One priority ministry that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has is the education of its own. The vast teaching network around the globe of Adventist learning facilities ranges from preschool all the way through advanced professional training. This is meant to be intentional learning through the lens of an Adventist biblical perspective. What a grand effort toward building up the body of Christ! Additionally, the Church has other well-developed training programs for youth of all ages where it invests hopes and aspirations for its youth right alongside the educational system.
When these noble ventures, along with human nature, are merged with respect for the awesomeness of how the Creator designed the learning and developing mechanisms within the minds of every student, we might be truly joining with Heaven’s very purpose in creating each one.1
A Very Important Learning Mechanism
Maturity is part of life. And relevance plays an important part in maturing. Consider the example of babies. Without their even being aware of it, the mind of newborn infants asks this question: “Am I safe?” It is instinctual, driven by a human nature that wishes to survive. God has placed that question there. Over a little time, especially with tender nurturing from others, that question may become somewhat obsolete when satisfactorily addressed. With the input of this new information, different new questions then arise. And so on, and so on, while advancing maturity.
However, here’s the rub: Even though that newborn’s initial “Am I safe?” question has once been answered, we find that this very same important question may still recur many times throughout that person’s lifetime requiring new relevance, right? Why? What changed? New information? Advancing understanding? New circumstances? A variation of the above? It is reasonable to assume, then, that some very important questions do repeat in life over and over as time advances. And without appropriate “updated-answers” (during those emerging developmental levels, for example), a result that is less-than-satisfying may occur for that individual.
Relevance from Students’ Perspective
Adventist preschoolers learn about foundations of biblical Adventism through some basic exercises like rote obedience, structured prayer time, animated songs, simple Bible stories, etc. Then, why do second graders consider it “baby stuff” to wave flags or shake bells during group singing like the preschoolers do, or have Bible stories read to them using three to six-word sentences? Or repeating prayer phrases together kneeling in a circle with own little hands clasped—like the preschoolers do? It becomes apparent that, although the same topic does matter, those learning methods are no longer satisfying to second graders. What changed?
Isaiah 28:9-10 says: “To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” The same biblical truths matter for each age group and are meant to be relevant for each maturity level; but that same information no longer remains satisfying unless, as time advances, learning mechanisms have developed the information to a more appropriate level. This is important: Second graders still need to be exposed to Bible stories, but only from a new and advanced perspective than for preschoolers, right?3 If we assume that the same information “sticks” with each child just because it was introduced during an earlier age, some Important information risks becoming obsolete. This is why each age group builds upon each foundational learning concept with reviews and content that turns each truth into new and relevant information, appropriate with maturing reasoning.
Fortunately, educators and others tend to assign learners into similar levels of maturity, usually representing age groups. Example: Some ministry leaders tend to notice the very fertile human natures of elementary-aged children when focusing on providing baptism opportunities. These decisions for baptism may come by guidance from admired leaders and loved ones, encouragement from peers, or basking in a relationship with Jesus as a true Friend of children. So with these youngsters, their natural promptings toward growing their personal spirituality can be quite relevant to their particular developmental stage.
The Danger of Ignoring the Creator’s Learning Mechanisms with Teens
Now here is where our own faith in the Creator’s wisdom comes into check. Question: Why do we consider it “normal” for teens everywhere to question life’s important questions? Why do teens often seem attracted to considering rebellious ideas? Why do teens generally appear to look down on things that they used to value as precious? May I gently suggest here that the Creator has placed a seemingly high-powered learning mechanism in their maturing process? It does appear cruel, doesn’t it? – but it contains necessary childhood-shedding drivers. (Kind of like the mommy bird that kicks its birdies out of their cozy nest to soar into the scary unknown!) Fear and confusion is a hard place to be plunged into. However, one thing is for sure: That “baby stuff” spirituality they are leaving behind is no longer relevant to them unless it takes on a new perspective.4 Could it be that the Creator, Himself, has allowed these adolescent ‘hard times’ to serve as part of His loving plan to compel a young person to consider a new and greater more relevant context for a relationship with Him?
