The year 2015 began with our taking two retreats for young adults. It seems safe to conclude that the Lord is confirming what we have sensed for some time — that Graceworks is called to a ministry with young adults. Our primary call remains the same: “Promoting spiritual friendship as part of God’s agenda of making disciples for the Kingdom.” We will seek to do this for all age groups but will give special attention to young adults. But who are the young adults? We can give some numbers. Graceworks defines young adults as those between 18 to 31. But young adults are more a chapter in life than a chronological age range.
In their book, Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults, Richard R. Dunn and Jana L. Sundene join Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and others in preferring the term “emerging adults”. They write:
We agree with Arnett that the term “emerging adult” seems appropriate to describe the challenge for this generation in becoming fully functional adults. In his recent book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Christian Smith also embraces this term because ‘rather than viewing these years as simply the last hurrah of adolescence or an early stage of real adulthood, it recognizes the very unique characteristics of this new and peculiar phase of life.’ . . . For our purposes, however, we will use the terms “young adult” and “emerging adult” interchangeably to refer to adults ranging from ages nineteen to thirty five. (Richard R. Dunn and Jana L. Sundene, Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012], 17)
We must give people in this life stage the attention they need. It is a key transition stage in life. I see this life stage as a gestation period that gives birth to the adult. We need to do what we can to ensure that the adult that emerges from this period will be one that is healthy. Gordon T. Smith puts it this way:
The first transition, and probably the most critical, is the move into adulthood from adolescence. This transition occurs at or around age twenty. For some it happens in their late teens. For others it does not come until they are well into their twenties. Regardless of when it happens, the critical issue is this: it must happen. Personal congruence and vocational integrity require that we take adult responsibility for ourselves, and as adults, we must ask and then courageously answer the question “What is God calling me to be and to do?” (Gordon T. Smith, Courage & Calling, 2nd edition [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011], 79.)
Graceworks commits itself to a mission of helping our young adult friends answer this question and helping them live out the answers. We want to be their servants in this birth process.
What are some issues that emerging adults live with? They include:
1. Identity — Who am I as defined by God and not just as defined by my parents/society/government/institutional church, etc.
2. Vocation — What am I called to do? This is a critical question as I begin my work life.
3. Community — How do I relate to my family of origin and my church at this stage of life? Who will I walk through life with? Who are my friends now?
4. Sexuality — What does it mean to be a sexual being?
5. Stewardship — As an adult I now have much more say in how I use my time and money but I am overwhelmed by the many demands on my resources.
6. Why should I be a Christian? — Am I a believer just because I happened to be born into a Christian family? Isn’t it arrogant to claim that only Christianity is true when there are so many faith systems out there? And can Christianity stand the hard scrutiny of science?
The above list of issues is by no means exhaustive. Indeed, the first step in young adults ministry is to listen. We insult our young adults when we give them pre-packaged answers and pre-packaged programmes without first listening to them. It is fair to say though that whatever the issues they struggle with, young adults need what disciples of every age group need — truth and love.
We are confident that the Scriptures have answers to the most fundamental issues of life and we need to help young adults build bridges between the story of the Bible and their stories. But above all, young adults need true older friends, mentors, disciplers, older brothers and sisters in the faith who will walk with them as they journey from adolescence to adulthood. Which is why it makes a lot of sense that a ministry committed to spiritual friendship, Graceworks, should also be a ministry that focuses on young adults.
I like the guiding question that Dunn and Sundene have crafted for their ministry with emerging adults:
What can we do in this generation to empower and equip emerging young adults to reach their God-designed potential for spiritual transformation? (Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults, 17.)
It will also be a question that we will be trying to answer.