book membership!
Reminiscing on those past events in the light of the current struggles within the Adventist Church and Annual Council (#GCAC17), I find myself wondering what would happen if our youth and young adults would stand up and make a difference. For generations, the conversation has been how to get our youth involved. How do we keep our more than half of our teens from leaving the church? And by the way, at #GCAC17 this year, that question was addressed and I didn't hear much that was new or inspiriting.
As I watched #GCAC17, I found myself asking, what is the average age of the delegates? Who was the youngest delegate? Was there a delegate under the age of even 45? Was there any in their 20s?If not, why not? If so, how many? What was the ratio?
You know who wasn't watching? The majority of youth and young adults. Do you know why? They feel disconnected. It's not their church. It's the church of a rapidly aging generation arguing about issues they moved past along time ago. And they're shaking their heads and wondering where they fit in in all this.
But this is why I write. It's an appeal to all the youth and young adults of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. While what I'm about to say is over-simplified, the truth is it will scare those in power and give them something serious to think about. The fact is that changes in the GC must start with changes in the local church and the local conference. Those changes will affect the unions, which will affect the divisions, and ultimately, the GC. Sound tough? Of course, nothing is easy.
But... If you were to unite, you'd already have the votes. And that gives you a voice.
Get involved in your local churches. Get involved at the homeless shelters. If you don't have one in your town--start one. Get involved making a difference in people's lives. This is the heart of outreach and evangelism. Teach them Jesus and His love. Fill your church with hurting and broken people. As your church fills with youth and young adults, they will be put in positions of leadership there. The change will begin. The balance of church power will begin to shift.
Then when conference constituencies come around, your church will have grown be able to elect more delegates based on membership to attend that important meeting where officers are selected. Your delegates will be younger. United with the delegates from other churches, you will have the voice and vote to make any necessary changes in your conference. Do you want a younger President, VP, and leaders? Perhaps you have good conference leadership but want to surround them with a younger executive committee... You have to remember, this is your church, too!
Before I conclude, let me hasten to add, this isn't about power. It's about voice and vision, and most importantly--MISSION. It's about making a difference and taking the Gospel to the world in this generation. Whoever is elected to lead at whatever age must be a defender of the Bible truths and Adventist mission. And they should be a person of integrity that is clearly being led by the Holy Spirit. That's a given. It should be noted, that age doesn't automatically disqualify one from serving. There are some really good administrators out there who are filled with the Holy Spirit and are making significant and positive contributions to the church though they may not be closer to retirement. Nonetheless, they are championing and empowering young adults to take the lead in many of these ministries.
As I conclude, I can't help but remember this statement from Ellen White, more than 100 years ago. But it seems more true today than ever. "With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior might be carried to the whole world!" (Education, 271).
I regret I didn't speak up more for young adult leadership at administrative levels when I was in my 20s and 30s. Now as 41-year-old pastor, I'm realizing my time as young person is quickly eroding--if not already. It's time to make your voices heard. And don't tell me they lack experience. I have for years now watched as these young pastors take on the impossible and succeed. Why? Because God honors risk-taking faith. And these younger pastors haven't yet been chewed up and spit out by the more traditional seeking members yet.
Imagine the difference it would make in the church--a church built on the shoulders of teens and 20-something pioneers. Imagine the work being finished by teens and 20-something pioneers of today!
Note: I responded to GCAC14 as well. If interested, click here for that post)