We recently moved in order to be closer to our adult kids, and soon after started asking, “How can we be relevant to them?” We knew what to do when we were raising our kids but now they had their own families, their own businesses. What did we have to offer them?
If you are asking questions like these, I want to encourage you that you have a lot to give young adults. Even if you don’t have kids, there are hundreds of young adults that need somebody like you in their lives to pour into them, young adults who need spiritual moms and dads. They need what we can give.
But how do we help our kids, grandkids, or other young adults in our lives? How can we help them grow? How do we position them to find Jesus? How do we leave a legacy?
The primary thing we need in order to do that is to have good connections with them—good relationships. Even in cases with family where a good relationship isn’t possible, we can still have good touches with them: maybe a phone or skype call, or having coffee. But to have a good relationship with a young adult, having an open relationship is key.
What does that look like? Well, we need to love, honor, and respect the young adults in our lives. They may not feel appreciated by us, or not honored in their decisions, their walk with the Lord, or even what they think about things. We can tend to want young adults to look a certain way or we expect certain behaviors: this is what it looks like to do it right, or this is what it looks like to be a Christian. I’ve seen in my life and with my relationships that it’s just not that black and white; it’s really grey. Rather than making black and white statements, a better approach for fostering a good and open relationship might be to discern where God is at in their journey, and discern where they are at in their journey with God. Celebrate any kind of movement toward Jesus, even if it’s one step forward, one step back. These are attitudes that keep the lines of communication open and that foster connection.
Interacting in a respectful, encouraging, and open manner is the foundation for good relationships with young adults. Building on that foundation of respect and honor, here is a framework of seven specific ways of being with young adults that I’ve learned is hugely important for having good and impactful relationships.
A Framework for Connection
1. Give grace.
If I were to only give one point for being with young adults, it’s that we have to give them grace. They’re not going to be perfect, no matter how much we want them to be. Grace is the biggest thing for forming connection. I want to learn to accept the young adults in my life like the Father accepted his two sons in the story of the prodigal—he accepted both of them where they were at, and even went running down the road when the one who was really a mess came back. That’s where I want to be in my relationships.
2. Be authentic.
Be real with young adults. They’ll see right through you anyway; they’re smart. When I asked one of my sons what had been important to him in our relationship as adults, he told me the most important thing to him was that he felt like we were his friends and was thankful for our real relationship.
3. Talk less and listen more.
We need to be quiet, to zip it, sometimes, and just listen and ask them what they think. I was in another setting with a young missionary, and he said, “I just don’t want older people to tell me what to do all the time. Ask me what I think. I know what you think already, and I want to be invited into that conversation.” We may not agree with what they’re doing, but if we can invite them to feel safe to just talk, that’s huge.
4. Empower them.
I can pretty much promise you that many young adults don’t know who they are. They’re still trying to figure it out. So if you see something good in them, say something encouraging about it! Your words carry a lot of power and hope. If you see something in them that they don’t see in themselves, they may start walking more in that, becoming the person that you see in them. As you pour into them and speak into them, you empower them to continue to do those things.
5. Model your faith authentically.
Authenticity is important to all of us, but especially to the next generation. It’s not just about your words, but also about what you do. If we just tell them what to think, or tell them about our faith, that doesn’t mean anything to them. Hearing someone preach doesn’t mean as much to them as just watching. So do that yourself. Model your faith authentically.
6. Dialogue with them.
A lot of times young adults are on a journey of finding out who God is, and my encouragement to you is to not freak out. It’s really OK that they’re questioning God. It’s really OK that they don’t know what they believe yet. If you can invite them into a conversation, to talk about that with you, that will often go to deep places. They already know what you believe anyway, but they want to know that you’re OK with where they are.
7. Place them in God’s hands.
This is the scary part, but we really do have to trust that God is up to something, and take our control off of them. Sometimes when we get scared we just want to control the situation, and it doesn’t work. It backfires. So ask the Lord to help you to let go, and let the Lord work in their lives.
Reflect and Respond
What stands out to you in this list as something you need to work on? Choose one point to focus on so that you can begin to build stronger connections with the young adults in your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Randall serves as the Director of Team Vitality for CRM's ChurchNEXT Lead Team. She and her husband, Bill, live in Nampa, Idaho, equipping leaders around the world to follow God with wisdom and boldness, and pioneering new expressions of Church that will multiply disciples.