I listed to Conan O’Brien’s interview with Dax Shepard on Armchair Expert today. At one point Conan was describing his thought process behind an early certain career move that, to an observer, looked really risky. This prompted Conan to share a piece of advice he always gives young people.
“You have less to lose than you think.”
That is a great reminder. I need to write that down and look at it often because I am prone to being a chicken.
For me, the risks I’m often most afraid to take are in every day social situations.
Tonight I was reading at a coffee shop when I noticed a man, probably around my age, sitting alone with the saddest look on his face. He wasn’t reading or even looking at his phone. For what felt like 10 minutes he was staring off into space with the most defeated and unhappy expression. After a while I really felt like I should put down my book and try to start a conversation with him, ask how he’s doing, and see if he’s ok. But I couldn’t muster the courage. I was afraid there was no natural or casual way to do it. It could easily be very awkward.
Soon after that he got up and left.
What was I so afraid I’d lose if I stepped out of my comfort zone in that moment? It felt like there was a lot on the line. But what? My social status with a complete stranger I’d never see again?
And it’s not like I was going to tap him on the shoulder and scream “WHY DOES YOUR FACE LOOK SO SAD?!” I was just going to say “how’s your night going?” and go from there.
Despite whatever my brain was making up in that moment of panic, there wasn’t much on the line.
I hop the next time I’m faced with an opportunity to take a risk I go for it. If it goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world.
I have learned so much about confession over the last few years. Some times when I speak at a church I get frustrated because of all the stuff I have to cut out so I don’t talk for 6 hours straight. I barely get to scratch the surface. That’s why I’m excited to create resources that can continue the conversation long after I’m gone and I’ll be able to do that with the help of your support through Patreon.
These are the notebooks I’ve been filling with everything I want to share.
At the beginning of last year I started getting lunch with pastors and counselors to ask a million questions (a few months ago I saw a tweet making fun of the fact that white bros love saying “I want to pick your brain” so I’m trying to avoid that term here), and after every lunch I’d immediately write down everything I could remember from the conversation.
It’s been cool to develop my teachings on confession and putting what I’ve learned into my own words. I can’t wait for this to turn into a book. I wish it would do that magically on its own without me having to do any work. I wish.
Patreon isn’t magic but it’ll help make this possible.
The month is almost over. This is what my face looks like right now. I’ve gone this whole month without shaving in order to trick people into paying attention to my Patreon.
People think I’m lying when I say I really don’t like my facial hair. They think I’m fishing for compliments. Well, I hate fishing. Some times I forget I have it and I get all startled when I look in the mirror. This month I’m turning into Mulan. I’m counting the days until I can shave, asking myself “when will my reflection show who I am?!”
One more week of this.
Please go check out my Patreon.
Pick 5 evangelical churches at random across America and I’m sure, for the most part, their children’s ministries will all look similar, same with their youth, and their Sunday morning service. Sure there might be a few differences but for the most part there’s a universal look and feel almost everyone has adopted. That’s not the case with young adult ministry AT ALL. You’ll find 5 totally different approaches. There’s no consensus. We’re still trying to figure that one out.
What is the church supposed to do with the 20somethings?!
In the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, there’s a great piece of footage where Rogers is thinking through his philosophy and purpose behind his TV show. He’s sitting at a piano talking about modulations in music (a fancy word for key changes). Some are easier than others. Some times you’re transitioning from F major to F# and that can be a pretty difficult. He draws a parallel to life and the difficult transitions we go through in childhood. He says he sees his calling is to be an adult that children can trust to help them though those modulations.
Being a young adult is all about facing an avalanche of new and terrifying transitions (modulations). In When Your 20s Are Darker Than You Expected Paul Maxwell points out that your 20s can be so stressful because for the first time ever you are completely in charge of yourself. You don’t have parents or school or any other outside authority governing your decisions. It’s suddenly all on you. You’re in charge of yourself, wholly and completely.
Where do you want to live? Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? How will you spend your money? Who will you surround yourself with?
Just like Mister Rogers, I think a church’s young adult ministry should be designed around the modulation.
It shouldn’t just be “more youth” for those who’ve aged out.
It shouldn’t be “cool church for young people” either. You run the risk of building up a strong ministry that accidentally isolates 20somethings from the rest of the church. They don’t feel the need to attend Sunday services or get plugged in outside of their young adult service because it basically acts like a self sustained church, separate from everything else.
Design the ministry around modulations.
I think there are four main areas a young adult ministry should focus on in order to equip every 20something with what they need to brave these upcoming transitions.
FOUR PILLARS OF
YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY
Viktor Frankl says the greatest thing man is searching for in life is meaning. Once you find meaning, you will have a light to guide you through even the darkest seasons. In Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl consistently points to Nietzsche’s phrase “he who has a why to live for can put up with almost any how.”
Frankl’s life speaks to the validity of this statement. In the 1940s Frankl suffered through several years in Nazi concentration camps. He said that those who felt like they had a clear purpose in their life were the ones who were more likely to survive.
In your 20s you’re desperate for meaning. Everyone’s asking what you want to be when you grow up or what you’re going to do when you graduate. If you don’t have all those things figured out it can really send you spiraling into a miserable headspace.
Frankl wants you to find meaning but not necessarily the Meaning of Life, that grand purpose for your whole existence. Instead he thinks you should look for the meaning placed right in front of you in this specific moment in life.
