Editor – Scott, tell us what it was like for you growing up in an Adventist home? Did you naturally grow into a relationship with Jesus at an early age, or was it more difficult than that?
Ward – I grew up in the “Adventist System.” My parents took me to Sabbath School and church every week and made the sacrifice to send me to church school too. We also went to Pathfinders and camp meeting and even summer camp a few years. Everything Adventist families were supposed to do to raise kids — my parents did it — and I loved it all. Even after my parents divorced when I was in seventh grade and my mom left the church, she kept taking me and dropping me off at church on Sabbath because I asked to go. I was never rebellious or bored with church. I knew the dos and the don’ts — all the rules — and I kept them all to the best of my ability and understanding. And yet I found out shortly after high school that somehow attending all the right church-sponsored activities and embracing all the right behaviors hadn’t translated into a personal relationship with Jesus. After three years of Adventist college, I found myself drifting aimlessly in the secular college party scene doing what everyone else was doing — trying to find happiness and joy in all the wrong places.
Editor – You had a lot going for you spiritually, but somehow you missed the heart of what it was all about. You are a pastor today, so we know something changed. What happened?
Ward – God came after me. In the middle of the night — after partying late — God gave me a vision that one day I would work for Him as an evangelist or something. From that moment on, I knew I wouldn’t always live the lifestyle I was living at that time. When I told my girlfriend she was shocked to say the least! I set my sights on God and slowly started heading His way. I really had no other choice because at the same time I was feeling rather disgusted with myself and how far I had strayed from the morals I had grown up with. I could hardly stand the guilt associated with my lifestyle. God was pushing me away from the world and towards Himself at the same time. So, I decided to search for God until I found Him in a real and meaningful way. There was no way I was going back to a list of rules and behaviors. I knew there had to be more.
Editor – That’s a powerful story! Sounds like God definitely got your attention. So God turned you around and you started following him. Undoubtedly, there are some interesting stories that we could hear about where your journey has taken you, but I’m going to skip over all of that and ask you to talk about where you are today. God led you to begin a ministry to reach Adventist youth who attend public school. What led you to this?
Ward – When I moved to Lodi, Calif. and started serving as the youth pastor at the English Oaks church, a girl asked me to start a Bible study at her new high school. She had just graduated from the Adventist elementary school and had decided to go to public high school for the honors classes offered there. Since I had attended public high school for two years after graduating from an Adventist Elementary school and before going to boarding academy, I felt that it was really important to do something to help this girl in her spiritual journey. She said she knew she would miss Bible class and she was hoping I could bring some kind of spiritual experience into the middle of her school day.
Editor – OK, and out of this grew a ministry to high school kids (both Adventist, and kids of other faiths, or no faith). Why has this become your strong suit — the central focus of your ministry? Also tell us about “Living it” and the burden that God has placed on your heart!
Ward – Because of my experience growing up in the Adventist church — knowing all about God but not knowing Jesus personally — I have a huge burden to help students understand how to have a personal relationship with Jesus and how that relationship determines how they live their lives. I want to help as many young people as possible avoid my mistakes. I believe that the best way to help kids understand how a relationship with Jesus “works” is to meet them in the middle of their world and help them see how to apply their faith to the situations they face every day. For most teens the “middle of their world” where their faith is tried daily means on-campus — at school. And the huge bonus is that if a young person can learn to live their faith at school while they are still in their teens they will go on to live their faith in the workplace and be witnesses for Jesus wherever they go”even unto the ends of the earth!” This is incredibly important!
This is also why I developed www.livingiths.org. It is an online resource center designed to help leaders reaching out to students and for student leaders as well. There are video testimonies for showing in youth groups, at church and even on campus — all filmed by the Living It team. There are outreach ideas for meeting students in their world, a section for helping people to understand how the devotional life is the foundation and fuel for outreach evangelism and even a section that Loma Linda University’s Behavioral Health Department put together with advice for helping students engaging in at-risk behaviors. And we also just released a new iPhone/iPad App! Search the App store for “livingit” and you can download almost everything from the website into your phone for handy reference as you meet students in their world. The Android App will be coming soon.
My book, Authentic: where true life-changing Christianity begins, (Review and Herald, 2012) is also an important resource. It is a refined version of what I taught (and still teach) students in my campus clubs on how to have a personal relationship with Jesus while I was researching spiritual growth in teens for my Doctor of Ministry program. Pacific Union College gave copies of Authentic to all incoming freshmen this year to help them in their journey with Jesus as well. I’m just praising God for all the opportunities He is giving me to reach out and help young people and adults as well.
Editor – OK. Great! The book and the app are great resources that people can access. What if a church, or group of churches, wants you to come and share your story, or maybe help them get a ministry like this going in their area, are you available? If so, where can you be reached?
Ward – Absolutely, I do a lot of traveling to conventions and to churches to help them get this ministry started — it’s really taking off! The resource center is designed to help people get up and going on their own but I am happy come personally too. I have limited availability because I am still a full-time youth pastor as well. I’m pretty booked up for this year so I am taking reservations for next school year now. I can be contacted through the Living It website and also through my personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor – Thank you, Scott, for sharing with us! We wish you well as you continue your efforts and look forward to following your ministry.
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