January 2018- Issue-The Challenge of Young Graduates’ Ministry Today

by Dr Tan Soo Inn

When I was growing up, there is only children, youth, adults and seniors. There is no “young adults” thing. This is a relatively newer phenomenon. The usual markers of adulthood involved having your own steady job, marriage, children and some degree of control over your time and money. These are the usual markers of adulthood and this is how society then looked at someone who has arrived. The reality is that in the last 10-20 years, the journey between youth and adulthood has been lengthened because the usual markers of adulthood have been delayed.
Rise of a new demographic - the young adults
When I was in my final year of dental school, I already know what I want to do -- have a serious girlfriend whom I am going to marry, which church I will be attending and what I am going to do for my career. Before I graduate, all these are already in line. But in today’s world, the young, 18-30 years old, the steady job thing is very elusive. I have not found THE job in which I am going to build my career ladder. In fact, the working world is changing all the time. There is no more life-time job.  Marriage is pushed back, marrying later as they try to find some stability in their work life first. This leads to pushing back having children even amongst Christian couples. It is a longer leeway as they established their careers compared to our or their parents’ generation. This has given rise to a new demographic -- the young adults. They are no longer youth but not yet fully adult as defined by the usual markers of adulthood.
Key essential questions of life
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Young adults have more space and time to think and answer about the key essential questions of life. What is the meaning of life? This is true especially with the second and third generations of children. The older ones have a crisis of conversion, choosing between Christ and other religions. 
But our children go to church because we ask them to do so. Whether they buy into the Christian faith, we are not sure. Many actually walk away. Even if they are still Christians, do they have a robust faith and understanding of what faith is all about? The question of faith is -- what is ultimately true and why should I follow Christ? There are several troubling questions that young adults struggle with today.
a) Question of identity and gender -- who am I? In the world now, there are many forces bombarding them. Who am I? Is it based on my gender, nationality or my job? 
b) Questions of meaning and vocation -- what am I call to do? For the young adults, one of the main things that will help them will be that we are called to work, and we need to teach them of their calling and help them to find a job that will activate their passion. This concern for vocation will be coupled with the realities of this world. They may want to follow their passion but find that there is no such job. We need to help them understand what they are going to commit themselves to in terms of work life, and what will give them meaning, and not purely working for money. There are many young adults who are willing to take jobs that pay less but give them more meaning, I believe that if we reach out to them properly, they are willing to die for Christ but we have to understand their world and their language.
c) Question of community -- who do I walk with? In Singapore, the issue will be on how do they relate to key communities such as their family of origin and the local church? Unless they are married, most of them stay at home with their parents. How should we reconcile following Christ with the reality of their family of origin? For the church, they are now exposed to so many influences from the outside world so consequently, they have many ideas of what a church should be. Now, they are tired of the institutional church running programmes and seeing them purely as service providers. How do we help them shape a role in church that makes sense to them?
d) Questions of decision-making -- how do I make good God-honouring decisions? We need to help the young adults in making solid decisions. But theirs is also an age of distractions. Plugged into the Internet they are “on” all the time. So while they should be using their time to ask the big questions of life, they are distracted by the things the Internet can offer. Their attention is dissipated and fragmented by the way life is mediated to them through the Internet.
Relevant Bible teaching & caring mentors
Effective ministry to young adults today and that includes ministry to young graduates, needs at least two components:
a) We need to provide relevant Bible teaching. While Christians will always need general grounding in the Scriptures, young adults need cogent biblical answers to the existential questions they encounter every day. The hot button issues such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issue that they encounter on Facebook, Twitter etc. What does the Bible has to say about these issues, not just general teachings, which are much needed? The young adults are constantly confronted by their non-Christian friends and we need to provide credible answers to these issues.
b) We need to provide sensitive and caring mentors. In many ways, young adults no longer need those older to provide them with information. In fact, they have more information than the older generation.  They do not need information providers. What they need are role models, older Christians who are still sold out for Christ and faithfully walking with God in their professions. They need safe relationships where they can process their questions. They need mentors who can help them with their questions in life and not telling what to do, not managing their lives or keep talking down to them. The young adults need a safe place where they can process their questions in life. The GCF Sectional Groups will have to take the lead in mentoring the young adults. 
We need to take seriously our duty to help the young graduates make a good transition into adulthood. The stakes are high. It is not just about wanting our graduates to continue to faithfully serve God as they journey on in life. It is about faithfully passing on the faith to a new generation in a time of major cultural change.
(This talk was given at the GCF 63rd Annual General Meeting on 15 July 2017 at 47 Chee Hoon Avenue)