Port Austin Bible Campus: A New Home, A New Hope

By Norman Edwards


What began as a desire to start a post-secondary school for Sabbatarian young people has blossomed into a much larger plan. Through the efforts of several believers, we now have a much better understanding of what we can do to help Sabbatarian believers today.

CoG Half-Life less than 15 Years

Bill Lussenheide, a long-time UCG member who runs a marketing company and has friendships within many of the Church of God (“CoG”) groups, wrote to the CEM forum:

“UCG has done a demographic study of its membership and its ministry. The median age is 58 plus. This compares to the United States national average age of 37. For many months, I have done a private "Death to Birth" ratio study of the various CoG member publications. For nearly all organizations, the ratio is about 2.5 to 3 deaths for every birth. Twentieth anniversary or higher notices outnumber wedding announcements by about the same ratio. Anyone who does not see that the CoG organizations are old compared to CoG demographics 30 years ago, has a poor memory.

“There will be individual congregations that have unique demographics that differ from this, so do not email telling me such. I am talking about collective stats, which have less sampling errors. The COG has a half life of less than 15 years, in which half of its members will have deceased, and the other half will have a half life of just 7 years. Unless the COG Organizations can grow a NET gain of memberships of greater than 7% a year starting immediately, then they are demographically doomed."

The above quote is now two years old—that median age is probably closer to 60 now. Retirements are now the order of the day. How did we get to be such an “old” group?

Most of the older members have had children. The first problem is that most of those children do not remain in the Church of God groups. Secondly, if our own young people do not remain among us, can we really expect many other young people to become new members?

Why do our young people leave? This writer has addressed the subject with dozens of young people. It is perhaps better, though, to ask the opposite question: Why should they stay?

The answer most CoG members would probably give is: “Because we have the truth”. When it comes to knowing scriptures, many Church of God groups are probably much better off than the average church congregation. However, there are more spiritual gifts than the gift of knowledge. When it comes to love for neighbors, taking care of the poor, helping disadvantaged people, healing the sick, receiving direct guidance from God (prophesying), teaching Bible basics, understanding young’ people’s difficulties, etc., the Church of God groups are often far behind.

Furthermore, it is difficult for young people when they are told they must stay in a Church of God group because it “has the right doctrine”, and then many of the Sabbatarian weekly services and publications are devoted to debating doctrine. The complex doctrines that require some knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are not helpful to young people who are trying to learn the basics—trying to apply the Bible to find a purpose for their life, a career, and a spouse.

Outsiders See Us the Way We Are

Nevertheless, some CoG congregations are doing a credible job of reaching some new believers with the Gospel—either in print or by personal example. But when new believers look at independent Sabbatarian congregations, they still do not want to join. Why? They see the same thing the young people see: groups that claim to be the “main one” with the truth. Through use of the Internet or published directories, these new believers realize that there are many similar groups and that probably none of them has “all the truth”. Furthermore, they see other congregations that do a much better job of serving the needy, teaching young people, preaching to unbelievers, etc. If a church group is not doing a good job of retaining its own young people, why would someone want to join it? Would not they face, as they grow older, the same prospect of their own children leaving that church group?

Neither the Church of God corporate groups nor the independent groups provide a place to educate young people. The lessons of history are obvious: nearly every Christian movement that has continued through generations has provided a way to educate young Christians. For example, only 16 years after the pilgrims landed, Harvard University was founded in 1636, with nine students and one teacher, “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.” Even though they had every economic reason to think they should build forts, farms and factories first, the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony put a priority on Christian education (see www.hno.harvard.edu/guide/intro/).

Even though most of the young people in a religious movement may not attend its educational institution, the very existence of the place produces a standard to which many of the young people in the movement seek to attain. For every student who goes to a church institution, there are usually several more who say, “I can be a success without going there—I can keep my religious beliefs and still learn to make a living and start a family of my own.” But without any standard, it is easy for many young people to say, “It can’t be done; I give up.” It is also easy for those considering joining the group to say, “They don’t provide any path for their young people. Why should I work with them?”

