David Asscherick presents on Christian identity at the Global Youth Leaders Congress in Kassel, Germany. [Photo: Victor Hulbert]

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“If You Don’t Know Who You Are, You Will Never Know Why You Are”

Global Youth Leaders Congress begins in Germany with focus on identity

Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist youth ministry leaders from around the world have gathered in Kassel, Germany for the 2018 Global Youth Leaders Congress. Over the next few days, attendees will grapple with both significant challenges and opportunities of ministering to teens and young adults in various cultural contexts. A total of 120 languages are spoken by those who have registered for the July 31-August 4 event. 

“What we do not have but desperately need is a congress for youth and young adult leaders.” 

Previously open to both youth and youth leaders, this year’s event has been developed specifically for youth ministry leaders only, a change in focus that has come with a level of disappointment from some who ultimately would not be allowed to attend. In a letter to past attendees, Gary Blanchard, director of Youth Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, explained, “What we do not have but desperately need is a congress for youth and young adult leaders.” Apologizing to those for whom the decision was disappointing, Blanchard emphasized that the global church organizes IMPACT events in partnership with General Conference sessions, which in essence function like global youth congresses. The next event is scheduled for Indianapolis in 2020.

  • Attendees at the Global Youth Leaders Congress in Kassel, Germany participate in worship. [Photo: Luis Sanchez]

  • Attendees at the Global Youth Leaders Congress in Kassel, Germany greet each other. [Photo: Victor Hulbert]

  • Gary Blanchard, right, world church youth director, and Abner de los Santos, general vice-president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, welcome GYLC attendees. [Photo: Victor Hulbert]

In a press conference organized on opening day, Jonatán Tejel, youth director for the host Inter-European Division (EUD) explained that divisions normally plan their own general youth congresses and reiterated the need for specialized youth leadership training on a global scale. Blanchard indicated that all division youth leaders would discuss possibilities for the future while in Germany.

A Multi-faceted Theme

The leadership congress has been organized around the theme Pass it On and aims to “equip, engage, and empower a generation of Spirit-filled leaders to pass on the legacy of the Reformation,” according to organizers. On opening night, the theme was expanded on by Blanchard, along with world church associate youth director Andrés Peralta. “Identity, mission and leadership,” said Blanchard, are three of the specific values that youth leaders are encouraged to pass along to upcoming generations. 

However, organizers are focusing on a very specific model of youth leadership, intended to be passed on and integrated not only into future generations but into current local churches around the world. Developed in partnership with the Center for Youth Evangelism (CYE), EUD and the Trans-European Division, the Inter-generational Churches of Refuge (iCOR) model seeks to create “inclusive, accepting, community-oriented, strategically placed, safe, spiritual environments for young adults,” according to Ron Whitehead, CYE executive director. 

TED and EUD took the concept one step further, developing and emphasizing the intergenerational aspect of the model. iCOR “is intended to provide churches with value-oriented support in making this spiritual home a reality for all generations, all cultures and all social classes,” explains the initiative’s website. “It’s a communal ‘i,’” emphasized Stephan Sigg, president of the Swiss Union Conference and one of the event’s keynote speakers. “The significance is that we grow, serve, and learn together.” 

In 2016, the world church adopted iCOR as its main strategy in identifying local churches as the “primary target of global youth ministry.” As such, all aspects of the youth congress were organized into components such as iGrow, iCare, iLearn, and iThink. 

A Deeper Identity 

Among several keynote speakers, David Asscherick, a well-known speaker currently pastoring in Australia, began a four-part series by taking on the subject of identity. Asscherick challenged attendees by saying that before getting to iCare and iServe, it is assumed that Adventists are clear about their identity. “Who really are you?” he asked the audience.

Asscherick suggested that before Adventists identify themselves by their denominational affiliation, they ought to consider several other layers of identity, including a living being, a human being, theist, mono-theist/Christian, and Protestant. He challenged them with the idea that Adventists “tend to emphasize points of difference,” but argued that “these layers of identity give us opportunities to build bridges.” 

“As Adventists we are surrounded by walls of our making, which prevent those out there from accessing the message and keep us from accessing them,” Asscherick concluded.

Paraphrasing a well-known Mark Twain quote, Asscherick emphasized that the two most important days in a person’s life are “the day on which you were born and the day on which you were born again—the day on which you find out why you were born.” His main point: “If you don’t who you are, you will never know why you are.” 

Asscherick concluded part one of his series by reminding the audience that Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness by questioning His identity, beginning each temptation with “If you are the son of God.” 

“You will be similarly challenged over your identity,” Asscherick said, assuring the audience that his messages over the next few days would continue to address the question of identity. 

Follow the Adventist Review and Adventist World websites for further Global Youth Leader Congress stories; watch live plenary sessions here and get updates at #GYLC18. 


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