Monday, April 25, 2005

Expansion of Young Adult Ministy Theory

If we take it as a given that there exist three distinct groups within Young Adult Ministry, the next big question is whether or not ministry to Young Adults as a distinct group, that is, one that is different from the already existent adult ministries of the church.

A case could be made that Young Adults need to merge into the Adult population of the church anyway. I would subscribe to this view to a point. I believe that the scholarly approach that is most respected in the Evangelical tradition carries with it a great desire to carefully label and categorize things. Spiritual gifts, ages (or dispensations) of God dealing with man, personality types, denominational types, and more are subjected to sometimes seemingly arbitrary divisions and reduced in a very scientific way to constituent parts that are reasonably easily explained. But this is a practice I find sometimes useful, sometimes trivial, sometimes dangerous, and sometimes divisive within the Body. To that end, I would rather see as few categories created as possible.

However, in American culture, most really important decisions in life are made in one's twenties. Marriage, career, education and family are suddenly brought to bear on people who, due in part to an ever longer process of highly structured education have often not as much experience making their way in the world. Reason #1 in my book for Young Adult ministry is that Young Adults need support and guidance. But this is a different sort of guidance. More carefully structured education exascerbates the problem, rather than addressing the needs.

Beyond this, it has been said that Young Adults, those in college and just beyond, have been the driving force in many revivals of prayer and passion in the Western Church. I believe this is tied to the highly structured environment of the Western world. In that space between having a chance to find your own way and finding yourself in a set path with strong incentives not to change, people can move in strange directions. I use "strange" here, not connoting wrong, but different. Stagnation is death. The Protestant church often looks down on the Orthodox church because of ritual, blinded to its own rituals. To be sure, they are harder to see because they are diverse, but could this not be a greater error? Hidden from the world by sheer size, our own "acceptable" behaviors, actions, dress, music, prayers, and ceremonies are granted an unspoken solemness, and those that should break them know it, without needing to be told. Hypocrisy is the term Jesus used of condemning another while doing the same thing yourself. And not much brought out his ire like religious hypocrites. His words against adultery, prostitution, gluttony, homosexuality, and abortion combined would not come close to matching either the intensity or the frequency of his condemnation of this sin. The church needs those who have not yet grown accustomed to the same ways of doing things to help remind us of what is important, and what is less so. Young Adults with seminary education are made pastors, surely this group is old enough to be mature, but not yet molded.

Young Adults come from a very rigid, but also generally very safe environment. As about the shyest person I know, I can say that there was great comfort in knowing that while in school I was never invited to a party except small gatherings where I was good friends with everyone there, I could go to the Tuesday Bible Study, the Thursday Night youth meetings, Sunday Morning services, and regular outings, trips, and other special occasions. This continued in College through my time in InterVarsity and the College Group at church. While both went through a time of weakness while I was there, they were ancors of friendship and acceptance for a guy that will sit at home for ages, lonely beyond words, and not call anyone. But now, I am in a void - gone are any structured environments, as most people seem to assume that everyone my age is married and therefore too busy lost in marital bliss to need the companionship of anyone else. The shock alone of the transition from regularly structured events that I depended on more than I knew to absolutely nothing is one I am still not over. I have observed that most newly married couples drop off the planet for about 6 months, and then begin reestablishing friendships and contacts realizing that no couple is an island unto themselves any more than the proverbial man is. Young Singles seem to be those most likely to slip off into the quiet, a couple of percentage points of the makeup of the church, but in some ways people most in needs of companionship and acceptance in the church. As it stands, if I were to come into my church without ties of about 20 years, but were to walk in otherwise as I am, I would probably visit for no more than a month and never come back. As it is, I have thought long about leaving my church in search of one where I "belong," but do not believe that I will find it any different elsewhere. Young Collegiates are those who could transition from a structured environment to more organic and less frequent meetings of people in the same place in their lives, not experiencing the shock of having so much stripped away at once. Young Adults need fellowship with each other.

But, this same group needs a different sort of fellowship. Be it the struggles of starting a family, learning to live together, trying somehow to make one's way in the world alone, graduating and choosing a career, or the other pressures of becoming a full adult - the time needed to have 3 evening meetings each week with a Sunday Morning class too is a bit much, and improperly executed will drive almost everyone away as though they are being trated like children. Young Adults need a place of belonging, a group for support, a way of exploring what it means to be God in the world, a way to grow in the faith, to learn from the wise, and to serve others. But they likely don't want to be told who, why, how, where, what, or when. Young Adults need to be given the freedom to grow.

