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Accompanying Young Adults in Liminal Spaces

Churches can be there for young adults going through change in challenging times.
by Faith+Lead | July 8, 2020

By Kate Reuer Welton

Young adulthood is marked by so many in-between times. For college students, these times are often dictated by their academic calendars but also moments of disruption in narratives of who and how they’re supposed to be in this world. Spring breaks, summer internships, and study abroad experiences all have the potential to open up one’s perspective and commitment just a little bit farther. You can imagine what kind of values and ethics are forming in our young adults in this liminal space we are all occupying in this time of unrest and uncertainty. While God certainly works the growth and a professor may find the time to mentor a student, it is also true that the church has an incredible role to play in accompanying young adults in these times of transition and remarkable growth.

What might that look like in congregational life? It is actually pretty simple.  

Check in on them.  Young adults are looking for connection now as much as ever. You matter to them, and a word from you goes a long way. Many experience depression and anxiety; some are simply lonely, or looking for direction. Some of the overachievers who appear to have it all together are the ones that need pastoral presence the most. If you are in a larger congregation, figure out a system for staying in touch.  

Accompany them in their vocations.  The world they are inheriting is in shambles, and they have us to blame. Today’s young adults are going to have to be a part of the solution for our polarized politics, climate change, the legacy of racial injustice, and an unstable economy. Don’t tell them they’ve “got this,” and they’re “going to do amazing things.” Can you imagine how patronizing that would feel coming from someone with actual power to change the actual things? Instead, steward their imagination around God’s new day, come alongside them, learn and listen, and walk the road to God’s new day together.  

Invite them into leadership. They are growing and learning and taking risks at the pace of toddlers (that is, rapidly). Let the church be a part of that learning and growth! And let your community be shaped and formed by their vision for the church and world. Some will be really happy to check in on elders, others might want to preach—you know your context and your people. Just do not be afraid to invite them in.  

Help them take the next step in faith. Are they going to college? Talk to them about how they might be involved in a faith community on campus?  Consider connecting them to Lutheran Campus Ministries or the campus ministries of your denomination on campuses across the country. Are they moving to a new city? Do some research on their behalf, and connect them with a pastor, church, or spiritual friend there. It can be really hard to find a good fit, so if you can help them get closer to connection , that’s a great start. 

In my 10 years of ministry at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, I have been surprised both at how open young adults are to the invitation to a life of faith, and how willing they are to take risks to grow in faith and in leadership in church contexts. Thank you for the good work you do in loving, challenging, and uplifting the young adults in your midst! 

About the Author
Kate Reuer Welton is the pastor for Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. 

Photo by Daniel Xavier

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