CoG Knowledge Worth Preserving

We must never take the vain approach that “God has to use us” to take His message to the world. The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day took that approach and were ineffective in helping people to know God. On the other hand, we do have a lot of teaching worth preserving. We should not just lay down and die—leaving our young people to drift away, spelling the end of the Church of God movement.

Keeping the biblical Sabbath in a free environment is an idea well worth preserving. Most Christian groups that teach the Sabbath also claim that they are the main or only church organization that God is using. This approach gives the Sabbath a bad name and many Christians do not take well to its observance because it seems to be a doctrine associated with cults. The Sabbath was not created to be kept by a few people in small church groups, suffering because they are different from the rest of the world. While that may actually happen, the Sabbath was created as a blessing for all mankind (Gen 2:2-3; Mark 2:27). It will be a blessing in the future (Is 66:22-23).

Young people (older ones, too) need an example of the Sabbath blessing; they do not need to see it as the thing that stops them from obtaining the school, the job or the spouse that they desire. As they go throughout the world, believers need to be able to proclaim the blessing of what it is like to live in an environment where everyone keeps the Sabbath. They will turn many to the Sabbath. Young people who grow up resenting the Sabbath but keep it because “God will punish me if they don’t” do not usually teach many people to keep the Sabbath.

During their late teens and early twenties, most young people rethink what they have been taught. They decide what they believe, not just what their parents believe. They begin to council with many adults other than their parents. It is a natural bonding time—a time to make friends and to look for a spouse. It is good for parents to do whatever they can to make sure that their young people have access to as many other caring, Sabbath-observing believers as possible. There are several ways that parents achieve this:


1.  Encourage their young person to stay at or near home among a solid Sabbatarian family and congregation—getting a job or going to a local or Internet school. This does not work well if the home environment is not stable or if there are few other young people in the congregation. If the young people do not get along with the parents or are disinterested in the local congregation, this approach rarely ever works.


2.  Send them to Seventh Day Adventist school. The Seventh Day Adventists have excellent schools and certainly teach the Sabbath. However, many students emerge from school having become or planning to marry a Seventh Day Adventist. Sometimes, the young people can still get along well with their parents; other times there is much friction as some SDAs do not consider non-SDAs as brethren.


3.  Send them to a Sunday-observing Christian school. These schools vary greatly, from somewhat supportive of the Sabbath to teaching that Sabbath observance is “legalism” that will send the observer straight to “hell”. They are usually less tolerant of Sabbath-keeping than secular schools.


4.  Send them away from home to a secular college or university. While these schools theoretically are religion-neutral, they teach evolution and the human need for sexual promiscuity as if they were undisputed scientific facts. While most Christians resist these ideas, the overwhelming amount of money and minds convinced of these ideas at universities takes its toll on Christians. While this approach may be the most destructive to young people, Christian parents frequently feel compelled to send their young people to the “best school” so they can get the “best job”, forgetting Matthew 6:33.

Young People’s Needs

What do young people really need to make the transition from being “a child of Christian parents” to being “a Christian Parent”?


1.       Their own commitment to God. This requires much more than the young person’s being schooled by Christian parents and required to live by biblical principles. The question is not even this: “Has the young person made a public commitment to Christ or been baptized?” Some parents teach their children to do these things at a certain age, so they do it like any other parental expectation. The young person must decide for him or herself that they will follow God. This process usually involves the young person deciding to study the Bible for themselves and deciding to talk to other spiritual mentors beside their parents. The involvement of other Christian teachers solidifies that the young person is coming to their own decision, not simply continuing a naive following of their parents. Even Jesus followed the common Jewish practice of 12-year old boys beginning to learn from others outside the family (Luke 2:42-46).


