How to Talk to Young People: Guide Editor Explains

(Spectrumbot) #1

Question: You have served as editor of the church's Guide Magazine, aimed at 10 to 14-year-olds, since 1999. That's the longest any of the seven editors have served except for the magazine's first editor Lawrence Maxwell, from 1953 to 1970. How has the magazine changed during your 16 years at the helm? How has your thinking about the magazine changed?

Answer: I’ve actually been with Guide since 1989, starting as assistant editor. Twenty-six years later, it’s still hard for me to believe that God would grant me the privilege and joy of being associated with this publication. By the way, I was able to spend some time with Lawrence Maxwell a few weeks before his death. He really set a grand trajectory for what was then Junior Guide. The Adventist Church is indebted to the strong foundation he built for the publication.

The magazine has changed in several ways since 1953, not the least of which was changing the name from Junior Guide to Guide in 1964 — the year earliteens officially became a part of the publication’s target audience.

It’s also been interesting to observe the slow shift from what I would call a rural, primarily Caucasian emphasis to a more urban multicultural tone. This can be seen in both artwork and story line.

I’ve also seen a gradual shift from stories rooted in behavior modification to stories that more overtly affirm a personal relationship with Jesus. There will always be a place for character-building stories in Guide, but as editor I’ve tried to ensure that stories of relationship — both interpersonal and spiritual — are given ample space in the magazine.

On a more personal level, I may go down in Adventist publishing history as the "editor of the caveat.” This stems from my strong conviction that God is often quite unpredictable. Too often we’ve provided to Adventist young people a spiritual paradigm that leans heavily in the direction of cause and effect. While this is a sound principle in general, it’s not always true of God’s ways. I’ll use Psalm 34:7 as an example: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” That’s a great Bible verse, but in reality, it doesn’t always work out that way. My best friend’s parents were both killed by robbers while they served as missionaries in Africa. A former college religion classmate was slain by a bandit in South America. The list could go on and on, but my point is that I very often add a sidebar caveat to help readers understand that just because a story went this way in Guide doesn’t mean it will turn out the same way in every circumstance. In some ways, I wish I didn’t have to do this; it would be simpler to send kids into adulthood with a sure-fire spiritual formula. But as editor, I feel that it’s my responsibility to not put God into a box of human construction. Complicating the matter is the reality that our target ages of 10-14 encompasses readers of both concrete and abstract reasoning abilities. It’s quite a balancing act!

How do you think today's young people are different than young people were in the 1950s when Guide was launched? How does Guide attempt to reach young teens today? How do young people think differently about the Adventist church than older people?

Electronic media has dramatically reshaped young people since Guide’s inception, first with television and later with digital media. The latter has reshaped the actual physical brain structure, as Dr. Linda Caviness of La Sierra Universityand others have so powerfully demonstrated. While digital media has unleashed a whirlwind of good, it has also desensitized many young people to the noble traits mentioned in Philippians 4:8.

It seems to me that today’s young person is also subjected to much more personal and societal stressors than in certain past generations. Divorce, changing definitions of marriage, terrorism, and more all converge to make life considerably more complicated for twenty-first century kids.

Among other things, we try to reach today’s kids by providing stories that (1) connect to and reflect their experience, (2) engage them visually, and (3) contain a practical application. We also have a very robust website:

I am incurably optimistic about today’s young people. Studies show that today’s young person is considerably more altruistic, environmentally conscious, and at least on paper, often smarter than their parents. Combine this with the power of the Adventist message and lifestyle, and these kids can soar!

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that far too many Adventist churches do not appear to take ministry to juniors and earliteens terribly seriously. There may be ample felt boards in the church building, but are there wall-mounted TV screens and other media that can be so wonderfully employed in taking kids to the next level of spiritual experience? Are local leaders taking advantage of the Adventist Church’s robust children’s ministry online training courses? There is much work to be done. Still, nothing can substitute for a spiritually-mature adult befriending a young person. Because that does in fact often happen, today’s juniors and earliteens are still open to spiritual pursuits. (Sadly, in too many instances I cannot say the same for high schoolers.)

What do you most enjoy about editing Guide? What do you find the most challenging?

