First Third Conversations

Young Adult Intro

Young AdultsA blog post by Terri Elton

My daughter is almost 21. She can vote and serve in the army, but in the eyes of society she will not be an official adult until her birthday appears on the calendar. Yet her birthday and the ability to drink in a bar are only two markers of her transition into adulthood.

We, her parents, already know she has left adolescence and entered into something new. As the primary decision-maker of her life, we are invited in new and different ways -- to celebrate, discern, and wonder. The calls, texts, emails, and visits remind us that we are still important in her life, but the issues are not the same.

Facing college graduation, each dawn is one step closer to a new reality. This May, for the first time, my daughter will not be a full-time student. Not only will this impact her daily routine, but it will also change a piece of her identity. Excited and scared, she walks this path, a path we cannot take for her.

Being a teacher and scholar of children, youth, and young adults, I’m fascinated by human development and how it plays out in society, particularly as it relates to those birth to thirty. And one of the interesting questions being asked today is, “What marks adulthood?” Does having all the “rights and privileges” of an adult actually turn one into an adult? No, but what are the markers of adulthood, say nothing about young adulthood? Are we living in a time when these markers have changed like many other aspects of our culture? And if so, what are the “new” markers? And for those of us in ministry, what does it mean to participate with and accompany human beings during this time?

But teacher and scholar are not the only perspectives I bring to these questions. I, like many of you, do not see “young adulthood” as a “demographic” or group to figure out. When I speak or teach on issues connected to this stage of life, names and faces dance in my head. This “stage” is the very world my daughter lives in; it is the lived experience of my “ex-youth ministry kids,” and it is the reality the confirmands of my (and perhaps your) congregation are experiencing. And we -- their family, youth leaders, congregations -- want to connect; we want to continue to be in community, speaking about faith and life. People of God, ministry with younger adults is not about “saving the church”; rather, it is about us caring about being the church and recognizing that shifts have taken place that are calling us to reimagine our life together.

For the next several weeks, our FirstThird blogs are going to focus on ministry with what we call “young” or “emerging” adults. A loose title, but an important stage of life, and one which is not well understood and is often overlooked. Young adulthood, people in their 20s and early 30s, is not the same as it once was, and projecting our experience onto “them” is not helpful. So, we will offer various snapshots from various locations to help us gain greater understanding and insight as we seek to engage in ministry.

Hope you will join us! 

Terri EltonAuthor Bio:
Terri is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change. She also serves as Director of the Center for First Third Ministry and hopes to help ministry leaders create environments that cultivate a faith that matters. Growing up in southern California, Terri discovered her love for the city, cultural diversity and the beach. You can usually find Terri running or biking the streets of Minneapolis/St. Paul, or wherever she happens to be. When not moving, she's watching a movie with her husband or traveling with her two young adult daughters.

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