Mishandling twentysomethings


Most churches have no idea what to do with spiritually mature men in their 20s, so they wrongly direct them to seminary or to a ministry with kids, hoping these guys will rub off on the youth and keep them coming to church and out of trouble. The consequences of this mishandling have been dire. On the one hand, the ones sent to seminary graduate and move on from formal ministry within five to seven years to do what it was they really wanted to do before the confusion started. On other hand, you have guys who are sent into youth ministry having no discernible gifts, training, or experience in discipling younger brothers and sisters in the faith. This tends to result in these young men functioning as nothing more than "babysitters." They are charismatic, like to hang out, play guitar, and are available. That's good enough for many churches. Both scenarios, however, can represent poor stewardship.

I am pained, for example, by the number of guys directed to seminary or formal ministry who never should have been because church communities were confused about what is normal for men in the church. I have several friends from my seminary days who are now not only out of vocational ministry altogether but also working in vocations that are completely disconnected from the church. Many are finally, at nearly 40 years old, working in vocations that they originally set out to do before they were misdirected by the whispers of church people who confuse spiritual maturity and vibrancy in young men with a "call to ministry." This trend actually reveals the sad state of an American evangelical gynocentric church: Spiritually interested young men are the exception rather than the expectation. These men tend to stand out because their twentysomething men peers are generally absent in most churches and many of the others present are going through religious motions, attending because of parental legalism, or because of girlfriend or wife pressure. This vocational mismatch is actually not good for the church because it can put leaders in positions they should not be in and usually negatively affects the entire church community in the long-run. We can avoid this.

When a younger brother says to me that "he feels called to ministry," I usually understand that to mean that he craves and needs validation and would like to use the church to make him feel good about himself. Or even worse, as Leon Podles explains in his book The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, many young men feel called to the church because uninitiated men find the church to be "a safe place, a refuge from the challenges of life and therefore attracts men who are fearful of making a break with the secure world of childhood dominated by women."

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Whatever the reason, it would be great to see local churches so healthy and full of twentysomethings that the presence of spiritually vibrant twentysomething men would be so normal that we would have better criteria for sending men into ministry beyond being "on fire for Christ" and having a desire to teach and serve. That should be simply normal for any man following Jesus.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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