Empowered Young Adults = Successful Christians
Empowered Young Adults = Successful Christians
by Benjamin D. Copple
In I John 2:14 (NLT), the apostle wrote, “I have written to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ.” He then wrote, “I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong.” This is young adult ministry in a nutshell. Young adult leaders are mature in the faith, and young adults are strong. Leaders provide the maturity and wisdom, and the young adults provide the strength and energy. Together they change the world.
I am writing to you young adult leaders, who are mature in the faith. We have a great responsibility to harness the strength of our young adults and direct it into the kingdom of God. To do this we must build a foundation that will empower young adults to become successful Christians. A successful Christian is one that is born again, is finding his or her place in ministry, and is reproducing him or herself in other people. Our job is to help young adults fulfill the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20: Go, make, baptize, and teach.
Below you’ll find five building blocks for the foundation of your young adult ministry. For each block I’ve tried to focus on the needs of young adults, what you as a leader can do to meet those needs, as well as offer examples from Scripture.
#1. Young adults need to be heard, so listen to them.
They don’t need you to preach at them—they need you to listen to them. Teach them, yes, but make sure you take the time to listen to their questions too. They’re going to have a lot of question, and they’re going to be hard to answer. You’re going to have to know your stuff. You may need to read up on some current issues, learn a new subject, or engage with some elements of pop culture. If you can’t answer a question, that’s okay; sometimes knowing that you “get” them is more important than anything you do or say. Chances are they feel like many of the authority figures in their lives don’t want to hear their questions. And chances are they feel like their professors and friends don’t want to hear about their convictions and beliefs. They’re caught in the middle between two types of judgment. You need to be in the middle with them. Teach them right from wrong, but with an attitude of love, not judgment.
Example: Eli and Samuel (I Samuel 3:1–14)
Samuel was a young man when he served the Lord in the Tabernacle. We know he was close to the high priest because, when he had a question, he had immediate access to the high priest’s bedchambers. Look at how Eli treated the young Samuel: a confused young man came to him and inconvenienced him three times, but he received him with patience and gave direction from his own experience when applicable. Eli’s approach with Samuel should be your approach with your young adults: be available, receive them with patience, and give direction when applicable.
#2. Young adults need a model, so live with integrity.
In Titus 2:6–7 (NLT), Paul instructed Titus to “encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.” This is wonderful advice for young adult ministers. Young adults need more than preaching—they need a model they can base themselves off of. Pardon my prepositional faux pas, but this is important. Young adults are still developing patterns of adulthood, so they need a good example to copy. There are too many bad, or worse, hypocritical role models in the world. Don’t be like King David. He may have been a man after God’s own heart, but he was a horrible role model for his sons. He desired Bathsheba, so he took her, and then tried to avoid the consequences by covering up his sin. Absalom did the same thing. He took what he wanted and ignored the consequences. David’s poor example resulted in his son’s death. The same is true for you: if you don’t live with integrity, your young adults won’t survive the onslaught of a secular world. And if they think you’re a fake, they won’t stick around either.
Example: Elijah and Elisha (I Kings 19:19–21; II Kings 2)
The Bible doesn’t tell us that the prophet Elijah ever trained or tutored his disciple Elisha. All we know is he chose Elisha to “pour water on the hands of the prophet,” and Elisha followed him everywhere he went. Elijah must have been a good example for Elisha because the young man asked for a double portion of his master’s spirit. The Bible shows us that God gave him what he wanted, and he went on to perform twice as many notable miracles as his mentor. The greatest compliment to your ministry is to have young adults that are more successful than you. But that doesn’t happen without integrity.
#3. Young adults need to be challenged, so challenge them.
Don’t coddle them. Young adults are still adults. They aren’t kids anymore. They aren’t the future saints; they are the saints. Trust me, they want to be treated like adults. (Even if they don’t act like adults.) You aren’t doing them any favors by babying them, so don’t. Instead, stretch them. Get them involved in ministry. Plan a community service event. Let them teach one of your meetings. Find some way you can push them to be better. Don’t forget that behind every successful individual there is a parent, teacher, or coach who pushed them to be successful. Behind every Cinderella is a Fairy Godmother. Behind every Kobe Bryant is a Phil Jackson. Behind every Paul is a Barnabas. So don’t shy away from letting your young adults be involved. Let them make mistakes. They may just surprise you.
