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Passionate Overflow
LifeGroups at Southern Adventist University
by Anna Romuald
“A lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern” – it's the definition many have given to this generation of young adults in reference to their feelings regarding church. Apathetic we say.
All of them?
Do we really believe the majority of young adults feel apathetic towards the church? Why, the statistics have shown it! That’s why they’re leaving! One might say.
Though that may be true of some, I cannot believe it is true of even most. Day in and day out I work alongside some of the most passionate people alive. Armed with determination to “be the change they want to see in the world” and fueled by an unwavering resolve to protect the innocent, foster peace, destroy hunger - the list goes on and on - this is the generation I know.
I don't know them because I study them, incessantly referring to generational statistics like they are a science. I know them because I leave my office door open. I know them because I invite them in. I know them because we share meals and rides to the airport and hikes and all of life's mundane topics. We share together our heart's burdens and dreams, joys and pains, brokenness and healing. I know them, and they know me - a chaplain, a pastor, a friend, a peer, another young adult.
That's right. I'm a twenty-five year old associate chaplain on an Adventist university campus. I'm not much different from them. The same passionate heart beats so loudly in my chest it threatens to leap out! God has crafted within me a deep "unutterable yearning of the soul for Jesus" which convicts, compels, and launches me forward in His service. Passion hurls me in the direction of my dreams, God's calling for my life, and brought me here. Passion drives my relentless proclamation of the gospel. Passion for a movement vigorously alive with love provokes my ministry to listen to the most unsettling concerns of young adults and prayerfully encourage them to go! To go in the direction God is calling them as He transforms their passions into the very thing that keeps the heartbeat of our community beating thump, thump, thump.
Since the rejection of apathy first fueled our Adventist movement in its birth, how then do we empower our young adults in the passionate pursuit of Christ today? I believe one incredible investment we must make in the preservation of our own collective future is to learn the power of journeying together. Charles Miles wrote about it in one of my most favorite hymns: "The joy we share as we tarry there, no other has ever known!" We have the opportunity to experience rich blessings, deep love for one another, and true joy in our communing with one another. This is what the ministry initiative LifeGroups is all about.
For the last several years, Southern has been working to create a culture of spiritual communities in small groups on our campus. Within a group of 3-12 peers, young adults are encouraged to share their spiritual journeys together each week. Though each group may have a different topic or focus ranging from studying a book of the Bible, memorizing scripture, learning how to lead praise and worship services or how to make wise financial decisions as a college student, the purpose of LifeGroups remains the same across the spectrum. These groups are far more than just a Bible study, prayer group or social community; LifeGroups serve as the foundation for deep, authentic relationships. Healthy LifeGroups have the potential to serve as a microcosm of the church in its purest form: a safe place where people can encounter God, and find the resources and relationships to nurture their spiritual growth.
Hebrews 10:25 urges us to not neglect meeting together and encouraging one another especially as Christ's second coming draws close. Perhaps this is why we Adventists love potluck like we do; why camp meeting is in our cultural DNA; why Wednesday evening prayer meetings in our local churches and vespers on our university campuses takes place each week like clockwork. We are passionate about meeting together, journeying together, watching, yearning, seeking Christ together.
But the purpose of LifeGroups is not singularly focused on building spiritual community. Recognizing this generation as spiritual catalysts within our culture today and channeling their unique passions into prime leadership opportunities--this is the church of today, and it is my desire that the Spirit bind us together as history, experience, and wisdom merges with young energy and revitalized vision as we work together for our end-time mission. LifeGroups or any other small group ministry is not just a fancy description of some kind of retention program. LifeGroups is a launch pad for the mentorship and spiritual development of our church’s leaders.
LifeGroups is completely held together and supported by student leaders. Each group is facilitated by a volunteer leader and co-leader pair who identify a spiritual vision and purpose. Then, in order to promote ownership, each young adult finds their place in the group by participating in a specific role and carries out various responsibilities such as recording prayer requests, keeping track of time, hosting the group, purchasing food and beverages, or crafting the discussion content just to name a few.  Leaders empower the members of their group to exercise their unique gifts as they prepare for their future careers or lead in local churches or as they serve in the community and in so many other opportunities. LifeGroups make commitments of confidentiality, loyalty, and time to one another as young adults share their spiritual journeys together and the multiplication of disciples and leaders is so organic it can hardly be traced.
As new volunteer leaders tackle the task of facilitating these groups each semester, a peer-to-peer mentorship structure provides support and training from a LifeGroup Coach, a student employee of Campus Ministries. I believe in investing in the leadership of our church in every way - spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. And the best part of my job is that I am called to do this daily. As I pour into the lives of the twenty LifeGroup Coaches who support more than one hundred volunteer leaders on campus, they are then able to share the overflow by encouraging passionate leaders to follow God’s vision for their spiritual community and celebrate the stories for many years to come of transformed lives, deep friendships, and passions pursued.
Over the last few years the ghastly statistics of those leaving the church have fearfully motivated us in all sorts of desperate attempts to retain young adults, but perhaps we could find more positive inspiration in another perspective. From last year's year-end meetings at the North American Division we learned that nearly half of current pastors will be eligible for retirement in the next ten years. What this means, in part, is that all at once pastors, administrators, and other leaders will leave incredible shoes for the next generation to fill. And, many will struggle to know what their ministry means once they retire. We have two choices really. We could either allow this supreme responsibility to fall arbitrarily to this generation, or we could intentionally choose to pour into young adults the overflow from our own relationships with Christ and the calling He has placed in our lives during whatever season of ministry and continue a rich spiritual legacy.
As a young minister myself, I encourage my fellow colaborers--let us not wait until we find ourselves in a potential crisis, let us work diligently now to empower this generation in their passionate pursuit of Christ as leaders in our church and catalysts in our culture today. Let us reach out and bridge whatever divide, whether it be generational differences, or a young adult’s developing theology, or varying methodologies, and extend a hand of compassion, grace, and wisdom. Let us prepare this generation in the best possible way to take the torch of the gospel and continue to carry it forward into all the world.
Anna Romuald is the Associate Chaplain at Southern Adventist University