|ere’s a remarkable sequence of facts:
1. An alarming number of Adventist youth and young adults in the Northern Hemisphere are leaving the church. Some surveys indicate that as many as 1 in 2 will drop out of attendance or membership by age 301;
2. One of the highest predictors of continued loyalty to the Adventist Church is the number of years spent in Adventist education.2 Students enrolled for 12 or more years in Adventist schools have a much higher likelihood of remaining active Adventists for the rest of their lives;
3. Fewer than 40 percent of Adventist families in North America are choosing to enroll their children in Adventist schools.3
As a former youth pastor, I know firsthand the challenges of walking with teens and young adults toward a mature faith in Christ and active participation in His body. A host of distractions in modern culture—and sometimes in the church—pull Adventist teens and college students away from the life of discipleship and into a restless sea of cynicism.
Adventist adults regularly fret over the startling temptations showcased in contemporary media, the casual sexuality that seems to have become normative, the easy availability of mind-altering substances. And we do well to worry that any or all of these are pushing unprecedented challenges on our kids—challenges that many of us slid blissfully by 20 or 40 years ago.
And we must also frankly admit that the experience of life in the local church sometimes hardens as many young hearts as it blesses. Their idealism thwarted, many youth move instinctively away from rigid structures, the gossiping about lifestyle choices, and perceived inequalities between genders and among races.
There is no shortage of rationales for why an Adventist young adult might opt out of or away from the church their parents or grandparents embraced.
And if the story ended there, we would be, in the words of the apostle, “of all people most miserable.” Who can abide the thought of a child or grandchild walking away from faith? Who can pretend unruffled equanimity when your flesh and blood is making choices that will painfully wound or even scar for life?
But remedies exist—more than 1,000 of them in North America, and 7,000 worldwide—and they are as close as your nearest Adventist school and far more likely to secure faith in the next generation than the low-cost lottery of public education. For all their imperfections—and as a parent of teenage sons at an Adventist academy, I know more than a few—Adventist schools have a remarkable success rate in keeping Adventist kids focused on faith. And in the end of it all, that’s why I write the checks each month—because I want my sons to breathe an atmosphere in which brokenness is not the last word and faith still has a fighting chance.
I have no qualms in stating it: I want the teacher who opens up the story of Africa to my son to be a person skilled in reading Providence in the history of that continent. I want the biologist who teaches my teenager about the marvelous intricacies of the knee to be a man or woman who has spent more than a little time on their own knees. I want the coach who urges him to stretch before a basketball game or a tumbling run to be a believer whose own soul has been stretched and stirred by a profound encounter with the Lord Jesus.
I know one place where I am more likely to achieve those goals—and it isn’t at the tax-supported enculturation center of the public high school or even in the relatively benign precincts of an evangelical academy that shares at least some of my values.
While I will always push my Adventist school to do its work better, finer, higher, and less expensively, I will not put the sons I love at risk by binding them to whatever education lies at the end of a public school bus ride or that goes by the name of “evangelical.”
No doubt about it: the odds are stacked against Adventist youth and young adults today. But it lies within our power to alter seeming destiny by investing in an education that urges excellence and also makes them “wise unto salvation.” Each of us can favorably change the odds for some Adventist youth or young adult we care about.
If you know of a more important work, go do it. But if you are serious about wanting to see the children you love beside you in the classroom of forever, make a commitment—and then make a phone call.
1Roger Dudley, Why Our Teenagers Leave the Church (Review and Herald, 2000), p. 35.
2Ibid., p. 160.
3Larry Blackmer, “Adventist Education Refocuses on Mission,” Adventist Review, March 13, 2008.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.