Today’s Leaders: Cultivating Young Thinkers and Doers

Andrea D. Oliver

Executive Secretary, General Youth Conference

Law Student, Washington and Lee School of Law



With the climax of the great controversy just before us, we can expect that the best is yet to come. The most compelling arguments have yet to be made for the Gospel; the most earnest appeals have yet to be uttered; the most persuasive examples of godliness have yet to be lived out. The greatest exhibitions of love, faith, commitment, and truehearted service have yet to be rendered to the Master by His people. But who will lead in these things? As God had Moses, Elijah, and Nehemiah in times past, He surely must have leaders for today.


I propose that the prolific leaders who will seal up the Gospel work are the youth right in front of us. They are regular Annie and Andrew Adventist, or perhaps they are unconverted and backslidden now. Wherever they are, when God gets hold of them, there will be no stopping them.


But the question remains, What will it take for our young people to get from here to there? What is the key for preparing the young people to fill the role God has created for them? An important, yet neglected, part of the answer lies in the book Education: “Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character.”1


The youth are individuals to whom God has bestowed special gifts for their own times. We must help them cultivate the power to think—power to think their own thoughts, to evaluate the merits of others’ thoughts, and to think outside of the box to find solutions to the problems facing the church and the world today. We also must help them cultivate the power to do—power to execute the visions they dream up, skill to accomplish the tasks they lay out, and wisdom to focus their energies judiciously, without growing weary with too many responsibilities.


Both thinking and doing are critical, for what good is a vision that stays in one’s mind? Or what value is there to ability that is not directed by purpose? The two must work hand in hand, and when they do, the possibilities are limitless.


This article is written from the perspective of a young person who has grappled mentally and experientially with the challenges facing our new generation of leaders. I have chosen to address some of the barriers young people encounter to developing the power of thinking and doing, that we may better help the youth meet them. The work of training up young leaders is a united, cooperative effort. Both young and old are important. The wisdom and experience of yesteryear should guide the energy and potential of today.


This article is a humble plea for help and guidance from the experienced leaders and role models who have gone before us. It is a challenge to those who have neglected their part. It is an expression of appreciation to those who have helped pave the way for the next—and, prayerfully, final—generation of young leaders. And it is an injunction to us all to invest in our young people, “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”2


I. Barriers to Thinking


Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The exhortation implies that before one can live out change, he first must think about what change he wants to see. In other words, the power to think necessarily precedes the power to do, for how will one know what to do unless he first considers what should be done? Thinking about change is no mean task. It requires an informed understanding of the current state of things, thorough and honest evaluation, wisdom to craft appropriate solutions, and the ability to count the cost of implementing those solutions.


The challenges facing the world today call for young men and women who have cultivated the power to think. These global challenges comprise both spiritual and secular considerations. Questions of faith and duty cry for attention, as do social problems such as poverty, hunger, racism, and human rights. God’s youth, endowed with talents from above, should be encouraged to devise both spiritual and secular solutions, as did Joseph and Daniel, their forerunners.


Many obstacles obstruct the development of this power of thought in our young people. This first section of this article will explore a few of those challenges so that we may be better prepared to help the youth meet them.


Challenge No. 1: No Time to Think


We are told that the purpose of true education is to “train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought.”3 Many institutions of higher learning espouse similar goals of training their young people to think critically and analytically, to teach students how to think instead of what to think. Yet this profession does not always correspond with the reality. The workload at these schools is often so overwhelming, the demands so great, the stress so wearisome, and the pressure to succeed so intense, that students simply do not have time to think. In today’s academic setting, one has to fight for time to ponder the great issues facing the world. Often there is only time to memorize and regurgitate the ideas of dead people in textbooks, leaving independent thought by the wayside. In some circles, the prevailing sentiment is that there is no good idea unless it has been thought of before. It is ancestor worship in a new form.


What are the results of such a routine? “The continual worry is wearing out the life forces.”4 The danger is that the reasoning powers will atrophy for lack of use and give way to acquiescence and apathy. Spirituality suffers as young people neglect time for self-examination, prayer, Bible study, and witnessing. Youth grow content to allow pastors, professors, politicians, and movie stars to do their thinking for them. They no longer ask, Does this make sense? Do I agree with this? Is it Biblical? Is there a better way?


All of this is not to discourage the youth from pursuing higher education, for there certainly is a place for it.5 Instead, we should admonish them to remember the Source and purpose of all true education and to make time for contemplating the important things. As God’s character is dwelt upon, “the mind is renewed, and the soul is re-created in the image of God.”6


Challenge No. 2: Intemperate Living


Through temperance, Daniel and his associates rose to the heights of intellectual greatness so that it was said of them that “in all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.”God honored these youths’ habits of temperance by crowning them with “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.”8 Similarly, young people today may become men and women of superior intellect by honoring the same immutable principles.


The work of cultivating a generation of leaders who have power to think and do is inextricably linked with the health message. But I fear that we do not rightly appreciate the role of temperance in the preparation of young, godly leaders. In fact, it appears at times that we have come to accept intemperance as the norm, sometimes glorifying it as a mark of true dedication. As medals of honor on a military officer’s uniform, so have sleeplessness, overwork, and poor health become the badges of leadership. But how much more useful might God’s youth be if they cultivated healthful habits?


