Following the Way of the Word
A great obligation
By Ted N. C. Wilson
One Sabbath not long ago I had the privilege of worshipping with 67,000 people in the Citadel Stadium of Luanda, Angola. During the program we watched thousands and thousands of youth in Pathfinder and Youth Ministries uniforms marching for the Lord. It was magnificent. A few days later we were again encouraged as we met with thousands of Seventh-day Adventist young people in Bongo, Angola, and Cape Town, South Africa.
As I travel to various places around the world, one of the greatest joys I have is meeting so many youth and young adults, and I praise the Lord that there are so many who are committed to Christ and the Seventh-day Adventist message.
As a worldwide church family, we have a great and special obligation to these youth—to help them see Jesus in all His beauty, to accept Him and His righteousness, to engage them in the mission of the church, and above all, to point them to His soon coming.
Priorities and methods for youth ministry have been widely discussed. One of the more controversial subjects has been that of worship, particularly worship styles and music choices. Some believe that the way to reach and retain the youth is to provide a more “contemporary” worship experience featuring “Christian rock” bands, mystical forms of prayer, and theological approaches drawn from the emerging church movement. Sometimes very articulate non-Adventist speakers are invited to give presentations during the worship hour. But is this really what Seventh-day Adventist youth and young adults are looking for?
During the 2010 General Conference session in Atlanta, an informal survey was conducted by the General Conference’s Office of Assessment and Program Effectiveness. Attendees were asked, “What would you like to tell your church?” They were invited to share their thoughts in writing. The 253 survey respondents were almost equally divided between men and women, many of whom were under the age of 35.
One of the most popular topics addressed was how to keep youth and young adults in the church, and many of the solutions offered came from the youth themselves. The results were revealing. If we want to retain them, they said the church should:
(1) teach Bible principles and the substance of Christianity early, often, and as much as possible.
(2) package this presentation of the truth attractively but without worldliness.
(3) integrate youth into the daily responsibilities and activities of the church.
(4) provide social outlets at which youth can associate together in a Christian atmosphere rather than seeking entertainment from the world.
(5) listen to the ideas and perspectives of the youth.
(6) get to know and be friendly with youth and young adults.
Interestingly, a quick perusal of Christian research and literature today will show that Seventh-day Adventist youth are not the only ones longing for more than entertainment in their worship experience. They are looking for substance—biblical substance.
If we can engage youth and young adults in real Bible study and service, making them feel very much a part of the church family, we don’t have to entertain them. We can engage them in the mission of the church, and they will be inoculated against the temptations of slipping into something else.
Ministry Resonating With Youth
This type of ministry is resonating with young people. Last year I had the privilege of visiting the Baden-Wuerttemberg Conference (Germany) in the Euro-Africa Division. While there I had the privilege of attending the conference-sponsored Youth in Mission youth congress. The music was superb, and the presentations were biblically focused with an emphasis on service to God and humanity. It was a wonderful example of a biblical and Spirit of Prophecy approach to youth ministry.
Each year in North America thousands of young people attend youth conferences organized byGeneration of Youth for Christ (GYC), a Seventh-day Adventist supporting ministry whose leaders are young professionals living across the United States and Canada. During GYC conferences attendees enjoy uplifting music and in-depth biblical presentations and training seminars by a variety of Seventh-day Adventist leaders, listen to inspiring testimonies from their peers, lead out in small-group discussions, and participate in community outreach and service opportunities. Obviously, other youth events try to focus on the Word of God and downplay the “entertainment” factor. Pray for them and encourage our youth leaders as they focus on presentations of the Word of God, prayer, and witnessing.
Differences in Taste and Culture
Having lived in four different cultures on various continents, I understand and appreciate the rich diversity of cultures encompassed by our worldwide family of believers. And as we address issues, particularly controversial ones such as worship and music, there are cultural preferences that we have to understand.
However, there are basic biblical principles that should govern worship and music anywhere in the world, such as that found in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
When you get down to the basics of life, people are much the same, and the principles of God apply to all of us. We are to treat each other and other cultures with respect, and usually we will receive the same level of respect in return. However, we should clearly understand that there is a worldly culture and that there is a biblical/heavenly culture that is applicable around the world.
Unfortunately, there is a trend within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in some places around the world to accept worldly cultural influences in the church that are inappropriate. One of our great problems as part of twenty-first-century society is that of allowing the world to gradually change our perceptions of what is right and appropriate—whatever is the standard for society tends to become normative.
We are strongly counseled by Paul in Romans 12:2 not to “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The J. B. Phillips translation says: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.”*
The Way of the Word
I am totally convinced that we have a great obligation to do all we can to encourage Seventh-day Adventist youth to follow the way of the Word and not the way of the world. Concern about worldly influences is not a legalistic emphasis intent on warping the church in its thinking; it has to do with the devil doing his best to neutralize the church by bringing the “world” into the church. This is what I believe Paul is counseling against.
Actually, this is what the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 are about: lifting up Jesus and His righteousness and turning people back to the true worship of God and away from the confusion of Babylon in all of its areas of emphases. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit will work in His church to keep it from being neutralized.
This is what revival and reformation is all about as we humbly submit to the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and pointing us to Christ and His Word. We are to carry out our work and activities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the setting of Micah 6:8: doing that which is right but at the same time loving mercy and walking humbly with our God—which means submitting to His leading.
Youth Are Vital
Youth and young adults are fulfilling a vital role in revival and reformation, and I have full confidence that they will continue to be very much a part of the organized church activities to lift up Christ, His righteousness, His soon coming, and His three angels’ messages. As I spoke about in “One Year to Change the World” (see Adventist World, November 2011), I believe in the present and future evangelistic and Christian service involvement of Seventh-day Adventist youth and young adults. They do, and will, make up a most powerful force under God’s guidance.
Let’s always remember: “We have an army of youth today who can do much if they are properly directed and encouraged. We want our children to believe the truth. We want them to be blessed of God. We want them to act a part in well-organized plans for helping other youth. Let all be so trained that they may rightly represent the truth, giving the reason of the hope that is within them, and honoring God in any branch of the work where they are qualified to labor” (Ellen G. White, inGeneral Conference Bulletin, Jan. 29, 1893, p. 24).
I invite you, especially if you are a youth member or young adult, to share your thoughts on these important subjects. How are you involved in the life of the church? What do you especially appreciate, and what would you like to see changed in your local area? Share your thoughts via
* Bible texts credited to Phillips are from J. B. Phillips: The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition. © J. B. Phillips 1958, 1960, 1972. Used by permission of Macmillan Publishing Co.