In between dozens of international speaking engagements, Gilbert Cangy spent his first year as the Seventh-day Adventist world church's Youth Ministries director getting all parties to the table to dialogue about the plan.
That plan? "It's about finding ways in which we can move our young people from simply being church members to being fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ," he says.
In his office at the denomination's headquarters, Cangy says his focus now is on youth discipleship. The department is producing two resources to assist youth in developing their own spirituality.
In January, the General Conference Youth Ministries website will make available "Discipleship In Action," a 26-week curriculum guide that can be used individually or in small groups, as well as a youth-oriented seven-week daily Bible study guide.
In an interview, he repeatedly says that youth are responsible for their own faith development.
Cangy puts his position in perspective: the local church is only a back-up structure to the home -- the "primary seminary," he calls it. The denomination, then, is most effective in contributing to disciple-making in the local congregation.
"We realize that a youth congress takes place every two or three years and a youth rally a few times a year. But the reality is young people are in the local churches 48 weeks out of the year. That's where the focus needs to be in terms of their spiritual nurture."
Cangy uses the words "responsibility" and "reality" many times over the course of the interview. He talks about working with local leaders and dialoguing to partner with supporting and independent youth ministries. He hopes for a "rapprochement" -- a French word meaning to come together -- between the church and other youth ministries originally formed to parallel the church with little or no consultation.
While he maintains contact with youth -- he's soon off to Germany to speak at a youth convention and Thailand thereafter -- his primary audience, he says, is "13 guys:" the youth directors in each of the denomination's world administrative regions. After his election last year, he flew to each of their offices and met with them, asking about their views and goals. Their plans are his plans and vice-versa, he says.
"I believe [in] a more consultative process of leadership. I know these days you can bypass everyone and that technology will take you to the iPhone of a young person, but I choose to work through the system [the church has] in place. My role is to look at the big picture and consider where we are in terms of our time, generation, culture, to look at the needs of the church globally."
Cangy, 55 years old, is originally from the Seychelles, a French-speaking nation of islands in the Western Indian Ocean. He came to the Adventist Church headquarters via Australia, where he worked as a local youth leader and Youth director at the South Pacific Division headquarters, located near Sydney.
Last year he sat as a delegate in a chair on the floor of General Conference Session with a sense "holy discontent" after what he thought was God's leading the previous year to accept a position as a local church senior pastor. He had served in youth leadership for 16 years. A well-known independent youth leader had recently told him he possessed leadership skills. Then a tap on the shoulder changed his life. The Nominating Committee chair wanted to see him.
Cangy soon found himself being asked by Adventist Church President Ted N. C. Wilson if he as Youth director could offer balance between established contemporary youth ministry and supporting organizations. His past shaped his answer.
"Faith is a journey," he says, another phrase he uses several times during the interview. His own journey has taken him across oceans, over countries and through varying mindsets.
Born to missionary parents and raised in Mauritius, Cangy left the church at age 17 and "embraced culture," as he puts it. He played bass guitar in a soul band and later joined the merchant navy with hopes of making big money.
"It didn't take long to come to terms with the fact that money isn't what life is all about," Cangy says. It was 1979 and he was 21 years old. In his shipboard cabin heading across the Indian Ocean toward Capetown, he asked God if He was real and could do something for Him.
"That's when my picture of God changed," he says. "My picture of God used to be a God that I feared and had to give account to one day. That's not a very attractive picture. I now have no fear because he stands for me. He's a God of grace."
Cangy then came back to the church with a vengeance, hoping to redeem lost time. At a Youth For Christ rally, he confronted a musician about the band's drums and guitars, saying they promoted an ungodly lifestyle. He remembers the band member saying, "'I've never had your experience. It's your problem, not mine. You are associating these with another lifestyle, and I have always associated these with my worship of God.'"
That came like a punch to Cangy's stomach, forcing him, he says, to reassess his views on packaging the gospel. Today, he prefers French hymns -- they formed his childhood experiences of God. But he says he understands they won't speak to everyone.
"I think we need to embrace that there is a huge diversity out there in the expression of our principles," he says.
Bringing people together
Independent and supporting youth ministries have increasingly sprung up in recent decades. Cangy's goal is to embrace them and work together, or at least dialogue more. Some, he says, are not interested in cooperating and have lost confidence in leadership. Those then are more interested in setting alternative expressions of Adventism and see themselves as the "reformers" of the movement, Cangy says.
"There's nothing wrong with expressing our Adventism in a more conservative way," he says. "The Seventh-day church is a global movement that is unified by a unique message that is expressed and communicated through its rich cultural diversity. At the end of the day we are conveying the same message but we are packaging it differently. We must learn to take the route of mutual affirmation."
Still, the reality is that there is a lot of tension, he says.
"Within the more right-wing tendencies, there is an unhealthy view of the last days that promotes the anti-gospel notion of sinless perfectionism," Cangy says. "There is no doubt that endemic to the gospel message is a call to transformation and character development through Christ, but that you will one day stand alone without sin before Jesus comes and stuff like that, [that's] very dangerous."
One of the largest supporting organizations is now known as Generation of Youth for Christ -- Wilson was keynote speaker at its convention last year. It formed about a decade ago as a ministry to Adventists at public university campuses. Cangy's take is that one of its budding groups in the U.S. state of Michigan aligned themselves with a mentor who felt that established youth ministry had lost its way. "He kind of rode on this enthusiasm to launch something that was going to run parallel. There was no intention to consult or cooperate. I don't think those young people intended that."
Later in the interview, GYC president Justin McNeilus calls. Cangy says "hey" and tells him he'll call back later. He hangs up and says, "I talk to Justin a lot because he is of a different spirit. I can see with him a desire for cooperation. He and I talk all the time. It's about unity."
Cangy even brought McNeilus and leaders of other supporting youth ministries to the world Youth department advisory earlier this year.
"My dream is to bring every entity to the table. Let's talk. Let's do this together. Whether it's GYC or Maranatha or whoever, anyone who wants to contribute to the extending of the kingdom of God."
Ultimately it's up to young people if they choose to embrace faith or not, Cangy says. And he believes it's up to older generations to inspire and empower them.
"The strength of our church is our young people. Let's give them the mission of the church understanding that they might do things differently because we live in a world that is changing rapidly."