First, I should qualify the term “editor.” While I like to think I have some skill with words, I do not consider myself to be a hardcore line editor. Rather — and this is far and away what brings me the greatest joy — my leadership at Guide has revolved around a never-ending quest to find creative yet substantive ways to share the beauty of the gospel and the benefits of the Adventist message and lifestyle in the magazine.

As part of this pursuit, I often rely on the “smile factor.” You don’t need to occupy an office on Madison Avenue to know that humor communicates. So along with more serious stories and features, I like to make kids laugh. My column, “The Good Humor Guy,” has been written with this goal in mind. I also draw cartoons and run them as “Smile File” features.

In the end, along with painting an accurate portrait of God’s love, I want Guide to be viewed as a “Sabbath boredom buster.” Incredibly, too many Adventist young people still have a lackluster Sabbath experience. If Guide can in some small way disrupt this tragic state of affairs, so much the better.

Perhaps the most challenging part of being Guide editor is trying to meet a wide diversity of readers’ preferences. Well, actually, that’s not the most difficult part. The hardest part is meeting a wide diversity of readers’ parents’ and Sabbath School leaders’ preferences. One particularly gracious adult summed up my editorial leadership with these exact words: “I’d hate to be you on Judgment Day.” Enough said.

As a writer and a cartoonist, you have certainly have brought a lot of humor to Guide. But how do you know what young teenagers find funny?

I try to be aware of what makes middle schoolers and junior highers laugh by snooping around their territory a little bit. Much of this is done online. For example, I would have never known the huge impact such role models as “Captain Underpants” was making on today’s young person were it not for such research. I’ve also stumbled across such stellar literary works as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” during these sessions. Seriously, it’s not hard to know where kids are at if you pay attention to their media preferences.

Of course, having three boys of my own didn’t hurt either.

How do you think of new things to say after all this time at Guide?

The beauty of this job is that everyone has a story. No, not everyone has a story suitable for Guide, but kids and adults are always experiencing God and His involvement in their lives in fresh ways. We’ve published nearly 15,000 stories since 1953, and I don’t see the story tub emptying anytime soon. But again, it is the challenge of discovering new stories and creative ways to present them that keeps my editor-ship sailing.

Over the years I’ve devoted a significant amount of time to developing ancillary Guide products. These include the Guide’s Greatest book series, Trouble on the Blue Planet (The Great Controversy) and Running on Empty (The Desire of Ages) graphic novels, Guide FACTory Quiz Game dvds, and many books. I’ve never had trouble finding something to do at Guide!

I should also mention that I’ve always made it a point to hire assistant editors whose line editing skills are stronger than my own. These wonderful compatriots include Helen Lee Robinson, Rachel Whitaker Cabose, and Laura Sámano. Having world-class designers onboard such as our current designer, Brandon Reese, hasn’t hurt either!

What purpose do you feel Guide fulfills for the Adventist church?

Our mission statement probably says it best: "Guide’s mission is to show readers ages 10-14 how to walk with God now and forever."

To the best of my knowledge, Guide is the only weekly Christian publication for 10-14 year olds. This is nothing short of astonishing, and is a remarkable reflection of the priority the Adventist Church placed on nurturing its young people. The Youth’s Instructor had its time, but church leadership knew it was now time for a new approach in connecting with juniors and ultimately earliteens as well.

I suppose Guide’s readers are concentrated in North America. Would the same content fit readers in other parts of the world?

Yes, at least much of it. Indeed, it has been a long-held dream of mine to make Guide available and affordable to a global audience. I am hopeful that this can happen digitally sooner than later. I have encouraged the “bundling” of Guide, i.e., make Guide available as customer needs demand.

I would love to see Guide offered as part of a powerful lineup for juniors and earliteens that would include Guide, PowerPoints and/or Real-Time Faith Sabbath School quarterlies, print and/or digital, along with other similar products.

Along other lines, why not make arrangements for all Adventist publishing houses around the globe to use Guide’s digital files and then tailor and deliver the magazine either digitally or in print to the children in their region of the world, in their language?

Right now the circulation is about 20,000. The potential is much higher.

What was your previous experience before becoming Guide editor?

I attended the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary before serving as a pastor to youth and university students in Seattle, Washington. I have coauthored and authored several books and many articles.

With the closure of the Review & Herald, the publisher of Guide, have you had to relocate?

