John Piper in an article called, “A Church-Based Hope for ‘Adultolescents’” uses this term coined by Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at Notre Dame. It describes a phenomenon that is occurring in the United States, as well as other developing countries. It is simply the “postponement of adulthood into the thirties.”
Smith explains that the terms “teenager” and “adolescence” is a distinct stage of life which was a 20th century invention due to various sociological changes. Now with various changes in the 21st century, a new but distinct stage of life has appeared which is redefining young people. Smith said this phenomenon has been given various terminology such as, “extended adolescence,” “youthhood,” “adultolescence,” “young adulthood,” the “twenty-somethings,” and “emerging adulthood.”
This group can be described as having the tendency to delay adulthood or stay in the youth mindset longer than they need to. Smith gives a handful of causes for this delay in arriving at adulthood. They are: 1) The growth of higher education which has caused a delay in getting jobs; 2) The delay of marriage over the last decades; 3) Global changes are bringing about less security so the need for new training and education is required, which postpones various developmental landmarks; 4) Parents are increasingly willing to extend financial and other support to their children, well into their 20’s and even into their early 30’s.
Smith argues that these four factors produce in the 18-30 year-olds: 1) identity exploration, 2) instability, 3) focus on self, 4) feeling in limbo, in transition, in-between, and 5) sense of possibilities, opportunities, and unparalleled hope.
Along with these things come a sense of transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, and disappointment.
Piper then asks the question, “How should the Church respond?” Then he gives 15 suggestions. Man, was it refreshing to here some of the same things that I have been barking about to the single adults, not only in our church, but to the single adults in general. Maybe now, with the Piper stamp on it more people will seriously start thinking about the issues rather than constantly getting offended by some hard truths that are spoken.
Piper’s 15 suggestions are:
2) The church will press the fact that maturity is not a function of being out of school but is possible to develop while in school.
3) While celebrating the call to life long singleness, the church will not encourage those who don’t have the call to wait till late in their twenties or thirties to marry, even if it means marrying while in school.
4) The church will foster flexibility in life through living by faith and resist the notion that learning to be professionally flexible must happen through a decade of experimentation.
5) The church will help parents prepare their youth for independent financial living by age 22 or sooner, where disabilities do not prevent.
6) The church will provide a stability and steadiness in life for young adults who find a significant identity there.
7) The church will provide inspiring, worldview-forming teaching week in and week out that will deepen the mature mind.
8) The church will provide a web of serious, maturing relationships.
9) The church will be a corporate communion of believers with God in his word and his ordinances that provide a regular experience of universal significance.
10) The church will be a beacon of truth that helps young adults keep their bearings in the uncertainties of cultural fog and riptides.
11) The church will regularly sound the trumpet for young adults that Christ is Lord of their lives and that they are not dependent on mom and dad for ultimate guidance.
12) The church will provide leadership and service roles that call for the responsibility of maturity in the young adults who fill them.
13) The church will continually clarify and encourage a God-centered perspective on college and grad school and career development.
14) The church will lift up the incentives and values of chaste and holy singleness, as well as faithful and holy marriage.
15) The church will relentlessly extol the maturing and strengthening effects of the only infallible life charter for young adults, the Bible.
He closes out by writing, “In these ways, I pray that the Lord Jesus, through his church, will nurture a provocative and compelling cultural alternative among our ‘emerging adults.’ This counter-cultural band will have more stability, clearer identity, deeper wisdom, Christ-dependent flexibility, an orientation on the good of others not just themselves, a readiness to bear responsibility and not just demand rights, an expectation that they will suffer without returning evil for evil, an awareness that life is short and after that comes judgment, and a bent to defer gratification till heaven if necessary so as to do maximum good and not forfeit final joy in God.”
What excuse do we have now? We can always run from the truth but we can never hide from it. It is my prayer that the single adults at HMCC (we try not to use the word, “young adults” because it perpetuates what Smith and Piper have been explaining above), both in Ann Arbor and Chicago will produce people who are being discipled into Christ-followers who will be ready to transform the world.
It is always refreshing when I am able to hear or read some of the same things that I have been feeling from people who have far more credibility than me. I wrote some similar things about a year and a half ago on this blog.
You can read Piper’s whole article here.