A conversation between Rajmund Dabrowski, editor of Mountain Views, Katie Morrison, Rocky Mountain Conference communication intern, and Jessyka Albert, young adult pastor at Boulder Adventist Church.

Among the avalanche of reactions to the General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, with its controversial decisions and the tone of the debates surrounding them— particularly women’s ordination—many millennials appeared confused and disappointed. They had, in many cases, hoped for different outcomes. Numerous media commentators noted how many voices expressed feeling rejected and abandoned by the church. Some declared their intention to walk away, and many church leaders have wondered whether the “back door” of the church will widen.

On a fresh summer Friday morning, at the Cheese Importers café in Longmont, Colorado, two millennials, Jessyka Albert, young adult pastor at the Boulder Adventist Church, and Katie Morrison, Rocky Mountain Conference communication intern, joined Rajmund Dabrowski, Mountains Views editor, and talked about their own reactions. They also considered the broader picture of “young adults in the church,” discussing ways to embrace them in our community of faith. Their conversation addresses an issue that will not go away.

RD: Millennials, are they a problem or a solution?

JA: It depends on your relationship with them, I think. It depends on how you’re engaging with them. If you aren’t engaging with them, they could be a problem. Maybe what we view as a problem is actually the solution.

RD: Is it important to know who is asking the question? Occasionally, you hear some Adventist old-timer say, “These young people are bringing this and that into the church. They are creating a problem for us.”

JA: We forget that young people founded our church, and that generation grew up and it kept growing up. It got stuck in an older rut. We look at young people and see the church of tomorrow. We say, “Get ready! You’ll be in charge some- day!” instead of saying, “Hey, would you like to be in charge of something now, learn how to do it, get your feet wet?”

RD: And also make mistakes and learn from them.

JA: Right! I feel like that’s a lot of pressure on young people to think when it’s our turn, we need to have it all figured out and not make any mistakes.

RD: Sometimes this seems like an academic question because that’s how it gets treated! Church leaders ask for professors in our universities to provide answers. Surveys are conducted. Is this the way we should approach youth involvement? Maybe we could issue a simple invitation to young people: Help us with the conundrum.

KM: A lot of it comes down to attitude. Many young people have this jaded view of the church—from what they’ve seen growing up—but have a glamorized view of the outside. They think they can have abounding success if they get outside the insulated Adventist world. Friends of mine are constantly leaving Adventist schools because they’ve been in Adventist education all their lives and they don’t want to limit them- selves. I see their point. I wonder the same thing about myself, with getting this internship [at the Rocky Mountain Conference] and only getting professional experience in the Adventist church. Will it limit me?

JA: Many of us think we have a glass ceiling. We tell ourselves that we can only grow so much in the Adventist church but could grow so much more in the world when the reality is the exact opposite. We think we can only live up to so much of our potential in the church since there’s not much being given to us. We do hit the glass ceiling; there’s nowhere else we can have a voice, so we walk out. We say, “I’m going to go somewhere where I can keep growing, keep learning and keep serving.”

KM: We take that one Bible verse out of context [“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” —1 Peter 4:10 NIV]. We tell ourselves, “The church won’t let me use this gift so if I’m going to use it, I need to go.”

JA: I think it’s a big matter of trust. You have to see it not only from the perspective of the young people, but from that of the older generation as well. They don’t trust us. I don’t mean that as a mean or negative thing, but they just don’t trust us because they love this church so much. For some reason, I feel like sometimes I’m not trusted to be a leader in the church as a young adult. But then I come to certain places, like Boulder, and I’m just 100 percent trusted. All of a sudden, I’m in this place where I’m growing like crazy and the glass ceiling has just been lifted from above me. It’s so sad because not many young adults get to experience that.

RD: I represent a past generation or two. I can’t help but look through a “glass of tradition,” and I like some regularity. Many older people say, “We’ve always done it that way!” How does this square with the way we read the Scriptures?

JA: We know the God of the Old and New Testament as the same God. We’re all in agreement on that. But the God of the Old Testament was about fire coming down from heaven, loud voices, and burning bushes; He was all about these big moments. The God of the New Testament is Jesus. He is telling stories, humble and unassuming. His methods changed from Old to New Testament. That doesn’t mean He changed. He just did things in a different way. I think that the church needs to realize that young people are going to do things in a different way, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to uphold the values and the doctrines and the truth of our church.

RD: When I’m looking at the example of Jesus, He was not afraid to challenge the establishment. He talked to women! He didn’t object when a woman touched His garment.

JA: He was breaking all the rules!

RD: From time to time, we break the rules, whether or not we’re young people. I know I have. And, sometimes rules need to be broken in order for life to come back to where it ought to be. I remember a story of a preacher who was also a poet in England. He entered the pulpit with a hidden brick, and began his sermon by saying, “I would like to bring some fresh air into the church.” He turned around, and threw his brick through the stained glass window. This story makes me think that if this could happen more often in my church—if some of our leaders could challenge us to this in the church today—it would be much different now.

