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.