“If we don’t know who we are, we will not know why we are,” stated Pastor David Asscherick on the opening night of the Global Youth Leaders Congress in Kassel, Germany. As a first generation Seventh-day Adventist he challenged leaders by telling them, “if you don’t know it, we are weird!”
That came as an uncomfortable thought following on from a list of identities that initially drew us together. He noted common ground in our identity including that we are alive and that we are human – albeit with many sub-divisions of culture and geography. Then he drew us through a religious identity of monotheism, Christianity, 500 years of Protestantism, down to the reality of being an Adventist today.
Yet, he stated, ‘we are weird’. What did he mean by that? Simply that because of many of our lifestyle and doctrinal distinctives we point to difference rather than opportunities. We build walls when we should be building bridges.
Asscherick then emphasized Romans 1:14-16 where Paul, a convert to Christianity, noted his three-fold identity: I am a debtor. I am ready to preach the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
That powerful message set the tone for a congress that is designed with the specific purpose “to equip, engage and empower leaders for the new generation.” As a church pastor who has travelled from Australia to attend the congress at the Kongress Palais Kassel Stadthalle, 31 July – 4 August, Asscherick is perhaps representative of the 1,600 youth leaders of all ages and most countries, who are here to be energized and inspired under the conference theme, ‘Pass it on’.
What do these leaders expect?
Edoardo from Brazil anticipates that "there will be a community involvement in the fulfilment of the mission of the church through the young people".
Dereck, chaplain in a local school but also a youth leader is looking "to make some new friends, some good information, good meeting, good seminars, hopefully to pick up some tools."
Other participants are expecting new insights on how improve a better relationship between youth and God, waiting the second coming of Jesus.
Sarah, one of a large band of volunteers supporting the congress states: "I've seen many youth directors who are not so young anymore. I would like them to cover the intergenerational gap between young people and adults. They were young too, so they can understand the needs of young people better than anyone else.”
That may be a start in ‘building bridges instead of walls’. The ‘Pass it on’ theme will develop over the next four days in a mixture of lectures, workshops, small group meetings and opportunities for witness.
Gary Blanchard, Youth director for Seventh-day Adventist World Church and chief organizer of the event, emphasized the intention of the next four days to raise up leaders for the church, especially those that can work cross-generationally.
This will include a strong emphasis in a joint EuropeaniCore project initiated by leaders from the Trans-European and Inter-European Divisions that can now go global. This will be explored under the themes of iGrow, iCare, iLearn, iServe and iPreach by the time the Congress climaxes Saturday night. During that process space is also given to prayer, but equally to iThink – the ability for leaders to take on board and develop new concepts learnt here.
Going by the buzz on the street as delegates headed back towards their hotels in the heat of the German summer, those goals may well be fulfilled.
The main plenary session from the congress are available on Live-Stream via the Congress website.
A larger selection of photos are on the TED Facebook page.
A daily vlog is being shared by the British Union Youth director, Dejan Stojkovic. The first blog comes with a health warning - drink plenty of water in the extreme heat of a German summer.