When I was 35 years old I was an ordained Seventh-day Adventist pastor and an academy principal.
When our son was 35 he was the chief marketing officer for three incredibly successful world-class companies.
When our oldest daughter was 35 she received a Making a World of Difference award from Vodaphone New Zealand.
When our youngest daughter was 35 she was a professional sports coach, had won national championships in mountain-bike racing and was beginning to win competitions as a professional road bike racer.
Yet, at 35, none of them were “mature enough” to serve as elders or in other leadership positions in their local church.
“Too young,” the nominating committee decided.
“Too inexperienced,” the leaders said.
“Not ready” was the consensus.
Yet, when the insurance company Aviva asked 2,000 adults what they thought the “ideal” age might be, 35 was the near-unanimous choice.
The other day I went back to the academy where I served as principal. My picture is on the wall there next to a long line of suit-and-tie principals. My Pendleton shirt and obvious inexperience left me as the glowing exception on the wall.
“I was too young,” I mumbled to my wise wife.
“No,” she replied. “It was fun.”
“Remember the crowds of kids we used to have at our house?” she continued. “And the Sunday mornings when you drove the bus to take the kids skiing at Winter Park? The times when the committee disciplined kids by assigning them to stay at our house for a week? The beard-growing contest? The faculty retreat where we all signed a commitment to serve each student as if he or she was Jesus Himself? The buckets of popcorn? All while building a new girls’ dorm, becoming a professional photographer, preaching at 30 churches and six camp meetings each year, writing Sabbath School lessons for the GC, and helping raise three children of your own? Remember?”
Thirty-five was not too young. We were in the prime of life, giving our all wherever God led.
Which brings me back to church.
When I ask 35-year-olds how they feel about church, here’s some of what I hear:
- “I operate two million-dollar businesses and earn more than $100,000 a year. Why can’t I at least help take up the offering?”
- “The data shows that most people peak at 39. Why is the church being run by 70-year-olds?”
- “If I am seen as a child without value, why should I come?”
- “The young adults who attend adult Sabbath School classes seem to be treated as adults, while those of us that attend the young adult Sabbath School class are considered kids.”
- “At 30 one is considered adult enough to vote, fight for their country, perform surgical procedures, own and run a multimillion dollar company, but not to be a leader in their church.”
Did I make mistakes as a 30-something principal? Indeed. Did I feel supported, valued and needed for the mission of the church I love? You bet.
What could a young adult in my local church do if they were trusted like that?
My wise wife would tell me we have everything to gain and nothing to lose if we could wake up and give them a chance.
Dick Duerksen is assistant to the president for creative communications in the Oregon Conference.
This article is reprinted with permission from the September 2017 issue of the North Pacific Union Gleaner