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In First Meeting of the New Year, University Student Leaders Advisory Provides Opportunity for Dialogue and Feedback

North American Division leadership meets virtually with college/university Adventist students in continuing advisory panel.

NAD leadership meets with university Adventist student leaders in first virtual advisory meeting of 2024.

Some of the group of North American Division leadership and university student leaders as they dialogue in the first virtual advisory meeting of 2024. Screenshot

On January 24, 2024, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD) conducted a university student leaders advisory. The virtual event was cohosted by G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president, Wendy Eberhardt, NAD vice president for ministries (which includes Children’s, Family, Disabilities, and many other ministries), and Tracy Wood, NAD Youth & Young Adult (YYA) Ministries director.

Nearly two dozen student leaders joined the multigenerational discussion. They represented several Adventist universities, including Andrews, Southern, Southwestern, Oakwood, La Sierra, and Burman, as well as some Adventist Christian Fellowship (ACF) student groups on public universities.

After brief introductions, the group proceeded with the conversation proper. Bryant highlighted the deliberations at the division’s recent year-end Meeting regarding the administration’s desire to encourage young people to fill ministry positions and other vital denominational roles. He indicated that significant shortages currently exist in pastorship and education.

It was acknowledged that the aforementioned fields are not the most lucrative. Additionally, as college graduates and young professionals consider the prospect of carrying their other skill sets, whether executive, technical, creative, or otherwise into church employment, the reality is that equivalent positions in the public sector will typically tender bigger paychecks.

Bryant invited the student leaders to provide their honest feedback on the extent to which remuneration is a deterrent to them and their peers filling these roles. One of the representatives from the Andrews University Theological Seminary confirmed it is indeed a deterrent, sharing an account of someone who had to go into debt to cover the expenses associated with transitioning from school to filling a pastoral position, such as travel, home-hunting, etc. The good news was the employing conference delivered reimbursement afterward.

Though finance was the main focus of this talking point, another student leader mentioned how there are other barriers to entering ministry. In particular, social stigmas have proven to be a burden on many young pastors. Other worthwhile insights pertaining to this discussion included the need to support international students as they wrestle with the documentation red tape so they can stay in the U.S. and work for the church long-term, as well as

the benefits of creating more short-term (two-to-six months, give or take) internship opportunities.

One of the student leaders initially broached the internship topic, expressing concerns over the present limitations of options, especially at the conference and union levels. She shared her positive experience with an opportunity she found and filled in the Adventist health system while reiterating the need to augment the availability of options across the range of professions throughout denominational employment (social work was raised as a prime example by multiple student leaders).

The NAD directors were especially receptive to the potential for establishing more short-term internships. Bryant stated his intention to share the idea with the proper committee to get the wheels in motion from concept to reality. Eberhardt conveyed her passion for internships and underlined the open avenues through summer camps and at the division level.

As the remuneration segment drew to a close, a common sentiment was that there is room for improvement in creating awareness of opportunities in ministry and denominational employment. One student leader said, “I think students like me and others are very willing to get more involved with the church, but … there needs to be some structure and just information in your face. … if it’s in your face, students will tap in.”

The other primary talking point was digital discipleship: how many student leaders are currently involved and the value of offering training. Bryant admitted the church can be more active in leveraging social media and other technological advances to spread the gospel. Many of the student leaders detailed how they’re using various digital tools to connect with those within their spheres of influence and make a spiritual impact.

One of the student leaders posited an important caveat: “If we don’t have the people at the personal level to connect [discipleship through social media], you can go through social media and never see the intended [information] … I love digital discipleship, but if we don’t have intentionality behind it … people connecting people to this, people are going to scroll by.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Wood conducted a chat-based survey on church attendance preferences. Many students appreciate the advantages of online services and their more extensive reach. Nevertheless, it is clear that direct fellowship remains an indispensable component of the Christian experience.

In closing, Bryant thanked the student leaders for their energy and passion and emphatically exclaimed how much they mean to the fabric of the church: “We need you! We need you! We need you!” Eberhardt also thanked them for sacrificing some of their valuable time and being transparent in articulating their perspectives.

The university student leaders advisory was established to build bridges between undergraduates and graduates and the seasoned veterans in Adventist Church administration throughout the North American Division. Executives and directors have become increasingly dedicated to entrusting young people with the “microphone” so they can candidly express their concerns, which then initiates a joint effort to find solutions and move the church and its mission forward.

Meetings have been conducted periodically since the advisory’s inception in 2022, and numerous topics and issues have been addressed (please click here and here for details on prior sessions). The January 24 meeting continued the trend of being marked by healthy, productive dialogue. There was as much listening as there was talking. The division leaders did well in effectively fostering an environment of open ears and open minds. The next meeting is set for early spring, and student leaders will be notified when the specific date is determined.

Though the participants occupy different age ranges and life stages, they share a mutual goal: partnering together to fulfill the Adventist Church’s mission — and prepare as many people as possible for the soon return of Jesus Christ.

— John Simon writes from Michigan.