Sabbath Sermon: Alex Bryan, "A More Abundant Adventism, Part Two"

In an emotional follow-up to his sermon, “A More Abundant Adventism,” Walla Walla University Church senior pastor Alex Bryan draws from the experiences of the early Christian church to compose a vision for the future of the Adventist Church--in particular, a church that embraces and includes its younger generations. He begins with the problem not of antipathy, but of apathy:

When I’m talking with a high school student, a college student, a recent graduate, a young adult, an adult of any age and the subject is the church, and the person is fired up about the church, that fires me up too.

When someone says, ‘I’m through with the church. I want to leave it, I’m angry, I’m frustrated, the church just upsets me…’ Well, I don’t really want to hear that response. I’m not happy to hear it, but at least it tells me someone still cares about the church, for you cannot be angry with, disappointed in someone or something that you don’t care about.

But when someone says of the Church, and I speak now particularly of students and young adults, ‘Eh, take it or leave it,’ I am deeply troubled, for that indicates that a person has sized up the church and concluded it doesn’t really matter. ‘I’ve got no beef with the church, I’m not angry, but I’m not particularly enthusiastic...Eh, take it or leave it.’

I’m troubled also with this response because it suggests that the Church in contemporary times has not forced the issue.

Bryan suggests that with younger generations, the message is too often that they’re welcome, but they’re not given opportunity or permission to innovate or to bring changes to the church.

Discussing the difference between making someone feel like a welcome guest in the church and like family, Bryan notes the absurdity of saying to younger generations, “Of course you’re welcome here. We want all the young people we can possibly get, but don’t change anything--no innovation, no creativity. You just do it the way we’ve always been doing it. But you’re welcome here.”

Bryan addresses issues that make young generations feel like guests in their own churches, or worse, unwelcome.

“How are we creating home for those who feel homeless in this world?” Bryan asks.

The sermon begins at about the 41:25 mark in the worship service recording below.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7044
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Alex said:

“for you cannot be angry with, disappointed in someone or something that you don’t care about.”

This is soooo true. I guess it’s kind of the reason that many of us are drawn to Spectrum.

Spectrumites care about an institution that has intimately affected us, love it, hate it, miss it, deal with neurosis caused by it, we’re definitely here because at some level, we care.

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I feel Alex’s pain and passion. He wants to have a Gospel centered church, but he is tethered to a church that, at it’s core, declares all other believers to be apostate. He is loyal to Adventism, but how do you escape the foundations of a church, that in no uncertain terms, teaches that they alone have the truth?

But, having said all that, I enjoyed his sermon and understand where he is trying to go.

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The “abundance” will come when the Seventh Day Adventist Church moves forward in grace to change itself into a closer facsimile of our Lord. Staying mired in fundementalism and not moving forward (or even backwards) brings no positive change and it will continue to not be a major source of light to the world.

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If the recent GC Session is any sign, the church says “you’re welcome” but you’re not welcome to be involved in decision making.

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Judging from the rise and growth of the GYC movement and its fellow travelers, it would seem a growing number of the young recognize that the real change so needful in the church just now is not a change in its Bible-based worldview, doctrines, lifestyle expectations, or worship forms, but rather, in their own hearts, choices, and conduct. A change guided and governed not by popular culture, trendy spiritual fads, or self-sufficient intellectualism, but by the eternally relevant, eternally transcendent counsel of God.

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Can you elaborate on this?

Perhaps if you are limited in responding here you can respond in The Lounge area.

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I think Kevin can only elaborate in the other forum, but not here since we can only post once to an article and it must be germane to it.

That said, I think what the sermon is sharing is that young people are looking to see an authentic Christianity, one that is touching the world’s needs in a practical way. Ie. the bucket to receive offerings to help the families of that awful shooting tragedy. People want to be part of a real family in which each of its members is valued, protected, encouraged in Christ. Others forcused. Doing good for the sake of others, not what we can expect to get from them. Too often all young people are seeing is the masqurade Christianity, the in fighting, the gossip, the power struggles, the arguments over theology and so forth. They often want to move out of the informational religion most are stuck in, to be part of a transformational religion that few seem to experience. Is our belief making us more like Christ, more caring, more self sacrificing, more of a servant than a master?

