"Grandpa" Since I Was 32
by Brad Farrington, Campus Minister, Appalachian Wesley Foundation
A campus minister’s thoughts and reflections on young adult ministry
I work with young adults, specifically college students, almost every single day. It’s an epic ride, no doubt. Most days I give God thanks for this great privilege, as I can’t believe I get to do this incredible work and ministry. However, other days are “Chunky Monkey days” where I feel like I fail so magnificently that my only comfort comes from diving head first into the greatest ice cream flavor Ben & Jerry’s ever created. I’ve consumed a lot of Chunky Monkey and I’ve learned a few things about young adult ministry along the way. Here are a couple thoughts and reflections that I hope might be helpful to you.
Grandpa. I was 32 years of age and my first child was less than a year old, but a freshmen college student looked at me and felt the nickname “Grandpa” suited me best. I didn’t have a grey hair on my head, but the nickname stuck and has remained for over 10 years (thanks, Will). It is endearingly used and a reminder for me that I don’t need to be a part of a generation to be effective in ministering alongside that generation. That’s good news to most of my fellow clergy and churchgoers.
It’s Okay to be a “Grandpa” — no skinny jeans, no tattoos, no style, nothing trendy at all (no offense to those much cooler than me). Be your authentic self and invest in deep meaningful relationships with young adults while encouraging them to do the same. It will take more than just sitting next to each other in worship or the single meeting over coffee — much more. In doing more, may you develop great nicknames.
No Chapter 13. Welcome young adults into adulthood and into adult leadership within the church. Too often we lower our expectations, reduce responsibilities, restrict leadership avenues, and confine young adults into just being older youth. They’re not. Post high school involvement and engagement should be some of the first chapters of adulthood within our churches and ministries.
When 18-year-old freshmen worship with our campus ministry for the first time I remind them we are not a place for “college kids.” We are a ministry of young adults. We are not here to be a college Christian daycare center divided from the rest of campus. Rather, we are part of God’s mission to campus that is absolutely contingent upon the faithfulness of young adults who yearn to live for Jesus within a community of faith — and we welcome those students to journey with us as adults. Whatever Chapter 13 looks like for your church, may it dissolve and give way to a greater invitation that young adults need to hear.
Fail well. Most young adults look at our churches and ministries as being filled with a bunch of hypocrites. Survey your community. Ask young adults why they are distancing themselves, why they are leaving altogether, and why they have little interest in coming back. You’ll hear lots of complaints, but underlying most of them will be our hypocrisy. And they’re right. We are hypocrites. We have not loved God with our whole hearts. We’ve been disobedient to the call of Jesus. We’ve rebelled, fallen short, ignored the needy, and become captive to our frailties. We have failed, and we will fail, but will we learn how to fail well?
Remember the good news — in our sinfulness, Jesus died for us. This proves that we can release our false projections of perfection, vulnerably confess our hypocrisy, and be transformed by God’s gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation — all at the same time. By doing so, we can meet the accurate criticisms that young adults have of us with affirmation as we say, “Yes, you’re right,” instead of going on the defense. In my experience, this creates pathways for more within the lives of young adults where there once were impasses. Therefore, brothers and sisters, fail well.
Lovers less wild. Yesterday was the last meeting of our “Fireside” group, which is a weekly open discussion gathering that is focused on engaging issues of life and faith with college students. At the end of our last meeting, I asked people to share how they’ve experienced the transformation of God in the last year. When Megan spoke I was transformed. “God’s confirmed what I'm supposed to do with my life,” she shared. “I’m passionate about the Bible and I love helping others learn about Jesus. I can’t imagine there’s anything better to do than that.”
Megan’s words were God’s. They were a pure gift. They convicted me of how I am so prone to be wooed by lovers less wild — success, growth, effectiveness, stability, image, and so many other things that only create the desire for more and more, but never fulfill. And at the same time, her words gave me a deep satisfying peace as God’s love and God’s call awaked within me.
I want others to feel the same — loved and called by the greatest Lover of our souls, Jesus. Is there anything better to do? Is there anything better we can share with young adults, especially as they discern who they are and what they’re meant to do with their lives? Jesus is transforming the world and is calling all of us, every generation, to follow him. It’s great news to share with a generation of young adults who want to see the world change and who want to give their lives to something of great worth. Therefore, let’s invite them to this wild and worthy adventure in following Jesus!
Friends and fellow “Grandpas,” I welcome you to this epic ride. Ministry with young adults is incredible, wonderful, and essential to our mission and ministry as the Body of Christ. I pray these few thoughts are helpful. Please know that the campus ministers of our conference are here to be a continued resource for you and the churches you serve.