What does it mean to be an “adult”? What has changed from generation to generation in defining adulthood and what are the implications for the church in reaching a new generation of adults? How do we reach who researchers refer to as emerging adults with the Gospel of Jesus Christ; such that they become fully engaged in the life and mission of the church in the first decades of the 21st Century?
These are just a few of the questions that I had the opportunity to discuss with pastors, young adult ministers, and campus ministry directors at the 2013 Baptist General Assembly of Virginia (BGAV) in Fredericksburg earlier this week. We were fortunate to be joined by Dr. Chris Kiesling, professor at Asbury Seminary and co-author of Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry. Dr. Kiesling outlines five sociological markers that define adulthood and how they have shifted over the generations. I had the opportunity to visit with him and he was gracious to share about this shift on video. Check out this two minute video of Dr. Chris Kiesling.
The two “markers” that today’s emerging adults have dropped are marriage and having children. What has remained is a collective generation that holds in high esteem the qualities of autonomy, self-reliance, personal ambition/success, and independence.
What is so interesting, though, is how these two missing “markers of adulthood” essentially comprise the quality where one chooses to take responsibility for another person.
Visiting with Dr. Kiesling and the other ministers, I was soberly reminded that as the church, we must include the divinely Christ-like quality of Jesus’ sense of “otherness” in our practice of making disciples. Are we totally missing that mark as a generation? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus repeatedly modeled this quality with his disciples, up to the ultimate demonstration on the Cross.
Now, of course, marriage and having children are not the only ways in which we demonstrate this quality of otherness – they are simply sociological markers for this quality researchers look for in each generation. And despite the seemingly intensely individualistic nature, emerging adults are very much desirous of community; and they desire to give back to the community. So as the church reaches this generation with the Gospel we need to continue to foster the incredible opportunities to serve our community and world. But let us also promote Jesus’ sense of otherness as we serve – such that it becomes part of who we are as the next generation of the Church.