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Youth want to see changes in their local Adventist churches or they are going to leave the church as many already have. I’ve asked them why they left, and for the few who have stayed I’ve asked them to talk about their needs and what a more dynamic form Adventism can mean for them. Their responses are authentic.
What young people look for in choosing a church is often personal taste – location, denomination, people they know who go there, where their parents go, music, youth program, type of building, and on and on and on. Kevin Paulson and others need to talk to youth personally and directly, and ask them what they feel they need from the SDA church. I asked our youth recently and I was NOT surprised to see how much similarity there is with recent national survey findings, about what youth want to see in the church they attend… What youth want in a church doesn’t always compare to what they NEED in a church. So what do youth need form their church? GYC comments, notwithstanding, I am identifying the highlights of what I learned that youth prefer and say they need from a more dynamic Adventism.

This is what THEY said THEY need and want.

  1. A place with Jesus – This is the #1 thing that youth need in a church. If they are not meeting Jesus, then it’s a waste of time. Making them more moral, knowing the Bible, or being nice people are pointless without Jesus. Don’t just teach them Jesus, help them know Jesus.
  2. A place with adults who care – Teens need adults who can invest and poor their lives into them. They need adults who can mentor and guide them on the right path. They are told by so many adults that they’re not worth the time or effort, they need adults who genuinely care.
  3. A place to belong – Youth yearn for belonging. They will often do stupid and damaging things to belong. How about if they were given a place to belong before they even came through the door? Our church or youth group should be a place where any student can be “home.”
  4. A place to serve – It has always amazed me the bad rap that youth get for being lazy and selfish. I’ve been on too many mission trips, work camps, and service projects to see the zest and joy that youth approach serving. It’s a rare thing to see in adults, but youth love to serve and they need to be provided opportunities lest they end up being lazy and selfish adults.
  5. A place to encourage (and be encouraged) – Youth culture for some is one of tearing down and destruction. Our church and youth group culture should be one of building up and encouraging.
  6. A place to grow – You are teaching your students, but are they growing? If not, you need to look at why not. Students should know that when they come to youth group or church they will leave just a little bit better, a little bit changed.
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Thank you, Alex. This is the kind of deeply convicted, biblically sound preaching that we could use more of in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (the household motif is, indeed, a very powerful one in the NT). I find it interesting that, in response to this sermon, one frequent commenter could do no more than rehearse sentiments about the “rise and growth of the GYC movement” and loosely insinuate that Bryan was calling for changes in “Bible-based worldview, doctrines, lifestyle expectations, or worship forms.” Yet, the most heartfelt appeal in this sermon was for a practical display of Christian love in the community. And the music and service that surrounded his sermon was quite traditional. There was nothing unbiblical about the message and no Adventist lifestyle expectations were set aside. Please. Can we lay down our swords and beat them into plowshares? How else will we move from spiritual bloodshed to abundance?

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Is it possible Kevin that the reason for the growth in the GYC movement may also be because these young people care deeply about the church, and want to meet with like-minded people, who affirm them and make them welcome. And are they getting that in their home churches?

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Priest [hood] of all believers.
No distinction between those behind the pulpits and those in the pews.
All Priests Ordained.
ALL Priests find a ministry in their Community.
Like I said about Part 1. He is my kind of preacher!!

