In working with college students and young adults for over a decade now, let me try to concisely share 5 things they need from the Church.
1. Relationships - Are there a group of friendly young adults that can make friends with other young adults? Does the church have a solid group of Christian women that hang out Monday-Saturday? Does the church have a solid group of Christian men that hang out Monday-Saturday? You might notice that churches who attract young adults tend to get a lot of them and churches who don't attract young adults seem to be emptied of them. The Young Adult says, "If I have no friends my age at the church I want to attend, then I will choose friends over institution about 100% of the time"
2. Relationships - If the church is going to continuously talk and promote marriage as the normal Christian life, then there had better be some good, single, well-qualified Christian men or women to choose from at the church we want these 20 somethings to attend. If we do not provide young adults with a group through which they might be able to find a potential spouse, then they will probably go somewhere else that has a larger potential to get the Christian life about which they have always been taught. The Young Adult says, "the Church values marriage, I get that, but I am often unsure if they value me."
3. Relationships - Young Adults want to know the leaders of the church. They want to know the preacher who brings them the lesson every Sunday, because they want the lessons to connect the their life. They want to make sure the minister, pastor, preacher knows the world in which they live, and speaks to their experience of it. But more than that, they want to know the elders, bishops, shepherds. They want to know that the 20 something contingency is represented in leadership decisions. The Young Adult says, "I have a voice in my congregation, and I know the leadership here cares for people like me."
4. Relationships - you guessed it - young adults need older adults in their lives. I call them mentors, some call them life coaches, regardless of what you call them--they are people who have been there, don't that, and want to pass on some wisdom to younger generations. You wouldn't believe the impact one couple can make on a whole group of young adults when they invest. Often, students come into my office saying how thankful they are for the adults in their lives that listen, advise, and care for them. The Young Adult says, "Most of the time I try to have it together or at least fake it, but it is so refreshing to know that there are adults I can lean on when I need help."
5. Relationships - young adults need to foster their relationship with God, through Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. I assume that some of you are wondering why this is not number 1, but in the world of young adults, God is most powerfully experienced through human relationships. A young adult that is well connected in the church is also well connected to God, well, most of the time. So often we wait for young adults to get their relationship with God right before we really invest in them, or ask others to invest in them. However, if you find that that approach is not working, then maybe consider this one and watch how a young man will grow into a Man of God and a young woman will become a Woman of God through ENGAGEMENT and EMPOWERMENT in the CHURCH!
I haven't been blogging much lately, not because I don't have anything to say but because I have no time to really sit down and write. I want to take a moment to explain some of the interesting conversations that you might have had recently with a young adult or college students. I also want college students to understand something about themselves. so, here it goes... (this is from Wandering in the Wilderness and you can buy it here!)
Notions of AUTHORITY change in young adulthood. Older adults tend to find religious authority in an outside source (Bible, parents, teachers, ministers)... and so as children we learned that Jesus loved us--because the Bible told us so! Emerging adults (20-30 year olds) experience a shift so that religious authority is located inside themselves, in fact parents may want to argue that all authority is located within the self. This shift comes with recognizing that an individual must take responsibility for one's own knowing...even at the level of faith.
Take a conversation about sexual experience for example:
55 year old parent: How can you say that having casual sexual experiences isn’t wrong? The Bible is quite clear on the issue. There are several passages of scripture that make obvious that sex outside of the commitment of marriage is a sin. And, there’s a long history within the church condemning such actions.
25 year old child: Yes, but I just don’t think God would condemn two people for loving one another. They’re not hurting anyone! Why can’t we just the issue alone? It doesn’t make any sense to say that God is love and that we ought to love one another and then to turn around and say, “Oh, that’s only for married people.” I think it threatens us because if we were given the choice, we would all choose to have sex with several people before settling down with just one.
In this conversation, the parent is arguing from “outside” authority, while the child argues from “inside” authority. Young people operate in the: “If it works for me, then I’ll accept it. If not, then I’ll reject it,” line of thinking and this is the pragmatism they tend to speak about a lot --therefore, this is a real danger
Calling young people back to the Bible is extremely important, as is taking the Bible seriously and applying it well when speaking to young people. When a young person shifts to the mature position of authority being located in an "outside" source, then the Bible, God, and wise counsel can be heard once again. Like Jesus said..."Those who have ears to hear, let them hear..." Open our ears, Lord!
If you are an emerging adult - I want you to listen to your justifications and explanations and see if you are operating from an "inside" authority or "outside" authority. Understand that the God of the Bible claims to be more than relatively true to you, the God of the Bible claims to be truthfully relevant to all peoples. If I am the only source of authority, then there can be no transferable lessons...and that is where older adults have us, they believe that lessons learned can be handed down, mistakes can be avoided, right living can be sought, and these things are validated in "outside" sources of ethics and morality.
