Love your church’s young adults

  • Ruth Baker
  • 16 July 2018

We have young adults all wrong. There’s a common stereotype of young adults being lazy, feckless and irresponsible. They’re the generation that never had to do it tough. They’re the social media generation who can say “yes” to a million events… which means that 99% of the time their yes is actually no. They want to travel, be promoted five minutes after they join a company, and spend all their money on indulgences.

But there’s a problem with this picture.

First of all, it’s not been my experience. Okay, it’s been a little bit my experience, but the stereotypes of Gen Y are far outweighed by the other characteristics I’ve come across. I am in my 40s but am blessed to count several young adults in my friendship group and many more in my acquaintance. I have found them to be passionate for the gospel and incredibly hard workers. They are focused and open-minded and keen as jumping beans to learn. At the same time, they have incredible insights, clarity of thought and just plain interesting ideas.

Secondly, a disparaging view of young adults is not biblical. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul exhorts Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”. Timothy is Paul’s protégé—and knowing Paul as we do, you don’t get to be his protégé unless you are faithful, obedient, passionate, energetic, humble and smart. But still there is a sad expectation that people will look down on him because he is young.

We often use this passage to tell young’uns how they should be: loving, faithful, pure. All true! However, I think this passage says more about us older ones. We look down on younger people. Why? Because they haven’t experienced what we have? Whatever it is, we need to address this prideful attitude. They are the next generation of leaders and thinkers; they are the people who will take over our ministries and our churches. We must not look down on them but instead pump them full of spiritual support.

Young adults are loyal—but they are transient. There will be university and new jobs and marriages that will all take them away. Do we discount them because they’ll leave at some point? Or do we share with them love and Jesus so that, when and if they go, they are the strongest possible disciples they can be, and looking for a new church when they move is the first thing they do, not the last.

So how do we minister to them? Here’s some ideas:

  1. Consider 1 Timothy 4:12 in light of your attitudes. Do you need to repent of some prideful feelings and actions?
  2. Recognize that the world belongs to them as much as you, and think through what they will need from you to continue to fight the good fight and finish the race once you’ve completed it.
  3. Young adults don’t need a parent to tell them what to do, or a friend to like what they like. They need a short-term foster-pastor to guide, challenge, and most of all love them and be there for them. They need you to embrace them fully and support them until they are ready to fly.
  4. Remember that being an adult is hard. Yes, you learned how to do it, but remember how hard it was? You need to help them work out what being grown-up involves, particularly as a Christian, so their choices are discerning and faithful.

Look again at 1 Timothy 4:12. When Paul says “set an example”, the Greek word tupos echoes an impression made by a stamp. Paul isn’t telling Timothy to be a bit like the ideal (like an artist’s impression of it), he’s telling him to be exactly like it. Timothy is not going to be able to do that on his own. None of us can, let alone people who are dealing with learning to do life, learning to adult, still growing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s up to us to train them in love and genuine compassion so they are able to live out this exhortation. God will grow them by the Holy Spirit, but God also put us in their orbit to be his hands and feet in this endeavour.

Most of all, together embrace your differences and praise God for the time he has chosen for you to share. I am old enough to be my friends’ mother, but we have a relationship in which we explore the distinct perspectives we have. They have taught me so much, and I truly see God’s promise and potential in them. Let’s pray that our younger friends never know another day when they are not certain that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour.