Any Adventist in any part of the world can tell you what Pathfinders and Adventurers are. These well-established groups serve what the church calls “junior youth,” or children ages 4-15, and those who are the leaders of these groups are known as Master Guides. But what about the youth ages 16 and over–the “senior youth?”
This is where Ambassadors (ages 16-21) and Young Adults (ages 22-30+) come in–all to be led by a relatively new group called the Senior Youth Leaders. SYL was presented briefly during the youth ministries portion of Annual Council at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Oct. 11.
The SYL curriculum was developed by the youth ministries team, and was a project headed by Pako Mokgwane, associate youth director for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, who served as coordinator and editor of the curriculum development. After consulting with the divisions, the team created principles direction for the program.
Acknowledging the church is facing a crisis of losing a large number of young people every year, Mokgwane and his team, which included director of youth ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, Gary Blanchard and associate director for the Adventist World Church, Andres Peralta–decided one way they could respond is to strengthen the leadership thrust and make material available to help with youth ministry in today’s overwhelming world.
In response to the growing need for leaders, the loss of ambassadors and young adults, the wave of technology, and focus on the local church, SYL has been written for leaders who wish to be involved with Ambassadors and Young Adults.
Research regularly reports that a major reason youth are leaving the church is due to relational issues. They want authentic relationships, and they want to be recognized, listened to, appreciated, and involved.
“Our young people want a say in the development and planning of the work of God,” Mokgwane says. Senior youth are the creative visionaries of our time. Their ideas will help the church stay relevant and will extend the horizons of God’s kingdom more quickly.”
In 2017, the youth ministries team sent their proposal for SYL to all the church divisions, requesting feedback. Most welcomed the idea, and the curriculum was made generally available in late 2018.
“This leadership curriculum attempts to prepare youth and young adult leaders to address the current challenges facing senior youth today,” Mokgwane explains, “and to equip them to bring young people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, and to help them embrace his call to discipleship.”
Mokgwane admits that it is impossible to come up with curriculum that pleases everyone, but the team is happy for each division to tweak it for their context. So while the principles of the program remain the same, the method of implementation differs greatly.
“Our core function is to resource and build up youth ministry in the local church,” he says. “Youth ministry is only effective when it is a response to local needs, guided by local convictions, in the hands of local people. We are looking for relevance.”
The Dominican Republic has graduated the first class of SYLs, a group of 200 leaders. It is expected that all divisions will give the program a trial run between now and 2021, and final edits will be made to the curriculum during the World Youth Advisory in 2021.
“Senior youth are energetic, enthusiastic, and bold,” Mokgwane adds. “Channeling their giftedness and energy will aid the church in its mission.”