Spiritual Challenges of Emerging Adults

Spiritual Challenges of Emerging Adults

How to minister to the unique spiritual needs of 18- to 30-year-olds

Note: This article is excerpted from Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults.

The need for spiritual growth can come in many forms. Some people have an idea of what they need, while others have no clue where to start. Working with an emerging adult who does not have an idea of how he or she wants to grow underlines the need for the disciplemaker to develop discernment. Here are ideas for working with the spiritual challenges of emerging adults.


Discern growth frontiers. It's essential to ask the obvious: "Where do you sense the Lord wants you to grow right now?" One young woman, Becky, was able to express to me (Jana) that the Lord was challenging her in regard to frustration with her parents for mistakes they made with her as she was growing up. We had previously talked about other struggles she experienced in relating to others. Lack of forgiveness was an obvious theme. I was grateful for her self-awareness in regard to her parents, and as a result of careful listening, we were able to identify the roots of this spiritual roadblock and begin to address it.

Discern potential strongholds. At times, growth obstacles stay in place because of spiritual strongholds. Ed Silvoso defines a stronghold as "a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes one to accept as unchangeable something known to be contrary to the will of God."

Second Corinthians 10:4 (NLT) reminds us, "We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments." Strongholds require a different level of spiritual confrontation in the life of the disciple. Prayer disciplines, fasting, Scripture memorization, others praying over the disciple, and engaging the armor listed in Ephesians 6 can all be helpful practices for breaking strongholds.

Ask pacing questions. For example, how is she responding to God's invitation to walk closely with him? When does he sense God's flow of grace? What things seem to block that flow? Where does she find herself having difficulty (or success) in trusting, submitting, or loving like Christ?

Explore the young adult's expectations for living life with Christ. What beliefs do they hold regarding what it means to follow Christ through life? Perhaps they think living the Christlife is about behaving morally, receiving God's blessings, or the eventual outcome. You might also explore disappointment or disillusionment they may have with God. A look at what drives them—or what demotivates them—in their walk with Christ can provide an opportunity to refocus on a faith that is receptive and responsive.


Confront unwillingness in submission to the Father. My (Jana's) friend's toddler has an interesting strategy whenever he doesn't want to do something she asks him to do. He simply pretends he didn't hear her. He continues to play or run or color even when she makes louder and louder appeals. Adults often do the same thing, whether by being deaf to the call to obedience or by a stubborn unwillingness to follow Jesus. They may be so self-focused in regard to their own needs that they cannot see what others need. Even if they tell you that they value living for Christ in all areas of their life, you might observe fragmentation. When disciplemakers see contradictory behavior they need to be an accurate mirror to help young adults see when they are living inconsistently with their desire to live with trust, submission, and love.

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