I think that shift in thinking can be a relief, especially for young adults. It’s easy to feel like you’re just spending those years waiting around for real life to begin. You think things will really start happening when you’re out of college, with a career, or when you’re married. But what’s in front of you right now? You can find meaning and purpose in this season of life too.
From Man’s Search for Meaning (a book I read this year that legit changed my life)
“It did not really matter what we expected from life but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those being questioned by life—daily and hourly.”
What purpose can you find in life right now? What purpose can you fulfill in your church body? Where can you get plugged in? What ministry can you make an impact in? How can you serve and love the people in your life today? What is life asking of you? A young adult ministry can help 20somethings discover a meaningful “why” in the here and now.
Every relationship you have in your 20s is in desperate need of honesty if it’s going to be healthy. You need to learn to be honest in your relationship with yourself, with God, your parents, your friends, and the person you’re dating.
The apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a race to describe our life as a Christian. We’re to run the race well (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Imagine starting a marathon right after getting a splinter in the bottom of your foot. At first it might not hurt that bad. It stings a little but you can keep going. I’m sure after the third mile (this is speculation because I’ve never ran more than three miles in my life and I’m sure I’d explode if I tired) that pain from the splinter is going to be a lot worse. By mile ten I bet it’s insane how much it hurts. At the start it didn’t seem like that big of a deal but as the race continues it’ll affect you more and more.
One time I was invited to speak to college students about my experience in ministry and this was what I talked about. The morale of the story is DEAL WITH THE SPLINTER NOW. At the start of the race. It might not feel that bad but if you don’t address it, it’ll get so much worse. This is true for jealousy, anger, porn addiction, unforgiveness, insecurities, infidelity, abusive behavior, or mental health issues. And you can’t deal with the splinter unless you’re willing to admit that it’s there.
Honesty can be terrifying.
A young adult ministry can encourage and challenge you to bravely pursue honesty in relationships, as well as give you a safe place to practice and learn.
In your 20s you’re transitioning out of a life where you’ve been told by a teacher what you’ll learn, read, research, memorize, and practice. That’s all you’ve known up until this point and now you’re free to decide those things for yourself. What are you going to do?
Matt Chandler used to call immature men “boys who can shave.” The danger in this transition is that while the rest of your life is changing around you, emotionally and spiritually you can stay who you were as senior in high school.
I believe a young adult ministry needs to emphasize the importance of growth. Growth in knowledge, maturity, talents, passion, and especially growth in your relationship with God. It can help create a culture that celebrates reading, questioning, and reflecting on your life. Honesty will help you recognize your need for growth but you also have to actually set out to do it.
Every day you take a step in the right direction is a day worth celebrating.
Earlier this year I put out a survey to young adult pastors with just one question: What’s the most difficult part of your ministry?" The number one answer by far was: “Young adults are flakes.”
I can see how that would be the most frustrating thing in the world. You plan an event, people commit to being there, and a couple days (or even hours) before it’s supposed to happen, people start DROPPING LIKE FLIES. A bunch of people said “I’ll totally be there! That sounds awesome!” but then only a few actually come out.
That really sucks.
But I think it also proves why a young adult ministry is so important. Yes, they’re flakes, but they’re not just doing that to the church, they’re doing that to everybody. They’re flaking on each other too. Could you imagine if everybody in your life was that unreliable? A young adult ministry can make such a huge impact by being the only consistent voice in someone’s life.
There is a loneliness epidemic in our culture and during this transitional period in your 20s it’s so important to step into the rest of your life with the knowledge of what a real friendship looks like and how to have one. It’s so much easier to strive for purpose, honesty, and growth when surrounded by friends.
When you focus on equipping young adults for their transitional season, I think your less likely to run into the problem of building a ministry that isolates 20somethings from the rest of the church. Eventually they’ll be on the other side of their big transition. You’re giving them everything they need to outgrow your ministry and realize “oh I don’t need this anymore.” That’s the goal.
This little box makes you “so sad you can’t eat or love.”
I don’t really like the holiday. Last year I wrote about how it sucks. For some reason a ton of people all over the country have been finding that post in the last few weeks. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.
This morning I texted some people why I’m thankful for them in my life. I also tweeted, completely unironically, that I am thankful for Gritty, the new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. If you don’t follow him on instagram you’re robbing yourself of a silly amount of joy.
But now the day is done. The song from the SNL skit above is still stuck in my head. Thanksgiving is over.
It’s time to emotionally prepare myself for the beauty of Christmas, the one good holiday.
Despair is for people who know beyond any doubt what the future is going to be. Nobody’s in that position. So despair is not only a kind of sin theologically; it’s also a simple mistake because nobody actually knows. In that sense there always is hope.
A while ago I shared Andrew Peterson’s definition of hope as the belief that “something good is coming.” It makes sense that Dr. Curry’s description of despair is the exact opposite: the belief that you are 100% that nothing good is coming ever again.
But NO ONE can be sure with absolute certainty what the future holds. When things are at their darkest and it looks like all is lost, you can find hope in the uncertainty.
It may feel like you’ll never love again, but how can you be sure?
It looks like the weight of your depression will go away, but is there even a small chance that it does?
If you’re not ready to believe that something good is coming, then maybe, for the moment, all you need is uncertainty to poke holes in your despair. And maybe the holes will be just big enough to let some hope shine in.