JA: It’s important to remember that we aren’t trying to break rules just to break them. There’s purpose behind it. We aren’t just trying to be rebellious and change the church into what we think it should look like. We’re trying to do things to make it better and shine a light on a fresh perspective. Imagine a cake without frosting or sprinkles. It’s still good. But we are saying, “Hey, wouldn’t some frosting or sprinkles make this better?”

RD: Looking at the church organization as well as the local congregation, how can we do this?

JA: The most important part of my life as a young adult has been having good mentors. We need to be able to bridge the gap between the younger and older generations. That comes through relationships. We can’t just expect to simply watch older generations and say, “I think that’s how it’s done.” Having positive mentors, especially at the local church level, and having the older generation extend a hand to the younger generation, could really close the gap. No one seems willing to put a hand across this huge gap because we don’t know why we’re reaching or what will happen. The older generations expect us to know what to do right away and when we don’t, we lose out on that opportunity.

RD: We can’t help but note that many young people are leaving the church. The back door seems to be widening, especially with the recent developments in the way our global church is treating women in ministry. We say to young people, “Stay, don’t go, and don’t abdicate your voice.” They ask, “What’s in the church for me?”

JA: We don’t necessarily have a voice. What voice we have is very muffled and it’s put in a corner. At the General Conference, we saw our voice measured. We were told that only young people aged here to here have a say and it’s only this much. It’s not an equal playing field. We talked about it at Sabbath school after GC, and a 16-year-old girl was struggling with the decision on women’s ordination. We had to tell her that her age group wasn’t even represented among the delegates. I have to tell this teenage girl, who’s upset about the decisions made, “I understand you’re upset, but by the way, your age group had zero say in this and you won’t have a voice until you’re 18, at which time you’ll have a little say.” It was very frustrating and hard for her to digest.

RD: But what can we do? The problem seems to be in choices the leadership of the church has been making lately. One can only hope they take note of these serious issues, and address them, recognizing that if the young people are walking out the church’s back door, maybe the church leadership needs to open the windows . . .

JA: Or, why isn’t there anyone at the back door asking where those leaving are going? Why isn’t anyone saying, “Why don’t you come over here before you go?’ There’s no place for young people to sit down and have an idea without hearing older members say, “That’s nice, but let the adults talk.” There need to be more outlets for young adults to learn and grow and express their love for ministry.

RD: Perhaps young people need to start inviting themselves into church life options.

JA: Katie and I are the same way. We don’t like going places by ourselves, especially if we haven’t been personally invited and we know exactly who will be there. We don’t go unless we are guaranteed that it won’t be awkward. I’m sure some in the church would love to see a bunch of young people wanting to be involved in leadership and service. But we’re scared because our generation’s biggest fear is rejection. We don’t want to put ourselves out there and be turned away.

KM: We’re also extremely self-centered and entitled, which makes it worse.

JA: We think it needs to be handed to us on a silver platter.

KM: Exactly. We’re leaving because we’re always asking, “What does church have to offer me? What am I going to get from this?” My church did a skit a couple weeks ago where a group of individuals stood up front and read a profile. The first was a young person, describing her experience as someone who isn’t included. The second was a girl with tattoos, piercings, and dyed hair, who spoke about the judgment that her appearance receives. A man read his profile, listing his struggles with family and work and how hard it is to put on a happy smile and hide his true emotions at church. Each person ended with this phrase: “I wonder  what church will be like for me today.” The final profile was just a voice—Jesus. He said, “All my children have been avoiding me, ignoring me. It’s been really hard this week but today my kids are all here. I wonder what church will be like for me today.” Instead of being self-centered, our focus in the church community should be all about Jesus. We should be asking, “What can I do to make someone else’s experience better?”

JA: I see this as a pendulum. The Adventist church caters to the older generation, which is on one side of the pendulum. The younger generation on the other side, says, “We’re not okay with that unless we get all this.” All of a sudden the older side cries, “You just took away everything that was important to us!” The pendulum doesn’t need to be swinging to either side drastically; it needs to be centered on Jesus.

KM: That eliminates the “us versus them” controversy.

JA: We need to become a “we.”

RD: Dr. Jan Paulsen, who for seven years engaged in Let’s Talk conversations with young adults around the world, said plainly: “There will be no church in the future without the creative presence and engagement of those who are young.” There’s a lesson for the leaders of the church here, I believe. Open the doors, because those young people out there need to be inside as contributors to all of our lives in a community of believers. We need to embrace and learn from each other and above all, learn from Jesus who loves every single person, age notwithstanding.

JA: We are all children. The older generation is still full of children of God, just as much as the younger generation is. In a sense, we’re all young adults.

RD: Even the 90 year olds.

JA: We’re all young in God’s eyes.