Youth Matters

Trans-European Division

Youth Matters

How youth ministry changed my life and continues to change others

Commentary | United Kingdom | Paul Tompkins

Youth ministry matters; it always has and always will! Many years of youth ministry have clearly shown me that young people are a number-one priority for the church.

This is not an idle claim but one to which I can personally attest. As a young teenager, I attended a Seventh-day Adventist school. My parents wanted the best they could provide and sent me there to gain a good education, rather than for any direct interest in the church. However, during those pivotal adolescent years, my life was to change dramatically.

Noticing a growing interest, my father once said to me, “You’ll never become a Seventh-day Adventist because if anyone offers you a game of sport on the Sabbath, you’ll play it.” He was both right and wrong. He was right that at the time, sport was my number-one priority, but wrong in that the influence of the Holy Spirit working through a group of contagious Adventist school friends, together with a dedicated and very relational youth director, was changing my life profoundly.

This was youth ministry at its best, and to cut a long story short, I came to the point where I knew I would put God first in my life. As a result, my life changed dramatically. I went on to study ministry and spend 30 years working in the Youth Ministries department. Here, I have seen firsthand that although times may change, the relational needs of young people remain the same.

Into this mix comes the pivotal role of life-transforming youth events, where young people have the unique opportunity to meet and mix with other like-minded youngsters. These include local church youth days, conference-wide youth rallies and camps, and national and international Youth Congresses and Pathfinder Camporees. The importance of these events can be attested to through a series of very important youth studies over the years.

The Valuegenesis Europe Youth Survey (2007) involved over 6,000 young adults, ages 14–25, and revealed not only that youth ministry most definitely does have an impact, but that youth ministry events were rated very highly. “74.6% of those that actually experienced such activities say that the youth ministry of the union or conference is important because it fosters their faith development.”¹ Faith development is important at all stages of our life experience, but most crucial during the teenage and young-adult years, when young people are making so many life-defining decisions.

I have seen firsthand that young people very definitely look forward to events such as International Youth Congresses and Pathfinder Camporees. To be part of a faith-affirming event involving hundreds and even thousands of other like-minded young people is inspirational. I remember the experience of my first International Camporee, sitting around the evening campfire bowl and being awed by the atmosphere. This is exactly the same with Youth Congresses, and I made up my mind that as long as I was involved in youth ministry, I would make sure other young people had the opportunity to enjoy similar experiences.

What is so good to see is that the youth ministries calendar has grown and developed over the years to include many faith-building opportunities for all. 

In conclusion, a parent who was very involved in helping young people in his local church once said to me, “Life is a cycle.” He was helping my generation of young people and said, “In turn, you will help my children’s group.” I’ve never forgotten these very wise words, and I pray for the current generation of youth leaders from the local church onwards as they help our young people to both establish, keep, and share their faith. God bless our youth!

¹ Stephan Sigg, A Spiritual Home for Young People? The Adventist Youth and Their Church as seen from the Valuegenesis Europe Data, Part 111, Spes Christiana, vol. 24, (Theoogische Hochschule Friedensau, 2013), 164.

This article was originally published on the Trans-European Division’s news site