I was talking with a young adult recently. He came from a Christian family and had been following his parents to church from young. He said he felt the need to visit other churches to taste and see other Christian traditions. Like many young adults he wanted to take responsibility for choosing his church and denomination, and that required his evaluating other churches and other church traditions. But he was worried that his parents would not understand.
I sympathised with him and felt that he had every right to relook at his faith as he journeyed into adulthood. I felt that he should pray about it and then gently explain his desire to his parents. After all, the Christian faith is bigger than his church and his denomination. I told him that at this stage of life, he had every right to relook at his deepest convictions. Indeed he needed to do so.
He was not questioning the Christian faith. In fact I sensed that his faith was quite robust and sound. But he had reached a stage of life where he was no longer equating the Christian faith with a church or a denomination. And he wanted to be sure that he was following a Christian tradition because he wanted to and not just because he had inherited it from his parents.
In fact, if he had said that he wanted to relook at the Christian faith itself I would have supported him. Second- or third-generation Christians may not have experienced a crisis of conversion. They never had to make a deliberate choice to follow Christ. They went to church and entered Christendom because of their parents. At some point, though, they need to think through the matter and decide for themselves. And young adulthood, when people are beginning to take responsibility for their lives, should be the time.
In his book Wandering in the Wilderness (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2011), Brian Simmons writes:
By what criteria are some beliefs accepted and others rejected? Previously, the right answer was whatever emerging adults were taught by some authority figure such as parents, ministers, or the Bible. But now they realize that they are at a point where they get to (and must) choose to retain those beliefs (or not). Even granting the Bible as an authority on the topic is itself a religious belief to be chosen. The enormity and complexity of such choices about belief can be overwhelming. As one emerging adult told me over lunch one day, “Right now I feel as if everything is up for grabs in my faith. I’m not sure what I believe or even how to sort it all out.” (43)
Matthew 16:13–16 records this exchange between Jesus and HIs disciples:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”(NIV)
I imagine Jesus asking young adults the same question and they answer, “my parents say you are . . . the church says you are . . . etc.” Then He turns to the young adults themselves and asks “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
Instead of resisting the questions of young adults who are trying to take responsibility for their own faith journeys, we should welcome them and maybe even encourage them. Instead of being defensive, we should be ready to give honest credible answers. Yes, our young adults may end up moving away from their church and/or denomination, or maybe even moving away from the faith itself, but it would be their choice. I believe it is a choice that Jesus Himself offers to them.