Younger Church, Aging Leadership (Part Two)

I do not support the popular notion that “the old people should abdicate and hand over the church to the young people.” I think that is tantamount to saying that wisdom and experience should surrender to the inexperience and the not too wise. There is no wisdom in such postulations.

However, I equally disagree with the notion that assumes that the young people are not yet ready to assume leadership roles in their church at the highest levels, when they are already leading the rest of the society. And further, not only do I denounce, but also detest the practice of making tokens of young people by reserving one out of many seats at the church board or putting one or two among the deacons and elders in training so that we can say “we are involving the youth.”

Juan Prestol-Puesán could not have been more direct in his appeal, “Maybe we have forgotten, perhaps we have forgotten that the Seventh-day Adventist movement began when young people took the keys and began the preaching of the gospel as we know it. . . . J. N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, James White, Ellen White, and who knows how many more.”

I was not hoping that all of the vice presidents and division presidents, and General Conference departmental directors be replaced by young people, however it was my hope that there would have been at least some among them. Let us not make tokens of our young people; they are capable of so much more than that. Let us not underestimate their potential and capabilities; we are the ones who have invested in them. Personally, I am not suggesting completely handing the keys over to the young people, but at least show them that we do plan to pass the baton on to them by starting with an intentionally drafted succession plan.

Thus, I would be remiss if I ended this discourse only with criticisms and not suggest some possible solutions. While I cannot dictate how the church should make this transition at the higher levels of the organization, I can say what I am going to do about it in my sphere of influence in the Atlantic Union, and there are at least five things that I will do:

1.   Establish a youth ministry think tank comprised of individuals under the age of 35 who will advise me on all youth ministry matters in the Atlantic Union,

2.  At my first meeting with my conference youth directors I will be enlisting their support in drafting a plan for our volunteer and support leaders at conference and union levels to be reflective of the large number of young adults in our church population,

3.  I will explore and provide forums in the form of blogs and town hall meetings for young people, not only to discuss the topic of becoming more engaged in church leadership but to also say how they will make themselves available for the church to hand them the keys,

4.  I will make it a priority to provide church leadership training in order to prepare them to receive the keys and drive, and

5.  I will make it my point of duty to keep this subject alive and frequently addressed when I speak to churches and church leaders within the Atlantic Union.

I started the article citing Juan Prestol-Puesán, and I will also end with him, since my words could not have expressed it more precisely. He said, “I believe folks, that the moment is fast approaching for us to empower the ones that have the best energies among us. . . . They have the energy, let them take the keys and drive the car!” In other words, don’t just give them the keys, let them drive!

—Ryan Simpson is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union.

See the entire speech by Juan Prestol-Puesán at