All stories have a hero. In some way or form, there is someone who is admirable and looked up to. They give the best of themselves to better others and/ or circumstances for today and the future.
We find them in novels, movies, and even the Bible. Maybe you have been asked this question, “Who is your hero?” Answers can vary: parents, grandparents, siblings, mentors, and even pop culture personalities.
I have several heroes in my life. My dad, for sure, but several other individuals have interwoven their lives with mine in ways that shaped who I am today.
People think I’m this outgoing extrovert, but in reality, I’m an introvert. I hate leading out, I don’t like being in front, and I don’t have that one great master skill people know me for. But these heroes of mine, they found ways to keep me engaged with the mission of the church.
Sounds simple but it’s quite profound as I’ve since learned. I can say that without the time and authentic interest these heroes so wholeheartedly gave me, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.
And part of what I’m doing today involves listening to youth and young adults, many of whom were highly active members. These conversations often have the recurring theme I heard in a recent one. It probably sounded like a rant about the Church to anyone eavesdropping. But, beneath the words of distance and detachment and disenfranchisement, I heard the longing for the connections I’ve had with my heroes and a wistfulness about hoping for more – more belonging, value, appreciation, and Jesus through and through.
Maybe you feel like you’ve heard the statistics about Adventist youth one time too many. Could I ask you to hear it one more time, but with all this in mind from an unlikely youth delegate like me?
You see, the Adventist church has always been a defining part of my life experiences: The family worships, weekly Sabbath School, Adventurers & Pathfinder Clubs, baptism, Adventist education, mission trips, leadership roles, and now working for the denomination.
Through all that Adventism, I was and am expected to be “discipled” and be a “discipler,” ready to introduce others to Jesus and the Adventist Movement.
I have to say that most of my journey is bi-polar at best. My Adventism is based on early exposure to the Bible and EGW books like The Great Controversy, Steps to Christ, and The Desires of Ages for which I’m grateful. Over time, a very real relationship with God was added, experience by experience. Yet the life I live as a local church member/denominational worker and my everyday life can often be in conflict because of the people I befriend or my lifestyle or my view of the fundamental beliefs in general. I can empathize with my friends who used to be highly active in their local church or worked for the Church. They are unable to deal with the gaps and inconsistencies in how our Church organizes, makes decisions, and implements strategies for members around the world. I know…I know…it’s starting to sound like a rant, but please hear what lies underneath.
Being a delegate for the 61st GC Session is an honor, and it allows me to be part of the World Church’s decision-making process. But at the same time, I know the limitations of being a representative for just one global session that happens every five or so years. As a Youth Delegate, I need to consider the power of my voice and those within my age group.
The under-30 statistics for my home Division delegation is 1.23%, while the overall under-30 GC Session delegates are 2.7%. Delegates under the age of 39 are just 13% of the 2,671 total delegates in-person and virtual attendance. I know that real-world circumstances and limited visa access after COVID can affect this number, but I can’t help but think of what these statistics mean in everyday life.
The limited number of youth representation means we aren’t at the table during moments of decision making and this leads to fewer voices making known the needs of specific age groups.
This has an even greater long-term impact on the Church during local committee meetings. More often than not, my generation (or the next) is less involved on those levels of decision-making. To be honest, being a delegate at the GC Session does not have the impact of having young people active on executive committees, boards, and other committees that can make or break what the Church in its purest form is in the local community.
Since 2010, there have been calls to address the disproportionate age demographics of the GC Session Delegation.1 In the years since, several organizations have shared data on why Millennials and Gen Z tend to leave the Church and how to best build a culture that encourages young people to participate actively in the Church’s mission.
In the presentation, “Leaving the Church: Facts and Figures about Retention” by David Tim, he presents data on the significant loss of membership in half a decade and then emphasizes that it is young adults who are most likely to disengage from the Church.2 It can be easy to look at this in a pessimistic way, but we need to stand and make known the needs of these younger age groups. Discussion and prayer are important, but we ought not to fall into the bystander’s effect, and become observers of this situation. As Elder Allen Martin notes, “To burst through the bystander effect, I am pointing TO YOU as a potential hero…”3
As a delegate at GC Session 2022, I’m excited to represent the youth of my division and take part in the discussions. It is my hope and prayer that in any discussion I’m part of, I will do my part to make known the needs of not only my people group but those who are next in line.
But what I’m really hoping to find at this Session are heroes. Heroes who are willing to make the Church relevant to local youth by helping them see THEIR relevance in and to their local church. Heroes who will lend their voices to the youth they know as those youth find their voices within the Church. Heroes who will give youth the opportunities I was given…and more. Heroes who follow the ways of our ultimate Hero, Jesus, in showing the next generations of Seventh-day Adventists around the world how to thrive within the Church. If you’re interested, I’m sure youth in your local church would love to know.