I recently returned from the North American Division Regional Black Caucus. That is the meeting that is held once per year where all the black Administrators on the Conference, Union, Division and the General Conference level come together to discuss and plan the work in Regional Conferences and our West Coast affiliates.
In addition to that particular meeting, the officers of the Regional Conferences (i.e., the Presidents, the Conference Secretaries and Conference Treasurers-in some conferences they are referred to as Vice Presidents for Administration and Finance, respectively) meet three additional times per year. It was during one of those meetings that some remarked that there were few Millennials who were a part of our leadership group.
So, the idea was pitched to the Regional Presidents and the West Coast Vice Presidents that when Black Caucus meets, that there would be added to the Presidents Caucus, the Secretaries Caucus, the Treasurers Caucus, the Ministerial Directors Caucus, the Pastors Caucus, etc. (there are eight caucuses that meet during Black Caucus) that a ninth caucus be added-a Millennial Caucus.
Each conference was asked to select a millennial from their constituents and send them to Louisville, Kentucky, the location for this year’s caucus. The conference was responsible for their representatives’ transportation, lodging and meals-a major investment, especially considering that each conference is already sending (on average) six to seven other people to this meeting. But the conferences deemed the investment of “getting Millennials to the table”-a phrase heard throughout the meeting-to be worth the cost.
Each caucus spent approximately six to seven hours of the three days of meetings in their individual caucuses addressing issues and attending seminars that are specific to their particular group. The Office for Regional Conference Ministry makes specific assignments to each individual caucus of things that it would like addressed and the individual caucus chairs also have issues that they would like addressed. Additionally, there are presentations made to the entire group.
On the first day of the caucus, the Millennial Caucus (which the millennials decided to change to the “NextGen” Caucus) presented to the group in the form of a panel discussion involving the NextGen Caucus. The NextGen group shared how their age group viewed the Seventh-day Adventist Church, how their age group viewed tithing, what it would take to get their age group engaged and involved in the mission of the church, etc. A lively and candid discussion ensued before the groups separated into their individual caucuses for the day.
As was stated earlier-a theme that was heard throughout the meeting was the NextGen’s appreciation for being invited to the meeting and everyone else’s appreciation for them being at the meeting. Everyone seemed to realize that everyone benefited from having the NextGen Caucus at the leadership table.
The next challenge is, first of all: Where do we go from here? This cannot be a kind of feel-good event where everyone congratulates themselves for doing something that should have been done a long time ago and then goes back to doing what we have always done.
We have made the NextGen Caucus a permanent part of Black Caucus. But that is not enough. Now that we have brought them to the table, we have to ensure that their voices are heard after they get there. One of the things that I hear as I travel around the country in the position that I am blessed and privileged to have, is that the NextGen group does not always feel that we are listening to them.
And not only must we listen but we also must act. What they are recommending must not die in some committee or in someone’s file cabinet. It is true that just because they (or anyone else) makes a recommendation, that does not mean that recommendation must be accepted-that is not how things work. But we do need to either take action on the things that they recommend or provide them with a reason as to why not.
Then, we have to encourage the rest of the church to make sure that the NextGen age group is appropriately represented at other denominational “tables”. I do not have hard numbers (and-I should) but my suspicion is that Next “Geners” are underrepresented at the decision-making levels of our church.
Some of that is my generation’s fault. We have not been as intentional (a word I used a lot in my former life as a conference administrator) about making sure that the NextGen group is included. Too often, we have taken the easy way and relied on the people that we have always relied upon and asked the same people to do the same things that they have always done.
I was talking with a Pastor recently about a faithful member who I knew who had been faithfully serving in a position for a long time-twenty years or more. I knew the member; she had served with me in one of the positions I had held in that particular conference.
But was she still serving in that position only because she is faithful and doing a good job (and she is). Or, is it because it is just easier to keep putting the same people in the same positions year after year? Or, has the very nice lady made it clear that she will not be so nice if the church puts someone else in “her” position?
One of the hard lessons I have learned these past 41 years of ministry is that people say they want change until they actually have to change. That people will say they are ready to step aside but they never seem to quite get around to actually doing it.
While getting the NextGen group to the table often is not any more difficult than bringing them alongside of an older person and having that older person mentor them while that person is still in their current position, sometimes in order for the NextGen group to step up, some older person has to be willing to step aside. Sometimes, in order to get NextGen to the table, “My Gen” has to be willing to move over.
But while my generation needs to change, so do my younger brothers and sisters of NextGen. My experience is that while my generation has not been nearly as intentional in including NextGen, NextGen has been too willing to accept not being included. It is almost as if NextGen is saying, “You all don’t want us at the table; fine, you can have the table”.
The problem with that is that everyone loses. This church desperately needs the new ideas and the new thinking of the younger generations. We need you to keep us from doing the same things that we have done for 1,000 years, even when they stopped working 900 years earlier. This church needs its young people.
But young people need this church. For one thing, it is God’s church. And with all its faults (faults to which all of us contribute), the Bible says that Christ loves the church and gave His life for it.
Notice that the Bible did not say Christ was so disgusted with all the things wrong with the church that He left it; the Bible did not say that Christ left the church-it says Christ loved the church, and, that He gave His life for it.
The Bible says that while He was on this earth, it was Jesus’ custom to go to church (Luke 4:16). And when that was written of Jesus, He was a millennial-thirty years old or so. So this idea that if I don’t like what’s going on in the church, I can just pack up and leave, flies in the face of Scripture and in the example of Christ Himself. Jesus didn’t leave the church; who told any of us that we could?
Church membership anywhere can be messy, hurtful, and political and all the other bad things we can think of-and that includes churches in every other denomination; what makes any of us think those kinds of things are strictly Adventist problems? They are not Adventist problems; they are human problems. And everywhere humans are-your church, your job, your home-there are going to be the kinds of problems that human beings bring.
Anywhere any of us are, those kinds of problems are going to be there; but here’s the good news: Human problems are going to be there in the church, but, so is God. He is still in the business of taking people who are normal, sinful human beings and making them into people who are like Him.
So-let me close by saying to NextGen: We are committed to doing a better job of moving over and making sure that you have a place at that table. Don’t leave the church; help change the church-help make it better. Pull up a “chair” at the “table and help our church-your church-to be what God would have it to be.
And if you will do that, you will discover that by committing yourself to helping the church be what God would have it be, that God will use that to help you be all that He would have you be.
By Dana Edmond