The Church's Ministry to College Youth

THERE has been a spirit of unrest recently among college students on many Seventh-day Adventist campuses in the United States. One of the issues involved is dissatisfaction with the church's spiritual program. . .

THERE has been a spirit of unrest recently among college students on many Seventh-day Adventist campuses in the United States. One of the issues involved is dissatisfaction with the church's spiritual program.

Prime promoters of this unrest are to day's young adults, the now generation. Capable, well-educated, knowledgeable of the power of mass media and protest, they insist on being heard. Perhaps they have a right to be heard.

"It is the youth who will inherit the earth . . . and they are increasingly less meek about their indignation." 1

Rather than seeking to justify present existing conditions, it seems the better part of prudence to consider objectively the problems of the college-age student in relating to the church. We must recognize at the outset that not all change is necessarily evil. In fact, sometimes the refusal to recognize existing problems may create a crescendo of insurmountable difficulties in the near future.

This then, is the purpose of the article: to consider the many varied problems and attitudes of the college youth in the church and to offer some helpful solutions.

There is an immense need for an extended and improved understanding by the church of the young-adult generation. This generation is in transition from youth to adulthood; they are in transition from parental dependence to independence. They are learning new concepts that conflict with earlier assumptions, opinions, and views. They are learning to work with others, to share living accommodations. and to deal with social and personal problems ranging from sex to money.

More Dialog Is Needed

Many young people are completely frustrated when they become aware of a break down in communication with the other generation. We need to be aware that although there is no law that requires parents or ministers to enter into dialog with the young adult, a definite danger exists where there is an absence of dialog. Too frequently, outside church-regulated institutions, young people have felt obliged to participate in public protest in order to get the attention of an older disinterested generation. It is hoped that Seventh-day Adventist youth will not find it necessary to resort to this means because of communication roadblocks.

Pastor Robert E. Cleveland has ably stated:

Most young Adventists . . . discover quickly the rigidifying that stems from excessive attention to precedent, the encircling web of vested interests that entangles new growth in every field of endeavor. They soon learn the real meaning of such statements as, "Let's table it for further study." "Let's refer it to a committee," and "We have always followed the practice of ..."2

The young adult is also frequently anti-establishment because of a credibility gap. The church may tell him one thing in public, and then to his amazement, he discovers that this official statement is unreliable or that it needs additional qualification, or that in real life, a compromising behavior is acceptable.

Participatory Involvement

The now generation, to top it all off, believes that the church's invitation to meaningful participation and involvement is frequently nothing more than just a sham. We have too long encouraged young people to think of the church as a place where they are educated and entertained, rather than a place where they are involved in the mutual ministries of a priest hood of all believers.

They may attend the vespers, the Folk Strokes, the socials. They may go to Sabbath school with their friends, and sit and listen as a member of the other generation eulogizes, lecture style, over some approved material. They may give an offering and later submit to a head-count report. The young adult may listen again during the church service to another lecture-type presentation. But after the closing hymn he passes out of the church into the world, to assume a nonparticipatory role, until he attends again (hopefully) the next social, the next Sabbath school, or the next church service.

In fact and practice, these spectator, one-directional programs often provide for young adults an alternative to full membership. The message is that these are "holding operations," "halfway stops." The young adult may be a church member, but he is not really in the church in the fullest sense of the word.

Questionnaire of College Students at One of Our Colleges

In March, 1970, as a graduate-class assignment, a descriptive analysis of the attitudes and present conduct of college students was run on one of our campuses. This questionnaire, filled out by 367 residence hall students, was then correlated with a briefer questionnaire sent to six persons on each of the Seventh-day Adventist college campuses in North America. It was most interesting to learn that similar problems exist to a lesser or larger degree among all college-age students. For the sake of brevity we present here a summary of the results given by college students from our control group.

Solutions to the Problems Confronting College Youth

Tt is all too apparent from this report that there exists a degree of apathy and disinterest on the part of many college young people toward religion and the church. The following solutions are pre sented in brief; many of them come from the college youth themselves.

1. The spiritual needs of the college youth should call pastors, church lay lead ership, and school faculty to a renewal of their day-by-day commitment to Christ.

2. The college youth needs above all to receive a personal confrontation with Jesus Christ. This should be one of the primary goals of the minister.

3. For the sake of relevance, and to avoid misunderstanding with today's youth, clarify the immediate and long-range goal objectives of the local church.

4. Know your audience in this case the college youth and direct your attention toward meeting his varied needs. It is the sincere belief of the writer that a college campus should be primarily student-orientated.

5. Involve the college youth in the program of the church. Recognize that one of the basic objectives of the church is for training and leadership development.

6. Be on the side of flexibility and variety with the worship structure, music, and related programs.

7. Guard against a "too perfect" wor ship structure, where no defect or differ ence from the usual is permitted.

8. Share your real life with people. Admit you make mistakes and are as human as the rest.

9. Avoid tired cliches and overused religious expressions. Nothing turns the mod ern generation off more than this.

10. Educate the young adult as to the real motive for attending religious services.

11. Work toward a more dynamic pres entation of the spoken message, based within the setting of the times in which we live. Young people will sit up and lis ten to a man who speaks with conviction, and under the unction and power of the Holy Spirit.

12. Recognize present-day trends toward small group participation. In an era of depersonalization, too many people are fighting against the loss of their identity.

13. Recognize present-day trends away from a highly formal to a less formal order of church service and music.

14. Abbreviate preliminaries, announcements from the desk, and offering calls.

15. Develop new forms of church in volvement in the community, and encourage more college youth to participate in these weekend events.

16. Personally and publicly appeal to church officers and college faculty to set the pace for college young people in Christian witness.

17. Experiment with well-thought-out, imaginative efforts to express the church's genuine concern and interest in the col lege-age church member. To do this we will have to spend more time with the young adult. Too long have we isolated ourselves from his experiences.

The ever-changing problems of the college youth call the Seventh-day Adventist Church to a continual inward examination of its life and practices. Salvation truth must never be sacrificed at any price. However, overused forms, methods, and organization must bend to the changing times. As ministers, we owe it to our youth ful leaders of tomorrow to incorporate them more fully into the life and work of the church.



1. "Staging Ground for Action," Man on Earth, March, 1970, p. 44.

2. "The Gift of Discontent," Spectrum, vol. Z, No. 1, Winter 1970, p. 65.

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February 1971

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