Field Guide 2: Engagement with Spirituality & the Church
REFLECTIONS AND NEXT STEPS INSPIRED BY THE RESEARCH
In the first part of this field guide, we explored how a lack of connection may be contributing to the anxiety that many young adults feel. We also looked at how your community could offer a real and authentic source of connection and hope to young adults in your midst.
Now comes the difficult part: understanding your surrounding culture and church culture enough to connect young Christians with God’s Church. Field Guide 2 will help you think through some practical steps your congregation can take toward this end.
Before you dig into this field guide, consider the following questions as a team:
- How does our surrounding culture perceive Christianity? How might that impact the young Christians who come to our church?
- Look at the chart on page 20 showing how young people in your particular country struggle with belief in spiritual matters. Why do you think these are the specific questions or doubts expressed by young people in your culture?
- How is your church equipped – or not equipped – to help address the things young Christians say are missing in their churches? Do you think those desires are important for your church to consider? Why or why not?
Worldwide, many members of this generation show a deep ambivalence toward religion – and, in some cases, a deep antagonism. However, that isn’t the case in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The number of respondents in Southeast Asia who view religion as ‘harmful’ is much lower than the global average.
Still, while a significant majority of young adults in these countries says they believe in spiritual forces, as soon as that spirituality is tied to a religious faith, doubts and questions crop up. Consider that there are few ‘church dropouts’ in Southeast Asia, but young adults who have left the church identify significant issues within it, including corruption, and see little need for church and faith to be linked. Even among current Christians in this age group, issues like hypocrisy and human suffering pose significant challenges to faith and spirituality, and many see church attendance as something that is more important for later in life or during difficult times.
This reality is hard for many churches, but there are still steps you can take to help the young adults in your churches seek and know God.
Addressing the doubts and hurts expressed by young Christians won’t be easy. A young Christian coming to your church might have wounds from a different tradition or theology you personally find terrible or corrupt, or they might have questions or accusations that come from your surrounding culture. You and your church might be blamed for the sins or doubts of others, and it won’t feel fair.
But it’s also an opportunity to show how the Church works. Every expression of the global Church is responsible for helping people heal from past wounds. You might not have the same theology or church structure as the Christians who have truly hurt the young people in your congregation, and you are not to blame for how others view Christianity, but you do have the responsibility to work toward making things right with those willing to listen.
Think about how your community can work toward healing. Think about what seeking reconciliation and asking forgiveness looks like (and how it may look different from place to place). And then do the hard work of continuing that ministry each day, as you continually follow the sanctifying power of the Spirit.
Who is Jesus – and who are his followers?
In Southeast Asia, there are many understandings of who Jesus is. While a significant number of young adults say Jesus is the Son of God, there are significant numbers of people who believe Jesus is simply a prophet or a character from a story – or who are just not sure who he is. There is also some confusion about what makes a Christian. While most young Christians or church dropouts say the main marker of a Christian is a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, many other young adults outside of the Church say that being a Christian simply equates to church attendance or prayer. These ideas are likely impacting the young people who are in your church, even if they don’t realise it. You may need to work on educating the young adults in your community to fully understand who Jesus is – and what the Christian faith both is and is not.
Help people find what they’re missing
Young Christians say they attend church to learn more about Jesus and to grow in their faith – all important things in the Christian life! But even young adults who are active and happy in local churches still report some things they miss. They say they want more opportunities to fight injustice and oppression and need help connecting their job and career to their faith, among other things. Where can you easily offer new opportunities for young Christians to find community and connection in your church?
Does Your Church Have:
Discipleship sessions that reinforce the Bible’s teachings?
Opportunities for social action?
Training to connect career to faith?
Opportunities to connect with older Christians?