First Third Conversations

10 Things I've Learned About Young Adults

WrestlingA blog post by Aaron Fuller

For the past three years, I’ve been coaching wrestling at Augsburg College, a small ELCA college in Minneapolis. This time has given me the gift of hanging out with young adult wrestlers. Because of the nature of the sport and the coach/athlete relationship, I’ve learned some important lessons about young adults and their lives, which I would like to share with you here.

1. Athletes are “typical” young adults. So if you grew up disliking athletes or athletics in school and still dislike them, I’d say get past it.

2. Young adults are easy to love, but they can be really hard to like. I love my athletes like little brothers and sons, even…but they really make me angry once in a while. They miss practices, they fail classes, and they sell themselves short.

3. Young adults are ideological. That’s a no brainer; they spend all their time on a college campus for the most part. What would you expect?

4. Young adults are going to “do what they do,” in the words of one of my wrestlers. Which means to me, stop trying to convince them of whatever you think is important for them.

5. It takes A LOT of time and effort to earn their trust…

6. …and the best way to do that is to simply be yourself around them.

7. Young adults like knowing you’re a person of deep faith -- even if they’re not. Go ahead and talk about it; just don’t proselytize. (See 5 & 6)

8. Young adults are dealing with a ton of stuff in their lives, but they won’t usually tell you.

9. But if you are paying attention to their nonverbal cues, and you simply ask them -- they usually will tell you.

10. Young adults are some of the most insecure and fearful people I know, but they’ll do just about anything to cover it up. Wrestlers are some of the worst offenders, I’ve found.

So, what does this have to do with doing young adult ministry?I suppose I could give you the standard lines: they’re longing for meaning and belonging, listen to them, they need to be respected and have a voice, etc. But I think all these miss the real key to doing ministry with young adults: the issues of connection and vulnerability and living into relationships where vulnerability is front and center.

Wrestling is one of the hardest sports because your vulnerability is always front and center. Every time they step on that mat, they’re out there alone. And every time they step on that mat, they bring their whole selves, including all of their other “stuff.” Because of this, I see them at their very best or highest points, but I also see them at their very worst or lowest points. And how I respond and the care I take in handling that reality is a witness to them.

For me, the only choice then is to be vulnerable with them as well. I’m honest; sometimes I respond and handle things well but sometimes I don’t. I’ve got my own “stuff,” too. I give and receive grace all the time. It’s a witness not only to them, but also to me -- a witness to the God revealed in Christ on the cross. The cross, where God becomes totally vulnerable with us first, so that we might become vulnerable by trusting in return. And it is in the cross that we come to understand and experience what is at the very core of what it means to be in relationship, love. Love is shared vulnerability.

Such a thing is really hard to do, and there’s no blueprint for it either. But I know it works. I know that if you asked my wrestlers what I think of them, they’d tell you in their own words, “coach loves us.” And that is absolutely true, and I hope they know God loves them too. Vulnerability is the key….but I’ve learned that if you want to engage young adults in ministry, it has to begin with you being vulnerable first.


Aaron FullerAuthor Bio:
Aaron Fuller has done a lot of things and been a lot of places: grew up on a dairy farm, drove submarines, taught on a college campus, wrestled competitively, and coached wrestling, just to name a few. He now adds pastor to his list. Aaron is deeply committed to a multi vocational way of living out life and faith….because that’s exactly how it works for the rest of us, young and old alike.

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