Thousands of Seventh-day Adventists from all 50 United States and 60 foreign countries heard a clarion call for holiness and dedication to the movement’s core message on the morning of Sabbath, January 4, 2014, as the annual “Generation. Youth. Christ.” (GYC) event reached its zenith in Orlando, Florida. Morning worship attendance was recorded at 6,200.
“As Seventh-day Adventist young people in service to God before men and angels, you are called to proclaim the Advent hope with the need for revival, repentance and reformation through the power of the Holy Spirit,” declared Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson, General Conference president who, moments earlier, was named “President of Adventist young people” by outgoing GYC president Justin McNeilus. A smiling Wilson responded by saying the latter accolade “was an even better title than being president of the General Conference.”
The veteran church leader then turned serious in his call for evangelism by the Church’s young people, many of who had both attended training sessions on outreach during the annual four-day GYC event, and had participated in a day of outreach in Florida’s fifth-largest city, with a 2012 population reported at 249,562.
According to GYC officials, 2,800 people participated in canvassing. The volunteers knocked on 22,622 doors; left 15,517 tracts; gave out 2,238 copies of The Great Controversy to individuals and prayed with 2,089 people, recording 216 requests for follow-up Bible studies.
“My first GYC experience was great because we did outreach and that was a blessing for me because I was able to [reach] people within a couple of minutes,” said Nishele Adams, a 19-year-old Lehman College student from New York City.
Mario Sanchez, a 22-year-old from Oakland, California, added, “It's been great to meet people from all over the world, different backgrounds, different ages but [all] excited about doing the Lord’s work."
Citing the account of Paul’s proclamation of Christ to the intellectuals of Athens’ Mars Hill as recorded in Acts 17, Wilson said Seventh-day Adventists today are confronting their own “Mars Hill” when their faith and values collide with an increasingly secular world. “Everywhere we see idolatry in full swing -- self-centered secular and post-modern attitudes that are in opposition to God’s Word --independent, self-serving attitudes that need to be softened by submission to Christ,” he said.
Describing “spiritual complacency and apathy” as one of four major concerns facing the Seventh-day Adventist movement, Wilson urged his hearers to move forward in bringing the Church’s message to others as an antidote.
“Holy Spirit-led involvement in your local church and in your outreach to the community is the answer to apathy,” he said. “If you want to be spiritually alive, get involved. If you want a vibrant prayer life, get involved. If you want to appreciate the Word of God more, get involved. If you want to have a deeper love for others, get involved. If you want to see souls won to Jesus, get involved. If you want to see Jesus come soon, get involved. Join the hundreds of thousands of Seventh-day Adventist young people, leaders and members around the world who are actively involved in the mission of the church.”
Wilson said another source of concern is “the challenging danger of disunity” within Adventism: “God has given to Seventh-day Adventists a divinely inspired church organization and mutual agreements called church policies, which, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are part of what holds us together as a worldwide family. To discard or ignore these mutual agreements violates a sacred trust and creates unnecessary discord,” he said.
But Wilson’s first two concerns regarding the movement centered on both the self-identity of members with Adventism’s doctrines and a rise in worldliness among church members.
“Too many either have failed to recognize or have forgotten the divine prophetic calling God has given this church. There is a growing tendency to minimize our differences with other denominations. Much of this comes from a neutralization of the Bible as God’s Word,” Wilson declared.
He later added, “We have a life and death message to present to the world. Seventh-day Adventists have been raised up like Noah to prepare the world for its final hours. I am absolutely confident that, guided by Jesus and faithful to our prophetic heritage, this movement will triumph.”
On the subject of worldliness, Wilson said a neglect of traditional Adventist counsels on diet, dress and behavior has a cost: “Standards once cherished by Seventh-day Adventists in the areas of diet, dress, recreation, amusement and Sabbath keeping are fast becoming things of the past. When members are adorned like the world, dress like the world, love the world’s entertainment, listen to the world’s music and are captivated by its Hollywood productions, genuine spirituality erodes and the devil makes inroads into the soul,” he said.
Wilson added, “Millions all over the world are aching for something different. They long for genuine, authentic Christianity. We will never reach them by compromising our standards to come down to their level. We must ‘lift up the standard.’ This is no time to flirt with the devil’s dress, diet, amusement, and worldly influences.”
Also in his message, Wilson said, “Young people, leave this convocation knowing that God has called the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a prophetic people to be a prophetic movement with a prophetic message and a prophetic mission.”
While noting advances in spreading the Adventist message and the church’s growth, Wilson said he was concerned about the loss of some young adults, and other members, along the way. To help keep young adult Adventists connected, he announced the world church’s Youth Ministries department would “assign a full-time associate director” dedicated to public campus ministries, reaching Seventh-day Adventists and those interested in the message who attend non-Adventist colleges and universities.
Before the morning worship, several Adventist leaders joined Wilson onstage for an hour-long question-and-answer session to address various subjects related to young adults.
That Sabbath School panel included a group of Adventist thought leaders, each with a message for the largely young adult congregation: Mark Finley, a special assistant to Wilson as well as editor-at-large for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines; James Black, North American Division youth ministries leader; Bill Knott, Adventist Review and Adventist World editor and executive publisher; and Paul Ratsara, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean division president, who spoke movingly of the loss of three close relatives in the last year, including his wife, Denise, who died of cancer in October. They were interviewed by Israel Ramos, a pastor in the Michigan Conference and former GYC president, Justin McNeilus, GYC president for the last six years, and Natasha Nebblett, incoming GYC president.
Asked what message he had for young people, Wilson said, “Get involved in your local church. Be a part of what’s happening. Don’t just throw your hands up and sit in a corner.”
The church executive concluded with a statement from movement co-founder Ellen G. White:“Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard.” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 12)
-- with additional reporting from Mark Paden, GYC Communication vice president, in Orlando.