When I read the studies that show that young people are leaving the church and losing their faith, I wonder if we could prevent that from happening simply by sharing with youth before they leave the church what it can be like to hit the speed bumps on the road of faith.
I mean, we all hit one at some point. Especially when we are young adults.
This is an entirely predictable occurrence.
Those who have studied how faith is formed in people across a lifetime will tell you that in young adulthood, it is very typical for people to question their faith.
And it’s a good thing—it is time for you to own for yourself what you believe rather than rely on the beliefs and experiences of your elders. It is also typical in this stage of life to mistrust emotional expressions of faith and want a more rigorously intellectual expression of faith.
Put together, these changes within your spiritual worldview can feel like you are losing your faith altogether.
But you know what? I don’t believe we need to look at it that way.
You are certainly losing the kind of faith you’ve been used to. But you’re not necessarily losing all faith for all time.
Many of us have passed through this kind of crisis at this stage of life and come out with a stronger faith. It’s a different kind of faith—more flexible, more comfortable with ambiguity—but no less “faith-full.”
People of all ages have times when it feels like God is absent or times when it feels like we are losing our faith. When I was in training as a spiritual director, we were encouraged to see these moments as invitations to a new way of knowing God.
When the old, familiar ways don’t work for us, God is inviting us to a new way of understanding and relating to God. God is nudging us forward in that life-long journey of transformation in Christ-likeness.
You know what I wish?
I wish that in our congregations, we took our seniors aside long before graduation, and gave them a spiritual road map for what is coming.
I wish we would say to them, “We just want you to be aware, that it is very likely that within the next four years, you will encounter times when you feel like you are losing your faith. That is natural! It is predictable; it happened to me.
“When that happens, it usually means that God is inviting you to a new way of understanding and relating to God. It doesn’t mean that you have lost you faith for good; it means your faith is changing shape.
“Be patient with yourself, and don’t give up on God. This is the time to ‘seek, and you will find.’ I will be here for you if you want to talk about it. Many other Christian adults will be able to help you navigate as well.
“Just know that this will probably happen to you, you will get through it, and you will end up with a stronger faith.”
If we gave them a preview of what is likely to happen, would more young adults hang in there with God when their faith seems to be disappearing?
I can’t help but wonder.
Shana Peachey Boshart is formation minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference, long time youth ministry worker, wise parent and adoring grandparent. Shana is no stranger to faith formation and has spearheaded some amazing initiatives like: Step Up, a leadership development program for Mennonite youth to learn the dynamics of church polity, and Anabaptist Faith Formation Network, a comprehensive digital website for online faith formation resources.