Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Valuegenesis What To Do Next

The Pacific Northwest Adventist Forum is holding a meeting on
March 8 ( Update: sorry earlier I had it as Feb 8) with the featured speaker V. Bailey Gillespie Professor
of Theology and Personality, Director of the John Hancock
Center for Youth and Family Ministry School of Religion at
La Sierra University on the topic:
Valuegenesis: What We Know For Sure...

That is a provocative title at least if you expect to know something for sure… not something that the field of psychology is known for. As a preparation for the event which will be held Auburn Adventist Academy Church I thought I would check on some of the available information on the internet. One interesting item from the Adventist News Network in 2006 is: Europe: Survey Questions Young Adventists on Family, Church, Society Here are some excerpts (in blue) with a few comments (in red):

What do young people in the Seventh-day Adventist church need to grow and maintain a close relationship with Christ? Adventists in Europe are hoping to find the answer through an extensive study that will mine the thoughts of young Adventists living in European countries. The study, Valuegenesis Europe, is based on a similar study done in the United States in 1990 and again in 2000.

"Because there isn't a large network of Adventist schools in Europe, this study will be focusing on the impact of family, church and society among young Adventists in Europe," says Manuela Casti, director of the José Figols Centre for Youth Ministry based at Saleve Adventist University in Collonges-sous-Saleve, France. Casti is also a lecturer at the school's theological seminary and is primary organizer of the Valuegenesis Europe research.

"Our young people are so exposed to society," Casti says. "Eighty percent of their lives have influences other than church. The questionnaire hopes to discover how young people are receiving Adventist teachings and practices, if they are involved in church life and the church's relevance to young people. We hope to see if we can do better and find new ways to reach them."

This interesting part of this statement about eighty percent of influence is how Adventism has for far too long depended upon the education system to indoctrinate the Adventist young. It is something that anyone who sends their children to a public school is well aware of. Our churches offer very little for our young people if they are not affiliated with an SDA school. We have some fairly large churches which have tiny youth departments because the tradition has been to send their children to boarding schools. Now that more American students are not going away to boarding schools our churches need to adjust their youth programs accordingly. However as a denomination we offer very little leadership or ideas to the local youth leaders. Some Youth leaders simply try to indoctrinate the young people as they would if they were being taught in an Adventist school. But that does not work in the real world where the students don’t have to simply accept what the teacher says and they can ask questions. The relevance of a teaching to the high school student becomes more importance when they are not surrounded by others who already believe something. In other words the student has to think about what they are being taught has relevance to their lives as well as to the lives of the people they know at school.

This idea that eighty percent of the influence is separate from the Adventist church is important to realize.

Some of the differences could result from living in a postmodern society. Casti expects that postmodernism will play a significant part in the results. However, Gillespie thinks that based on similar studies done in Australia and Northern Europe, the differences between the impact of postmodernism on young Adventists in America and in Europe will be minor. "We are impacted by postmodernism here just as well," he says.

Casti does not agree: "The U.S. is still very much more involved and sensitive to church life in general. Look at the percentage of church attendance in U.S. It is much higher than Europe. While here churches are becoming more and more empty. In the Northern countries [of Europe] the percentage of people that regularly attend church is below 10 percent."

"Churches are not perceived as a necessary part of individual life anymore," she continues.

Casti calls the situation analphabet. "Not knowing religion," she explains, "is like not knowing how to read or write. Religiously speaking, many [in Europe] don't know the grammar of religion."

One thing that we should learn from the decline of Christianity is that we must not be offering what people need in our churches. Our religion has become distant from the needs of the people and our language become trite both inside and outside our Christian churches. This goes for more than the Adventist church it is a larger problem that Christianity has to deal with. For too long Christianity has been a club with its own language and now people are searching for more than the language of Christianity but the relevance of Christianity. Too often we Christians are afraid to teach the philosophy of Christianity preferring to preach blind faith.

When asked what she believes is responsible for declining church attendance in Europe, Casti shares one theory: "One of the weaknesses of the church is the family transmission of faith. It is not just the Adventist church but everywhere. Religion is now private. Families have not transmitted religion as connected to an institutional choice. In many cases, families delay choice of religion to when young people are big enough to make the choice themselves."

But she says religion is not completely out of the question for European Adventists today because "young people are deeply interested in spiritual things." European youth leaders are hoping that Valuegenesis research will show youth leaders how to reach young people and keep them in the church.

"There isn't just a fear of losing our young people--it's [already] happening," says Paul Tompkins, youth ministries in the Adventist church's Trans-European region.

The critical point here is transmission of our faith. But our faith is not transferred by osmosis. It requires a reasoned and appropriate application of the Christian philosophy with our lives and the lives of those around us. In the Western world our knowledge bases is becoming so large that we can’t hide in the parochial way that was practiced by through the majority of the 20th century.

Hopefully Valuegenesis studies will be aids in our knowledge base but what we need now is the freedom to experiment with new and different methods of relating to the world around us and within our own churches. Unfortunately that seems to be a stumbling block that is proving insurmountable to many churches. We are afraid of trying new things we are afraid that if we acknowledge alternative views we will be seen as compromising with the “world”. We are afraid that we can’t be progressive because we must be traditional.

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