Young Adult Leaders Share Their Vision for the Adventist Church
by Monte Sahlin
By Adventist Today News Team, November 30, 2013
An official voice for the views of young adults from the Millennial Generation emerged for the first time at the 2013 annual meeting of the governing body for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. The meeting of the North American Division (NAD) executive committee was held earlier this month and the NAD communication department has now released a document put together by the 12 invited student delegates who attended.
The young adults who put together this statement are elected study body officers from Adventist colleges and universities, and therefore more likely to be representative of the attitudes of their generational peers than delegates selected by others. The NAD Working Policy directs each of the union conferences to include young adults among the members appointed to the committee, but in recent years this provision has not been given much attention. The Adventist Intercollegiate Association (AIA), which is made up of the student body officers elected on each campus, negotiated the arrangements for an additional group to be invited by the NAD officers. Student leaders participated from eight of the 13 institutions affiliated with the denomination.
"We appreciate being the first delegation of student representatives invited … and warmly acknowledge the inclusive vision of the NAD leadership in inviting us," the statement said. "We … therefore feel inspired to share our collective vision on behalf of our generation." The document includes 15 specific bullet points begins with an introduction that acknowledges "increasing disaffection and disillusionment with Adventism in our generation."
The theme in all of the points made is simply "we wish to move from … a church too often focused inward to one passionately focused outward." The document calls for a missional church instead of one focused on defending the defensive stance of a withdrawing sect.
The document clearly states a wholistic understanding of the mission of Christ, urging that Adventists "live and teach our doctrines from a Jesus-centered perspective without compromising our distinctive message, … effectively communicate and demonstrate the ultimate purpose of our many doctrines: living a life of freedom, abundance, and joy [and] ensure that we not only preach the gospel but practice it as well by actively engaging in the real problems of the world: loneliness, illness, addiction, poverty, and environmental degradation."
These young adult leaders want a church that is "a safe place for the community in times of hunger, homelessness, injury, and distress." And the perception is that this is not the character of many if not most local Adventist congregations at present.
The new media opened up the Internet are important to young adults. The document recommends that the NAD "build an engine for cultural change through a web presence that integrates education, evangelism, and practical spirituality." Instead of an institutional presence in the social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the document recommends that the denomination "actively encourage qualified lay members of the church to assume leadership at the grass root level."
The document speaks to the role of women in the church, recommending that the NAD "move forward with policies that encourage women to pursue ministry and leadership of all kinds within the church; encourage young women to follow God’s calling to pastoral ministry without concern for gender discrimination in future church employment opportunities; [and] acknowledge the diversity of conviction within the world church on the ordination of women with both moral courage and cultural sensitivity."
Specifically on the topic of engaging new generations with the Adventist faith and community, the document urges the denomination to "empower young people through offering significant positions in church leadership; challenge them by casting a bold vision with high expectations; make use of their talent and skill; make them feel needed and relevant." There was also a specific recommendation that Adventist leaders "foster opportunities for mentorship in mission and evangelism that will lead to a lifetime of dedication to the church."
"In some ways this document is not much different from what has been expressed by several younger generations over the past four decade," Monte Sahlin, who monitors research on the changing generations for the Center for Creative Ministry, told Adventist Today. "Unfortunately the work necessary to engage new generations in the Church has usually been given less priority than immediate organizational issues and the ongoing tug-of-war between warring viewpoints among Adventists."