2.       Responsibility and wisdom to manage their own affairs. This encompasses a great number of things, and is often totally underestimated by parents. It covers such diverse things as:

§         getting enough sleep and getting up on time without parental prompting

§         taking responsibility to eat a good diet and get enough exercise

§         cleaning up after themselves

§         spending money for necessary things rather than entertainment

§         sifting their way through government and business bureaucracy

§         finding where to purchase goods and services at reasonable prices

§         avoiding unnecessary insurance and extra-cost options

§         avoiding the various scams and traps set to prey on young people

§         learning to recognize when they are lacking knowledge on a situation, and then finding ways through friends, the Internet, etc. to gain the knowledge to make a good decision

§         learning to conduct their life for the benefit of themselves and others, as Christ directs, rather than simply letting colleges, companies and congregations replace their parents as authorities

In most cases, it is far easier for young people to appropriate money to buy alcohol or drugs and to just “chill out” than it is for them to do the above things. Unfortunately, parents and teachers do not always do the best job of teaching these important lessons.


3.       A means of supporting themselves. This subject, and the education required to obtain a good job, are frequently the major focus of the world’s institutions in helping young people. A means of support is important, but it is also important for a Christian to do something useful with his or her life. While many people receive a big paycheck for either making or selling things that are actually harmful to consumers, is that the kind of job that a Christian should have? Centuries ago, Christians actually taught their young people to study to be a scientist, doctor, teacher, minister, lawyer or statesmen so that they could help make the world a better and more just place. Another consideration is that college education does not always provide the economic benefit that it promises. This writer saw one study that indicated over half of college graduates would have been financially better off if they had simply invested their college tuition and gone to work right away. Another study showed that seven years after graduation, half of college students are not working at a job related to their college degree. College is certainly the right choice for some young Christians. But for many, it can be a frustration when better solutions are available.


4.       Christian friends and a Christian spouse. Parents of teens are frequently frustrated by their young people wanting to “be with their friends” rather than being with their family, doing what is most logical to improve their physical or spiritual lot in life. But while their choices are seldom perfect, developing close and deep friendships outside of one’s family is exactly what maturing young people should be doing. God places the responsibility on the young man to leave his parents to start a new family (Gen 2:24). A long-time Sabbatarian youth-leader said: “Christian young people need to meet 100 other young people of similar beliefs so that they can find 10 life-long good friends that will encourage them in their faith and, from those, find that one special person with whom they will be able to marry, raise children, and share their life.”

How PABC Fulfills the Need

PABC does not claim to be the solution for everyone, but it does attempt to provide help for the four “young people’s needs” mentioned above:


1.       Their own commitment to God. PABC has daily half-hour Bible studies and encourages everyone in attendance to share their opinions, however diverse. This encourages everyone to study the Bible on their own, which experience has shown, most members do. All of the older mentors are long-time Sabbath-keepers and available to teach and study with the young people. Biblical principles are included in the day-to-day operations and are frequently discussed. Young people are not pressured to be baptized, but when they do make the decision to do so, it is an important event that everyone attends.


2.       Responsibility and wisdom to manage their own affairs. PABC does not have a lot of rules and regulations. Young people are often left to their own initiative to make things happen. They are encouraged along the way, but not forced. Yet if young people were to get involved in some grossly sinful, dangerous or illegal activity, the members would certainly do what is necessary to quickly intervene. Frequent discussions of the use of Christian principles in everyday life help young people think about what is important and what is not. From food to auto repair to haircuts, PABC encourages the principles of self-reliance as opposed to simply solving all of one’s problems with hard-earned money. In short, PABC looks out for the best interests of the young people, rather than, as many schools do, introducing them to a series of book, clothing, photographic, insurance and other vendors, each of which only seeks to make a profit.


3.       A means of supporting themselves. PABC helps young people discover their natural abilities and encourages them to work in an area where they are naturally gifted. PABC provides opportunities for them to try their hand at various jobs over the space of a few weeks, whereas in the job market, someone who changes jobs every few months will have a hard time getting his next job.  In areas such as writing, website design, graphics production, music recording, etc., a portfolio of one’s own work, and some documented experience in a production environment is often all that is necessary to obtain a good job. Technical jobs, such as construction, auto repair and refrigeration repair can be learned “on the job”, and the person can become certified to work on their own simply by taking tests. Future articles will explain the biblical concept of “apprenticeship” as found in the Bible and why it is often better than a “school” environment. The PABC staff realizes that there are some jobs which require a college decree. When a student knows that he or she wants to go into such a field, PABC encourages college—especially if there is a school where the student can associate with other believers. PABC would also encourage young people to live at PABC and take college classes from Internet schools as available. In addition to work on the PABC campus, PABC plans to make arrangements for young people to work part time in local businesses as well.


