October 31, 2023

A Boring Church Service, Affording Adventist Education, and Marrying Outside One’s Faith

General Conference president answers questions from young members across the WAD.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson dialogues with young people from across the West Central-Africa Division on October 28. [Photo: screenshot by Adventist Review]

“The most important thing about being a young person and being connected to the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be two elements: The Bible and being of service,” General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson told young people from across the West-Central Africa Division (WAD) during a Zoom-mediated dialogue October 28. The 90-minute conversation allowed young Adventist members to ask questions on various topics of their interest, including worship, church involvement, and marrying outside one’s faith.

In his introductory remarks, Wilson elaborated on the two items he mentioned as “essential”: “Number one is having the Bible as your rule of faith, knowing the Bible. Don’t try to be involved with the church without being involved with the Bible. The Bible is our foundational understanding, a wonderful guide to life. It is the written Word, representing the living Word, Jesus Christ,” he said. “Thus, the most important thing for you as a young person is to look up at your spiritual connection to the Lord through the reading of His Word, prayer, and being able to share [that message] with others.”

Regarding the second item, Wilson said that it results from the first. “Once the Word lives in you through the power of the Holy Spirit, reach out and serve others,” he said. “Be part of all kinds of activities: community services, Bible studies, singing groups, events that will help lift people from the challenges that we face today and point them to something much happier.”

Wilson said these two elements should inform the next moments of questions and answers.

Worship Structure

The first written question sent to Wilson asked about the usual structure of church worship. “Many complain about the current church worship structure of Sabbath School, announcements, and divine service, which perhaps are not relevant to young people. How can the church correct this situation? Is it possible that the church can engage young people? Can current structures be more adapted to current needs?”

In answering, Wilson first reminded young people that the Bible sees value in “assembling together” as a group to worship. Also, he said, it is important to remember that worship should never be self-centered, because it should be focused on God. “Everything that we do in worship should be to give glory to God, not to ourselves.”

Wilson advised young people to be proactive at the local church level. “If in your church, for instance, you have a Sabbath School that is boring or dry because there’s only one person talking, you are doing Sabbath School wrong,” he said. “Young people, and everyone, should be involved in sharing their perspectives as you read Scriptures ahead and during Sabbath School. Be interactive! Be excited! Make Sabbath School vibrant!”

At the same time, Sabbath School includes fellowship and outreach, Wilson reminded young people. “So, if your Sabbath School is not active, young people can revitalize it,” he said.

Something similar applies to the church service. “If it’s too formal, you can talk to the elders, and say, ‘Can we have a few young people up there? Can we be part of the music? Can we share a message once in a while? Can we give some testimonies?’ There are many things you can try to make your church services vibrant,” Wilson said.

Adventist Education

A second question delved into the affordability of education at Adventist schools in the region. “Adventist education is often unavailable, inaccessible, and unaffordable for most Adventist families in Nigeria. What can the General Conference do to correct this situation?”

Wilson acknowledged that Adventist education is sometimes out of reach for some people, and that subsidizing every young person from the General Conference “is physically impossible.” At the same time, he explained that most Adventist educational institutions have opportunities for bursaries and special grants.

In Nigeria, Wilson reminded young people, there are two Adventist universities — Babcock University and Clifford University — and thousands are studying there. “I know that they have tuition assistance for those who are truly desirous of having a Christian education,” Wilson said. “And I know that in the future, they will have even more bursaries and tuition assistance, scholarships for Seventh-day Adventist young people.”

WAD president Robert Osei-Bonsu added that in fact, the church region is making efforts “to make Adventist education affordable for as many people as possible. In the next future, tuition is expected to be reduced drastically for Adventist students,” he said.

Lay Pastors

“What is the position of the General Conference on lay pastors, those who have been called to take care of a church while holding another job?” another young person asked.

As a way of an answer, Wilson explained that there are differences according to the church region, but that lay pastors are used indeed in many places under different arrangements — with a stipend, a part-time salary, etc. But given that many pastors have more local churches that they can take care of, in many places, they depend primarily on first elders.

In some places, Wilson said, it is possible that local conferences or missions decide for some first elders to function as lay pastors. But unlike other less structured denominations, in the Adventist Church, even lay pastors always function in connection with a local church field and answer to its leaders. It is something that gives unity of belief and purpose to the work, he said.

Marrying Outside the Church

Another young person asked about the issues resulting from the big difference in ratio in Nigeria between Adventist young men and young women. “There are several young women for every young man,” the young person said. “It forces many young women to marry someone who is not an Adventist. What should the church do? Should they be disciplined for marrying outside the church when there are no other options?”

Wilson said he was sorry to hear about that problem, emphasizing, however, that “when a young person wants to really do God’s will, God will open the way for them in some special or even miraculous way.”

He acknowledged that it is a very challenging situation to go into a relationship with someone who does not believe like you do. “You are putting yourself at great risk for the future,” Wilson said. “So, I would encourage any young lady in this situation to wait upon the Lord, asking the Lord to open the way before her and give her a clear picture of how he would like her to proceed, and to open the pathway to marry a dedicated, consecrated Seventh-day Adventist young man.”

As regards to discipline, Wilson made clear that the worldwide church does not discipline someone for marrying outside their faith. “It may counsel and encourage that person not to do it, but if they go ahead and do that, the church should not abandon them or censure them. It should rally around that person and keep that person as close to the church as possible,” he said.

Other questions dealt with the relationship between young people and the church, some of the logistics involved in The Great Controversy initiative, and some practical considerations regarding polygamy, divorce, and remarriage.

Wilson closed the dialogue with a renewed call to faithfulness. “I encourage each one of you to remain completely faithful,” he said. “In some tricky situations, plead with God personally, [telling Him], ‘Lord, help me to know what I need to do.’ Ask God to help you stay faithful to Bible truth. Those who honor Him, He will honor.”