“Blessed art thou, O land, when . . . thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!”9 “The relation of diet to intellectual development should be given far more attention than it has received. Mental confusion and dullness are often the result of errors in diet.”10


“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so He giveth His beloved sleep.”11 “The importance of regularity in the time for eating and sleeping should not be overlooked. . . . It is essential, especially in youth, that sleep should be regular and abundant.”12


“Unless the physical powers are kept in health by active exercise, the mental powers cannot long be used to their highest capacity.”13 “Right physical habits promote mental superiority. Intellectual power, physical strength, and longevity depend upon immutable laws.”14


“Our first duty toward God and our fellow beings is that of self-development. Every faculty with which the Creator has endowed us should be cultivated to the highest degree of perfection, that we may be able to do the greatest amount of good of which we are capable. Hence that time is spent to good account which is directed to the establishment and preservation of sound physical and mental health. We cannot afford to dwarf or cripple a single function of mind or body by overwork or by abuse of any part of the living machinery. As surely as we do this, we must suffer the consequences.”15


Through healthful habits, youth may develop the mental capabilities needed to address the complex problems of today, and the examples of our leaders are crucial for reinforcing those habits. “The observance of temperance and regularity in all things has a wonderful power. . . . The power of self-control thus acquired will be found one of the most valuable of equipments for grappling successfully with the stern duties and realities that await every human being.”16


Challenge No. 3: Thinking About the Wrong Things


Paul admonished the young Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts.”17 This injunction finds particular relevance in our age of pervasive sensuality. Hollywood, sitcoms, and worldly music are doing their insidious work of unfitting young people for the exalted positions God would have them fill. Many young minds ripe with potential are degenerating under the influence of things as overtly objectionable as pornography and as seemingly innocent as daydreaming.18 “The noble powers of the mind are dwarfed and enfeebled by lack of exercise on themes that are worthy of their contemplation.”19 This in turn has an effect on the character, “for as [one] thinketh in his heart, so is he.”20


The Bible calls all, including youth, to fix their minds on things above. Said the apostle, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”21 Here, Paul provides the litmus test for suitable themes upon which to meditate: the true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and things of good report.


While contemplation of holy things will protect the youth against mental and moral depravity, it will also help them develop wisdom surpassing all worldly intellect. Such wisdom is needed in the generation of young leaders who will herald Christ’s soon return. Said King David, “Thou through Thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts.”22


Youth may possess the ability to outthink their enemies, teachers, and those advanced in years simply by contemplating God’s Word. The Scriptures possess a marvelous power to enlighten: “There is nothing more calculated to strengthen the intellect than the study of the Scriptures. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible. If God’s Word were studied as it should be, men would have a breadth of mind, a nobility of character, and a stability of purpose rarely seen in these times.”23


Adults may encourage young people to meditate on themes worthy of their contemplation by doing so themselves. Instead of exhorting young people to be better Bible students while themselves absorbing worldly music, television, and activities, adults may lead the youth to a better way through the power of a godly example. The seeds of such an approach will surely bear fruit in a wiser, nobler, and more conscientious class of youth.


II. Barriers to Doing


In addition to the power to think, it is also important that young people develop the power to do. Each age has had its own class of “doers”—men and women who have changed history through their words, writings, and conduct. Religious and secular movements alike have done much to revolutionize thinking and confront long-practiced injustices. The Protestant Reformation and early Advent movement are religious milestones, the impact of which reverberates through history to the present. The civil rights movement in the United States, the protest against military juntas in Argentina, and the pro-democracy movement in China are among the many secular movements emblazoned on the pages of history.


A common thread throughout these events is the active role of the youth. Young people have often been the catalyst and powerhouse for change—their daring, radical commitment challenging, and often toppling, the status quo.


At the end of time, should our situation be any different? We are told: “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come—the end of suffering and sorrow and sin!”24


The Lord is preparing a people to take the three angels’ messages to the whole world in this generation, and the youth will be among those to finish the work. Yet in this critical work, Satan assures that every movement is met with friction. As in the law of physics, every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. The purpose of the following section is to explore some of the obstacles to the development of the power to do, and how we might help young people meet them.


Challenge No. 1: Lack of Mentorship and Role Modeling


Mentorship is a Biblically-endorsed principle, and there are many examples of it in Scripture. Paul mentored Timothy, Naomi mentored Ruth, and Christ mentored the disciples. The need for godly mentors is no less today. In our wicked world, we need godly men to teach younger males how to be God-fearing, courageous, humble leaders. We also need spiritual women to teach young ladies the value of being holy females in a world that calls them to be wholly feminist. To teach young women to be masters of circumstance without being either masculine or emasculating, yet womanly without being wimps, requires the insight of virtuous female role models. To avoid temptation, men should mentor men, and women should mentor women.


