This blog post is adapted from Lutheran Life Issue 321.
Sometime in my late twenties, faced with yet another big adult decision, I posted a meme on Facebook that said: “That horrifying moment when you’re looking for an adult, then realize you’re an adult. So you look for an older adult, someone successfully adulting—an adultier adult.” I expected my peers to empathize and adults older than me to offer comfort. Surely, all these milestones and transitions become easier over time.
I was shocked when adults at all ages and stages beyond mine responded to my post saying this still happened to them. It was a strange comfort to hear that my responsible, loving, Christian mentors were still looking for that adultier adult. Young adulthood is marked by a variety of new experiences and milestones: first jobs, first apartments or houses, first loves, marriages, and even children. Add on that we are navigating 401ks, insurance plans, taxes, cooking, and more, all at the same time. All these milestones come with joy and excitement, but they can also leave us overwhelmed and vulnerable to disconnection from faith and the church.
What Do Young Adults Need?
The 2017 “Millennials and the LCMS” research found that 54 percent of those who grew up and remained in the LCMS into young adulthood said their church ministered to them in times of transition. Only 28 percent of those who grew up in the LCMS and left said the same. Young adults are not looking for just adultier adults but also for a community of support and encouragement that will point them to Jesus as they navigate the joys and hardships of adult milestones and transitions.
Ministering to young adults doesn’t necessarily look like a program. Instead, there are three things the church can do to support young adults as they approach their many firsts and transitions.
1. Help them develop adult tools.
While new milestones are constantly in front of us, we can develop tools to help us make wise and faithful decisions. We have God’s living and active Word, worship, and prayer. Young adults can also gain practical tools from Christians around them, from professional mentors to people who can help them locate new churches when they move. I once spent two hours in the car on the way to a servant event talking with teens about how taxes and student loans worked. God’s good gifts to us and sharing vocational skills will help young adults prioritize faith as they reach new stages.
2. Model what faithful Christian practice looks like in their next stage.
When we look around for that adultier adult, who will be our example? Young adults benefit from relationships with healthy Christians who model what their next steps may look like. As their romantic relationship gets serious, they need examples of Christian marriages. As they move, they will look for models of how to share Jesus with neighbors. Even in failure, more experienced adults can help show how confession, forgiveness, and the sanctified life can look in the next stage.
3. Give opportunities for contribution and belonging.
As young adults leave youth ministry, it’s important for them to find places where they belong in the life and mission of the church. Congregations can be a refuge of warmth and comfort when everything else is changing. In our Baptism, God has brought us into a family, centered around the Gospel, where God has gifted and arranged each of us as a part of the Body. We all benefit when young adults find places to serve and lead, even if it requires mentoring and flexibility as they grow and change.
I remember that Facebook post on adulting even today. It reminds me that uncertain first times, difficult decisions, and transitions will always come. In these moments, we get to experience joy and excitement as well as fear and doubt. They are places where God can draw us closer or where faith can falter. Perhaps in our search for the adultier adult, we are really looking for our God, who is always faithful to His promises.
God promises that when we pass through waters and fire, He will be with us because we are precious to Him (Isaiah 43:2–4). Our God was willing to send even His own Son that we might be saved from our sin and doubt. Yet God knows that as humans we are prone to uncertainty and panic, especially in our firsts. May young adults (and adultier ones) know our loving God, who forgives and walks with us through all that will come.
Read more about how to serve others through the milestones happening in their lives, and how you can celebrate these milestones in your own life by reading Lutheran Life.