young adults

On Being a Young Adult Voice

November 18th, 2010 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

I’m not sure how it happens exactly, but I keep being asked to “represent young adults” or “give the young adult perspective” at church gatherings. This makes me uncomfortable.

First, because I can hardly conceive of the idea that I would speak for all young adults everywhere, or even a tiny percentage of young adults at any one time.  I have a very particular perspective based on my particular upbringing, socialization and personality.

Second because by adding me to a committee as the “young adult representative” church leaders then assume that they have done their duty in ushering young adults into the workings of the church.

Third, because while I am a young adult, not everything I have to offer the church is defined by that label. For example, I could also offer the perspective of seminary employee, or congregational leader working at new models of leadership, or of a woman, or of a seminary graduate.

This representation of the young adult voice is a double-sided coin for me. On the one hand I’m glad there are young adults being asked to participate in important church-wide events. I’m glad there are young adults present and active in these conversations and I’m even glad when those young adults are asked to give the “young adult perspective.” In particular I feel honored and respected when I’m asked my opinion about church matters.

On the other hand, I think it might be wise for churches as a whole to ask themselves, “Why do we need a ‘representative,’ why aren’t young adults involved in our institution naturally? Or even more pertinent, why aren’t our congregational and denominational bodies multi-generational?” We don’t ask for an elderly representative, or a Generation X representative.  As I look around many gatherings of church leaders the dominant perspective is baby-boomers.

Why is this? Is it because the church formed into these particular structures during the boomer era and so the boomers have a vested interest in keeping these structures going? Is it because boomers have not paid attention to mentoring younger generations into leadership? Is it because younger generations don’t care about the church or its structures?

Maybe all of these things are partly true for some people, in some places, at some times. However, I also wonder if part of what is missing is trust. Does the church trust us to lead? If we are labeled “young adult representative” then our opinions only need to be taken seriously as young adult opinions, not as a leader’s opinions. It seems that if you really trusted us you would invite us in for ourselves, and not as a young adult. If you really trusted us our opinions would be sought because we are leaders not because we are young. If you really trusted us, you would not need a “young adult perspective” because we would already be involved, present, and active in your congregations, agencies and organizations, leading them and moving them forward.

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