February 26, 2022

How Youth Ministry Changed My Life and Continues to Change Others

Why young church members should remain a priority in the Adventist Church.

Paul Tompkins, Trans-European Division and Adventist Review

Youth Ministry matters — it always has and always will! Many years of youth ministry have clearly shown me that young people are a number one priority for the church.

This is not an idle claim but one that I can personally attest to. As a teenager, I attended a Seventh-day Adventist school. My parents were not particularly interested in the church, but they wanted to provide me with the best, so they sent me to the Adventist school. However, during those pivotal adolescent years my life changed dramatically.

Noting my growing interest in the Adventist faith, my father once said to me, “You’ll never become a Seventh-day Adventist because if anyone offers you a game of sport on the Sabbath, you’ll play it.” He was both right and wrong. He was right that at the time spzrt was my number one priority, but wrong in underestimating the power of the Holy Spirit’s influence working through a group of contagious Adventist school friends, together with a dedicated and very relational youth director.

This was youth ministry at its best, and it eventually led me to surrender my life to Christ and put Him first. That decision changed my life dramatically. I went on to study ministry and have now spent 30 years working in the Youth Ministries department. In this capacity I have seen firsthand that although times may change, the relational needs of young people remain the same.

Greys Church Area 8 UK 630
According to Paul Tompkins, an experienced Adventist youth leader, youth events help foster faith in participants. Faith development is important at all stages of life but most crucial during the teenage and young adult years. [Photos: courtesy of Dejan Stojkovic, Trans-European Division News]

Into this mix comes the pivotal role of life-transforming youth events, where young people have the unique opportunity to meet and mingle with other like-minded youth at events specifically tailored for them. These include local church youth days, conference-wide youth rallies and camps, national and international Youth Congresses, and Pathfinder Camporees. The significance of these events is corroborated through a series of very important youth studies over the years.

The Valuegenesis Europe Youth Survey (2007) involved over 6,000 young adults, ages 14-25, and revealed not only that youth ministry has a powerful impact but also that youth ministry events are very highly rated. “74.6 percent of those that actually experienced such activities say that the youth ministry of the union or conference is important because it fosters their faith development.”¹ Faith development is important at all stages of life, but most crucial during the teenage and young adult years when so many life-defining decisions are made.

I remember my first international Camporee, sitting around the evening campfire bowl, awed by the atmosphere. This was also true of my experiences with Youth Congresses. I vowed that as long as I am involved in youth ministry, I will ensure that other young people have the opportunity to enjoy similar experiences. I have seen firsthand how young people eagerly anticipate events such as International Youth Congresses and Pathfinder Camporees. To be part of a faith-affirming event involving hundreds and even thousands of other like-minded young people is inspiring. It is also heartwarming to see how the youth ministries calendar has grown and developed over the years to include many faith-building opportunities for all.

Life is a cycle. This is what a parent who was very involved in helping my generation of young people once said to me. “In turn, you will help my children’s group,” he added. I’ve never forgotten those very wise words, and I pray for the current generation of youth leaders at all levels as they help our young people establish, keep, and share their faith.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.

¹Stephan Sigg, A Spiritual Home for Young People? The Adventist Youth and Their Church as seen from the Valuegenesis Europe Data, Part 111, Spes Christiana vol. 24, (Theoogische Hochschule Friedensau, 2013), p. 164.