A review of GODencounters by A. Allan Martin, Shayna Bailey and Lynell LaMountain
While young adulthood is the peak period when people leave the church (and not just the Adventist church)1, it is the stage least addressed by our denomination. We have ample programs and resources for children and adults, but the sacred scenery starts thinning as older teens leave academy or high school and enter college and the workforce. At that point, we either fit in the older adult programs, or we seek experiences outside the church family. Two realities confront us regarding ministry to young adults: (a) The majority of Adventists age 18-23 are not in Adventist higher education to participate in their quality religious programming, and (b) the church offers little for young graduates looking for new church homes.
However, a number of leaders have been passionately working to make the church community and church experience more meaningful for this age group. For example, pastors and administrators from four divisions met at the 2008 180° Symposium to share ideas on reaching, retaining and involving young adults more effectively. One individual in this group of committed leaders is Allan Martin, Ph.D., who co-founded the GODencounters movement2, the fertile soil out of which grew the book project under review.
I need to clarify: GODencounters is not a book by Allan Martin. Rather it is a FUBU-esque project — for young adults by young adults, specifically those who have experienced the frustrations of spiritual discontent and the desire for a more consistent experience with Jesus. In addition to Martin, the core writing team includes Shayna Bailey and Lynell LaMountain. A supporting cast of 14 more authors contributed articles, which are loosely grouped around the seven GODencounters themes — Worship, Gospel, Grace, Prayer, Sabbath, Morphing and Jubilee.
The back cover of the book states that it “may at time sound disjointed.” Forget “may.” It is disjointed; which is understandable given the large collection of contributors. This lack of rhythm would be a significant stumbling point if the collection were intended to be read straight through. But it is not. It is a devotional book designed to be digested in small portions, making the diverse voices, styles, tones and topics more workable. The variety means that readers are sure to connect with some essays more than others.
This is also true of the writers; people are naturally going to like some writing styles more than others. Readers looking for articulate and practical biblical teachings will likely favor LaMountain's style. If comical or touching stories that convey deeper meanings speak to you, then Martin may fit you better. And if involving God in your relationships is on your heart, then you'll probably appreciate Bailey's personal and frequent anecdotes about David and Sessa (I hope they are collecting royalties!).
Someone I trust greatly who is nearing the far edge of young adulthood saw the book on my table and discounted it when she noticed the publisher — Pacific Press. But when she flipped the book open and started reading, she was pulled in. To give you a reference point for her tastes, Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell and Brennan Manning are some of her favorite Christian writers.
As I said, this is a devotional book; however, I do not believe it should be opened only during quiet, solitary time. The discussion questions at the end of each essay make it an ideal book for relaxed conversations with friends. Read, think and pray about a portion each morning, and on Friday night meet up with friends and connect your stories and questions to the week's readings. An ambitious group host could add questions to take the conversations even further. Or take it a different direction. Be creative. Be fresh. Be imaginative. At the end of a section, group members could write their own “worship thought” to express their personal experience of the theme. The book is not the end of the discussion; it's just the launching point for more 24/7 GODencounters in all of the adventure, frustration, excitement and mundane that is young adulthood.
1. Rainer and Rainer (2008). Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts. B & H Books. 2. http://godencounters.org/
Jeff Boyd is the Assistant Director of Church of Refuge and is currently pursuing an MA in Peace Studies at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He blogs at both Adventist Activism and Adventists for the Environment.
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You can view Spectrum's interview with Allan Martin and join the discussion there.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1850