Recently I”ve been thinking about the term young adult.
What does it mean to be a young adult? And specifically what does it mean to be a young adult in the church? We use the term often in regards to ministry and I”m sure most people have a fairly clear idea what they mean by it, but as I thought about it I realised, it”s really quite ambiguous…as if you are an adult, grown up, mature…but not quite.
Even more confusing is the fact that the term is used differently in different parts of the world. At the age of 27, I generally refer to myself as an adult. In the British Methodist Church, youth is a term that stops applying once you get to 23 and after that you no longer have a specific age label. In other countries, you are considered a youth right up to the age of 40 and in the WMC we use the term youth and young adult to refer to 18-35 year olds.
As a young adult, I occupy what feels like a transitional space.
Not one thing or the other.
I can go from feeling mature and confident to young and inexperienced in the same day, depending on the situation and the company.
To my 7 year old daughter I am old- the grown up who knows what to do in any situation and is responsible for meeting the vast majority of her needs.
Last week, my 29 year old husband was asked by a 14 year old from our church, “Why are you going to college. Aren”t you old?” (His response was to immediately come home and have a shave!)
But when I sit at a church meeting, I am often the youngest in the room- surrounded by doctors and bishops, theological scholars and grandparents.
At gatherings of my extended family there are 2 generations who are older and wiser than me.
There are many joys and struggles to being this age in church and the following is by no means an exhaustive list but based on my own experiences and context;
We get a free pass to challenge things
Young people are expected to question the status-quo. From my own experience, its the easiest time in life (certainly in church) to stand up and say what isn”t working and what needs to change.
Maybe because whilst we are adults, we haven”t had time to get ingrained and heavily invested in the current structures.
But it”s not just about standing up and complaining about everything we don”t like.
We have a chance to speak prophetically into the the life of the church and be listened to, to effect change in the way the church interacts with society.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Sometimes we are patronised.
The flip-side of the previous point.
Maybe you”ve experienced a situation like this; You stand up in a meeting or a service and share an important vision for the future or a challenge to the question of how the Church should be more relevant to the world.
Everyone claps and pats you on the head and tells you how great your are and how they need more young people who are passionate like you!
And next week, next month, a year later… everything is exactly as it always was.
Your ideas were noted and even praised but somehow it never translates into real action.
Or how about when it”s pointed out that we need more young adults involved in decision making…more meaningful participation.
And so in a meeting of 20 people there is 1 guy under the age of 40….bonus points if he”s part of another minority group.
In some parts of the world there is a real problem with young people and young adults being excluded from decision making in the church.
It”s rarely deliberate or malicious.
But it”s still a problem.
Unfortunately there is no quick fix. It”s about chipping away over time. Explaining the importance of all-age participation.
If participation is a new concept for you, try these websites for more info;
There are two sides to this point.
We”re close enough in age to young people (under 18″s) that we”re in a position to befriend and mentor without seeming like a parent or a teacher. This is valuable to both age groups .
However this can and frequently does become an assumption that we will be good at youth work because we are young.
For some young adults this is simply not the case and can be extremely irritating when they are expected to repeatedly engage in a ministry that is not one of their gifts to the exclusion of all else.
The Missing Generation
In some parts of the world our peers are leaving the church in droves…if they were ever there in the first place.
There are numerous articles and pieces of research as to why this is. Just type “young adults in church” into Google and you”ll find scores of them.
It can be especially tricky, not to mention lonely, to maintain an active faith within the church when you are one of only a handful under the age of 50.
It”s not that we can”t make meaningful friendships with older adults, but it”s also important to have other Christians around who are hitting the same milestones as us around the same time and who are experiencing life in similar ways.
We Are One Part of a Whole
We don”t do it alone. As with any age group, there are unique challenges that we face.
But God created us to live in community. To share our frustrations and our triumphs. To quote a church pastor I met a couple of weeks ago, “You need a broad mix of ages in a church. If you”re all old you”re dying and if you”re all young you”re broke.”
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
1 Cor 12.12-14
Mrs. Christy-Anna Errington
Chair, Youth and Young Adult Committee
World Methodist Council