4.       Christian friends and a Christian spouse. PABC is a place to make friendships on all three of the levels described in the previous section: Christian acquaintances, life-time friends, and possibly a life-long spouse. PABC should not be considered a match-making service and it is not the purpose of the staff to “find somebody” for anyone. Many Sabbatarian young people grow up in small congregations and are able to only spend a comparatively small amount of time with other like-minded people. While parents cannot choose their offspring’s friends, they can do a lot to put their young person in a place where there will be many potential friends of similar beliefs. Obviously, the more people who come to PABC, the more potential friends each one will have. We appreciate the pioneering spirit of those who have and will come while it is small. In a few years, with increased size, the benefits should be obvious to all.

How PABC Works

The goals of PABC, summarized below, will be expounded upon in future issues:


1.     Organization as a Christian community, living by biblical law and the New Testament principles of Christianity. Most of the way we live today is based on ideas promoted by schools, big businesses and government—not on Bible concepts. Most of us, including myself, do not even yet know how far we have strayed, and are still trying to make the journey back.

We will have many articles explaining this in detail, but two examples are offered: Today, when someone does something that hurts someone else, rather than focusing on making the injured party whole and quickly correcting the person who did wrong (Eccl 8:11), our society frequently adds more rules in an effort to prevent the crime or the mistake. The result today is obvious: we have more rules and laws than at any previous time in history, and more people suffering from crimes and mistakes. Similarly, when one person offends another, modern thinking is to go to the authorities who will resolve the matter confidentially, whereas Matthew 18:15-17 teaches each person to first attempt to resolve the issue himself, then to involve witnesses, and finally to involve the whole congregation if necessary.

In case anyone is worried, we do not plan to carry out the biblical penalties or reinstitute the Levitical priesthood. People with severe problems will simply be sent out of the community upon the agreement of the congregation. There are also principles to be learned from the Levitical laws, but sacrifices and other procedures simply ended with the sacrifice of Christ and the destruction of the temple.

Acts 2 and 4 indicate that the original disciples worked very closely together on a daily basis. Resources were pooled and many expenses were shared—yet nobody was constrained to give any money or share any resources unless they wanted to. However, PABC is firmly committed to avoid the one mistake that the disciples apparently made: being too focused on themselves and not enough on going out to preach the gospel.

“At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4).

Had the brethren already been going out diligently to preach the gospel, there may have been no need to scatter them. This dispersal from Jerusalem was not permanent, as Acts 12 shows other brethren back in Jerusalem and Acts 15 shows many brethren in Jerusalem. Similarly, if we do not fulfill the functions that God wants, we can expect that He will break up PABC.


2.     Be a light to the surrounding neighborhood. Leaders must “have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1Tim 3:7). Some ministries, especially ones with a national audience, are virtually unknown in their communities. We have a large outdoor sign inviting visitors to our services and will be starting an evening drop-in for local young people. Any group that is not a light to its neighbors probably should not be teaching others to be a light to their neighbors.


3.     Educate young people in the Bible, Christian service and ways to make a living. The main purpose is to give young people a hand in how to be a Christian in today’s often corrupt world. It is not only to teach them what the Bible says. They need to see how they can live a totally different life and how they can make a difference. PABC life includes both learning and practical work. Everyone at PABC will work toward a certificate of ministry—not for commanding people and churches, but of service to others.


