General Ministry

Chuck Bomar planted and is Lead Pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon and is founder of both CollegeLeader (www.CollegeLeader.org) and iampeople (www.iampeople.org). He is author of 8 books, including the highly anticipated releases of Better Off Without Jesus and Losing Your Religion. When he is not traveling the country speaking at conferences or consulting with church or denominational leaders, he is home with his family, the place he loves to be more than any other. Chuck and his wife, Barbara, have three beautiful daughters: Karis, Hope and Sayla.

In response to some emails I’ve been getting, it has reminded me of the “limbo” like stage of some of college ministries around the country. There are many churches trying to figure out where college ministry belongs…student or adult world? I can understand the struggle, we went through it about 8 years ago. But I’ve landed, and firmly so. I’m not sure where your church lands on this issue, but I have landed in the student side of things. Here are some reasons why…

First, strictly by definition this stage should not be considered adulthood. The English word for adolescence comes from the Latin verb adolescere meaning “to grow up.” Sociologically the term speaks of those who are trying to bridge the gap between dependent childhood and self-sufficient adulthood. Adulthood is the period when the individual is responsible for his own conduct, support, and choices. Once 18 a person is legally responsible for their own actions, but the biggest issue here is the support. We can no longer characterize this age-stage as “self-sufficient.” 73% of 18-25 year olds have had their parents recently help them with finances, but even those that aren’t financially supported by their parents, from my experience, think they should be. In my opinion this shows the adolescent mindset of most in this stage of life.

Secondly, adolescence has traditionally been known as a time of identity formulation. Erik Erickson, about 50 years ago, labeled adolescence as the time of exploring identity, discovering who you are and your role in society. He also spoke of “prolonged adolescence” (or extended adolescence) being typical of industrialized cultures. He states that, “during [prolonged adolescence] the young adult through free role experimentation may find a niche in some section of his society.”

This articulates the life between the ages of 18-25 even more so today. If there is any age group of people trying to find a niche (or place) in society, it’s this age. Chap Clark, in his book HURT has articulated this definition:

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“Adolescence, then, is a psychosocial, independent search for a unique identity or separateness, with the end goals being a certain knowledge of who one is in relation to others, a willingness to take responsibility for who one is becoming, and a realized commitment to live with others in community.”

Basically adolescence is a time of becoming self aware and beginning to think about how they might contribute to society. I can’t think of any other stage of life this definition fits better than between the ages of 18-25. This is clearly a time of exploration and searching (which the second section of this book is designed to walk you through), not a settled down or consistent adult-like time of life.

The Issue with Adult Categorization

I understand – to some degree- why some churches are having college ministry fall under the adult side of their ministry “org-chart.” For the most part they consider this stage very different from the high school youth group kid, and rightly so. However, I would suggest the college-age stage of life is much more like that now than it is a consistent adult-like life! People, for the most part, are waiting to finish college before thinking about “what they’re going to do with their life.” At least more so today than ever before.

The bigger problem, however, is college-age people always seem to take the back seat to everything “adult” going on in the church. Much of this is because the leaders of adult ministries don’t understand the role a college-age ministry has in a church, but nevertheless the college ministries that get categorized in this get lost in the mix.

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  • Kenneth says:

    Hey Chuck,

    I’m in Chap Clark’s “Foundations of Youth Ministry” at Fuller Seminary right now and he had us read his book, “Hurt”. I’ve come to see that understanding “adolescence” and especially “late adolescence” (18-25) is vital to ministering to college students. I worked with college students in hawaii for 2 years while thinking of them as “adults”. I now am leading college-age people in california and really believe we need to view them as late adolescents. We should treat them as adults in the way we talk with them, but we need to lead them as adolescents.

    The major role of college-age ministries should be in helping them to discover their identity and it’s relation to God’s purpose for them.

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