Leading a university church puts me in an unusual situation, since few of my folks grew up in this congregation and few will stay. As I meet with young adults, many of them college students, one-on-one and hear their stories, it’s surprising how often their spiritual struggles stem from painful experiences at previous churches. I spend a surprising amount of time helping them imagine themselves in the church of the future.
It’s made me wonder: what stories will these young folks tell when they graduate and move on to other congregations? What will our congregation contribute to their spiritual story? Will they tell of ways we added to their burden or gave them wings?
Let me share with you a few of the stories I’m hearing:
- Yesterday I met with a young man who is now estranged from his Christian family and friends because he confessed he had doubts and needed help figuring out how his faith relates to his life.
- This week I met with a young woman who had been let go from a ministry because her personality wasn’t enough like the personality of the ministry’s founder.
- Last week I met with a young couple whose church plant was suddenly defunded because their way of doing ministry in the inner city didn’t look exactly like the way the supporting church does ministry in the suburbs.
- Two weeks ago I met with a young woman who has been excluded from her home church because she is asking questions about politics and wondering if there is only one way to vote as a follower of Jesus.
It’s good for us to acknowledge that we are in a time of upheaval, both in the broader culture and in the church. Those in their teens and twenties are wrestling with questions we never had to face at their age. How will we help them navigate this phase with their faith intact?
It may begin with a little soul-searching. What if we gathered our congregational leaders and took some time to talk through these questions?
- What has changed in the church and culture since we were in our teens and twenties?
- Are we anxious about the future? If so, how? How are we anxious about the future of our own congregation? Of the faith around the country or the world?
- How can we pray about those anxieties we’re feeling? Do we trust that ultimately the Lord is at work in the world, even in all the upheaval? How has he allowed the Gospel to go forward in times of upheaval in the past? What is his part in guiding his Church? What is the part he calls us to do? How can we partner with him in leading his Church through these changes?
- Is there any way that we burden our young folks with our anxieties about the future? Do we take it personally when their faith doesn’t look like ours?
- How can we create a safe place for them to wrestle and explore? How can we ask open-ended questions? For example, instead of giving tests of faith like “Do you believe (x doctrine)?” or “If you believe (x), then you can’t be a Christian”, ask questions like, “What is it like to be a Christian in your generation?” and “How can we be a support to you?”
The turning from childhood to adulthood is hard at any time. But when everything around you is also changing, it’s an even greater challenge. In times of great change young people need the older generation to be a stable, comforting presence in their lives. How can we be that for them for the sake of their own development and for the sake of the future church?