One of the hardest kinds of support that caring teachers, pastors, youth leaders, and parents can offer teens is to appreciate the true specialness of the Creator’s learning mechanisms of this age group. It suggests embracing those hard questions that feel like disrespect. And, instead of shushing their dark spoken thoughts, valuing these moments as opportunities to be supportive with compassion. Also, to consider it a duty to comfort those teens who display outbursts of emotion or frustration as a result of their fears and confusion. Their minds are emerging toward functioning on a more sophisticated level. Does it make sense that the Creator would be intending to adjust the teens’ reasoning and learning mechanisms to become relevant to their personal spirituality, too? This would explain their scary rejection of earlier spiritual concepts that now struggle to find relevance to a teenager’s reasoning.
The Price of Ignoring the Creator’s Learning Mechanisms with Young Adults
There was a time in Adventist culture when core beliefs and faith instruction were repeated every-so-often in church life via regular youth association meetings, extended guest presenter events, and evangelistic meetings. Youth and young adults were able to review their Church’s doctrines and practices by attending or even teaching at such events, applying a renewed perspective as they matured. Question: When was the last time there was an opportunity for any of your youth or young adults to be exposed to reviewing their Adventist core beliefs? If it was back when they were Junior-aged, then tragically, you might assume that these truths have become obsolete, if not abandoned.
Otherwise, without instructional support, and when left to young peoples’ reasoning alone, their values may evolve toward a more organic standard, like: “Does it work? If it does, then it is right; if it doesn’t, then it is wrong.”2 In other words, is it relevant? This residual standard might then be applied toward reevaluating previous beliefs, rules, societal standards, and even religious faith. You’d probably agree that this is a very weak standard by which to make personal decisions that, without strategic guidance, may have life-long (or eternal) consequences.
Lack of relevance is arguably one of the logical reasons why so many of college age and above choose to leave Adventist church life at this stage of their development. Adventist educational and church leaders of youth and young adults should do whatever must be done to provide recurring opportunities to examine the basic spiritual faith and growth information from their past, so personal knowledge regarding faith and spirituality may be able to be given a chance for review, and considered for re-adoption for relevance at their new level.5 Past spiritual experiences and practices have somehow become obsolete to present-day values, seemingly “left behind” because the young person has “moved on.” Hosea 4:6 laments: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Here, we might broaden the translation to mean “relevant” knowledge.
That important recurring question that begins in a newborn’s heart, “Am I safe?” could rival another important life-long spiritual question in that same individual’s heart: “Am I saved?” It is easy to assume, then, that these very important questions do indeed repeat in lives over and over as time advances. And without appropriate “updated-answers,” a less-than-satisfying perspective on life may result for that individual. With the passage of time and maturity, the Creator has made it possible for individuals to develop as relevant those important truths necessary for life-saving decisions; both for now as well as for eternity. After all, to be “saved” necessitates a Savior!
As a church, it is imperative that we work in synergy with the Creator’s plan for the personal spiritual maturity of our young people. God did not make a mistake in how He designed the maturing processes. In the book Education, p. 78 by E.G. White, we read: “He who seeks to transform humanity must himself understand humanity.” Understanding human nature as God created it is a worthy basis on which to apply our plans and efforts to educationally meet the spiritual and retention needs of our youth—from their perspective.
Throughout the fabric of the life of Lucy Cisneros—family, ministry, academics, music, employment, volunteerism, hobbies—run golden threads weaving a personal portrait of her love and passionate devotion to her God.
1White, E.G., Education, p. 14 “In order to understand what is comprehended in the work of education, we need to consider both the nature of man and the purpose of God in creating him.”
2Price, N. R. “Belief vs. Core Values” Retrieved from http://www.nelsonprice.com/youth-beliefs-vs-core-values/
3”The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15, NIV)
4”When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”(1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV)
5White, E.G., Education, p. 30 “The great principles of education are unchanged. . . . for they are the principles of the character of God. To aid the student in comprehending these principles, and in entering into that relation with Christ which will make them a controlling power in the life, should be the teacher’s first effort and his constant aim.”