4.     Provide a place for retired Sabbatarians. Many Sabbatarians are physically far away from their families—or estranged from them due to differences in beliefs. In too many cases, once large local congregations are now small or non-existent. The remaining members of the church would perhaps like to live among believers, especially as they grow older. These brethren often still have a lot of ability and wisdom that they can share with young people. These brethren have numerous options—they can buy a house in the area, live on campus full-time or live on campus just during the summer. In the future, PABC might be able to help financial hardship cases, but now, it needs to rely on people who have some kind of funding, but who are also able to help.


5.     Provide a place for Christian retreats, summer camps and biblical Feasts. These activities are very beneficial to Christians. Facilities for such places are not always easy to find. They provide opportunity for other groups to learn from the teachings of PABC and for PABC members to learn from the teachings of the other groups. While PABC operates these activities on an offering basis, the offerings from them make it possible to improve the facilities.


6.     Provide a variety of Bible evangelism and teaching tools, including CDs and DVDs, that others may freely use. Much biblical truth has been learned by the Church of God groups, but most of it is contained in copyrighted booklets, magazines and newsletters that are no longer available after their publishers stop producing them. It will be most useful to provide both a basic level and a thorough level of literature on the Internet and in print so that it will be freely available for decades to come. The in-depth studies include multiple views of some issues when there are several approaches derived from the Bible, but each one starts with a different set of “clear” Scriptures. These multiple approaches allow each believer to study—possibly adding more knowledge to what PABC has presented—and to do what they believe God shows them. Multiple approaches also helps one to appreciate different views, and to accept those who hold them as sincere Bible-studying brethren (if that is the case), even though they may have a different conclusion. Christian music is another important aspect—showing people everywhere that Sabbatarians can produce good music that honors our Father. PABC hopes to add Christian drama and video production.


7.     Produce written, audio and video records of how this community works so that others can do similar things. These will be for the benefit of other believers who can implement some of what is done at PABC. This will not just include doctrine and experiences at PABC, but will also include practical help on such things such as starting one’s own business, organically growing one’s own food, searching for medical help on the Internet, avoiding military service, home schooling, home birth, avoiding vaccines, etc.

Where Is PABC Going?

Since purchasing the property 20 months ago, we have accomplished many things. A significant part of the property has been paid off and long term financing should be achieved in the next month or two. Many things that were broken have been repaired. The campus has successfully operated through one winter and is now into its second winter. Two successful music camps were held—see page 9 to see how you may obtain the CD that was recorded.

Some of the people who originally started with the Port Austin project have left, but others have since come to help. See the article on page 13 for a list of the people and their abilities. At first, there were a lot more operational and legal problems with the property than expected: a defunct condominium association needed revival to operate the water and sewer plant, improperly deeded property needed to be corrected, new surveys were required, and more. Now that those things have been dealt with, we are able to focus more on the mission of PABC.

The Port Austin Bible Campus is organized as a free church ministry and the Port Austin Bible Church is organized as a free church. There is no corporation and no IRS 501(c)(3) status. These are non-denominational efforts to provide a specific service to the Body of Christ. We are all opposed to forming a denomination or some national organization governing local churches. There is not a “test of doctrine” to become a member, but those who come are expected to obey the Ten Commandments, to respect personal convictions of others (such as clean meat laws), and to follow basic biblical principles of love toward each neighbor. The purpose of PABC is to serve Sabbatarian young people and brethren, in whatever group they may attend.

The financial story of the campus has been little short of a miracle. There has been just enough money to make the $4348 payment most months—it was late a few times. Most of the money has come from a few people who put their life savings into the project and/or borrowed as much as they could to do it. Others have given generous offerings. With the generous support given to Servants’ News in the past, we believe it is possible for PABC to continue until it eventually becomes self-supporting.

We hope to hear from many of you. Please return the survey letting us know that you want to continue receiving Servants News by Mail. We would also appreciate your filling out the survey about Sabbatarian young people. Please let us know if you are interested in helping or attending. If there is a young person you know who you think might be interested, encourage them to call/e-mail us—or us to call them. Thank you very much for your interest and willingness to read this article all the way through!


Port Austin Bible Campus

PO Box 474

Port Austin, Michigan 48467