Much has been written recently about the potential drift of Millennial Christians (those between ages 18-30) out of the church and into a vague, rootless spirituality – or out of faith entirely. Although it is tempting to generalize and make sweeping statements about the millions who make up a generation, there is a danger in over simplifying things and losing sight of the individuals that make up the statistics. Further, there is often a tendency to hyperbolize a perceived problem.
Yesterday at The Gospel Coalition, Glenn Stanton wrote about this, explaining how a “handful of Christian authors have created a bit of a cottage industry peddling the scary news that the odds are not good that our young people stay strong in their faith into adulthood.” This “scary news,” he writes, is “Untrue.”
Stanton highlights three key “influencers of faith” that, according to an encouraging study done by sociologist Christian Smith at Notre Dame University (and corroborated by findings from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), indicate the likelihood a person will remain a faithful Christian into adulthood. These key elements are “parents, personal devotion, and support/encouragement from ‘satellite adults.’”
Parents who live out a consistent and authentic Christian faith are, as Smith put it: “the most important pastor a child will have.” Second, devotion in “regular prayer, church attendance, and reading of Scripture, growing in the conviction and experience that these practices are important for a happy life with God and others.” Stanton adds that “this practice doesn’t have to be perfect, only relatively consistent.”
The third element, “support/encouragement from ‘satellite adults,’” is one that merits more attention from the Church. Discipleship is vital for a growing and maturing Christian faith, and it is best done on a personal, relational level. Most churches tend to segregate ministries by age groups, which is appropriate at times, but does not encourage cross-generational relationships. Consequently, it is not difficult to grow up in church and never really have a strong connection with an older Christian who can offer wisdom and guidance.
Beyond any church or para-church programs, books, or other well intentioned initiatives to keep young Christians committed to Christ, discipling younger believers is not only important, but biblical. Titus 2:3-4 instructs “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women” (ESV). And 1 Peter 5:5 tells “[Y]ou who are younger, be subject to the elders.” Proverbs 27:17 advises that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Mentors are invaluable at any stage of life, but especially during the transitional and often turbulent early adult stage of life. I know from experience, as I was blessed with a wise and godly mentor in high school who consistently prayed for me and was a steady source of encouragement and accountability. Through college I felt comfortable sharing struggles that I was hesitant to discuss with my parents, but she consistently would speak the truth, even if I didn’t want to hear it. I believe her guidance and prayers were instrumental in keeping me faithful to Christ through college.
Godly mentors are those who can truly, as cliched as it sounds, speak the truth in love. Offering correction or guidance without a previously established relationship can be interpreted as harsh and legalistic, especially to young adults trying to figure life out on their own. Even when not facing a dark or difficult time, a mentor is a steady voice of wisdom and accountability through day to day life.
Applying this takes intentionality from both younger and older Christians, and various contexts can make mentorship difficult. Many churches in large cities, for example, have very few members outside of the 20-30 young professional demographic. But those who are able to establish such relationships, they should prayerfully consider doing so. It’s not easy. Relationships take time, personal sacrifice, and risk. But ultimately, the Christian life is meant to be lived in fellowship with others, and not just those in our own age bracket.