There seems to be a new authenticity to the Christian faith of Adventist youth today, do you agree? If so, what do you ascribe it to?
Yes I do. The climate has changed from the ’80s and’90s when times were more prosperous and the outlook was bright. There are serious cracks in the system and our young people are looking for clarity on many issues. The Bible speaks to these issues and our youth want to know their faith is grounded in the Word.
My dream is to see young people growing in wisdom and strength, and in favour with God and man.
But more than this, youth want to see these truths lived out in the lives of Christians. They can spot a superficial Christian lifestyle in contrast to someone who is engaging in real ministries of service.
The world is telling us loud and clear there are problems, from economic failure, natural chaos and social concerns like slavery and poverty. These problems are much more evident than they were even a decade ago and young people want to make a difference.
How are Adventist youth leading out today?
Young adults are choosing to spend their holiday time in meaningful ways serving those in less fortunate circumstances. Youth are also speaking up about their faith online through social networking sites like Facebook. There is a sense in which topics like faith in God, that were not discussed a few years ago, are being talked about freely. The number of young adults signing up for people helping courses like developmental studies has increased dramatically.
Traditionally young people took up roles in their local churches as a way of leading out. While there are some churches that foster the development of their youth, through mentoring relationships and ministry opportunities, there are growing numbers of youth who are turning elsewhere to engage in ministry, for example informal groups planning their own ministry events, like the ADRA Connections, One Mission or ICC (International Children’s Care) trips.
There is also a growing number of young people who are engaged in faith sharing and bringing friends to church ministry events. For example, a lot of youth bring their friends to summer camps and Pathfinders. These friendship networks are proving to be very powerful evangelistic fields where people find Christ in an Adventist setting.
South Pacific Division Youth director Pastor Nick Kross.
How does Adventist youth culture differ across the SPD, and how is it similar?
Global trends in music, visual media and fashion are shaping young people across the Pacific in ways that very few are able to keep up with. Even in remote parts of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, mobile phone coverage is nearly complete. This allows young people full access to the internet at very little cost. So there is very little young people cannot access with ease.
Traditional languages and culture are being passed over for name brands and popular songs all across the Pacific. There are, of course, major inequities of wealth between Australia, New Zealand and the other Island nations, however when it comes to tastes in music and visual media, they are all drinking from the same fountain.
How can Christianity compete with multi-media for the attention of youth?
Make no mistake, the impact of the media on the lives of youth is constant and powerful. If we wish to provide a viable alternative to the impact of the media, our faith must be just as constant and powerful. If our young people perceive the Christian faith to lack in power and authenticity, other influences will dominate. We need to provide experiences where Christ’s presence is felt and experienced with power. This is where service, faith sharing and other forms of ministry that build authentic community come into play. What the media cannot do is love you and care for you, but Christ can through His church family.
How important is Adventist education to building a strong Christian youth culture in our Church?
I’m convinced good Adventist education is another valuable influencer and shaper of young people. The value of Christian education is that the Bible story is presented as the true foundation for life. Combined with loving teachers and good friends, a Christian education fortifies the mind against other fallacious worldviews. Growing up in an Adventist school also provides lifelong friendships with like-minded people who can offer support later during adulthood.
In your ministry to youth, what do you see as the greatest challenges?
Raising children has traditionally been seen as a sacred responsibility. However, today, more and more young people are running a race looking for someone to cheer them on, but the grandstand is almost empty. It used to be that adults made adjustments to accommodate their children; now the pendulum has swung the opposite way, with children having to adjust to accommodate the dreams and lifestyle choices of their parents.
There is no greater influencer than the parents of a young person. Helping parents to see their role in shaping the character of their children is one of the greatest challenges today.
Arguably, the late teens to early 20s are the years when we are most likely to leave the Church. What’s the solution?
There is no substitute for the love and care of church family members who take an interest in each individual youth, and make regular contact with them to make sure they are included.
What youth need most is a support network of people around them who are prepared to journey with them through this tough time. Simple support mechanisms like offering to take them to church if they need transport, or including them in social events at university, are so important. The Adventist Conference offering an accommodation service for students arriving from country areas has worked in Queensland in times past and remains a real need.
When a young person makes the decision to try a local church in a new town, they are often not noticed or spoken to, which can be very disheartening. If it happens more than once they simply won’t go again. We need to be vigilant regarding anyone who walks through the doors of the church on Sabbath mornings. Our care and friendliness can make all the difference.
When you consider all the Adventist youth you’ve interacted with over the past couple of years, are you optimistic about our movement’s future?
Definitely. I see and speak with young men and women who are passionate about their faith and optimistic about the future. The Spirit of God is raising up an army of courageous individuals who are not willing to just sit and watch as the world falls down around them. They’re out in the marketplace making a difference.
What should local churches do to harbour the energy and talents of youth?
This is a scary one because it involves powerbrokers moving aside and letting the youth engage in the life of the church. We need to allow young people to live out their faith in ways that are real for them. If more churches fostered an atmosphere of inclusiveness as opposed to being critical of a young person who may not look or act the “right way”, I think they’d find more of their youth would stay and make a great contribution.
Every generation finds something their parents missed—what does this generation know that their parents and grandparents can benefit from?
Today, youth value community and friendship more than things (mobile phones excepted). The boomer generation went after possessions and careers; this generation is after meaning and a sense of value—these come from genuine friendships. Friendships don’t all have to be with people of the same age either. Parents and grandparents are still some of the most powerful influencers in the life of an adolescent.
What is your vision for the future of youth ministry in the South Pacific Division?
My dream is to see young people growing in wisdom and strength, and in favour with God and man. This dream will take a lot of work by parents, extended family and church family. As part of God’s Church, each member needs to step up to the challenge of investing in the lives of the young. We have excellent resources as a Church, some of the best in the world. Our real lack is committed adults who will journey with young people and love them into a faith relationship with Jesus.
I recently took part in the 65-year celebration of Pathfinder ministry in South New Zealand. A special dinner in honour of the pioneers of youth ministry was hosted on the Saturday evening and one comment concerning the leaders struck me. One of the people present said that they didn’t rebel as a youth because they knew the leaders loved them and were totally committed to looking after them. We need leaders like this today who make ministry to the young their TOP priority, who see youth ministry as their calling and purpose. God entrusts us with these precious lives—our job is to raise them up to be Spirit-filled adults who heed Jesus’ call to “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”.