outh Ministries is about leading young people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, and helping them to embrace His call to discipleship. An integral part of this mandate is to help our young people to grow deeper in their faith and spirituality, to move beyond their church to mission and service in the wider world, and to build community both in their local settings and around the world as a global movement. We have been excited to witness and to be part of this significant growth among so many of our young people.
Global Youth Day
The flagship initiative of this renewed focus on mission and service is Global Youth Day (GYD). Inaugurated in 2013, in conjunction with the traditional Youth Week of Prayer, GYD has gained momentum each year, mobilizing Adventist young people across the world to serve their communities in the name of Jesus.
Challenged on GYD to “be the sermon” for at least one Sabbath—rather than simply hearing another one—as many as
8 million Adventist young people have stepped out of their churches and into their communities, visiting hospital patients and elderly people, feeding the hungry, cleaning up their communities, donating blood, conducting health-awareness programs, praying with people on the street, even simply offering free hugs.
Not only are young people doing these things in their local communities—they are also doing them as part of a global movement. Social-media technologies and an innovative 24-hour broadcast have been important components of creating this as a worldwide event.
It’s inspiring to watch this special Sabbath spread around the globe, across the 24 hours, as updates, posts, tweets, and the broadcast itself follow the time zones around our planet, beginning in the South Pacific and concluding in North America. GYD has demonstrated that our young people can storm cyberspace for a good cause and take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity it offers to recapture a sense of global belonging for our young people.
And while GYD is the headline initiative for this reempowerment of Adventist young people, it is only a glimpse of the ongoing work and impact of youth ministry. In all our interactions we are fostering the notion that Global Youth Day is the springboard for mission as a way of life.
Such an approach requires resources and leadership for ongoing discipleship of young people. While traditional junior youth training programs, such as Adventurers and Pathfinders—celebrated in the World Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, last year—continue to be fundamental to the church’s ministry to young people, there has been acknowledgment that local church ministry to young adults has often been less resourced and less effective. To address this need, this quinquennium has seen the launch of a number of highly developed and focused youth ministry resources, available for free download from the Youth Ministries Web site: gcyouthministries.org/Resources.
The first is a new Ambassador curriculum, providing resources for a three-year program for young people who have completed Pathfinders. The foundational programs focus on leadership, community outreach, Christ-centered discipleship, small-group-based mission, vocational and career development, friendship and relationship skills, and character and personality development.
A similar resource has also been launched for those in the 20-to-30 age group. Steps to Discipleship is a seven-week journey, introducing young adults to an intimate, personal, and growing relationship with God, which is augmented by the five-volume Discipleship in Action program for use in youth groups or small-group settings.
These resources are designed to move our youth ministry and young people from a mere informational approach to faith to transformational spiritual living. These program resources include prompts to mutual accountability, service, community-building, and fun, all vital elements of a vibrant faith experience for our young people.
This expansion of the purview of youth ministry has also seen the appointment of the first director of Public Campus Ministries as part of the Youth Ministries team at the General Conference. Jiwan Moon has begun to build better strategies to meet the needs of Adventist young people studying in public universities and colleges, involving local congregations in ministry to students, and establishing Adventist youth ministries on these campuses.
Each of these initiatives and resources are about mentoring and growing the spirituality of Adventist young people. But, as exemplified by GYD, the church is increasingly recognizing and drawing on the resource of its young people to make an impact in the world as a vital part of the larger mission of the church.
In 2013 Impact South Africa brought together thousands of Adventist young people from around the world for the World Conference on Youth and Community Service. Conference participants engaged in community service projects across the region before coming together to celebrate, worship, learn, and be inspired to take their passion for mission home to their local communities.
An extended form of this youth service model was employed during the Mission to the Cities evangelism initiative in New York City in 2013. One young person from each of the church’s divisions was nominated to spend “one year in mission,” forming a team that conducted a series of community outreaches in the lead-up to the many evangelistic series conducted in the city that year. Young people prayed with people on the streets of Harlem, led international vegetarian cooking classes, taught ESL (English as a second language) classes, and participated in the evangelistic programs themselves.
Each of the participants took what they had experienced back to their homes, and at least 10 of the world divisions have run programs using similar models. The Caleb Mission project in South America, One Year for Jesus in Europe, and the World Changers Bible Project in the South Pacific are examples of how young people have been specifically resourced and involved in mission and evangelism in their respective regions.
With such a renewed focus among young people on the church’s mission, there has also been continued growth in a number of independent and organic movements among young people, which have caused some questions and tensions within and between different groups. Responding to this healthy energy, Youth Ministries has brought together leaders of different groups in the context of Unity Summits in both North America and Europe. These have provided opportunities to honor Christ’s plea, “that all of them may be one, Father” (John 17:21), and to embrace mutual affirmation and acknowledgment that we are all in this mission together, even when we use different approaches or styles.
Despite these occasional tensions and the contrary challenges of the many young people who choose not to stay part of our church community, we remain enthusiastic about the role young people are playing in the mission of the Adventist Church today.
Whenever we give young people the chance to engage, to lead, and to be involved, they will surpass our expectations. One of the reasons for disengagement is failing to empower young people. Mission is an opportunity to give young people the chance to exercise their passion, creativity, energy, and leadership skills in the church.