GODencounters is an experientially-based faith movement that is touching the lives of Adventist young adults. Co-founder Allan Martin says GODencounters is not about indoctrination, but about worship, discipleship, and relationship. Although GODencounters does sponsor retreats, gatherings, and publications, its leaders take an organic, “everything we have is yours” approach to programming. Spectrum asked Martin how GODencounters works and how it is impacting Adventist life.
Question: What is GODencounters and how did it begin? Answer: GODencounters is a movement among new generations wholeheartedly pursuing an intimate 24/7 experience of the living God, recklessly living for His renown.
In 2000 I was church planting in Florida and one of my colleagues, Jeff Gang, got asked to plan activities for the young adult division of our conference camp meeting. The young adult facility sat 700 people, but there were only about 20 or 30 people who came, mostly because they didn’t want to go to the general meeting. Since my colleague knew I was doing young adult ministry at my church plant, he asked if I would be willing to join him in rethinking what happened with the young adults at camp meeting. We didn’t want to do just another program; we wanted to deepen our devotion to Jesus through worship. So we got a group of young people together to talk through what eventually became GODencouners, an international movement with thousands of young adults involved in spiritual gatherings, private faith practices, and affirming communities in real time and online.
The name itself really presents the core of what we’re trying to do: encounter God. Although we do use constructs and programs and events and gatherings for GODencounters, the heart of our efforts is to see Jeremiah 24:7 come to life. My loose paraphrase of that text is that God is going to place it in our hearts to return to him. He is going to call us his people and we are going to call him our God. So GODencounters is not some kind of successful club you join, or wonderful new product you can buy. It’s about heart-hunger— new generations seeking God to discover who he really is.
Question: Tell me about the seven discipleship themes in your “curriculum.” How are they implemented into your retreats, activities, and overall mission?
Answer: GODencounters aims to deepen devotion to Jesus by developing disciples who walk recklessly in His footsteps. Our desire is to:
• Live lives of worship • Be agents of present gospel • Gracefully express compassion • Pray without ceasing • embrace Sabbath as soul CPR • Morph into his likeness. • Celebrate in jubilee
We generally give emphasis annually to one single theme. Individual groups don’t have to do it this way, but we feel that given the mobility of our generation, it is important to try for depth with one theme in the span of a year. Our hope is that by the end of a given year a participant will have gone deeper in his or her practice and understanding of the current GODencounters theme.
We try to express the theme through more than just the spoken word (homiletics) at our gatherings. We use visual arts, architecture/design, media, hands-on activities, and discussion groups. Our hope is that participants will comprehend the theme in languages they resonate with.
Question: How is GODencounters coordinated?
Answer: I serve as the curriculum coach for GODencounters. Much of what we try to do is offer mentoring and encouragement to young adults leading out in their own contexts. We don’t have a “program-in-a-box” for GODencounters, which I think sometimes makes it difficult for people to understand how it operates.
I would say that the GODencounters gatherings, whether they are conferences or retreats or other things, happen only if there is a core of local young adults committed to making it happen. The other stuff, like the book, the music, the online elements, etc., all stem from the creativity and generosity of people who are pouring themselves into the movement. For instance, at one gathering we had a couple of interior designers who said “We’re not able to preach or sing, but we want to contribute to our gathering. We want to create some prayer rooms.” And so they used their interior design capabilities to do an amazing transformation of what had been typically sterile Sabbath School rooms into these holy places where people spent hours praying, meditating on who God is in their lives.
Question: How widespread is GODencounters right now? How many people are involved?
Answer: Via the internet, obviously we are getting hits from around the globe. The North American Division is full with groups and gatherings from coast to coast. In the Trans European Division, we know that the pastor of one of the largest churches is using the GODencounters book with her young adult small group.
Recently the youth director of the South Pacific Division brought a group of students to Andrews for an intensive on the GODencounters movement. We've been in heavy dialogue with young adult leaders there eager to start something comparable, although they may not call it GODencounters per se.
Question: GODencounters is designed to lead young people into an intimate encounter with God. How do you think the church at large is doing in the area of personal spirituality? What impact is GODencounters having on this?
Answer: I think the church at large has a passion to foster personal spirituality. I believe the Adventist church, where it is well expressed, has allowed itself to be an agent for Christian formation and discipleship, and God’s fame has spread as his followers have been Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
But there is always room for growth. We haven’t always spoken the language that helps people develop their spirituality. We may be able to get them to develop brand loyalty. We can teach them all our language and our logos so that they understand what vegelinks are and what LLU stands for and what ADRA is. But personal spirituality is really a process of metamorphosis.
Question: Is this why you would rather refer to GODencounters as a movement than a program?
Answer: Yeah. The very last thing we want to see happen is for GODencounters to get franchised or something of that sort. As God stirs people to return to his heart and as they discover a God who is pursuing them far more passionately than they will ever pursue him, the natural result is devotion and intimacy with our holy God.
Question: Can you point to any other places in the church where people are intentionally fostering personal spirituality like what’s happening with GODencounters? Answer: Oh yeah! I’ll run into people or we’ll have a gathering and share our stories and I’ll sense that there’s a variety of places in the church where passion for God is transforming peoples’ lives. But the part that makes it a little confusing is that sometimes we report results, and I don’t think results necessarily equate with passionate spirituality.
I think the litmus test for us with regards to GODencounters is whether or not, daily, we are still looking at life as a journey of becoming. In that becoming, some days I feel like I’m in the pig sty like the prodigal son. But I have an “aha” moment and decide to return home. Although the pig sty surely doesn’t look good on the statistics of my faithfulness to God, it is a part of my journey. So I think there’s a continuum when we talk about GODencounters which is very different from the more modernistic, empirical model that says, “Okay, we did this and we invested that much money and the results are in this many conversions or in this many dollars toward a new institution.” Because of this, it’s kind of hard for us to compare currency with other programs.
Question: What do you think of people who focus on the number of young people leaving the church because they find it irrelevant?
Answer: I think it’s really important to go in for a physical examination every so often. You’re hoping that whoever is doing the evaluation will give you accurate results based on the statistics and the tests that they’ve run. When I go to the dentist, he tells me I have to floss. If I don’t floss and my teeth continue to deteriorate, that’s shame on me. So I think there’s great validity to gathering the church data and results. I think it’s important to understand that we have cavities when known and respected researchers say there’s a 40%-50% rate of attrition in the church. Then is not the time for us to go out and buy another bag of M&Ms and say, “Well, that’s just statistics. Let’s keep going the way we’re going because, after all, we can still chew.”
But the part I’m always concerned about is how we remediate these problems. How do we put aggressive investments into making solutions? And then further, what can we do preventatively, proactively, to keep problems from developing in the future? What are we doing right now to make the church a place that’s inclusive, that’s about becoming and belonging and believing, as opposed to simply behaving?
Question: If someone reading this interview wanted to get involved with GODencounters, what would he or she do?
Answer: I would suggest that such a person get the book and begin the journey personally, or with like-minded friends. Also, anyone can join our Facebook group for updates or attend a GODencounters gathering.
Free downloadable MP3s for your GODencounters journey http://www.PacificPress.com/GODencounters
GODencounters: Pursuing a 24/7 Experience of Jesus http://www.adventistbookcenter.com/GODencounters
Allan Martin is Associate Professor of Discipleship and Family Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He also serves as the young adult ministry coordinator for the North American Division.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1846