So what parameters do we have for Young Adult Ministry? We have a need guidance, fellowship, support, companionship, comradeship, and opportunity. And all of this somehow without treating them like little kids.

How can we do this? Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Theory of Young Adult Ministry

Note that anything I put up here comes from the very limited framework of my own experience. That said, I hope there are some thoughts worth putting out to the world for discussion.

We tried to have a Young Adults ministry a couple years ago at my church. A friend of mine and I as his trusty sidekick were behind just about everything that happened, and we watched it start out, grow suddenly huge, and then slowly waste away.

I have been involved with my own age group in a teaching ministry of one sort or another since I was about 19, and only in the last year or so did that go away, and I have had time to reflect from the outside on the successes and the failures that we faced.

It goes without saying that desire is crucial, but many people mistake desire for ability and people are placed in situations set up for failure because they don't know how to go about it. Even so, I still place prayer and dependence on God as the crucial framework for any ministry, to young adults or otherwise. But said dependence involves being willing to stop or change when needed, and it is in that willingness that I personally think I failed.

But on to theory. In my mind, Young Adults is a term that can be applied to people from 20 - 35 or so. The specific ages are very flexible, and the group is best defined not by the number of years under someone's belt, but by whether a person feels like they belong. This is, in fact, the first major distinction of this group. Whereas Children's Ministries, Youth Groups and College Groups are defined almost exclusively by age, Young Adults transition not on a birthday or a graduation date, but by a sense of identification - when they realize that they have somehow, almost by surprise, become adults, and they don't have quite as much in common with the college freshman as they once did. They have different perspectives, different life situations, different goals. When does someone move from being a Young Adult to being an Adult? I'll let you know when I get there. I am only 26, working hard on 27, and am still on the way.

Within the broad group of "Young Adults" there can be defined three very distinct groups, all of which have many vital things in common, but each of which has very specific needs that need to be addressed. There are the Young Marrieds, the Old College People, and the Young Singles.

Old College People are those who are in their early twenties and are looking seriously at the life ahead of them. The security of the established systems they have grown up in - both in education and in church are about to pass away, and they are wondering what comes next. I had no idea what was next. I had always learned that you went through the Youth group not dating, because you were not yet ready to make such a commitment, you went to College and got married, then graduated and had a family and career. I was almost frozen with fear as I approached the end of college without ever having even dated someone. Suddenly, fully half of the future I had always expected had not materialized. My gut reaction lined up nicely with advice that I got - continue going to school. Go to seminary - lots of women go there looking for husbands. I did not follow that path for a few reasons, beyond the scope of this. The point is that this is a time of "rubber meeting the road." Its onset is relatively sudden, its ramifications lifelong, its impact intense. The young have not reached it, the old may have forgotten how it felt.

Young Singles are a group utterly overlooked in the church, in my experience. My experience echoes the lesson mentioned above. There is High School (no dating), College (dating, courtship, and marriage), and Career (family). To be in my mid to late twenties, with no reasonable hope or good plan for finding a wife, I am suddenly faced with the prospect that I may never get married. The College Group, that frenzied dating connection in the churches I have known, contains people almost 10 years younger than me. And at less than 30, that is still 1/3 of my life. My church has a class (at least in name) for the Young Married people (the "Couple's Connection"), but seemingly without a thought toward a growing group very much in need of reassurance that they are not alone - Singles who are begining to think, not as a stressed-out high school student fresh off their first big break-up but as adults, that they may never get married. This is scarrier than I know how to put into words. The defining thing for most adults is their family. And while I come from a great family, when you talk to a 30-year old about their family, they mention their spouse and possibly children first. Who grows up dreaming how they will never find love? The stereotypical guy is fine with no marriage, but he is interested in a casual means to satisfy his desires, and doesn't want commitment. What do you do with desires you are told to "save until marriage" when marriage suddenly seems very much in doubt (for some, like me, a thing that it hurts to think of for the simultaneous want of it and confidence that it is unattainable)? How do you go about making a home for yourself without the standard division of labor, and the responsibility falls squarely on you. I could continue, but being in this group myself, I could write many pages with no discernible point.

Young Marrieds are such a large part of the Young Adults, both in perception and in large part composition (though not as much), that my church and others I have read about, often go too far and have just a Young Married's ministry. But this is a distinct group with distinct needs, none of which I will claim to have understanding of. I believe this from those I know who are in said group. And forgetting the lion's share of Young Adults in pursuit of unity with those not in this group is an injustice to them and foolish.

