Delayed Adulthood = Delayed Discernment of Call

twixters

Photo from Time Magazine. Jan. 2005.

Have you ever experienced something you don’t want to be true, but in your heart of hearts you know that it has already happened?  Have you ever observed a visible, tangible shift in the tides and wanted desperately for them to stop shifting out from underneath you?

Every single day, serving, teaching, coaching, mentoring 18-22 year olds on a Christian college campus in the middle of the Bible belt, I see the shift.  It is real and present and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.

I haven’t heard anyone speak about it.  I haven’t seen anything published on it.  I haven’t even had conversations about it, except with a few of my closest colleagues. Nevertheless, I know it is there.  I know it is happening.  I know it is going to impact local churches and theological education for the coming generation.

What is it?  What is the shift I am so concerned about?  Here is my purely anecdotal hypothesis:

I firmly believe the prolonging of adolescence and the corresponding delay of entrance into adulthood is radically impacting Christian young people from hearing, discerning, and surrendering to the call of vocational ministry.

I recently heard Dr. Meg Meeker, M.D., founder of The Strong Parent Project and author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters share research that the new entrance into adulthood is 25 years old.

For previous generations, it was much younger.  For the Builders and Boomers, it was 18 when you could vote, move out, and be drafted.  For Gen. X, it was 21 when you finished college and could legally drink.  For Millennials, it has shifted again to 25 years old when a young adult is finished with college, maybe finished with grad school, and is getting established in their first career position.

This change has been recognized by many, especially educators and employers of younger adults.  We see it everyday.  Calling an 20 years old an adult is socially correct because they are not kids and calling them such is offensive.  The label teenager is so passe.  Putting the “you are an adult” spin on it helps a bit, but they don’t feel like an adult.  They have no desire to be an adult at this stage.  Adulthood is some far off, distant experience that comes after you get out of college, find a job, possibly get married and have to pay real world bills.

This delay touches all sorts of things in our society.  It touches the economy.  It touches the first-time home buyers age.  It significantly touches the thought of marriage and parenting.

We have more students in graduate school than ever before.  More young adults living at home with their parents for years after finishing college.  More young adults pushing back repayment of their student loans because they can’t find adequate employment in the struggling job market.  There are jobs to be had, but they don’t pay enough to support independence.

The delay also touches something near and dear to my heart: hearing, discerning and surrendering to God’s call for vocational ministry.

When mature, faithful, Christian college students are considering their career and future, I am fervently praying God will speak to their hearts about the possibility of surrendering to the call to vocational ministry.  Whether in cross-cultural missions, church planting, church revitalization, pastoral leadership, kids ministry, student ministry, non-profit work, community restoration, para-church organizations or any  type of kingdom-building work.

But if they are not entering adulthood until 25, I believe they are struggling to consider, to discern, to surrender to the call God may be putting on their life.

As they are delayed in their social, emotional, economical, psychological maturity, I see a corresponding delay in their spiritual maturity.  I find this to be particular true among Christian young men.

The problem I face is that I teach Christian ministry and leadership to primarily 18-22 year old college students.  That is my mission.  That is what I believe God has called me to do in this world.  But I am seeing less and less of them stroll through our hallways and into my classroom.

I wonder if any other Christian college theology or ministry professor is seeing the same phenomenon among their students.

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Cross-Vocational Thinking in a Full-Time Ministry World

full timeIt seemed the goal of every seminarian I studied with was to be called as a full-time pastor, minister, missionary, non-profit leader, etc.  Rarely did I meet anyone whose desire was to be cross-vocational.

The singular aspiration was to find full-time support with full-time benefits, combing with a full-time salary, resulting in full-time demands in their ministry calling. The idea of going cross-vocational (my terminology for bi-vocational) was the furthest thing from their mind.

And to be honest, as a 20-something seminarian, I had the same mindset. While I served cross-vocationally my entire seminary life (i.e., working at a publishing company, a community center, a toy store, parking cars at a country club, substitute teaching while serving as a part-time youth minister), I dreamed of one day being on full-time staff.

I desperately wanted to be called to one place serving them full-time so I could be single-minded in my vocation and not so tired from running all over the place trying to make ends meet.

So when seminary graduation came, my hopes for full-time ministry were finally fulfilled.  I was called to serve a church as a full-time associate pastor.  That is what I did for the next 5 years.  I served full-time, 40, 50, 60 hours per week, week in and week out.  I thought I had finally made it to the big time.

But quickly I started noticing something I had not anticipated.  I started noticing that I was constantly surrounded with Christian people.  All my friends were Christians.  All the people I interacted with on a weekly basis were Christians.  Most of the time the only people I saw were church members and their families.

The demands of full-time ministry pushed me further and further into an entirely Christian sub-culture.  I rarely heard cuss words anymore.  I rarely saw people get drunk and stumble out to their car.  I rarely heard any of the office gossip I remembered from the publishing company, because my office was now a church office.

My full-time ministry was pulling me further into a vacuum-like tunnel where all I did was serve Christian people, teach Christian people, counsel Christian people and walk alongside Christian people.  Encountering someone without a relationship with Jesus Christ was rare.

This is the danger of full-time ministry, particularly in a local church.  On the mission field and in the non-profit world, there are plenty of interactions with unbelievers, but church-based pastoral ministry can be very insulated from the real depth of spiritual lostness.

That is why I have loved (and thrived) in cross-vocational ministry on the Christian college campus.  My university admits all sorts of people, believers and unbelievers, domestic and internationals.  While I am still somewhat in a Christian bubble, I do interact with all sorts of people who know very little about Jesus or even nothing at all.  They are students in my classes, athletes on scholarship, internationals studying abroad, and non-traditional students giving college a second chance.

