By Ramon Lianez
Central Mennonite Church
I believe that young adults are an important part of Christ’s Body, but we are not ministering to them accordingly. The ball is being dropped on both sides; however, through appropriate means and in God’s timing, we all can turn our present situation around. I do not attest that I am an expert in this field, but through reading, prayer, experience and success and failure, I might have some information that can be of help to others.
I have taken some time to reflect on several questions from the Ohio Conference Youth and Young Adult Ministry Team: What have been your successes? How have you learned from your failures? Where is God working now? Here is what I can offer:
Stop calling them kids! What you think is what you say. And what you say only reinforces your thoughts. When my own children became 18, during their graduation party I had them choose individuals that helped form them as men. We gathered around my sons, laid hands on them and prayed for these things: To thank God for who they are, thank him for bringing the people in their lives to establish themselves as men, for me to hand them back over to Him, and lastly, to help me to see them as adults. This final request was for me to set it in my mind that I would respect them as any other adult and treat them as such. Sometimes parents and church members can’t shake loose the mental image of the kid that used to run amok in the sanctuary. But if we cannot begin to address and rightfully interact with them as adults, don’t be surprised that they will go to another group that will.
Separate young adults into smaller age groups. Some of you might not be aware that the government states that a young adult is age 18 to 35, and some churches use this as a means to form their young adult ministry. If you really look at it, what does an 18-year-old, that has just graduated from high school have in common with a 30-year-old who possibly is married with children? It is best to split up young adults into groups for ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 35. This will allow for better conversations and relationships. Furthermore, many of the topics that either group will entertain will be better suited for the participants if these age boundaries are implemented.
Support ALL young adults. Between the ages of 18 to 24 there seem to be two general groups of young adults: 1) Those who stay in the local community to work, and 2) Those who leave and go to college. I really take issue with how some people treat the young adults who chose to stay in the area and begin their lives in full-time employment, versus the individuals that leave to seek more education. I have found that the Mennonite Church all but worships higher education, and although we are polite to those that do not go to college, we tend to neglect those that remain with us. Statistically, those that go to college will not return to your community or congregation once they are finished.
It is the young adults who are still in your congregation that will most often take up the mantle of Christian leadership and service. We not only have to see them as success stories in their own right but support them also. Many churches provide financial grants and all means of support (care packages, cards, etc.) to their college students, but what is there for the young adults that remain in our faith family? There should be money for them also. What if one wants to get a commercial driver’s license or pick up a certified skill from a local trade school? The list can go on and on.
Minister to whoever is there. When the college students are back during a break, our young adult group can have as many as 12 people, if everyone comes. Most often not everyone shows up, regardless. However, I have four young men who have decided to work in agriculture and have been pretty consistent in their weekly participation in church and meeting together. They are the ones that tithe, are learning where and how to minister, and possibly, if they stay, will raise families. They have local ties to the people in the community on a yearly basis and therefore can share Jesus with their friends and family.
I do love all of the young adults that God has brought for me to love and serve, but those that are here with me right now are the ones that I can directly serve. I come up with topics and issues that directly affect their lives. I did not grow up as a farmer, but these young men have. I learn from them so I might better relate to them. They suggested I go out and get myself a pair of boots (think cowboy boots), and I will definitely do this! I make it a point to have a meal with them or just a piece of pie and coffee. I want each one of them to know they are important collectively, but also as individuals.
Find ways to educate them on the responsibilities of being a Christian adult. We cannot assume that a young adult has been prepared to be an adult Christian. Yes, they might be able to recite scripture, the books of the Bible, and all matter of biblical knowledge. However, do they understand the Great Commission, spiritual gifting (including their own gifting), why fellowship and worship in the community are important, and all manner of other things that they must understand to be an effective part of the Body of Jesus? I have discerned that the majority of these issues are not explicitly taught to young adults, but we “hope” they will pick it up along the way! This thinking is doing them and ourselves a disservice. We can teach them these things, but what we need to do next is extremely critical: We need to encourage, challenge and provide places for them to share and serve.
Faith and fun. Jesus was not all stoic and a killjoy, and we should not be either. We must find time to spend with young adults and have fun! I had a Christmas party and invited a young man that didn’t attend our church; matter of fact, he was Greek Orthodox. I was planning on having 25-plus young adults attend. We had five! It was a blast! We went along with the games we planned, presents were distributed, and everyone had more than enough to eat. I could have gotten bummed out or thought maybe I was doing something wrong. But I realized to do so would have messed up the time we had together! Growing faith and having fun together is part of the ministry. Your young adults are in a challenging, daunting yet awesome and exciting time of their lives. Whoever shows up for these activities needs you to love on them and build up their faith!
Recognize they too are a part of the congregation. Too often the mindset is that young adults don’t want to be there, or they are being looked over. We have to stop this thinking. Have you stopped to ask them if the worship music and other areas of church life are ministering to them? Of course, they are different than what earlier generations are used to. Hymns usually come from hundreds of years ago. Camp songs and the hits from the Jesus Movement are just as foreign to them as today’s contemporary Christian music is to some in the pews today. The days of waiting to hand the church keys over on our deathbeds are long gone. Young adults will go somewhere else that they can identify with or leave church altogether. Music is just one area of segregation of young adults from the older generations. Must love of traditional sacred cows or fear of change put a wall of hostility between Brothers and Sisters in Christ regardless of age?
Young Adult Leaders NOW. This brings me to my last focal point: Bringing young adults into the leadership of the present church. They are not the future church but the PRESENT church. If you look at the boards and leadership positions of most churches today (and in the past for that matter) you will probably see an average age of adults in their 50s. Why is that? Having spent the last 20-some-odd years in the rural areas of Ohio, I see fathers and mothers teach their kids how to run the family farm or business before they eventually retire. Why is it that we are not grooming our young adults to lead? Identify young adults for leadership. Come alongside them now and see where their passions lie.
I have purchased a fire ring that I intend on using to sit around and get to know the young adults in my congregation better. Also, I plan on getting a smoker, because the guys that stay local want to get down to some pulled pork and ribs! I look forward to these future times and many more! I love the young adults that Jesus has honored me to minister to. I pray that you all will also recognize the gifts that they are in each one of our faith families. Love and guide them while we are here and they are present.
God’s blessing on all of you, my Brothers and Sisters,
Ramon Lianez is a member of the pastoral team at Central Mennonite Church in Archbold.
The Youth and Young Adult Ministry Development Team is seeking stories from Ohio Conference congregations about how they are working with youth and young adults. They would like to hear from you. What have been your successes? How have you learned from your failures? Where is God working now? If you have a story that you would be willing to share with the Conference, please contact Ann Leaman at firstname.lastname@example.org.