Example: Mordecai and Esther (Book of Esther)
The Book of Esther gives us a beautiful example of a mentor relationship. The book tells us that the talented, beautiful, young Esther was raised by her cousin, Mordecai. But even after she became queen, Mordecai still mentored her. He pushed her to do hard things, and she succeeded. Mordecai wouldn’t have been able to save his people without Esther, but Esther wouldn’t have been able to succeed without Mordecai’s encouragement. Your young adults can also accomplish great things. But they need you to challenge them.
#4. Young adults need you to invest in them.
You can’t just teach them nice little messages and have nice little social events for them. You have to spend time with them and not just as a group—you need to give them one-on-one time as well. They need you to mentor and train them. Put more into them than just information and pizza (or coffee, or paninis, or whatever Gen Z hipsters like). Give them something more than just Bible stories and inspirational quotes. Help them understand the things they are learning in college. Teach them how to be adults.
Example: Paul and Timothy (I & II Timothy)
Paul fully invested himself in the life of Timothy. He taught and trained him not just in the Scriptures, but in all aspects of life and ministry such as leadership (I Timothy 3), science and philosophy (I Timothy 6:20), and personal health (I Timothy 5:23). He took Timothy with him all over the world, wrote letters of instruction and encouragement to him, and even wrote several books with him (II Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, Philemon). Eventually he even sent Timothy to do ministry in his stead. Paul followed the pattern that Barnabas had set for him: Barnabas invested in Paul, so Paul invested in Timothy. This is the way the kingdom of God grows. You probably won’t be able to invest in many people as fully as Paul did in Timothy, but you might get a few chances. You can always invest something in someone.
#5. Young adults need to change the world, so show them how.
I have found that, at the core, every young adult wants two things: to learn the truth and to change the world. The reason your young adults ask so many frustrating questions is because they want to learn the truth. The reason so many of them are depressed, sullen, or frustrated is because no one will tell them the truth. Or they think they’ve already found it and don’t like what they’ve found. But at the same time, they have a very real desire to do something of worth and to be a part of something important. It’s the reason why they’re so restless and seem to get bored easily. You may be thinking, Hey, I’m the young adult leader, and I still feel that way! That’s a good thing—it means the cares and weights of life haven’t quenched those fires inside you yet. Too many of us lose our hunger for greatness and our thirst for truth because life distracts us and weighs us down. Your young adults are still young enough to have those fires burning strong, and, if they’re anything like me and the young adults at my church, those desires are almost tearing them apart.
So what can you do to satisfy these desires in your young adults? First, equip them with the truth, in all its forms. Obviously, start with the Word of God, the greatest truth that has ever been or ever will be uttered. But then teach them the other truths about life, love, and things you yourself have learned. If you don’t have the answers, teach them to find answers on their own. Second, help and encourage them to use the truth to change the world. The truth is a powerful thing, especially in a world where so many people are living a lie.
Example: David and Jonathan (I & II Samuel)
I Samuel 18:4 says Jonathan gave David his robe, garments, sword, bow, and girdle. Later it tells how Jonathan argued on David’s behalf, created a plan to save his life, and even forsook his own claim to the throne so David could become king. In both of these ways, he equipped David to do the things God had called him to do. I Samuel 23:16–18 records that Jonathan later went to David in the wilderness of Ziph and reminded him not to fear, for he would triumph over Saul and be king. In this he encouraged David to keep fighting and fulfill his destiny.
As always, Jesus Christ is our ultimate example. He chose twelve men on which to build his future kingdom. He did this by listening patiently to their dumb questions, presenting them with a perfect example to follow, challenging them to be better, investing time and energy in their personal growth, and encouraging them to change the world. Our goal as young adult leaders should be nothing less than the twelve disciples—strong, mature Christians who are turning their world upside down by reproducing themselves everywhere they go.