Unfortunately, there is a dearth of godly mentors. Many adults who have been in the church long enough to be mentors are spiritual babes themselves. They are in need of mentors. In some cases the tables are turned, and godly young people must be role models for backslidden adults.


Spiritual men and women, qualified by wisdom and experience, should take young people under their wings. They should point them to Jesus and teach them the lessons of their own failings and successes. By so doing, they can help mold a new generation of leaders. Many youth would go far if they only had a caring adult who believed in them, guided them, persevered with them, and prayed for them.


Challenge No. 2: Not Knowing What to Do


Many young people would enter God’s service if they only knew where and how to direct their energies. They need a cause, something worth pouring their whole lives into. They need purpose to add meaning to their lives. To be a part of something greater than themselves provides a cure for inaction.


Of all people, Seventh-day Adventists, called to be the bearers of the final message of mercy to a perishing world, should recognize that they have a cause worth living and dying for. If youth are inspired with this vision and internalize it as their own, we can expect the work on Earth to close shortly. For this to happen, we must remind youth that their greatest purpose is not to make money, to get degrees, or to increase possessions. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so is their true purpose infinitely greater than these temporal things.


“He gives ‘to every man his work.’ Each has his place in the eternal plan of Heaven. Each is to work in cooperation with Christ for the salvation of souls. Not more surely is the place prepared for us in the heavenly mansions than is the special place designated on Earth where we are to work for God.”25


“God looks into the tiny seed that He Himself has formed and sees wrapped within it the beautiful flower, the shrub, or the lofty, wide-spreading tree. So does He see the possibilities in every human being. We are here for a purpose. God has given us His plan for our life, and He desires us to reach the highest standard of development.”26


Christ has a high calling for His young workers. With the great harvest before them and numerous opportunities to exercise their talents, there is also danger of overwork. In other words, knowing what to do can also be hindered by having too much to do. Young people should be encouraged to spend quality time in prayer, seeking help from God to distinguish between those tasks He has called them to take up, and those He has not.


Challenge No. 3: Fear of Doing


Youth are often highly self-conscious, subject to peer pressure, and concerned with what others think of them. Taking a bold stand for God can be unpopular and intimidating. Being active in the Lord’s service often brings opposition, and making decisions for Christ sometimes results in rejection by friends and family.


Nonetheless, young leaders facing opposition and uncertainty should be encouraged by God’s enduring words to Ezekiel: “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.”27


History shows that when young people have been infused with boldness and tenacity, they are unstoppable. During the 1960s, young people in the United States endured beatings, insults, and death for civil rights. In the 1970s and early ’80s, many students were “disappeared” and were tortured to death for protesting the totalitarian regimes of South America. In 1989, young intellectuals participated in pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and died in the notorious massacre that year. Countless other examples exist of young people who braved the torrent of opposition for principles they held dear.


With the cause of all causes to vindicate, God’s young leaders today can rely on their Heavenly Father to help them cultivate courage to work for Him. They are admonished: “Christ’s ambassadors have nothing to do with consequences. They must perform their duty and leave results with God.”28 God has promised to take care of them. Said the apostle, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”29 When surrounded by the Syrian host, Elisha comforted his young companion saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”30 And the Lord Himself exhorted Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”31 All of Heaven is on our side: “The family of Heaven and the family of Earth are one.”32Therefore, the youth may boldly say, “The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”33


Adventist young people today may also draw courage from the courageous young people who went before them: “In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as Leader. We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”34


As God’s youth stand for Him, He stands for them; as they work for Him, He works for them.



*          *          *          *


Our young people are not the leaders of tomorrow; they are the leaders of today. Heaven has charged them with the awesome responsibility of taking the final message of mercy to a dying world. In these final hours of Earth’s history, they may bear weighty responsibilities, lead in enterprise, and influence character as they develop the all-important power to think and do.


May God help us all to unite in the work of training this army of young people to take the three angels’ messages to the whole world, that we may see Christ come in this generation.




1 Ellen G. White, Education, p. 17.

2 Galatians 6:7.

3White, Education, p. 17.

4 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 330.

5 See White, Selected Messages, bk. 3, pp. 231-234.

6 White, Education, p. 18.

7 Daniel 1:20.

8 Daniel 1:17.

9 Ecclesiastes 10:17.

10 White, Education, p. 204.

11 Psalm 127:2.

12 White, Education, p. 205.

13 Ibid., p. 207.

14 White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 29.

15 White, Child Guidance, p. 395.

16 White, Education, p. 206.

17 2 Timothy 2:22.

18 See White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pp. 329-338.

19 White, Review and Herald, June 12, 1888.

20 Proverbs 23:7.

21 Philippians 4:8.

22 Psalm 119:98-100.

23 White, Steps to Christ, p. 90.

24 White, Education, p. 271.

25 White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 326, 327.

26 White, Ministry of Healing, p. 397.

27 Ezekiel 2:6.

28 White, The Great Controversy, pp. 609, 610.

29 Romans 8:31.

30 2 Kings 6:16.

31 Joshua 1:9.

32 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 835.

33 Hebrews 13:6.

34 White, Life Sketches, p. 196, emphasis added.