Note: This article is excerpted from Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults.
When it comes to shepherding emerging adults in identity and purpose, there are many opportunities, but you'll need to be intentional. Here are just a few ideas to get you started when discipling 18- to 30-year-olds.
Think Through the Life Stage
Think about how adulthood is being defined. The absence of traditional markers provides disciplers with the opportunity to explore a spiritual definition of adulthood. Take time to search for biblical markers of maturity. Differentiate between childlike faith and childishness. Look for Scripture that expresses growth in terms of spiritual wisdom, responsiveness, and love. Grapple together with the concepts of dependence, independence, and interdependence within the family of origin and the body of Christ. Potential passages to look at include Proverbs, Ephesians 4, Hebrews 5:14, and 1 John 2. You may also want to take time to explore how the young adult is defining adulthood for themselves.
Ask pacing questions. These are questions regarding the young adult's journey that you can ponder as well as questions you may want to actually ask them, such as, How does the disciple see herself in relation to God? What is his present sense of God's purpose for his life? And how does he live out that purpose in the midst of a job or present relationships? What present circumstances make it difficult for her to trust how God designed her?
Correct, Challenge, and Encourage
Provide correction that helps emerging adults trust God's wisdom regarding identity. A woman in my (Jana's) small group was convinced that God was only interested in using her as a tool for the sake of others. She did not see God as a Father who valued her as his precious daughter whether or not she did something for him. Change began to come as, over time, others in the small group repeatedly corrected her false view of God and her worth to him. Correction is important when someone believes lies about God, or is misinformed about how to live out a calling to be like Christ.
Challenge unawareness about the importance of doing the Father's will in discovering purpose. Emerging adults may not understand that God has given them spiritual gifts to use as an expression of love within the body of Christ. But the apostle Peter says this is "most important of all":
Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen (1 Peter 4:8-11, NLT).
These gifts were given to us as a means of loving. We are told to manage them well in order to be a conduit of God's generosity, love, and wisdom.
This implies two things: first, we must help emerging adults discover their areas of giftedness, and second, we must help them understand how to engage these gifts as a loving outflow of God's generosity and an expression of kingdom purpose rather than as a legalistic requirement to fulfill.
Recently, as I (Jana) interacted with two different groups of emerging to established adults, I asked them to take a test to determine their spiritual gifts. For many of them, this was still an area of discovery. We cannot assume that the people we're working with know how God has supernaturally equipped them to lovingly engage in the body of Christ. Even if we're working with emerging adults who know their spiritual gifts, we still may need to help them understand those gifts as an expression of purpose and overflow instead of obligation.