I want to apologize for not writing in a while. I have been getting ready for a new baby and taking care of my extended family. While I like to blog thoughts and ideas, my blog is not high on my priority list when it comes to family, projects, and ministry. However, I was talking to Crystal, one of my co-workers at Soma, about how some students never seem ready for life outside of school, or life beyond the preparation years of high school and college.
This conversation reminded me of a game I used to play as a kid. All children play it, I'm sure. The game is hide-and-seek and while there are several variations to it, there are a few things that are standard. First, there is a designated person to be "it" and he or she counts to a preselected number and then he or she will come search for everyone who is hiding. Second, everybody else has a simple task -- find a place to hide in the amount of time given and don't get caught. If you get caught, then you have to be the one searching for everybody in the next round.
Of course, there is that critical moment of time where the person who is "it" announces, "Ready or not...here I come!" and the children who have not managed their time well will dive into a crevice or just lay down in the middle of the field.
I personally believe that in life we have periods to prepare for whatever it is that life will throw our way. That period of time is not infinite and sometimes I think I hear life tell me, "Ready or not..."
I think graduation is a moment like that, whether it be high school or college...life is about to happen whether you're ready or not.
Having a baby is like that for sure!
So is most of life's biggest risks and rewards.
Back to the game - when I was ready, hidden, and knew I had done well -- "Ready or not..." was not a threat to me but a way of knowing that something cool was happening, the game (or round in the game) was about to happen. I had put myself in position to be successful. But when I was scrambling, trying to find my place, trying to slow my breathing because I had just settled into my spot--"Ready or not..." was a warning.
It is a simple game, but contains something we can take with us. When we take the time to prepare for the upcoming "round" of life, it is not scary or threatening, but a chance for success. Sure, life isn't a game and sometimes it hands you things that you didn't see coming. However, often the things we didn't see coming are more stressful and more dramatic because we haven't taken the time to prepare for what we know is coming, and the unexpected things have just piled on top of every day things!
So, "READY OR NOT...HERE I COME!" Are we prepared?? (Do I need to mention that Jesus will say this too someday... and there is preparation that needs to be done for that as well.)
So...Being a campus minster and all I think that part of my job description is to write on the topic of the transition from youth group to college and how to continue on the faith journey AWAY FROM HOME. My friend George Welty at White Station asked me to present a practical lesson on how seniors can stay connected to Jesus. Here are, what I think to be, the important things. However, I do need to caution that this is not a check list or a fail safe methodology. This is the bare minimum we can do to continue to grow spiritually in college. I like what Michael Pakaluk wrote in his article entitled “Keeping your faith in college”
“One obviously wrong presupposition is that keeping the faith is a matter of reading some good advice and putting it into practice. If that were true, then every reader of a diet book would be thin, and every subscriber to a golf magazine would shoot par. The basic problem is that when the advice would come in most handy, the person who needs it is not likely to consult it, or care enough about it if he did.”
Ok - so buckle yourself in because here we go...but reading this will do you no good unless you have the boldness to actually TRY them...
1. Growth - You must decide right now to stay faithful no matter what life throws in our direction and we must decide that we are still in the process of being changed to be more like Christ.
A traditional story:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 "wolves" inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
2. Focus - Sometimes you need to stop looking at the landscape so you can fix your gaze on the next important step you're about to take. If you start getting overwhelmed by life, stop trying to figure out the next 50 years and start trying to take the very next step. (And cut out the distractions)
Francis Chan writes in Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit:
“It is easy to use the phrase 'God's will for my life' as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. ... My hope is that instead of searching for 'God's will for my life' each of us would learn to seek hard after 'the Spirit's leading in my life today.' May we learn to pray for an open and willing heart, to surrender to the Spirit's leading with that friend, child, spouse, circumstance, or decision in our lives right now.”
3. Mentors - Find older people you want to be like some day who are open to sharing their life with you. Ask them to intentionally help you stay faithful to Jesus and become more like Jesus.
We need to search for people who live like Paul, who said this:
1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
4. Community - I want you to not buy into the lie that colleges are to blame for your faith decisions, nor are they the reason for your spiritual growth. No matter where you go to college there will be opportunities to engage in authentic Christian community and cheap substitutes... you need to know the difference!
When Paul talks about community that produces freedom in the New Testament, he assumes: (from Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 25.)
...from certain things like sin and Law and death and spiritual powers
...for certain things like doing right, following Jesus, and suffering
...resulting in a personal and life-giving experience of liberty
...upon Christ, who provides the hope of Salvation
...upon the Spirit, who gives us our gifts so we can participate in the life of
...with others, since liberty leads to service and can only be practically applied
to other people’s needs
...with the world, since all of creation will experience the transformation along
with those of us in Christ
...there is an interplay between the social and the cosmic, the personal and the
public, the human and the divine.
