A mystery.

I had a micro rant earlier today on facebook. It went like this:

why is it that so many churches merge their college and young adult ministries together? Is it a resource thing? Is it because we don’t know what to do with either demographic? Is it because young adults out of college keep wishing they were in college?

the mystery of my last 5 years. They are totally different life stages! Doesn’t make sense!

And then I realized I had a lot of answers and thoughts for my own questions.

Background- I’ve been a little angsty lately on the topic of personal community. Although I’ve made some great friends here and there, on the whole, making friends after college in a new town is extremely difficult. Every time I go to one of these “young adult” groups to see if I can go and meet some more people in my life stage, I find myself sitting next to… college students.

And don’t get me wrong. I love college students. It’s my freaking job to LOVE college students. Many of the college students I minister to are my friends… but it’s a different relationship. I am their mentor. Their leader. Their pastor. Their coach. There’s a point when I stop being their friend and lay some truth bombs or make them do extremely uncomfortable things as their leader. So you can see how it’s awkward to go from a place of leading college students to having them called peers all of a sudden.

Here’s the problem- many churches in the West have engaged these different life seasons with different ministries. The problem is, life stages usually keep following common age markers… and then when you hit post-college (or even during college), the age markers go all out of whack. Things start getting weird. They start having groups for married people, for people with babies, for people retiring… and all these things happen at different times. Which leaves me in an awkward place- A 28 year-old single male that is often shoved in with college students at church because all my friends are married and having babies.

But as I was reflecting on this conundrum after posting my question on facebook (and receiving a lot of interesting replies), I realized the whole “age group” thing is a convoluted mess. I was honestly acting like what I always tell my students NOT to act like- A consumer of ministry, not a missional producer of ministry.

Here’s my theory- It starts with the western notion of “youth group” at church. Youth groups started with the missional purpose (and many still remain missional- I continue to be influenced by what I was taught by my own youth pastor, and am continually inspired by my man Nate Wells and other youth pastors I know…) to reach the unreached youth for whom church was often irrelevant or unaccepting of. It was to address a problem in which youth were not being reached. So they started to create hip programs and hire youth pastors that could play electric guitars or who had tattoos on their arms. But then something strange started to happen… parents started to see the youth program as an extension of the babysitting/children’s program. It was something to keep the teenagers in the church. And so the posture so easily shifts- It’s not about the groups that are not in the church, it’s about those who are IN the church and to KEEP THEM STIMULATED. Once ANY group becomes a babysitting program… you lose missional edge, you lose the point and you create consumers of ministry.

And so it continues for college groups- Well… the kids we KEPT with youth group are out of youth group… and oh shoot. There’s no youth group for them. They will probably leave because we aren’t giving them anything! So we get trendy hipster services where there’s radiohead-like crooning with V-necks, plaid and skinny jeans, so our kids will stay.

As a college minister, I unfortunately have to work out the consumer out of most of my Christian students. It’s driven me to a point where my co-workers have called me out for just ignoring Christian students because sometimes the mentality of consumerism is so engrained, it just drives me nuts. It’s why I often tell my students that we are NEVER to be called a “Christian Club”. Christian clubs (including the one I was the president of in high school) have the tendency (and not all of them, mind you) to HIDE from the world, not engage it. I’ve found that the shift in my ministry in the last 5 years has gone from producing a good product (like a slick bible study) to producing good producers. It’s not trendy. It’s not sexy. Sometimes it makes Bible studies horrible. But I’ve begun to realize that an empowered student who leads an awkward and choppy Bible Study but knows that they are heralds and representatives of the Kingdom of God in the location that they’ve been placed… oh man the shivers that run down my back thinking about that.

So back to my dilemma. Really, the question I was really asking was- WHY ISN’T ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION TO ME AND FEEDING ME?? I’m like a raging glutton who’s had his feeding tube fall from his mouth, but is too fat to stoop down and pick it up.

But my yearning has some legitimacy though. Perhaps my question should not be about whether somebody will minister with me or not… but rather “Are there any peers out there who want to do mission with me?”

Perhaps the dissatisfaction comes from churches not sure how to treat the masses of Christians getting older and addicted to being babysat. So many churches just create another baby-sitting program for… adults? Perhaps this is why it feels so demeaning. It takes the leadership out of adulthood. All this time of just getting really hip programs and inspirational speakers… were we like princes and princesses gorging at a medieval feast that our father the king provided… while not paying attention to the intentions and real leadership that a king does? Has our king become the caterer for our buffet?

We were meant to become LIKE Jesus, to do what He did, to love what He did. And yes, He’s promised a banquet for us in heaven (personally, probably my 3rd highest reason for being a Christian), but Jesus was about SO MUCH MORE. He was about healing. He was about redemption. He was about forgiveness and reconciliation. He was about raising up the weak. He was about starting movements that would change the course of history.

Here’s a scary thought that is inspired by how my youth pastor, Victor Quon, used to think- What if youth groups stopped being a place where we protected our kids but where we actually started to teach them how to lead their friends to faith? What if college ministries were not about helping all those Chrisitans keep their faith in college by sheltering them (by sending them to Christian college… ugh don’t get me started), but to actually see their place in college as A CALLING. I was inspired recently by our IFES counterparts in Mexico. Their group is called COMPA. Their group spans from high school to college… When their high school student leaders get ready to go to college, they actually go through a process where they pray to God things like, “God, what school would you send me to? How do you want me to become part of the movement there? What college campus do you want me to plant your movement at?”. Gutsy.

