Everyone is always looking for the magic formula to everything. One writer did quite well financially writing a series of books using the theme, “Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know.” Those who bought and read the books were usually disappointed. It seems we’d all like to know the most effective way to accomplish what we’re doing.
Those of us who work with young adults are always looking for ways to do it better. There are two factors that are huge in impacting young adults and they are not secret. In fact, everyone who works with young adults can practice them.
First, it’s worth noting: charisma is NOT the number one factor in having a positive impact in the lives of young adults. It is not looks or even youth. Some feel they cannot be effective in young adult ministry because they themselves are not young.
The “it factor” in young adult ministry is not age or charisma, rather it is respect. When young adults respect someone they’re willing to listen to them and to learn from them. Some of the most effective people in young adult ministry today are people in their fifties, sixties, and older. They have earned the respect of others and God uses it to bless young adults. Being a person of integrity counts. One earns respect by being a person of their word, being where they say they will be, and demonstrating respect for others. Young adults (as well as all adults) quickly sense when someone is not worthy of their respect. The chance for positive impact usually ends there.
The second greatest factor in impacting young adults is the practice of meeting with them. Large meetings, worship services, and concerts can bless and encourage hundreds and even thousands. But, nothing impacts a person as much as a mature Christian regularly meeting one-on-one with another person for the purpose of building them up. So, how does this work? What do I do when I meet one-on-one with a young adult. Here are some simple suggestions:
1. LISTEN: Ask them questions about themselves and listen. Many young adults today have no one to listen to them with caring ears. Many personal problems can be worked out by simply talking about the issue out loud and processing it in the light of day.
2. AFFIRM: Express the positive traits abilities and spiritual gifts God has placed in their life. It is surprising how many people do not realize or have never had affirmed all that God has built into their life and personality. Many falsely believe that their life has nothing to offer. Knowing someone believes in them and sees potential in them has lasting benefit.
3. EXPRESS FORGIVENESS: Many young people carry around guilt—either false guilt or genuine guilt for some misbehavior. Knowing that someone who cares for them can express forgiveness and help them receive God’s forgiveness is huge. Many feel that God cannot use them due to something in their past. Or, that they could never become a Christian because of something in their past. Sensing forgiveness can be the beginning of unlocking their potential.
4. ENCOURAGE: As young Christians begin to serve they will sometimes experience disappointment and even a sense of failure. One thing that is beneficial is to help them process their experience and learn from what went well and what did not go so well. Even in the midst of something that did not go well, their heart and effort can be praised.
If you work with young adults, there are likely young adults that respect you—regardless of your age or personal charisma. God can use that respect in your meeting one-on-one with them on an ongoing basis. It can be as simple as asking, “Why don’t we meet for coffee or lunch once a week?” You’ll likely be surprised at how God uses that time … and you may never fully know the impact it makes until eternity.
Arliss Dickerson served as Baptist Campus Minister at Arkansas State University for 32 years and currently serves as Leadership Development Consultant for the Collegiate Ministry Office at LifeWay. He is a husband, father, grandfather, growing believer, and poor but improving golfer. He loves collegiate ministers!