BY LYNETTE FRANTZEN
DVENTIST PIONEERS. YOU'VE probably seen pictures of them in magazines, books, or even on the Internet. Their pictures almost all look alike: old men with solemn faces and long beards, women with stiff dresses and no expressions on their faces. It's easy to look at these pictures of the early Adventist pioneers and wonder what they were like. Many times we think of the early Adventist pioneers as we see their pictures, old and solemn. But they weren't!
Many of the Adventist pioneers first began their work when they were teenagers. Pioneers such as Ellen Harmon White, John Loughborough, J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, and John Harvey Kellogg were teenagers and young adults when they began making an impact in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They were young, vibrant, and on fire for God! Yet despite the impact those young Adventist pioneers had, many Adventist churches today are afraid to give young adults opportunities, and many young adults are afraid to step out boldly to take opportunities and to make an impact on their local churches. Many churches are stuck in a generation gap between older members holding church offices and younger members waiting to hold church offices. As with the pioneers of our church, however, the generation gap needs to be closed, with both young and old holding positions together for the growth of the entire church.
The Young Roots of Adventism
When the Seventh-day Adventist Church was newly formed, it was teenagers and young adults who held many leadership positions and helped to transform the church into the organization it is today.
Ellen Harmon was just 17 years old when she received a vision from God. When she received the vision, she was afraid that no one would listen to her. She even prayed all day that God wouldn't make her tell others. But God didn't excuse her, and she related her vision at a prayer meeting where the message was gladly received. That was just the beginning of what God had in store for her. She was young, she was sick, and she was female, but God used her as His prophet.
John Loughborough was baptized as a first-day Adventist when he was 16 years old, then joined the Seventh-day Adventist movement three years later. When he turned 17 years old, he became an itinerant preacher. Of his own accord he gathered together tracts, walked many miles handing them out, and studied the Bible from house to house. That same year he began preaching, and before his eighteenth birthday he toured with an evangelist, helping to hold evangelistic seminars and winning many to Christ.
John Nevins Andrews, or J. N. Andrews, was a major leader and evangelist in the Adventist church, and he worked closely with James and Ellen White. By the time Andrews was 26 years old, he discovered, as a theologian, that the two-horned beast of Revelation was the United States of America. He also helped Adventists to understand the Sabbath as reaching from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Andrews helped organize the Adventist church as a legal organization so the church could obtain legal possession of property. Between the ages of 31 and 35 Andrews chaired the committee that suggested a plan of organization for the church's publishing house in Battle Creek, Michigan, and lobbied during the Civil War for Adventist draftees to be able to receive noncombatant designation. Later in life he also became one of the church's first missionaries.
At the age of 23 Uriah Smith became editor of the Review and Herald (now the Adventist Review) magazine. He faced many financial problems when he started, but managed so well that in a short time the Review and Herald began to flourish and grow. In this job Smith was not only editor, but proofreader, business manager, and bookkeeper, as well. Smith was editor for almost 35 years (not continuously). At the age of 31 he patented an artificial leg with fully flexible knee and ankle joints. He was considered a handsome and charming man. Even though he at one point opposed the idea of righteousness by faith, he never left the church. He later admitted his wrong attitude, and Ellen White never thought of him as unfit for his office. In fact, Ellen White held him and his work in high esteem.
One more example: Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. Although Kellogg would later leave the Adventist church, James and Ellen White met him as a teenager, saw his potential, and encouraged him to go to medical school, even lending him $1,000 for expenses. Kellogg was 23 years old when he graduated from medical school. Kellog turned 23 one day after he graduated from medical school, and immediately began working at the Adventist health institute at Battle Creek, becoming medical superintendent in 1876. He held that position for 67 years. In later years he never took payment for his work at the sanitarium or for any of his surgeries. Kellogg coined the term sanitarium; advocated low-calorie diets; developed peanut butter, granola, and toasted flakes; warned that smoking caused lung cancer; and was an early advocate of exercise. And those were just a few of his accomplishments--all started as a teenager and young adult.
Despite the awesome faith and work of Adventist pioneers such as Ellen Harmon White, John Loughborough, J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, and John Harvey Kellogg, they are too often thought of as old and solemn instead of young and on fire for God, as they were. And if these individuals could be such incredible pioneers at such a young age, why do many think only older people can be workers in the church now? When young people want to help with responsibilities in the church, they should be trained and allowed to.
Once Upon a Time . . .
A young man of 22 had been an Adventist for many years and was out on his own. He attended his local church and wanted to help out. The young man was always early to Sabbath school, church, and church meetings. At first he attempted to help out with jobs that no one was doing, such as operating the PA system and videotaping church services. He was criticized. So he tried helping out leaders by decorating the church, teaching a Sabbath school lesson every once in a while, and giving the scripture up front for church. He wasn't appreciated. Finally he was offered a church position: junior deacon. He felt it an insult to be a junior deacon, considering his age. But he wanted to be involved, so he accepted the position along with three other juniors: two 14-year-olds and a 12-year-old. He was ignored. The only responsibility he was given was to pick up the offering every third Sabbath. After three years of trying to fit into his church, this young man rarely attends services and meetings anymore. When he does, he arrives late and leaves early.
If young adults want to be involved in the church, they should not give up. They should get involved. They should ask to be involved if they are not being asked. Young adults need to let church leaders know they are ready to be trained for church responsibilities. God has a great work for them.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee" (1 Tim. 4:12-14).
Conversely, church leaders and officers need to train the young people of their churches and allow them to hold church offices. Remember, no one can become experienced in church offices unless they are allowed the experience. Young adults want to be involved, and they may be able to do a great work for God in an area that an older member could not. God wants to use all of us--young adults, too!
Lynette Frantzen is a wife, mother, and graduate student writing from Silver City, New Mexico.