I declined the invitation to join the Guide team at Pacific Press in Nampa, Idaho. Currently I am serving as Guide editor from my home in Maryland. I have a one-year contact that expires in January, 2016.

What do you plan to do next?

I am waiting for God to hit me over the head and spin me around, pointing me in the direction of a meaningful future. At present I have no definite post-Guide career plans.

Will you draw us a cartoon — one just for Spectrum readers?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Steve Mga) #2

I was 11 when the Youth’s Instructor ceased being and the Junior Guide became the successor. In my household I was used to reading adult material also. We subscribed to the Review. It was also on my reading list every week.
Are SDA kids now days exposed to “adult spiritual material” at an early age?
There was a lot of world-wide SDA multiculturalism presented in the Review along with theological discussions.
Has our “Adult” reading become SDA “lite”?

(le vieux) #3

Interesting that you substituted the Junior Guide for the Youth’s Instructor. I remember being disappointed when the YI was replaced by “Insight,” which was many of us thought was vastly inferior (and provided little insight). I can’t remember if I was still in academy or whether I’d already started college when that change took place. I was not surprised when “Insight” ceased publication recently. It had nothing of substance to offer. Our kids never found it very useful.

I still read the Guide. I’m not sure it’s as good as it was 50 years ago, but it’s better than it was 25 years ago or so. While I think much of Randy Fishell’s humor is corny, the quality of the stories themselves is generally good. However, I have to say that in many ways, Young Disciple gives Guide a run for its money. We’ve used the two magazines for years, and our kids like them both.

(Margaret Ernst) #4

Thanks so much for your ministry, Randy. I am too young to have read Youth’s Instructor, but I remember avidly devouring continued stories from Guide like “Mighty Mary,” a Scottish missionary to Africa, and a story about Anabaptists in Munster. My parents saved the issues and took them to a bookbinder at the end of the year–made it easier to re-devour those stories.

I think it’s great that you’ve emphasized the relationship we can each have with Jesus and tried to ground kids in the idea that just because bad things happen, does not mean that God is displeased or the people did not pray.

Thank you for your service to my kids and to so many others. God bless you as you transition to your next area of service.

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #5

“I’ve also seen a gradual shift from stories rooted in behavior modification to stories that more overtly affirm a personal relationship with Jesus. . . . . God is often quite unpredictable. Too often we’ve provided to Adventist young people a spiritual paradigm that leans heavily in the direction of cause and effect.” This sums up the challenges the "adult’ constituency is facing. Both headship, itself, and those hoped-for policies that derive from it developed from a rationalistic notion of religion and how God works but are ironically riddled with logical inconsistencies. “Proof texts” are a good example of the mis/use of logic in spiritual life. If Guide readers are helped through this, they will serve the Denomination well. Maybe it’s a good thing not so many people are paying attention. As much as many of us admire the Maxwells, even my own mother would not have Bedtime Stories around—they assumed a poor family politic, one, I think, Guide is militating against and the headship people are trying desperately to hold onto. That a person of FIshell’s age is making this work is almost startling, given the comic stock-characters that many youth pastors have become. Bravo.

(Chris Blake24) #6

As a former editor of Insight I find your assessment intriguing. Surely you have much experience writing for teenagers to make such a statement. My sense is that you wrote off Insight early on and never looked at, for example, during 1986-1993, the Jesus series or special issues on prayer, family, assurance, or organizing my life or hundreds of other redemptive articles.

What I find notable in Randy’s words is the admission that with Insight’s demise the Adventist church in North America has relegated ages 15-22 to . . . what? Nothing exists for them that is church sponsored, reflective of the lack of emphasis we actually place on youth and young adults. Unfortunately.

Okay, I’ll put my soapbox away. (You might consider doing the same.) :wink:

(Carolyn Parsons) #7

I get tired of categorical statements like this. “Nothing”, “never” how in the world can this possibly be true. Surely there must have been something that was useful and your kids may have found it useful at least once.

(le vieux) #8

I “wrote off” insight when I was in the age group for whom it was designed. That was 45 years ago. I found it shallow and uninteresting compared to YI. And, no, I didn’t look at the years 1986-1993. I didn’t look at it again until my kids were teenagers, which would have been around the mid 2000’s and onward. They weren’t that impressed with it. So, I’m not passing judgment on you as an editor, since I don’t know when you were the editor.