This is not the problem I see at the moment, but rather the sole existence of a Young Married's class, with nothing else. Perhaps they assume that Young Singles and Old Collegiates will feel welcome there, but I personally feel anything but. If you need, take the more sympathetic example of a couple who desperately wants to have children, but through repeated attempts and failures thinks they may never have children. Now, create a class for couples with children and tell me how welcome this couple will feel in this class.

How do we, then, go about integrating these groups? Do we really need to do so? Tune in later. For now, a recap.

Statement henceforth assumed to be true:
Three groups of overlapping ages exist within the 20-35 age spectrum. The Old Collegiates, newly facing asystem of slow advancement in a much less structured environment both at work and in church; the Young Singles, growing old and moving on with life, with the marriage they had assumed to be in their future suddenly looking like it has passed them by; the Young Marrieds, learning what it means to love another person before yourself, beginning to move ahead with a body that has two heads, often two careers, and often brining two seperate visions of what the future should be.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Dangers of iTunes

I've been at my computer more than usual the past couple days, in large part due to an illness that left me feeling like I was hit by a convoy of trucks. However, because I also felt like my head was filled with water (someday, get a box of latex gloves, and using the faucet for your bathtub see for yourself just how much water those will hold. My carefully controlled experiments filled 1/3 to 1/2 of the tub when the glove finally popped. That is how my head felt), I haven't yet updated my blog.

Today, I learned the dangers of iTunes, which is a very versatile mp3 player. I learned how with one click, I can see an entire album of music, and with one more click I can see an iMix which contains this song. Thus I can be looking at a whole list of songs that I may very well be interested in purchasing. It is the perfect marriage in targeted marketing and impulse buying, in software that came free from my computer, and was robust enough a mp3 player to supplant that which I had been using.

If you care to see the iMix I created, you can click here. Doubtless, more will be coming soon. I was sad to see that many of the songs I had did not register for some reason.

Props to Apple, because today I paid $10 for music I might not have otherwise found. DSL can be dangerous.

Monday, April 11, 2005

An Avowed Cynic Has Second Thoughts

Another Conference Update:

Recap: Day 1 - morning. Good, encouraging, didn't really walk away with a whole lot, but I was encouraged. Day 1 - evening. I was put off by the approach used to discuss postmodernisim, and in fact went this evening comnemplating what I could write further on that topic. I was ill prepared for what would soon waylay me.

Tonight's topic was one I have heard before, from the passage to the application. I was fully prepared to sit and flip through the same points, and move on. The sermon was on Peter getting out of the boat to come to Jesus as he walked on the water.

I must admit, my faith is not where it once was. Beset by disappointment and failure in seemingly every path I try, I have consciously tried to push hope from my mind. Hope in things promised in scripture, like eternal life maybe. But hope in my seemingly unspiritual struggles... hope truly seemed just another four-letter word for dream-waiting-to-be-crushed.

I have had hopes. But I remember where I was the day the woman I had thought was meant for me revealed within earshot (though she had not told me) that she was dating someone, and I remember where I was when I heard she was engaged, and I remember where it was the day she got married. I have never been one to regard relationships with women lightly, which may be why I have never dated - because I do not want to start something when I have reason to think I would not have the desire to culminate it. So losing a close friendship with someone who really knew me was a great loss. I have had other interests, each disappointment piling up with no successes to keep my interest up.

It is in this mindset that my pastor once encouraged (one may say coerced) me to call a girl I was interested in and invite her to something, in this case a movie night. Despite mountains of fear, I actually did it, though I may I have sounded out of breath as I think my heart had stopped some 5 minutes before. "Why are you calling?" Any flimsy leg I had to stand on broke. I vaguely remember explaining the reason (excuse?) that the pastor had given me to call with, inviting her to the movie night as an "oh, by the way..." The exact worsing of her reply slips through my memory, but I do remember "I'm really busy" being in there somewhere. Come the night of the movie, she must have been far too busy to come out. Hope fails. Cynicism is strengthened.

Insert any romantic cliche you want, it probably aptly describes how I feel when I see her. Lights flashing, heart stopping, incoherence boiling over - that's me. So, naturally, I avert my eyes and walk quickly past when the situation forces me to be around her, and squeeze out the most coherent words I can should actually have to talk to her. Experience has told me that my affection is a bad thing that hurts the people with whom I share it. Faith? Faith deals with other things, and only touches this area of my life in principle. Trying to accept the 'fact' that perhaps the only reason God allows these desires to remain is like Paul's thorn in the flesh - to keep him humble. And I was bound and determined to bow my head in subjection, wandering through life alone, fighting against the strongest desires I have and in direct opposition to the only real dream I have. I want to be married, and to have children. Not an outlandish dream to some, but to me something seemingly so far out of my reach as travel to distant galaxies, almost beyond the realm of even hypothetical thought.

