Dear Natalie…

I recently read this article about a girl named Natalie who “became a driving force” behind the development of the NAD Youth Retention and Involvement Summit. The article made me really upset… Not at Natalie, of course. I’m just so tired of seeing young Adventists get their hopes dashed over and over and over by church leaders—without even realizing it.

Here’s what I wish I could tell Natalie (and college-age Adventists like her everywhere who are beyond frustrated with how absurdly anemic the church’s usefulness has become to their generation):

Dear Natalie,

So you want to change the church—that’s AWESOME. I wish more young Adventists felt like they could make a difference within the church. Clearly, you are tired of waiting for the church to change. So am I. Clearly you have seen some things that are not okay. Me too. I bet you’ve asked yourself these 20 burning questions about the church more times than you care to remember. I’ve been there.

Before I go any further, there are two things I think you should know.

  1. I’m not anti-Adventist. Not even close. And…
  2. It’s okay to ask tough questions because the truth will never mind.

Okay, onward.

Natalie. You’ve been given a religious map that is biased. It’s no wonder you feel lost from time to time. You’re being served inedible, frozen food.

The problem is, I feel sort of like you’re living in an Adventist version of The Matrix right now. Is that harsh? I hope not. The last thing I want to do is discourage you. Adventism needs more people like you. Actually, by the end of this post, I hope you have a whole new kind of courage and determination—along with some new ideas about how to bring about serious, meaningful change within the Adventist church for your own generation and those that follow you.

Hear me out?

The article I read about you said that you are tired of seeing youth walk out during sermons—and sometimes joining them. I see that you have even considered joining a non-denomination church.

I bet that at times you feel like the problem is with you. I’m just as sure there are other times when you feel like the problem is with the church. I’ve been there. It’s like you never seem to have clarity. Just confusion. Right? And as I have traveled the country I’ve met Adventists everywhere who feel exactly the same. You’re not alone.

Some might find this cliche, but I don’t think the problem is with you. I think that the Adventist church is not very useful to you. If it were useful to you—on a personal level (including being useful to your community of friends)—there wouldn’t even be a question of whether or not you would want to engage with the denomination. I think that it is in fact the church that is leaving you—and other young people like yourself—rather than the other way around.

But the denomination thinks you have a problem and wants you to think so too. Since that is the case, allow me to make this perfectly clear: NO amount of fear and guilt Adventist leaders could throw your way is going to change how useful the denomination is to you. Period.

Rather than holding itself accountable, the church tends to make a lot of very poor excuses (which frankly just don’t hold up). I suppose the leadership doesn’t want to look bad. Nobody wants to get up and admit, “I failed. We failed.” But that is just what they need to do to start heading in the right direction. And yet mere words are not enough.

I know, it’s like trying to see clearly through smoke. Sadly, for the clarity our doctrines have brought us, Adventism itself is great at obfuscating the facts.

Natalie—can I say something without making you mad? The article mentioned that you had witnessed the implications of a walk with God led astray through disconnect to the Adventist institution. I think that notion is bogus and I think the Adventist leadership has brainwashed you—and many other youth—to an extent. They have made you believe that Adventism is oxygen and that you can’t breathe without it. That you can’t go to Heaven without being a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

But in reality, belonging to the Adventist denomination is optional. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what a Conference President recently admitted to me during a frank discussion:

“Of course you don’t have to be an Adventist to be saved or to spread the message. The reason we’re organized is to be more efficient.”

Hmm. To tell you the honest truth, I don’t think the Adventist denominational framework is all that efficient.

And the whole committee thing has some serious problems. A fact most pew-sitters wouldn’t know having not been invited.

A lot of it has to do with who runs the church. Most Adventist leaders are careerists and institutionalists (at least that is the view I got from my own considerable experience working for the church). Too many Adventist leaders enjoy being served, rather than serving. To many the Adventist church itself has become an idol—they literally place loving the Adventist organization above loving God.

Adventist leaders could bring about true efficiencies within the church. Adventist leaders could do BIG things to reinvigorate the church. But as things are—I don’t believe they will.

As things are, I believe the institution will continue to bait people like yourself with false hope. They will say two things: they will tell you they hear you and they will tell you you are important. One of those things is true.

It all comes down to this: if the system doesn’t have to change it simply won’t.

So, the good news is that it lies within your power to make the system have to change. The bad news is that you’ll have to decide if it’s a battle worth fighting. It’s a lot easier to say, “I’m out of here,” or, “I guess I’ll do my best to live with this mess.”

Natalie: it seems you’ve got the spirit of a reformer. Jesus said to take up your cross and follow Him and I know you already feel the thorns where your crown was. This is for God. This is bigger than anything else. He deserves the best this body of believers can give. He needs people like you to bring about real change.

Be aware of the thin green line. It’s dangerous.

Don’t fall into the “the church is going through no matter what” trap. You’re not a mouse—you don’t have to go for the cheese.

Don’t be the denomination’s slave any longer.

Don’t settle for continental drift when things need attention here at home.

God says come and let us reason together. So let logic prevail.

Question first impressions. Like I said, the truth will never mind.

Do your best for God. Do your best for the church. And if the answers and the truth take different sides…

Well… then the following link is for you and people like you…

3 Important Church Reforms Adventist Youth Should Push For Immediately.

Yes, you can change the church. But sometimes, in order to change a system you can’t play by it’s rules.

So, Natalie, are you up to the challenge? Real change within the Adventist church will require more than mere ceremonies and committees. Real change requires action—and consequences. And change-makers can’t be afraid of either.

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The Thin Green Line

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