Let us end our babysitting programs. It gets old. Especially to a 28-year old. Honestly, the more I learn about Jesus and sit in the word, there’s nothing about Jesus that was about staying and being protected by a program. The only thing that comes to mind was that Jesus told the disciples to wait for was the Holy Spirit, but even that was SO THAT the disciples could fulfill the great commission of going OUT to the ends of the earth… Let’s start leadership development programs. Let’s start launch pads into unreached cultural groups, campuses, companies and office buildings. Missions isn’t for a select group of people in the church who go on Christian vacations to exotic locations across the ocean- it’s for EVERYONE who calls themselves Christian, which originally meant “little Christ”… If we are to be imitators of Christ, shouldn’t we be stepping forth into His mission wholeheartedly? What if we knew we were “sent”, like Christ was sent? What if high schoolers knew that they were sent to their high schools for a reason? What if college students knew that they were sent to their college, no matter how prestigious or dingy, for a reason? What if young adults stopped seeing their cubicles and annoying boss as a place of slow death, but as a place where Christ’s light could burst forth with light… through themselves, who were sent?

What if we stopped worrying about KEEPING people? What if we decided to stop being consumers of babysitting programs and bomb shelter supplies…  and began to awaken people as forces of cultural change, reformation and redemption?

What if I stopped whining about nobody paying attention to me and started finding co-conspirators to find and redeem my peers who are far from God?

…okay. My unorganized stream of conscious vomit of thoughts is over. I’m getting old, can’t stay up this late. Time to sleep.

2 thoughts on “A mystery.

  1. Michael says:

    This is interesting because it’s something I’ve wondered a lot about ever since we graduated from college. To say that I did not have a good experience with campus fellowships would be an understatement. I did not want a ‘college group’ at a church, because I figured I would be subjected to the same forms of immaturity. I avoided church for a long time because, among other things, college and young adult ministries were blended together, and I didn’t want to deal with college students (especially because they could be my students!).

    I never gave up on my faith, and it was pruned greatly during this time. My priorities for church shifted too. I no longer expected to be taught anything in sermons – I could out footnote the pastors and add more comments or points than they could ever get through in a twenty or thirty minute sermon. I started to be surprised by small points that would leap out and provide new insight like a slap across the face. It’s much more refreshing. The church I attend does not have a young adult or a college group. I attend an early morning liturgical service where everyone else might be three times as old as me (slight exaggeration, maybe). At times I’ve thought it would be nice if they had one or the other; I currently have zero close Christian friends outside my family. But I go with a focus on worshiping God. Sometimes I wonder if my old demand to be fed lots of meaningful lessons each Sunday was the same as the relentless focus of youth ministries (and adult ministries in too many mega-churches) on pure entertainment or attaining a ‘spiritual high’.

    I have no idea where I’ll end up when grad school is done and I have a shiny new academic job. I will probably have to wrestle with all of this again as I search for a new church. Maybe I’ll finally cave in and attend a young adult group just to make some Christian friends.

  2. Jon says:

    I don’t quite follow the logic of your rant (what’s your proposed “solution” to the age group mess?), but your bring about some interesting points.

    What I like most about grouping different life stages up together is that you get to learn more about “future” life stages and also mentor or help out people going through life stages you may have experienced. Perhaps it’s because I was/am an academic at heart, and I just like listening to and learning from other’s experiences. I find it encouraging and it gives me a sense of things I should work towards in improving my walk and others.

    As for the “calling” point, I’d wish we would use “vocation” more often. Both in terms of occupation and calling. We recently had a summer series on vocation/careers and how that integrates in a Christian’s life. My pastor was trying out his “curriculum” on this subject, which is based on a lot of Christian work/life integration materials from Hong Kong where they apparently have pastor’s specifically for work place “ministry”. He’s working together with elders from other churches in the bay area. I thought it was pretty interesting, and what you’ve suggested is part of what the summer series was advocating.

    Overall, I think one of the major reasons why people do not stress being a “priesthood of believers” more often is that it is really hard and humbling to do so. When you are a witness at school or at your workplace, you are judged by others by secular standards. As someone who recently finally finished graduate school, I tried really hard to work in a way that would bring glory to God. In addition to treating my collaborators with kindness and respect, I had to keep up a good work ethic. When I finally received funding, it was very important to me that I should work hard because I was thankful that God would provide me with the opportunity to do a Ph.D. (Some funded students are lazy because their professors’ no longer have to pay them and so they slack off.) I also volunteered a lot during recruitment (which is not something graduate students do because it’s time consuming), because I wanted to talk to incoming students to share my experiences with funding, finding research, and also I establishing a moral and ethical research attitude. While I certainly can’t say I was very good or successful at what I tried to do in terms of ministering to the people at my school, there have been a few instances where people have asked me how I could be a serious Christian and yet still be an “excellent” scientist. I think having the respect of your coworkers in the “workplace” provides many “missed” opportunities to minster to them than if you did not have their respect. Obviously you don’t do things to garner their respect specifically, but if you have it, it’s one of many “mammon” that you can possibly use effectively.

    If you’re interested, I’d be glad to put you in touch with my pastor, and send you the materials/videos we’ve recorded. He used us as guinea pigs, so the material is far from complete and is not completely refined yet.

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