As the mother of three young adult children (ages 28, 26, and 21), a pastor of over a dozen years, and an Instructor in EMU’s Bible and Religion department for six years, I can say definitively that I do not know for sure what sort of environment creates a young adult follower of Jesus. There are many variables that can be controlled, but perhaps more importantly there is mystery, choice, and the winds of the Spirit which we cannot in the end control.
It is certainly true that coming from a home with parents and grandparents who unapologetically claim faith helps, but this is not always enough. Also, coming from a strong and caring congregation that has provided nurture and a solid Christian education is a great gift, but again, this is not always enough. For many young people, facing adversity, suffering or loss at a young age draws them closer to God and causes them to be more reliant on faith, but for other young people suffering and loss might have the opposite impact. And again, this alone, is not enough.
Perhaps more importantly than these variables, young people need to understand how their story is a part of the Biblical story, and how the Biblical story continues to unfold. They need to grasp the extraordinary truth that they are a part of writing the next chapters of the story. When my Church Leadership students express concern about the current crumbling state of the church I am quick to tell them that they have the sacred privilege of getting to be a part of helping to re-form church for the next period of history.
Behold, God is making all things new, and we are in a season of creating new wine-skins for the church.
Rather than being some of the many young adults who are abandoning church, our young people need to be challenged to be some of the dedicated young adults who stick around and help to make something new! What an awesome joy and responsibility. Throughout all of history major reforms in the life of the church have been led by young adults. It is our sacred privilege to help our young people to know that they are vitally needed to help to shape church into something that can speak to the needs of the next generations.
Durable faith is built on families and congregations who are rooted and grounded in God’s story. Durable faith calls us to examine and care for our own faith formation and spiritual pilgrimage. Kenda Creasy Dean, Christian Smith and others who write about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are quick to point out that the weaknesses in the faith of our teens, are only mirroring the weaknesses in the faith of us as adults. If we care about the next generation of Christ-followers, we need to start by caring for our own spiritual dryness and malaise. Only after the Spirit has rekindled our own faith-walks will we find that durable faith is watered in prayer, pruned with acts of service, and harvested with love.
Durable faith will keep us humble, because as we and our congregations live in to this model of Kingdom Living we will find ourselves challenged by the faith of our own children and young adults.
They will call us to grow.
And that is as it should be, in our classrooms, in our congregations
and around our dining room tables.
Carmen Schrock-Hurst is an Instructor in the EMU Bible and Religion Department (Harrisonburg, VA) where she teaches courses in Spiritual Formation, Youth Ministry, Church Leadership and Intro to the Bible. Prior to teaching at EMU Carmen and her husband Luke were co-pastors in Richmond, VA, Pittsburgh, PA, and Harrisonburg, VA. They also served overseas with MCC in Honduras and the Philippines. They have three young adult children and two grandsons.