There is power in words. In Proverbs 18 we learn that “Words kill, words give life . . .”
There are countless numbers of articles claiming that “we [the Church] are losing our young people”. It is our belief that we need to start to reframe the narrative and breathe life into the young adult generation who are engaged and part of this great Church.
Part of reframing the narrative could mean reflecting on the history of youth ministry within our Church. In the foreword of James White’s The Youth’s Instructor, a publication dating back to the 1850s, it explains that the purpose of the publication was to assist youth “aged from 16 to 20”. Early Adventists saw that youth were critical for the growth of our Church. During this period of time (16-20 years of age), youth became adults and married at the average age of 20. They took on roles of responsibility while raising a young family and helping to grow the Church.
Fast forward to today. The last Australian census results (2016) revealed that the average age of people getting married was 30.1 years of age. We see these statistics reflected in our churches. As a result, there is a tendency for the “youth” age bracket to now extend to 35-plus years. Far longer than the original intent of “youth” being only until 20 years of age. And so we face a dilemma.
"Why are we not engaging these passionate, talented young adults . . . in the significant, influential leadership roles within our Church?"
We now have many adults, some in their mid-30s, who have not “graduated” from youth to the greater church body. In part, this is a reflection of the current culture that we live in. But we wonder how much of it may be attributed to the words and narrative we use to describe these young people. We label this group as “youth”, and consider our ministry for them in terms of youth activities and allowing them to take part in a youth service every so often. However, the fact is, many of these youth in their 20s or early 30s have huge leadership capacity and in their nine-to-five work lives are running companies, flying planes and leading organisations.
Why are we not engaging these passionate, talented young adults, often veiled beneath the label “youth”, in the significant, influential leadership roles within our Church? Rather than running programs for this age group, why are we not engaging them in building our Church and growing God’s kingdom? But that’s a discussion for another time. Back to reframing the word “youth” . . .
When we use the word “youth”, it suggests that there is still some growing up that needs to be done before one can be entrusted with responsibility. While each of us could testify that “life never stops teaching” and we should never stop learning, there is power in the narrative when we use the words “young adults”.
You see, when we say young adults we are saying, “Yes we are young but we are also now adults” (18-plus) and with being an adult comes responsibility. Language can be a barrier to what young people achieve or are called to achieve. As young adults, we want to respond to our calling—we want to step up, engage and be the Church we are called to be. Perhaps it’s time for us as a Church to leave the word “youth” to those who are in high school and graduate our young people (those over 18) to young adults—ready, willing and capable of building God’s Church.
Martin and Alina van Rensburg write from Brisbane, where Alina is South Queensland Young Adult Ministry director.