9 Things I Learned About Being a Young Adult in Ministry
July 30, 2015—As a 31-year-old, single male in full-time ministry, I’ve reflected on my time post-college and post-seminary and compiled a list of things I’ve learned (mostly the hard way) or things I wish I had known as a student before I entered the “real world.” This is not an exhaustive list. Some items on here can be attributed to personality—I’m an outgoing, introverted, type B kind of person. I can obviously only write from my context. If you are in a different life-stage, what are some things you would reflect on and share with someone else to make the most of their seasons in ministry?
I have a harder time making friends
I struggle with making new friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a friendly guy, I just don’t connect with people as fast or as deep as some others seem to do. Something that precipitated this was a move from Atlanta to Houston when I took my first full-time call. I had spent 12 years in Atlanta making friends and didn’t know a soul in Houston. To add to that, there was a big hole in the young adult members of the church making it harder to connect with people my age. Every once in a while I find myself asking the question, “Why is it so hard to make friends?” Stepping away from being in classrooms with peers and youth groups and retreats with friends, I found it difficult to even meet people my age. It takes a lot of intentionality to not only find friends, but also to cultivate those relationships.
At my current church NewPointe Community Church, we say that “Doing life alone is dangerous.” We all need friends. It’s dangerous to go alone.
I have a wider range of influence
This is something I’ve only recently discovered. As a young guy, I didn’t hold a lot of influence. I remember being on a pastoral care call as an intern at a church and hearing the gentleman on the other side of the call saying, “they just put these young kids on these calls now.” It was a big hit to my ego as an aspiring pastor.
Now, I realize I have influence among adults, some who hold a lot of influence themselves. I am able to influence the influencers as an adult. Being a young adult opens the door to influencing a wider audience. You’re not a kid anymore. People will listen to you if you have something worth listening to. Use this influence well.
I have more bandwidth
I’ve heard it said that when you’re married you wonder what you did with all your free time when you were single and when you have kids you wonder what you did with all your free time when you were married without kids. What used to take you 3 hours to do, it now takes you 1 hour to do. I wonder what I did with my time as a college student or as an intern at a church. I’ve developed skills and patterns to save time and effort. I’m able to do more with less.
I ran across Paul’s argument for staying single the other day in 1 Cor 7:32-35 (NIV)
32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Although I laughed when I read this (since it’s pretty much expected of everyone in our society to become married), Paul does have a point. For me, in this season of singleness and young adult-ness, I have way less to worry about than someone who is married. I can chase after whatever I want. I can be solely concerned about the Lord’s affairs (not that I am close to doing this, but it’s at least an option for me). At the time, singleness is a gift, young adult-ness is a gift. You can do more than you used to. Take on new challenges, new projects.
I have to be a self-starter
This one is tough for me. One of my weaknesses is taking initiative. I’m not so much a self-starter. Turns out, you kind of have to be in order to be an adult. Well, a successful adult. As a young adult, you have new freedom. More freedom means more responsibility. I used to live with some younger guys in a house. Big mistake. It amazed me how much they didn’t take care of the house or each other. No one is going to tell you what you need to do. You just have to do it. If you don’t know what to do, you need to find out.
Through college, you had people telling you what to do, what you needed to know, what path you were heading on. As a young adult, it’s all on you. There’s no longer a campus gym to work out at, you actually have to find a gym and pay for a membership if you want to take care of your body, which you find is betraying you with every advancing year. You have to find a health insurance provider and file your taxes. It’s on you.
I can’t do what I used to do
Like, physically. I can’t. I remember when I used to be able to play basketball as a college student. I tried playing gagaball with some students last year and it was ugly. Really ugly. And it wasn’t even anywhere close to the physical effort needed for basketball. It’s true what they say, after you hit 30 your body just isn’t what it used to be. And it’s not just the physical stuff, it’s pop culture and being “cool.” I quickly realized I was out of the loop when I did student ministry. Even turning on a top 40 radio station will make you feel like a dinosaur. I used to pride myself because I could keep up with students. I knew about celebrities and music, but how quickly that changed. Culture changes so fast, it’s tough to remain relevant.
I’m a small fish in a big pond
When I was in high school, I was in the top 20 graduating seniors. I was one of the smart kids. I quickly dropped to one of the non-smart kids when I studied engineering in college. And now I’m one of thousands and thousands of church musicians. I’m relatively unknown because the list of people I’m compared to just exploded dramatically. Your pond becomes an ocean. It’s so easy to think that you’re the biggest and best when you’re younger. Entering the “real world” and becoming a functioning member of society quickly changes your worldview and squashes your pride. Again, the faster you figure this out, the better set-up for success you are.
I receive more honest feedback
I’ve noticed people are less likely to spare my feelings as an adult. I guess they just assume that I’m mature enough to take the truth by now. Long gone are the days when I got a trophy for “participation.”
If you aren’t meeting expectations, you will most likely get a talk with your superior very soon. And it’s not even in a mean or condescending way, most of the time it’s meant to make you better. You just have to learn to not take it personally.
Psalm 141:5 says: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.” That’s one of my favorite verses. You don’t grow unless you’re corrected.
I have a wider network
The older I get, the more I hear stories of people who know someone who knows someone. Each person you meet expands your network exponentially. This not only helps you find concert tickets easier, but it also helps you find volunteers, donors, potential staff, etc.
I have more fun
No tests, no homework, more friends, more freedom, and more income (hopefully) mean your young adult years have the potential to be some of the most fun of your life. It’s like college with fewer bad decisions.
Enoch Chang is the Worship and Creative Arts Director of NewPointe Community Church Coshocton Campus in Northeast Ohio. He received his MDiv from Columbia Theological Seminary in 2011.