Delayed Adulthood = Delayed Discernment of Call


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.

When X’ers and Millennials Say No to the Building Campaign

Gen. X'ers and Millennials Balk at Building Bigger.

Gen. X’ers and Millennials Balk at Building Bigger.

I was having a great conversation yesterday with a 30-something pastor friend who serves on a megachurch staff.  His church is entering a 3 million dollar capital campaign to build additional meeting space for their church.  They hope to add a 500 seat chapel, a middle school area, and additional small group space.

The question we were discussing was whether or not building a bigger building, when the church already has a large facility, was good stewardship of financial resources.

While we could debate the price per square foot or the chosen capital campaign strategy, the bigger question was the moral imperative to build a bigger building for the affluent southwestern city-dwellers or give that money to build an orphanage in Ghana.  Actually the campaign amount could probably build and maintain 100+ orphanages in Africa.

Its seems to me that as the Builder Generation set the vision for a revitalized America after WWII, including suburban church growth, and the Baby Boomers inflated that vision with “mega” and “super-sized” versions of church buildings and campuses, Generation X and the Millennials are balking at the idea of building still more.

It is hard for the 20-something Millennial or 30-40 year old Gen. X’ers to invest these kinds of dollars into brick and mortar facilities.  If we are going to live radically simpler lives by choosing to reduce our own consumption and materialistic wants in order to give more time and money away to causes which defend the poor and needy and take the Gospel to the nations, then why is our church leaders asking us to build another monstrosity for our consumer pleasure?

The moral question of being a good steward and wisely use of God’s money makes building a 5 million dollar building for people who already have a building seem absolutely absurd.  When there are commercial buildings everywhere that are rent-ready.  There are schools districts looking to rent out their building on Sundays to generate revenue.  The Regal Cinema movie theater chain actually has an establish plan called “Theater Church” with numerous churches meeting in their theaters.

Dr. Thom Rainer has already predicted a trend toward smaller worship centers in the future.  He states that for the past 20 years he has seen Millennial Christians develop an “aversion to larger worship centers.”  He quotes one Millennial pastor as saying he hopes he never has to build a larger building.

In truthfulness, I feel the exact same way.  I hope I am never asked to sit on a building campaign committee or called upon to serve a church going through a building process.  While I know there are very good reasons to expand, I think there are numerous disadvantages.

And while growth demands expansion in all walks of life (e.g., cities, government, school districts, businesses, etc.), I believe there are lots of other options on the table before taking on millions of dollars of debt and asking your people to foot the bill.

Baby Boomers, I want to put you on alert.  Your building projects are not going to be funded by anyone under the age of 45.  If you and your Boomer friends feel called to build, go right ahead.  But don’t expect younger generations to contribute.  We just can’t stomach it morally.

It appears for the next 40 years or so the road to building bigger buildings is going to be closed for repair.