Seminary Staffer’s Book Explores Young Adult Issues

Sara Wenger Shenk "Thank You for Asking," a candid look at young adults and their relationship to the church, is the sixth book by Sara Wenger Shenk of the Eastern Mennonite Seminary faculty.
Photo by Jim Bishop

Many young adults want to belong to the church, but they are calling for significant changes. They are challenging the church to move toward a more real, honest and intimate way of being in community, welcoming their questions, failures, love for fun, potlucks and storytelling.

That’s the focus of the latest book by Sara Wenger Shenk, associate dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa., has released "Thank You for Asking: Conversing with Young Adults about the Future Church," by Dr. Shenk, who is also an associate professor of Christian Education at the seminary. (Click here for another article on Shenk’s book.)

Shenk received a grant from The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith to help fund the research that went into the book. She worked with a team of eight Mennonite-affiliated young adults who interviewed 56 of their peers from across the country, asking them questions about their experience with the biblical narrative, lifestyle choices and what they are seeking in the future church.

The stories emerging from the interviews form the basis of the book, with each chapter concluding with a "What I Hear" summary from the author. The book ends with a summary of the findings of the young adults’ views on such topics as scripture, the story of Jesus, how to relate to people of other faith traditions, community practices and their vision for the future church.

In a Foreword by Brian D. McLaren, a foremost authority on the future church, he states, "[These stories] represent a gritty, honest, unedited, blood-sweat-and-tears immersion into the spiritual, social, emotional and sexual lives of young adults. In all their beauty and chaos, integration and disintegration, they provide a window into the realities of ministry to people of all ages."

"My sense now, having completed this study, is that today’s ‘twentysomethings’ are more hopeful about the church, and especially the Mennonite Church and what it has to offer to the larger society, than what I was growing up," Shenk said.

A 1975 EMU graduate, Shenk received a master’s degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and an Ed.D. from Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Va.

Shenk has been at EMS since 1992. Her husband, N. Gerald Shenk, is professor of church and society there. Together they spent two terms of study and service in Yugoslavia, 1987-89 and 1977-83, under appointment of Eastern Mennonite Missions, Salunga, Pa., and Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, Pa.

She has written five other books on theological and family life themes. They are: Anabaptist Ways of Knowing (Cascadia Press, 2003), Meditations for New Parents, co-authored with her husband, Gerald (Herald Press, 1996), Coming Home (Good Books, 1992), Why Not Celebrate! (Good Books, 1987), and And Then There Were Three: An Ode to Parenthood (Herald Press, 1985)

"Thank You for Asking" is available for $14.98 from the University Bookstore, Provident Bookstores and other retail outlets and from