I’m a millennial, and my friends and I like to talk about Adventism. A lot of conversations are positive, while others are more critical. When we discuss our church’s weaknesses, my peers and I usually circle around a few recurring frustrations: judgmental church members, closed-mindedness, sexism, racism, and selfishness. In my experiences, these conversations often pin the blame for these issues on one specific demographic: older church members.
A lot of young adults have had frustrating experiences with “the grown-ups.” We feel judged and misunderstood; we see deficiencies in our leaders and bristle at their hypocrisy. However, I believe it’s hasty to assume our church’s issues stem exclusively from out-of-touch older members. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a complex body, and the viruses and diseases it suffers from don’t all come from one germ.
Three years ago, I realized that sometimes young people are the frustrating ones to work with. It was a Sabbath service during camp meeting, and the speaker was sharing her struggles with leading young adult ministries. “I try to work with you guys — we try to work with you,” she said, “but sometimes it’s hard. We want to understand you, but it’s not always easy.” By that time, I had grown out of believing that older members were always “the bad guys,” but during that sermon, I recognized that my generation could also play the antagonist. The pastor had been hurt by young adults who were stubborn and inflexible, and she had been repeatedly misunderstood and rebuffed.
In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul says, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” I, along with many young adults, love this passage because it is empowering. Paul encourages Timothy to embrace his youth despite the opposition he faces. However, I think my peers and I can become so focused on the first part of this verse, not being despised for our youth, that we forget about the second half of it, setting an example.
It’s easy for young people to fall into the rut of shallow criticism. Many highlight the flaws in the church, but few address these flaws with action. We denounce irresponsible church leaders, but we hesitate to accept or pursue responsibility and leadership for ourselves. On page 536 of Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, Ellen White poses the following dilemma: “Those who are older must educate the youth, by precept and example, to discharge the claims that society and their Maker have upon them. Upon these youth must be laid grave responsibilities. The question is, Are they capable of governing themselves, and standing forth in the purity of their God-given manhood [or womanhood], abhorring everything that savors of wickedness?”
During that camp meeting service, the pastor touched on the same tension Ellen White addresses in this passage. Church leadership must be shared, and my generation needs to accept leadership just as much as the older generation needs to encourage it. In this church, there is not one-way responsibility. Sole duty for the direction of our communities does not lie with the older members or the younger ones; it is shared between us. If our church is to endure tribulation and spread the Gospel, if we are to be a united body, then we must be responsible with our responsibilities and acknowledge our duties, even when they are burdensome. The young adult’s burden is to accept responsibility for our church’s future, and the older generation’s is to allow us to do so.
Brandon Beneche is a recent graduate from Southern Adventist University and a newly employed middle school teacher.
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