When I first started working with college students, ten years ago, I thought I needed to be “professionally cool.” I knew from past experience that I wasn’t the regular “cool.” I didn’t have the “it” my college or youth ministers had that made students flock to them. So, fresh out of grad school and eager to impress, I tried to have all the answers, look the part of a professional, and draw students to me with my wisdom. As you can guess, this approach failed miserably.
As a church do we sometimes try to be too “professionally cool?” Do we try to have the right look, right worship style, right answers in order to draw young adults to us? Has it worked? Many churches struggle with young adult evangelism and discipleship. We are at a loss of how to authentically connect with young adults and draw them closer to the heart of God.
In my search to reach young adults, God taught me that it wasn’t about how cool I was or wasn’t (and I certainly am not), it was about what HE could do through me. God’s call to me was, and continues to be, “tell them what I have taught you.”
The result of sharing what God has given me to share transformed me, my ministry, and the young adults I have the privilege of journeying alongside.
What has God given me to share? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30&31). Relationships. Relationship with God and relationships with others.
The ministry is called “Relationship IQ.” We help young adults develop healthy relationships with God and others. It has become an evangelism and discipleship tool. Young adults know they need help with their relationships. We know they need help with their relationships! They struggle with parents, friends, romantic partners, roommates, siblings, or co-workers. They are in a developmental phase where they think constantly about relationships and where doing relationships well is central to advancing successfully in life. Relationships are a felt and actual need. Offering a small group on dating or healthy sexuality will attract a young adult that might not come to a study of Romans. Talking about relationships naturally opens doors to conversations about relationship with God. God has created us for relationship and calls us into relationship with Him. Relationships are also central to discipleship – learning how to live as Christ would have us live. How we treat each other directly affects who we are becoming and how we relate to God.
What has God taught me about engaging young adults? To enter into relationship with them and help them with the biggest developmental challenges they currently face – identity formation (relationship with God) and relationship formation (relationship with others). I come from a psychology and theology background. God calls me to share what I know. I take the best research, theory, and practice from psychology and get to show off how amazing our God is.
Here is a quick example that God has used time and again to sow seeds of His love and care into hardened hearts. Our sexually crazed culture has wounded so many of God’s children. When we talk about healthy sexuality we start with what young adults will listen to – the research. We share how the neurochemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin) and the synapse connections in the brain respond to create bonding during sexual activity. We highlight study after study that shows the negative individual psychological and relational consequences of sexual interactions outside of marriage (increased depression, anxiety, poor communication, relational instability, poor decision making…). And we share how sexual interactions within marriage are protective and help secure and bond a husband and wife. And then we get to point to our good God and say, “God’s words to us are to bless us and not to harm us. They are for our good. He knows how He has made us and wants our best. God is also a god of grace and restoration.” About two months after studying this material with a small group of women who were far from God and not interested in faith, I asked them to tell me about their faith and relationship with God now. They each said in their own words, “I know God loves me and I am trying to figure out how to be in relationship with Him.” Praise the Lord!
God knows the hearts of those we are trying to serve. Let Him use what He is teaching you to bless the young people around you. You don’t have to be cool. You just need to be in healthy relationship with God and others.