Program Grooms Adventists
Under 30 for Church Work
Participants eager for long-term leadership opportunities
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER, Adventist News Network, reporting from Miami, Florida
ELIS VIERA has a message for Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders: “Put us to work.”
The 20-year-old Puerto Rican, a student at the island’s Antillean Adventist University, was among three young delegates who attended the church’s Inter-American Division’s year-end meetings in Miami recently and hopes opportunities to shape the church’s future don’t end there.
Since 2006, three of the church’s union conferences in Inter-America have each selected a local young Adventist to help represent his or her fellow church members at annual business meetings. As temporary full members of the division’s executive committee, they’re invited to participate in discussions and vote on agenda items.
Viera and her fellow young delegates—Mynor Batz of Guatemala and Amoy Johnson of Jamaica—say the program is helping dispel long-held concerns that the under-30 crowd may not be equipped or committed enough to handle leadership positions within the church.
The three, who spent November 1 to 4 observing church decision-making, were at first unsure of their role, but found the process interesting and hope the program ushers in a more ongoing means of including young adults in church leadership.
RISING LEADERS: Bernardo Rodriguez (left), youth ministries director for the church in Inter-America, with delegates Lelis Viera, Amoy Johnson, and Mynor Batz. The three young adults served as temporary members of the division’s top leadership committee in November, lending their input in an area where 60 percent of Adventists are between the ages of 16 and 35.
“I feel that lately the church is making more room for us,” Batz, whose Spanish was translated by Viera, said during the meetings. “I saw more young pastors and church leaders here this week than I expected to. It’s good to see the church is starting to integrate us.”
While Batz, 29, was quick to recognize recent progress, he said more work lies on the horizon.
“It’s still difficult. Often when we’re young, church leaders don’t always trust us. We might be allowed to ‘work’ for the church, but we rarely get to make decisions. Usually, we’re just doing what older people have decided we should do,” he said.
The young delegate program in Inter-America is an exception Batz said he hopes catches
on in other church regions worldwide.
Bernardo Rodriguez, youth ministries director for Inter-America, said the program works well in the region largely because of its young church membership makeup—some 60 percent of Adventists there are between the ages of 16 and 35.
“I would like to see more young people in Inter-America in more positions of leadership,” Rodriguez said. “Bringing some here each year as part of the executive committee sends a message to church administration—that the young people of Inter-America should have a vote and a voice, one that needs to be heard at the local level and at this level.”
In at least three Inter-American countries—Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela—young people are now welcomed to serve as youth elders. “That didn’t really happen before we launched this young delegate program,” Rodriguez said.
While young delegates are often “shy and unsure” at first, once they’re encouraged to participate they do so enthusiastically, he added.
“I think some of the delegates have been surprised that we’ve talked. I think they thought we would just sit there,” said Viera, who admits she initially felt overwhelmed. “We sort of stand out,” she added, laughing and gesturing toward a room largely full of dark-suited, middle-aged church officials.
Batz said he wasn’t sure how much participation was expected of young delegates, but decided to come prepared with a written statement addressing what he sees as concerns for young Adventists in Guatemala.
“Coming here, I felt like I had the responsibility to say something on their behalf. I was just waiting for the right moment,” he said.
Each of the young delegates commented during an agenda item about youth ministries events in Inter-America, including the world church’s Follow the Bible initiative and an upcoming Bible Bowl competition, in which teams of young Adventists compete to answer questions based on Bible stories. When Batz, who spoke last, began reading his statement, an officiating delegate reminded him not to stray off topic. Executive committee delegates are required to speak only on agenda items currently being discussed to ensure all topics are covered during the meetings.
During an afternoon break, Batz finished sharing his thoughts with Viera and Johnson.
He applauded the youth ministries programs listed in the agenda, but worried they were only isolated events. He also wondered why some older church members speak of young people as the church’s future leaders, yet are reluctant to let them “practice” for the job.
“How can we be good leaders if we don’t have experience?” he said.
Viera agreed, adding that she thinks young professionals in the church still remain a largely untapped resource. “We have so many young, trained professionals who are ready to help,” she said. “We have a lot of ideas, and when we get excited about something, we’re going to give it our best.”
YOUTH CONCERNS: Representing Guatemala, Mynor Batz shares concerns on behalf of the young people of the church in his country.
One problem, Johnson, 21, said, might be that “youth ministries” usually involves activities separate from main church events. What began as an admirable effort to carve out space for young people in the church might now be limiting their sphere of influence, she said.
“Right,” Viera said, “because in the end, we’re all part of the same church. It’s not just kids, or young people, or women. We have to find a way to work together.”
Offering a mentorship program similar to the region’s young delegate program, but ongoing, might be one solution, Johnson suggested. “In Jamaica you have the minister of education, and you have a junior minister who shadows the minister and learns the job.”
This would solve a problem many young adults seeking positions in church work face, Viera said—lack of experience. “Even coming here, I’ve felt lost a lot of the time. We don’t know the background on most of what’s being discussed, and while I’ve been grateful to participate, I can’t say I’ve been really ‘impactful’—is that a word?”
“In Jamaica it is,” Johnson said. The young delegates, who spent most of the week together, bonded over not only their shared interest in future full-time church work, but also impromptu lessons in Spanish and English.
Later in the week the group toured the nearby Inter-American regional headquarters, where they met local church administrators.
Viera said she finds the region’s first woman associate secretary, Faye A. Reid, inspiring. “People like her, and Ella Simmons [the church’s first woman general vice president], are making room for young women in particular to work for the church. It’s exciting.”