his past summer my wife, Denise, and I celebrated our thirtieth anniversary with a seven-day cruise through the Caribbean. As the Sabbath hours approached, we attended an informal Jewish ceremony on the ship to open the Sabbath—the Shabbat, as the Jews would say.
We entered the room about five minutes late, but the ceremony still hadn’t started. At the invitation of one gentleman, I donned a yarmulke, and we were both given siddurs (prayer books). We discovered that the reason for the delay was that in Jewish tradition, the service could not begin until 10 men were present (and up to that point there were only eight, including myself).
(Though several women were present, they didn’t count, under Orthodox customs. Even 10-year-old Johnny (not his real name) couldn’t be counted because he hadn’t been bar mitzvahed.)
As we waited for more men to arrive, little Johnny became impatient and irritated with the delay. “Why can’t we get started?” he asked his father. “Who is going to lead out? Why can’t they count me?” Johnny’s frustration grew to the point where he didn’t want to be in the service. It wasn’t until his father spoke to him in a stern voice that he settled down. Finally, after a 30-minute wait, the ceremony started.
In reflecting on Johnny’s experience that Friday evening, I couldn’t help but think about the many young Adventist professionals who are asking similar questions today. “When can we get started?” “Who will lead out?” “When can we play a major role in the church’s leadership?”
Like Johnny, they want to be counted in. They want to bring their talents to the church. They would add boundless energy and refreshing new approaches to the cause of God and the advancement of His kingdom.
But the questions remain: Will the church be open to them? Will the church embrace them and affirm them?
Our church has been proactive in some areas. We’re good at organizing mission trips, building projects, prescripted evangelistic campaigns, language schools, community outreach initiatives, volunteer service projects, singles’ ministries, couples’ clubs, and other ministries. Some congregations regularly celebrate youth by giving them opportunities to take over worship functions.
While these activities are wonderful experiences, the time has come to prepare lay young adult professionals to assist in setting the church’s agenda. Are we intentionally involving them in the leadership process? Can we be courageous enough to expose them to the real in-your-face struggles that our leaders confront every day? Will we take the risk to work with them, despite the inevitable mistakes and missteps that may occur?
In his address to church leaders at the 2006 Annual Council, General Conference president Jan Paulsen stated: “The most pervasive and important challenge young adults put to me is this: ‘We feel that we are not trusted or considered worthy to be taken into the thinking, planning, and decision-making of the church. We are held outside.’”
Paulsen went on to say that young people do not feel the ownership and responsibility for the life of the church, and he warned that if youth and young adults are not included now, they may not be around in the future.
The world church has taken a small step to reach out to young adults. Each of the church’s 13 world divisions includes young adult delegates on the General Conference Executive Committee, the church’s highest governing body.
While these steps taken by the GC and the world divisions are admirable, are they really enough? Can more be done to open the door of participation for young adults? Perhaps this is an issue that should be given more urgent study.
Beyond the General Conference and its world divisions, more should be done in other areas of the church. It’s high time for local churches to be proactive, including having youth on church boards and nominating committees. Local and union conferences can do the same. Our academies and colleges can partner with conferences, encouraging students to see church governance in action at school board sessions and executive committee meetings.
Our youth and young professionals want to get started. They want to be trusted. They want responsibility and ownership. It’s vital that they are included. After all, the church’s future, humanly speaking, is in their hands.
By the way, little Johnny was smiling ear to ear by the end of the ceremony. The cantor, a Holocaust survivor, had invited him to recite a few blessings. Johnny was a happy camper because he was involved.
Carlos Medley is online editor of the Adventist Review.