January 27, 2024

Confessions of a Young Man

Embracing the power of experience

Garhett Morgan

Growing up in the Adventist Church, I frequently heard such comments as: “You are so special! Adults love to see a young person on fire for the Lord and working for Him.” “When you preach a prophecy series and give Bible studies, it is so powerful because of your youth. The Lord is raising an army of young people to carry out His work!”

I was blessed to be a part of many youth organizations that had an incredible influence on my Christian walk and spiritual life. These programs, including Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi) Youth for Jesus, naturally had a special emphasis on inspiring and entrusting the work of spreading the gospel message to the young people of our church.

The directors and leaders worked hard to emphasize the 1 Timothy 4:12 concept of not allowing anyone to “despise your youth.” This was the attitude I carried into ministry as I formally began to work for the church, moving from volunteer to Bible worker to pastor. I was, and remain today, passionate about our young people, and I still believe that there is a special work that will be done by an army of youth in the closing days of earth’s history.

Flawed Thinking

A flaw had grown in my thinking, however, which continues to affect many and could have robbed me of critical opportunities for growth. I acquired a mindset of acknowledging that the church had some incredible leaders who were older individuals, while also considering their opinions, methods, and leadership style to be old-fashioned. I felt that they tended to hold back the “real” work that needed to be done in a fast-paced, complicated, and technologically advanced society.

I maintained a respectful attitude to the older generation and was glad that they were a part of the church, but I wanted the leadership and decision-making of the local church to be handed over to people my age who would act efficiently and with energy, cutting through the red tape that so often frustrated me. Then a dear older saint pulled me aside. This was not just for one conversation, but for intentional mentorship, which I failed to recognize in the early stages of our friendship. This relational mentoring proved vital to my young ministry, and she continues to impact and gently guide in my life and ministry to this day.

I began to recognize that her advice did not originate in trivial dogmas from times past, but consisted of relevant values and skills. After all, these principles of how to treat people, share personal faith, and deal with conflict were not something she had read in a self-help book. These were biblical principles that she had not just read, but had experienced, practiced, and witnessed through a lifetime of church work, soul winning, and sharing the love of Jesus with anyone who would give her an ear to listen. She never despised my passion or minimized my frustration, but patiently listened and shared scriptures and practical application.

The Value of Mentorship

In 1 John 2:14 John addresses the church and compliments not only the young men but the more experienced saints as well. “I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (NIV). The fathers obviously have experience and the youth lack it, but energy is on their side.

I fear that we have often missed out on such an opportunity in our local churches. Often the respective age groups view each other as more of a threat than an asset and do not value the potential that each group brings to the table. This is a blunder that has been committed by youth and aged alike. I wince when I hear conversations in adult Sabbath schools wax long in criticizing the new generation and all their faults and vices. Yet I also know many youth who view the older members as obsolete and graceless, and wish that they would just “get out of the way.” The devil exults in hearing both conversations, as they continue to cause division and rob the strength unity would bring.

I praise God for Nancy, my mentor, and the patience she had in teaching me to listen and find the power in experience. This skill has not only saved me from painful mistakes but has allowed for developing real relationships with my older members, whom I not only value but sincerely love. I shudder to think of how lopsided my ministry could have been, and the friendships I would have failed to kindle, if one dear woman had not taken the time to be patient with a hardheaded young worker. I’ve found the burdens our young people struggle with on a day-to-day basis are the same trials our older members battle. The questions about a connection with God are the same in both categories. There is so much in common, but so often kept separate by an age gap.

For those reading this today who find themselves in the category of more experience, I appeal to you: seek out the young people in your local congregation, and find value in their lives. Do not just stop at the comings and goings of life and a superficial Sabbath morning “How are you?” Offer a real interest in the spiritual life and its growth. You may not immediately be welcomed, and may even be met with some suspicion, but be persistent. Be open and vulnerable. You are needed.

On the other hand, you may find yourself reading this article and relate to my youthful frustrations. Be teachable. Remember to listen, just as you want to be heard. Your energy is needed, and so is your willingness to be guided by a generation who has already made the mistakes you are in danger of making. Those gray hairs speak to years of struggling with God and asking Him the same questions you may be asking now. If you are seeking this desperately needed mentorship, there is no lack of quality people right where you are. Ask questions, listen to those words of wisdom, those words of life. I thank God we have a church of such diversity, for mentors in my local church, and for Nancy, who expounded and embodied practical principles for life as a Christ follower. I look forward to growing old together in heaven, where age will know no separation.