Delayed Adulthood = Delayed Discernment of Call


Photo from Time Magazine. Jan. 2005.

Have you ever experienced something you don’t want to be true, but in your heart of hearts you know that it has already happened?  Have you ever observed a visible, tangible shift in the tides and wanted desperately for them to stop shifting out from underneath you?

Every single day, serving, teaching, coaching, mentoring 18-22 year olds on a Christian college campus in the middle of the Bible belt, I see the shift.  It is real and present and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.

I haven’t heard anyone speak about it.  I haven’t seen anything published on it.  I haven’t even had conversations about it, except with a few of my closest colleagues. Nevertheless, I know it is there.  I know it is happening.  I know it is going to impact local churches and theological education for the coming generation.

What is it?  What is the shift I am so concerned about?  Here is my purely anecdotal hypothesis:

I firmly believe the prolonging of adolescence and the corresponding delay of entrance into adulthood is radically impacting Christian young people from hearing, discerning, and surrendering to the call of vocational ministry.

I recently heard Dr. Meg Meeker, M.D., founder of The Strong Parent Project and author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters share research that the new entrance into adulthood is 25 years old.

For previous generations, it was much younger.  For the Builders and Boomers, it was 18 when you could vote, move out, and be drafted.  For Gen. X, it was 21 when you finished college and could legally drink.  For Millennials, it has shifted again to 25 years old when a young adult is finished with college, maybe finished with grad school, and is getting established in their first career position.

This change has been recognized by many, especially educators and employers of younger adults.  We see it everyday.  Calling an 20 years old an adult is socially correct because they are not kids and calling them such is offensive.  The label teenager is so passe.  Putting the “you are an adult” spin on it helps a bit, but they don’t feel like an adult.  They have no desire to be an adult at this stage.  Adulthood is some far off, distant experience that comes after you get out of college, find a job, possibly get married and have to pay real world bills.

This delay touches all sorts of things in our society.  It touches the economy.  It touches the first-time home buyers age.  It significantly touches the thought of marriage and parenting.

We have more students in graduate school than ever before.  More young adults living at home with their parents for years after finishing college.  More young adults pushing back repayment of their student loans because they can’t find adequate employment in the struggling job market.  There are jobs to be had, but they don’t pay enough to support independence.

The delay also touches something near and dear to my heart: hearing, discerning and surrendering to God’s call for vocational ministry.

When mature, faithful, Christian college students are considering their career and future, I am fervently praying God will speak to their hearts about the possibility of surrendering to the call to vocational ministry.  Whether in cross-cultural missions, church planting, church revitalization, pastoral leadership, kids ministry, student ministry, non-profit work, community restoration, para-church organizations or any  type of kingdom-building work.

But if they are not entering adulthood until 25, I believe they are struggling to consider, to discern, to surrender to the call God may be putting on their life.

As they are delayed in their social, emotional, economical, psychological maturity, I see a corresponding delay in their spiritual maturity.  I find this to be particular true among Christian young men.

The problem I face is that I teach Christian ministry and leadership to primarily 18-22 year old college students.  That is my mission.  That is what I believe God has called me to do in this world.  But I am seeing less and less of them stroll through our hallways and into my classroom.

I wonder if any other Christian college theology or ministry professor is seeing the same phenomenon among their students.


4 thoughts on “Delayed Adulthood = Delayed Discernment of Call

  1. I don’t think it’s so much as calling being delayed as it is the opportunity to finally fulfill the calling. Yes, God calls people to ministry in different phases of their life. Yet, due to youth ministry becoming a legitimate part of church culture, I believe that causes young men and women of God to accept the call to ministry before they go off to college. Thus, the reason why they’ve chosen to pursue a ministry degree, or something equivalent, at a Christian institution. If this is the case, that means college now becomes a means of solidifying the calling, and determining which ministry they will specialize in (children, youth, adult, etc.). From what I see, the problem now becomes these young men and women are now waiting too long to fulfill the calling; causing them to become restless and choose a different path than the one God placed them on, because churches, institutions, and the individual, don’t believe they’re “ready yet. I think this is a major reason why the mission board is now considering lowering the criteria from masters degree to bachelor’s, or maybe even less, so they can leverage the fire that stirs in young men and women called to ministry. In the end though, I believe you are right that delayed adulthood is hindering more than it is helping. Great post!

  2. I wrote a sermon in 2009 on Prolonged Adolescence. I am incredibly passionate about this idea. I love that you are talking about it.

  3. Being one of your old students I see this trend also. I am getting ready to turn 25 in January, but right now I really do not want to become a “adult.” The problem with me growing up and discerning God’s call has nothing to do with it. The problem is that I am afraid of getting out of school. We have been taught our whole lives education is the key to everything in life. Now we are told after a masters degree or a college education that we need pursue a job. We have been brought up in school and told to always plan our future. Churches and school systems tell us to do this same thing plan your future. But, we feel the need to keep continuing our education because that has been for our whole lives. Also, I have seen a trend why most 25 year old “adults” move back home. The reasoning a lot of my generation is moving back is to save money. We are becoming better stewards of money by living with our parents where we have less bills to pay for. When we move back home all we have to worry about is our school loans, and help our parents very little. The reasoning for this is so that we can survive in our culture today. A lot of people my age have stated “we grew up with middle class parents that suffered each pay check, we do not want to be that way.” The way for us to address this issue is to move back home and save up our money. Hope this helps a little bit Dr. Garrison.

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