I still serve the local church and love preaching and teaching God’s Word to God’s people, but being connected with unbelievers reminds me that Jesus came into the world to save sinners like me.  He came and died and commissioned us to live sent, live missionally, live in a world that desperately needs to know Him.

Cross-vocational ministry has provided a much easier path to missional living than full-time church ministry ever could have.  I pray that more and more pastors, ministers, and seminarians will consider giving their lives to cross-vocational ministry as a life calling.  Full-time is nice, cross-vo (in my humble opinion) is better.

Ministry Nay-Sayers in the Crowd

Jesus fish bread

Image from Expressions from Hallmark

The best birthday card I got this summer had a wonderful image on the front.  The image had Jesus trying to feed the 5000 but a few nay-sayers in the crowd wouldn’t have any of it.

The inside caption read “Avoid complainers and have a great birthday.”  Thanks Mrs. Sherry.  This was a perfect card for me.

We live in a world where even the miracles of Jesus, such as feeding the 5000, would be scrutinized, questioned and scorned by people because of their personal preference and desires.

In all types of ministry leadership, there are going to be people who nay-say everything you do.  They say “it costs too much,” “it won’t work,” or the dreaded, “we have never done it that way before.”

In a very real way these individuals believe their sole purpose on the planet is to hold others back.  To press their unhappiness onto the whole group.  To come across as the wise and prudent, but actually represent the grumpy and stubborn.

I have faced some of these types in my life.  But guess what, so did Jesus.

In John 5, we read that immediately after Jesus healed a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda, the ministry nay-sayers of his day began questioning his methods.  They completely overlooked that a paralyzed man who had been 38 years on his back was now walking about, and instead focused on how Jesus broke a Sabbath law.  The phrase “you can’t win from losin” comes to mind.

True ministry leadership has to rise above the nay-sayers.  True Christ-like leaders have to use the nay-saying as fuel to greater communication and vision.  You have to take their words of disapproval and use them as incentive that you are on to something good and right.  Yet if you linger in their words, you will never do anything for the Lord.  You will become stagnant, withdrawn and scared.

Maybe you have experienced ministry nay-sayers in your life.  If so, I suggest trying two things in response to them.

1.  Thank God for them.  It may seem counter-intuitive to praise God for their nay-saying, but their presence might be the assurance you need to know you are onto something God-sized.

2.  Make it a challenge.  Ask them if they will try something with you.  Ask them to agreed to whatever you are proposing for short-time period and if it works, they must be first to admit they were wrong.  But if they are right and you are wrong, you must agree to be the first to admit your failure and try something else.

With a handshake and a challenge in place, you might discover the nay-sayers will become your greatest advocate and partner in leadership.

i-Student Ministry: What iGen Student Ministry Must Become

Generation Y is slowly being renamed “iGens” or “iY’s.”  These students (primarily between the ages of 11-21) love everything i-driven:  the iPod, iPad, iPhone, the Nike iRun app, Apple’s iLife software, the iCarly TV show.  The generation is being identified with i-individualism hence the renaming of iY or iGens.

Public and private schools systems have long used “IEP’s” or Individual Education Plans.  This strategy progresses students at their own pace, either faster or slower.  The educator is tasked with knowing each student’s abilities and designing curriculum that is person-specific.

That approach is now shifting to student ministry in the local church.  But how will churches and youth ministry leaders adapt to this new generational trend?  I believe the future of youth and student ministry will also be individualized. 

Ministry for the masses is out.  Ministry directed toward the individual is in.  How will this take shape?  Here are some ideas*:

Individualized Discipleship.  The i-Student Ministry will create individual, one-on-one discipleship plans for each and every student by creating avenues to grow them up as followers of Christ.  Large group teaching and small groups will work for a while, but will eventually find less and less effectiveness, especially as the group grows more and more diverse spiritually.

Individualized Info-Sharing.  The i-Student Ministry will not rely on blanket announcements, mass mailing, or ministry newsletters full of dates and details.  Instead, they will use direct communication pieces through one-on-one social media and text messaging individualized to the particular student.  If they attempt mass mailings or large-scale advertising, it will be lost or ignored.  This kind of communication doesn’t cut through the haze of distractions.  Therefore, one-on-one communication will be essential.

Individualized Ministry Development.  The i-Student Ministry will evaluate each student’s spiritual gifting, talents, passions, and skills, and design ministry projects specificaly for them.  Entire youth group mission trips will be exchanged for smaller groups of 2 or 3 doing a particular ministry project together, which is based in their individual interests.  Youth pastors will struggle to get the whole group to do a sports camp or build a habitat house together because certain students don’t want to do sports or construction.  Therefore, the ministry projects must be shaped around individual interests and skill sets, otherwise they will choose not to participate.

Individualized Worship Avenues.  The i-Student Ministry will implement person-specific music forms, liturgical practices, prayer experiences, etc., that are based more in the discipleship level of the individual, not the level of the group as a whole.  Wednesday Night Worship with a praise band, media, preaching, discussion groups, game, etc., will be exchanged for smaller worship avenues where students can categorically select things they prefer, such as: reflective, loud, silence, journaling, social, virtual, experiential, artistic, or recreational. 

In the end the i-Student Ministry will be less programmatic and more organic to the group.  We leave ministry for the masses and move toward the que of one.  In many ways this feeds the me-centered nature of the iGen’s, but will in the long run will develop deeper, more committed followers of Christ.

* Additional research conducted by Ms. Holly Davidson and the iGen’s Presentation Group in the Intergenerational Ministries course.