I am no longer willing to accept or employ any philosophy or strategy of local church youth ministry that doesn’t include an explicit, conscious effort to minister to people in their 20’s. In my opinion it just doesn’t make sense.
But I’ve often asked myself why it happens? How did we get to a place where we care deeply about students age 12-18 but in many ways show very little concern for them after high school? I know that this is an exaggeration and that it is subjective to context and circumstance. Still, stop and consider the amount of time, energy, resource, literature, training and initiative that has gone into youth ministry for the last half century. Then compare that to what has gone into college and young adult ministry (specifically in the local church). Ouch right?
The following is by no means exhaustive, but here are a couple of my thoughts on this:
Junior High and High School Students represent potential financial income and other benefits for the overall church. They are a part of larger families and those families will invest time, talent and treasure if their children are cared for. Obviously college students and young adults are also a part of families. But the natural and culturally modeled transitions of the post high school and college age life stage foster circumstances where the family’s involvement is no longer contingent on the child’s. Oh, and vice versa. So college students and people in their 20’s generally represent a non-tithing, sometimes anti-involvement people group which requires a large investment from the church body (both financially and otherwise) with little to no immediate return. In other words, CYA ministry a lot of hard work with no paycheck.
In addition, for some good reasons (thought not really good enough), the church is generally afraid of people in their 20’s. I see it all the time when I try to get people to volunteer their time with young adults. We see them as relativistic, flakey, opinionated, addicted to technology, disrespectful, financially needy etc… They have good qualities too (trust me), but generally speaking their high school kids in grown up bodies to whom we given grown up responsibilities. However we must not forget a couple of things. First. remember that we created the world that they grew up in. The college students of this generation didn’t invent theological or moral relativism. And most of them didn’t purchase their first iPod, their first video game system or their first laptop. We, meaning the older generation, handed this stuff to them and didn’t realize until much later what the consequences would be. I say this not to excuse their behavior, but to give us perspective. Secondly I’d like to point out for clarity something that every youth pastor already knows: that there is a generational-culture gap which exists in the western world. One that divides people and has infiltrated the church. To oversimply for the sake of space: I’d say that youth ministry exists to address this divide. All in all we must realize that many older Christians have a significant amount of apprehension about connecting with and ministering to this generation of young people.
There are other reasons which can and hopefully will be discussed. However I’d like to switch gears at this point. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of presenting a seminar at the Bay Area Sunday School Convention (www.bassconvention.org) on how to develop a college and young adult ministry in the local church. Last Friday I was actually able to share in two separate seminars and I was blown away. Every time I do it I come away so encouraged by the people I meet who are struggling with the same issues that I am. These are people who are standing in the gap between the older and younger generations in their church, advocating for a more biblical community. I applaud them for their willingness to fail forward in this type of ministry and each year I am extremely grateful to have met them.
In light of both the above mentioned issues and the amazing people I met at BASS last Friday I’d like to remind us all of one thing: This ministry is important to God. You may be the only person (or group of people) in your church who is actually paying attention to this generation of young adults. It’s not that the rest of your church is “evil”, but it may be that they’re short-sighted. If anything they may just be scared, overwhelmed and/or un-equipped. Either way you must continue to advocate for a fully integrated Body of Christ that is willing to address every generation. Furthermore, remember that you are on the short list of adult christians that these young adults trust right now. Make the most of that opportunity because the Holy Spirit will use you to bear fruit in their lives!