Q. My son graduated from a Nazarene university. When he moved to take his first job, he attended the local Nazarene church for a few weeks, but he didn't stay. He said he didn't connect with the pastor or the people. Is this because of a generational shift of some sort?
A. A few years ago I asked my daughter's "life group" to respond to one question: "Why are you in the church when many of your peers are not?" The answers usually included something about strong relationships within the congregation.
Since that conversation, I've noticed that "belonging" is of primary importance to other young adults, too. If they don't find gracious relationships in the church, they'll move on. As I've reflected on this reality, I see a couple of things that say to them, "You are welcome here."
I find that young adults have little patience for "Sunday School answers" (their term). They won't stick around if they can't talk about the complexity of life and faith in meaningful ways. This is especially true for those who have honed critical thinking skills through higher education.
We need clergy intellectually prepared to effectively engage people who are not satisfied with easy answers. We need robust discipleship ministries that help lay persons think theologically.
Peter wrote to Christians in a chaotic time and urged them to, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). In our own unsettled times, we must respond well to vital questions.
Another issue for young adults is their determined intent to make a difference in this world. My son-in-law had a conversation with a friend during which they pledged to pray for each other. They sought to discern how they might engage in something more meaningful than just getting established in careers that paid well. God answered their prayers. They have since made trips to Africa in an ongoing ministry with orphans.
As I consider the young adults I know, I see that they intuitively recognize the truth of James' claim: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27). Young adults want their imaginations stimulated so that the embodiment of the gospel aligns with its proclamation.
Is there a shift in process? Yes, and it is good. We would do well to follow the example of faithful young adults (1 Timothy 4:12) and nurture congregations where clear thinking and compassionate action flourish as an expression of a vibrant faith.
Keith Schwanz is a writer and publisher from Overland Park, Kansas, who has served as a pastor, church musician, and seminary educator.
In each issue, a forum of pastors, laity, theologians, and church leaders respond to your questions on subjects such as doctrine, theology, Christian living, and the church. Send your questions to Holiness Today, Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center, 17001 Prairie Star Parkway, Lenexa, KS 66220 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The editors regret that all questions cannot be printed, acknowledged, or answered.