Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry
Consider the many life changes that occur from ages 18-20: high school to college; family life to college life to living independently; predetermined set of rules to determining one’s own rules; part-time jobs to a vocation; financial dependence to financial independence; being in family to starting one’s own family.
This stage of life has been marked by a general drift away from the church. Christian scholars generally agree that Christian practices and participation are likely to decline even when beliefs remain intact. So these years are essential for faith and worldview development
In Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry, David Setran and Chris Kiesling, both veteran teachers with backgrounds in college and young adult ministry, have researched this stage of life and have written an impressive volume encompassing good research and practical ideas.
Spiritual Formation works to bridge a gap in the existing literature by being a practical theology for college and young adult ministry. It combines both current scholarship with theological vision and provides realistic ministry applications.
The main areas addressed in this book include faith, spiritual formation, identity, church involvement, vocational opportunities, morality, relationships, sexuality and mentoring. In each of these areas Kiesling and Setran present the current cultural landscape and identify the important influences. Using Scripture, theology and other academic disciplines they delineate key postures and practices designed to facilitate spiritual formation and equip those working with and among emerging adults. Although they describe emerging adulthood as a time of formidable challenge they also present it as a time of great opportunity for the church.
The authors contend that part of our calling as adults is to help emerging adults unleash their potential energy into channels through which the kingdom can infiltrate church and world for God. The book attempts to address and answer two key questions. First, what does the gospel bring to these emerging adults in transition? Second, what do emerging adults shaped by this same gospel within these communities offer to the church and their world in the way of truth, healing and hope?
One of the challenges the book addresses stems from the default faith position of many emerging adults called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term (presumably) coined by Christian Smith in his book Souls in Transition. It is its own religion that promises personal assistance in making life better while making few demands on emerging adults in terms of identity, lifestyle and purpose. Because of this, the authors contend, many emerging adults are not being formed by Biblical faith into the image of Christ but, instead, are forming a faith that will shape them into their own image of happiness. This ultimately is idolatry – false worship – and a false pathway on which many young adults, both in and outside of the church, find themselves.
One of the central tasks, as the authors see it, is to help emerging adults detect, identify and abandon competing sources of worship. Throughout the book, the authors outline frameworks for spiritual formation in emerging adults. But no quick fixes are presented. Rather, entering into emerging adults’ lives through mentoring and guiding these young adults in their years of experimentation and exploration is the prescription. And in each section the authors call the larger church to stay (or become) involved in emerging adult lives. The church cannot allow itself to become removed from its position of influence in this transitory stage, but must remain steadfastly involved in order that a new generation of adults will own and live their faith in Christ.
If you are involved in college or young adult ministry or know someone who is, buy the book, read it and give it to someone – a parent of young adults, a pastor with a church that has young adults, a college or young adult worker. You will give them a jumpstart in understanding, praying for and ministering to emerging adults.
Written by: Rev. Dan Weidman, Student & College Ministries Committee