On Saturday night, April 8th, Oregon Conference president, Dan Linrud, joined a group of around 60 young adults aged 18-35 in the Holden Convention Center for the second annual “Dinner with Dan” event. Hosted by Pastor Benjamin Lundquist and Oregon Young Adult ministries, the night began with worship music led by musicians from the Walla Walla School of Nursing and a message from one of our newest pastors, Pastor Jose Saint Phard, who began serving at the Oasis Christian Center in Vancouver, Washington this spring.
After worship, Pastor Ben Lundquist transitioned into the conversational time with three questions for the group:
“How have you seen God moving in your life or community?”
“What do you think older leaders get wrong about your generation?”
“What are your hopes and dreams for the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
Over a dozen young adults shared what was on their hearts, pushing the conversation well beyond the allotted time before breaking for a delicious Thai supper, and continuing in smaller groups long after.
One powerful theme that emerged from the evening was that many young adults crave a deeper, more embodied faith that extends far beyond programming and religious traditions––a faith that is less tied to one location, one schedule, or one way of doing “church.”
One young mother named Sarah said this: “I think what feels disconnected to me is that church leaders often don’t really seem to understand what we value. Our values may somewhat differ from theirs, and that can create a disconnect across the board… communion, for example. The way we do communion in church has very little meaning to me personally, and I think that’s because it’s been so separated from the way the church did communion with Jesus. At my church last night we had an agape feast, which was amazing because it captured how they celebrated on Good Friday––that’s what they did together. The value being expressed there is church around a table. Why can’t we do communion as a real meal? Why does it need to be in a sanctuary––this sterile environment where we’re just drinking this tiny cup of juice with this tiny little cracker? I think I’m not alone in my generation in wanting church to be more aligned with my values, wanting my faith to be expressed very practically in an earthy, embodied, real way. I sense this disconnect between that desire in my heart and the way leadership enacts policies, events, and procedures that seem to 'abstractify' it all."
She continued, "That’s what I want to say as far as hopes and dreams. You say young adult voices matter, and I want to see us taking more of a leadership role in bringing that sort of embodied spirituality to the church. I feel like I’ve done that myself––it’s been somewhat successful to have people over to our house and do communion and have worship together. I just think we can all take that initiative. I don’t want it to just be ‘Oh, once a year we have Dinner with Dan and we talk about all the things we want to change,’ you know? I want to get my hands dirty. I want to be involved in this work of making our experience of our spirituality more real.”
Dan responded by saying, “Love it. And, of course, the best place for that to happen is organically and locally where you’re engaged. I’d just say this: It’s often important to older people that you’re respectful in communicating what your desire and passion is, but I wouldn’t always wait for the official voted actions in order to move forward on this stuff. Just say, ‘Listen, we’re feeling God calling us to do this and we’re gonna do it.’ Make them aware and be respectful, but the reality is that the church is resistant to change. And it’s resistant to change because humans are resistant to change."
He continued, "The longer we, as humans, have done anything, the more resistant we are to something different than we’ve done. Just expect that, understand that, and realize that a lot of times some of the resistance or pushback you encounter isn’t about you––it’s about the insecurity of something being different.”
Two young adults from the Adventist Community Church in Vancouver, Washington shared that their local group has grown exponentially in the span of a year. Tendo Tsikirai, a member there, shared, “My sister and I were at the last Dinner with Dan, and at that point last April, our church, one of the biggest churches in the conference, had a young adult community that was like three and a half people. Three people were always there and then another person was there when they could be. But how I’ve seen God working is that our young adult community has grown to be a lot bigger. We have two young adult Sabbath school classes now that meet every single Sabbath morning and do things during the week together, so it’s been pretty cool to see that happen."
Tendo continued, "I think what seasoned leaders get wrong about us a lot of times is that they often think we’re all the same. They put us into one big box and think there’s one formula that will ‘fix’ us, you know what I mean? And as I’ve discovered even in our church, we’ve had to split into an older young adult group and a younger young adult group, but even then you have people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and all kinds of stuff that makes you different from someone else. I think that gets missed a lot of times – that we aren’t the same.”
Dan responded, “I want to just pause for a second because I love what you said about the fact that young adults are not just ‘young adults’ as if they’re all one group. The reality is that there are a bunch of different stripes within the young adult age group, and all of those stripes bring different needs, different concerns, and different contexts that need to be taken into consideration. I really love that."
"I have people that will ask me when they move to the area, ‘What church has a bunch of young adults that my young adults could connect with as they move here?’ And my next question is always, ‘Well, can you tell me a little bit about your young adults?’ Because we have churches that have young adults that are mostly young marrieds and in early careers. And that’s a different slice than collegiate young adults, which is a different slice than young couples with kids. There are all these different slices and you kind of brought that up in what you were saying. That’s really important."
"I think as young adults it’s really important that as you come across people who are looking for somewhere to connect you are helping them find a place where they are going to find the best possible affinity for. Because there’s nothing as discouraging as the feeling like, ‘I don’t fit in here.’ It’s so important to find a place that’s a good fit, because that makes a big difference in people’s journey.”
Responses from the gathered group spanned a wide variety of topics, from fears of being disfellowshipped for beliefs that fall outside of what they hear about in their local church, to concerns about mental health and more loving church communities, but the desire that came through most commonly was for a fully embodied faith that extends beyond the programs and worship events.
“We want to hear about Jesus, but we don't just want to hear about Jesus in church,” declared another young adult. “We want to see how Jesus affects how we deal with angry people over the phone. We want to see how He affects those conversations that we have with our coworkers who are going through a difficult time. How are you supposed to maneuver through those? I've seen God work in my life in those settings. It would be nice to have more conversations on how we can share God’s love in a practical, everyday way.”
During one point in the conversation Dan shared a poignant story from his own life about the need for more loving relationships. “I remember sitting in my living room when I was five years old and someone knocked on the door. It was the first and only time our door had ever been knocked on by the pastor or the elders at our church. When I saw them I was so excited––we were friends with these people. So I, as this five-year-old kid, led them in.
My dad was sitting over by the gas stove in our old farmhouse. They came in, but they never sat down. They just stood by the door and said, ‘We’re here to inform you, Mr. Linrud, that the church board has voted to withdraw your membership.’ It all happened because at the time my dad worked shift work, which changed from week to week, and he had worked when his shifts had fallen on Sabbath. When he wasn’t working he would go to church, but they came on their only visit to our home to tell him, ‘You’re out.’ I watched the anger and the hurt that came out of that experience, and from that point forward I grew up in a home that really was irreligious. I'm here tonight because of the witness of my two grandmothers who were religious and godly women.”
Dinner with Dan was an incredible opportunity for more intergenerational worship and dialogue, as well as a chance for young adults from a wide variety of local churches to connect and begin to create plans to address some of the needs and gaps they’ve identified in the broader church community. We are so grateful for all of the young adults who joined us for this event these past two years, and we look forward to many more conversations like this in the future!