Apparently the Review is trying to reach the youth with their newly formatted publication, but it’s sad that there isn’t something of the caliber of YI for them. Maybe YI needed some change 45 years ago, but I think tossing it out entirely was a mistake.

(le vieux) #9

OK, maybe I should have rephrased that to “seldom had anything of substance,” and “seldom found it useful.” You’re right, I was generalizing. Sorry.

(Steve Mga) #10

blc-- You are right. It was Insight. Thanks for correcting me. So long ago. Same disappointment. I wasnt mentally and culturally into the new format from YI.
When the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald went to just the Review there seemed to be a change in content there also.
I wonder how many COULD recall the name Advent Review and Sabbath Herald in our church now?

(le vieux) #11

I make sure the folks at our church recall it. I put Scripture or SOP quotes in the church bulletin every week and sometimes they come from The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. I use the full name.


Just for clarification, I do not know that a decision has been made regarding the future of Insight magazine. —Randy Fishell

(Chris Blake24) #13

Well, Randy, Omar told me the mag was done. Maybe he doesn’t know either–maybe people will change their minds–yet with the circulation at about 6,000 something’s gotta give. I recognize the exigent challenges of online presence and other factors, and you and I also both know the will to push the edges and invest real money for youth and young adults in courageous and innovative and redemptive ways has often not been present.

We’re paying the price, unfortunately. We have been for decades.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #14

How to address people across age barriers, ethnic barriers, cultural barriers, etc ihas always been a problem. but now in the I phone era it is next to impossible. I recall a chapel talk back at old E.M.C. the Lake Union Conference Educational sec. Had the podium. he was really wound up. As he came to his final point, he walked over to the male side of the chapel and ssid"how I want to tell you man to man-- and he made is telling point which was totally lost as he when to the women’s side and began, Now I what to tell you to man to. And there was a great pause a little stutter and he walked back to the podium with a muffled titter from the floor. I have absolutly not idea what he was trying to impress upon us. we went immediately to the closing hymn. To my knowledge he never stepped foot on campus after, although he lived just two blocks away.

the rule I did learn don’t your passion get ahead of your logic. keep it simple --Stupid! seems like the message conveyed Tom Z

(Carolyn Parsons) #15

I have also heard about the research that shows this. I hear what amounts to bad-mouthing the current generation for their supposed superficiality and self-centeredness. It is really difficult to break to that stereotype and show that it is not the case. In fact, it is their sense of egalitarianism that drives many to see their church negatively. They look at the issue of women’s ordination and know, instinctively, that it is wrong to deny ordination based on gender.

(Magdalena Bock) #16

I don’t know the Guide or the Youth Instructor, as I grew up in Germany, and my Dad only had a subscription for Insight, but I remember how much I enjoyed reading Insight from approx. 1984 to 1990. I still have some 50 or 60 favorite issues which I simply cannot throw away. To me, Insight was a blessing.

(Elaine Nelson) #17

Are young people today thrilled with “the power of the Adventist message and lifestyle”? What about the message and lifestyle excites a young person today? I have several in my immediate family and have no sense of that. If the Adventist message and “lifestyle” have changed, how?

(Tim Teichman) #18


Is it the vege-food? Haystacks? Going to church on an odd day? Perhaps it’s the karaoke song service at church? Could it be the endless rules to follow or is it the specter of the end times coming ‘soon’?

I don’t think it’s any of these things. But, what did I miss?


The last I spoke with Omar (a couple of weeks ago), I understood that the future of Insight remained unclear, but perhaps something has changed. All I know for sure is that now is not the time to deny teens and young adults the resources and empowerment they need to swim upstream against an increasingly hostile cultural current. I heard about some young people whose efforts once helped to start an entire denomination. Perhaps their spiritual lineage will carry the torch and show us all the way forward.

(Steve Mga) #20

Yes, the “young people” did begin an entire denomination.
But they ALSO had to LEAVE Christian groups RUN, Managed, Ruled by an Older Generation.
Think about THAT!
Are the Older Generation of SDAs who Run, Manage, Rule keeping the SDA church from progressing the Gospel to the World?
Is the FEAR of touching the Unclean in the World forcing the Young Adults to leave, in order to find their way in life?
It was Young People LEAVING the Older Generation that gave them POWER!