Until tonight.

Why did the sermon affect me? Because of small points that touched real life in a way that high minded theology will not. He gave examples of people living under fear, and mentioned a guy thinking "I could never ask her out." He mentioned his dream of flying in a jet being fufilled - in no stretch of the imagination a spiritual thing. And for the first time in longer than I can remember, I really felt like the message could be divinely lmeant for me.

I made no vow to renounce my shyness, and have as yet taken no action other than to stay where I am, acting as I have been acting. But the memory of hope - not a cruel illusion tormenting me before I lock it away, but light, fresh air, and the gifts of a loving God that cares about our small lives - touched me. Tears silently fell from my eyes as I kept the sound level for the band as they played during the altar call, because such light had not been allowed near my heart; because to entertain the one hope I had has always led to one end: Rejection. And the want of true hope made my heart sick.

I still do not see any reason to think it could or should ever be different, particularly not in this instant, but I was reminded that God does care. And to think that, despite all the reasons to believe the contrary, sometimes outlandish, crazy, unspiritual, foolhardy dreams do come true. Pastors can fly in jets, dead men can live again, the sick can be made well, the lame can walk, the blind can see, prisions can be opened, and maybe, just maybe, a lonely heart can find companionship.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Conference Update

It is time for our Spring Conference, and we are already halfway through it. I liked the first sermon, which was about the story of a wee little man - Zaccheus. What I liked most about the sermon was that it noted that on his way to the cross - the fulcrum of all history, Jesus took the time to have dinner with a sinner and changed his life. I was encouraged, and reminded of the great love of God for those who need him.

The second sermon I had high hopes for. "Preaching Jesus in a Postmodern World." I think that there is a cultural shift underway that is commonly called postmodernism, but I generally dislike buzzwords on principle. That said, the subject matter is one I wanted to hear someone talk about. My only notes from the sermon? "Why, oh why do I need a sermon about why Paul's sermon at Mars Hill (found in Acts 18), and how that was the perfect example of how to be 'culturally aware?'" I have thought and continue to think that Mars Hill might be considered a "how not to preach," example, as Paul went after Athens to Corinth, where his approach was radically altered.

The main points were that an effective proclamation must be culturally aware, theologically significant, and it will have an impact. Nowhere did I see "authentic," the thing that I would say means the most to youths of today. Everything was about the teaching, not about the living, and if that is the emphasis... I fear the point is missed.

Perhaps it was implied. It very well may have been. Perhaps I was distracted (rather, I know that I was), but I was listening, hoping for the breakthrough. Besides, I needed to advance the Power Point. Yay for A/V geeks!

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Pope John Paul II died a week ago. I mourn him as a man who, as near as I can tell, did his best to serve Christ. He did so in a way very different from how I do it, but I know that he was concerned for the weakest and most helpless people, as our Lord was.

Once, while Jesus and his disciples were speaking, they told him of a man casting out demons, and wanted to know if they should stop him. Jesus' answer was that whoever is not against us is for us. This is very different from our normal combative attitude that anyone who is not for us is against us. It is important to remember that we are fallible humans, each composing but a part of the body of Christ.

What do I care about? The cross. The death of Christ that gives us life. Many things in this world exist to divide us, perhaps we are better off remembering those thigns that unite us.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Earlier, I was overly hasty in stating that an upcoming speaker would be talking about end times issues. I commited the error of guilt through assoiation, and am man enough to admit it. The subjects for the conference have been posted, you can view them here until they are no longer available.

Great Fear of Mine: That the church so encumbers itself with important but secondary issues that it loses its fire. I spent much time trying to explain my fear of fad theology to one of the guys that serves in the A/V Ministry with me this last Sunday. In my time in the college group, I saw several "life changing" books move through, leaving hardly the shadow of a permanent imprint on our lives. If self-help books worked as advertised, why do we need so many?

I hope that the upcoming conference encourages us to be a light in the darkness, to be a force that the gates of hell will not prevail against, and to be Jesus in the world. Give me any excuse you want - if the world looks at the church and does not respond as it did to Jesus we are gravely mistaken in our approach to life.

Dare I leave it vague and theoretical? No. If the world looks at me and does not respond as it did to Jesus, I am gravely mistaken in how I approach life.