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Yes, I was moved to tears as I listened and watched Bryan’s biblical sermon. He quotes profusely from the NT. It’s an all inclusive, all embracing, powerfully spiritual and highly emotional message that appeals to both mind and heart. The right brain and the left. Females and males. Young and old. All Protestants would feel very much at home, Catholics would approve of the family and community outreach to those in need, and Adventists would say “Amen” to all three points. The congregation responded practically with their money at the conclusion. I hope he will preach another sermon on how we, as a church family, where we are all brothers and sisters, can literally and not metaphorically, and sporadically emulate the early Christians where “family” was not used loosely and parcimoniously but fully and completely when they sold everything and shared everything. Since Bryan has set our feet on the road to church family, NT style, will he stop short of going all the way? Let’s watch this space. His sermon’s credibility would require that he does. Perhaps another sermon on “ordination for all” as he postulates, since we are all “priests” would do us some good too. If we have all been ordained because we are all priests, then what’s the point of deacons, deaconesses, elders and pastors being ordained? Are there degrees of ordinations, or something, or double ordinations? Bryan gives the impression that none of Adventism’s distinctive biblical teachings that sets us apart from the rest of Christendom, as a prophetic movement, is of any significance. So, a third sermon to dispel this perception and lay it to rest would be most welcome - unless of course his intention is to re-construct and re-cast Adventism into the mould he has clearly outlined in his sermon.

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Why do young people join the church; and why do those born in it decide to stay, or leave?

What percentage of 25-yr.-olds born into Adventism are attending and participating in the church today? What has the church to offer them to join, stay, or return?

Many show up for class reunions from SdA schools, or Christmas and Easter to see old friends but never are seen until the next such occasions. If I were a young person today, I could not remain in a church that formally adopts a policy of inequality of genders, and refuses to accept LBGT as full members. Other churches have done it and is regarded by the public as recognition that discrimination is unchristian and has no place in a church that follows Christ. Even the Pope has extended a welcome to gays, although not official membership. Will the SdA church always by the last to accept all who wish to accept Christ’s message: “Come unto me all your that are weary and worn”? Those are the outcasts of society that the church, even worse than the world, cannot accept.

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i think bryan is concerned with the number of millennials he’s seeing who simply have no passion for the church they were born into - that’s it…i don’t think he’s trying to reinvent adventism so much as he’s trying to find a way to enthuse these millennials…

but i think he might just give kevin’s idea a try…gyc, whatever its theological flaws, is attracting young people in droves, and filling them with an enthusiasm for service through the church…there’s a gyc millennial from my church - she’s moved now, but i still hear from her - who’s all set to go as a student missionary overseas…she got her missionary bug big time as a result of a gyc rally she attended earlier this summer…in fact i recently contributed to her missionary fund in response to a personal appeal she sent me…she’s carefully looked into the various opportunities for overseas missionary involvement, and picked out the one that seems to best fit her talents…she’s done all of this out of her own initiative…i’m getting video updates of the missionary training she’s undergoing at some church center with other millennials, who may or may not be gyc-ers…all of them are bubbly kids with big dreams of telling the world about jesus…they’re getting to stretch their wings away from home in a controlled environment, and they’re having fun…i don’t think any of them care about the issues circulating in our church…they just want to be involved in finishing the work and see jesus come…

i’m not sure why all of us can’t support gyc…what’s wrong with seeing kids enthusiastic about jesus, and eager to tell the non-adventist world about their faith…who’s being hurt by their joy, or their big dreams of making a difference in someone else’s life…sometimes i think some of the disagreements in our church are just petty…our disagreement over gyc is worse than petty…it’s down-right cruel to say to a young person that there’s something wrong with the organization that’s giving her such a sense of involvement and purpose in life…would we all prefer to see these kids involved in drugs, alcohol and sex, or what…

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Your measured, and passionate response Jeremy, strikes a positive note in me. I don’t doubt for one moment that the Good Lord will bless you for the support (moral and financial) you are giving to young people who have no other desire than to take the Good News of God’s love to a dying world. What nobler ambition and mission is there than that. Anything else pales in insignificance. Let’s get rid of labels! Anyone, especially youth, who have their life’s priorities right ought to receive our prayerful and practical commendation. The sooner we can banish the spirit of criticism and fault-finding that is rife in our midst and get on with the Message and Mission of God’s church the happier and better off we will be as God’s end-time community of faith.

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