If you are trying to follow Christ but feel enslaved by a community, it’s probable that you have not found a settlement of the Kingdom of God on your campus.
5. Study - Yes, it is important to read your books and actually get the education that you are paying for, but I think it is also important to take your questions and new ideas to the Bible. We need to know what the Bible says about that... whether it’s drinking alcohol, the role sex plays in our relationships, sin of any sort, or even a decision we are about to make like declaring a major, finding a spouse. Don’t neglect the Word, because
America’s favorite Bible Verse is "God helps those who help themselves," which originates from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac
Remember the words of Paul to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
6. Experience - I here it all the time from the University of Memphis, they are no longer marketing an education, but an experience to students. I mean, you have heard it too...
The Great Commission says this: Matt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Notice that this doesn’t ask you to know more but to be about the experience of the Christian life, which involves knowing but doesn’t stop at that point.
7. BUILD - understand that you, in your first 18 years of life, have been given a foundation upon which to build. And this transition out of youth group and out of mom and dad’s house is a chance for you to take what you have been given and use it as you build your life.
Finally, we come to the way Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 7:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I want to end with another quote from Michael Pakaluk, he wrote
“No one writes books on how to avoid losing your faith on the golf course, or working in the insurance agency, or spending time with your family. College after all is education. Education is supposed to build up, not attack...So what is wrong with this "education" which has the tendency to tear down the most important human goods (like faith)?”
Go to college understanding that your faith is good, and that your faith journey is a inherently good part of who we are. Education, ultimately, is suppose to help you build your thoughts, skills, and character although there has been a tendency to ignore the third part of this triad. College can be a place in which your faith is tested and tried, but it can also be a place where your faith become your own and where you faith begins to help you find your mission in this world full of opportunity.
Let me just tell you young people this because I know it, I have lived it. Your choices have a way of coming back and choosing you. You think that a choice you make will just go away, but you have to live out the consequences and we are proof that the consequences have a way of choosing you...
Earl is an awesome follower of Jesus, but (in his own words) many who he used to be friends with wouldn't believe their eyes now. He leads a group of men, who have all been addicted and imprisoned because of their use and abuse. They share life together now that they are out of jail, and I was privileged to gain some wisdom for them tonight. Picture a room full of tough looking men, some with tattoo sleeves down each arm, most with hard skin...
But then they talk.
Absolute inspiration comes from their mouths. Earl looked around the room full of about 40 empty chairs and says.
I know when you look at this room, you see empty chairs. I see all of the people that should be in this room but didn't get the chance. I see my friends. I visit graves to talk to them. I visited my father's grave when I got out of jail and laid flowers on his stone. I told him, "Do you see what it took for me to be here, to do this."
The conversation is straightforward and real. It is a confession of the struggle to live life one day at a time without using. Another brother speaks up, I'd guess he was in his 50s and was talking about facing bad memories of his parents...
My mother asked me to visit my dying step-dad and I didn't want to go because he had always been a bully. I went for her though. He had suffered a stroke, and the doctor was sure he would suffer another one and that would be it. But in that bed he wasn't the bully I remembered, in fact he was like a little kid. His eyes were different and he told me that he loved me and I walked out of that room with tears in my eyes. I should have responded better, but I didn't know what to do.
Story after story, each man opened his heart and bore witness to the change they are receiving though the power of Jesus as Earl reminds us all that God is "right here in the room with us." Each one, fighting to think anything of himself and yet I saw them as GIANTS in the eyes of God. Why? Because tonight as I heard them tell their transformation stories, it was so easy to know that God is real, that God is active, and that God is the reason why these men live with hope and are full of peace and have a love for one another.
Earl leads this house full of men, and he confesses that he doesn't want to be right, he wants to see the mercy of God. He knows that each man will fall down, but he wants to see them get back up. It reminded me that the opposite of hypocrisy is not perfection, but integrity. These men have gone from a life on the street, lying and hiding, to being open and honest and they are learning to be authentic with each other and their families.
They know they make terrible choices, which is why they landed themselves in jail. JAIL - PRISON - such interesting terms. We associate them with a place with razor wire and bars and confinement . And to see these men pursuing freedom in Christ is encouraging and awe striking.
As I sat there, though, I wondered about me and about you. Sure, my choices haven't landed me in jail, but do I sometimes feel prisoned by them? Can I admit that I make terrible choices and need a community to hold me accountable? Have I been transformed in such a way that God is made alive to others in my testimony?
Every time I chose to believe I'm less than what God says I am...
Every time I act out of pure emotion instead of slowing down to hear the Spirit's voice...
Every time I hold onto some resentment because of past experience...
Every time I hide myself from others so that they can have a better image of me...
Every time I forget to seek the guidance of Christian Community...
My choices catch up with me and the consequences are more than I bargained for...
Thank you Earl for being a MAN OF GOD and showing me what CHURCH looks like tonight!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.