Updated: Mar 2
20 year-old Joe was a young man without any spiritual connections. He fashioned himself as a bit of a rebel who hung with a group of rebels. In fact, just for fun he and his friends chose one night to attend a church service in his hometown basically to mock the proceedings. But Joe was surprised to find that the sermon awakened something in his heart. After multiple follow up meetings with the pastor, Joe decided to become a Christ-follower. This college-aged wanderer had the trajectory of his life changed by a minister who spoke truth to him, loved him, and discipled him.
Now this story did not happen in my town and I have never even met Joe. In fact, this is a story from 350 years ago. The Joe in our story is Joachim Neander. The name may not ring a bell, but you can find his name in just about any hymnal. In his short life – he died at age 30 – he wrote hymns that impacted the lives of many, his most notable hymn being “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” I stumbled onto Joe’s story because a peer in ministry mentioned her mantra for these COVID days has been “Ponder anew, What the Almighty can do”, a powerful line from the hymn’s third verse. That phrase has stayed in my mind, and being a history nerd, I wanted to know more about the man who penned the song.
This timeless “young adult encounters God” story also got me thinking about the modern-day young adult stories in our Kairos ministries. Kairos means “at the opportune time” and when you are around 18-25 year olds who are learning to lean their hearts toward God, you see lots of “opportune time” moments. Like the transfer student who was running from God before he came to college, but his life path is alive with purpose. Or the senior who has already accepted a job offer and is excited about the challenge of living out her faith in that context. Or the young professional who is learning to use leadership gifts and a servant’s heart in church and community.
I had the pleasure of learning from the late Dr. W.F. Howard, who encouraged students in his seminary classes to always have stories ready about what God is doing in ministry to young adults. In his view it was a great sadness for the “What is happening in your ministry?” question to be met with responses like “well, this is a slow time of year for us”, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol”, or “things are pretty steady – nothing out of the ordinary to report.” Dr. Howard saw those kind of answers to be a missed opportunity.
When we tell the “God at work” stories of young adults we seize the opportunity to remind ourselves that there is much more going on than the things that distract and discourage us. We capture the imagination and attention of other generations who wrongly assume that this generation is simply not interested in spiritual things. We remind the young adults in those stories that they are miraculous works of God and points them to the hope and promise of God’s continued work in and through them.
What are stories of impact and life change in the lives of the young adults around you?
Do you have one of those stories on the ready?
Where and to whom do those stories most need to be told?
May you relish the stories you have the privilege to see and may the telling of those stories provide encouragement to many. Happy storytelling!
Campus Director at BCM of Virginia Tech