The Ills-we-had and the Odyssey


David Brooks wrote about “The Odyssey Years” in the New York Times recently. He describes the time between adolescence and adulthood. A period when people are not married and they’re not settled on a career. A time when twenty-somethings are not going to church, but they’re spiritually longing.

I agree that adults born after 1970 have found their lives unsettled. With the combination of the high cost of housing, the massive school debts, and stagnant wages, they have economic realities that no other generation in our country has had to deal with. Too many of them have no health insurance, and they’re the first to be downsized. I often described myself and my friends as nomadic, due to the unsettled nature of our lives. 

But here’s the sticking point, for me. So often, when people of other generations try to describe twenty-somethings, they think of them as something less than adults. And now they’ve gone as far as creating a separate life phase for them. It’s as if a mortgage and a marriage certificate makes a person an adult.

I’ve noticed this, over and over again, in our mainline churches. We talk about “Youth and Young Adults” and then we define YA’s as anyone under forty-five. They toss the thirteen year olds and forty-four year olds into the same pile. 

Churches would be wise to guard against the notion of treating twenty year olds as anything less than who they are: adults. Bill-paying, taxable, wise, interesting, responsible adults.

As a society, I’m afraid we dismiss the situation of adults in their twenties and thirties when we think of them as something less than full-grown. And, along with it, I worry that we wash our hands of them. Then their unsettled lives become a developmental stage, instead of a societal crisis.

Yet, if we can begin to understand the economic and social situations of young adults, we can begin to find ways to alleviate some of the pressure of a new generation.

7 thoughts on “The Ills-we-had and the Odyssey

  1. We’re starting a ministry for our college students who are away at school. It’s currently under our youth ministry, and I just can’t get it moved to adult ministry fast enough. What a terrible message to send to grown adults.

  2. amen!

    when people ask how to ‘get young people into church,’ i always say, ‘put them on your vestries’, and that seems to freak them out. they were thinking more like having a mixer for them….

  3. It’s weird b/c since FBC has gone to college – as we talk on the phone, etc. — it’s’clear he is an adult. He might be an adult who dresses in a banana suit (his most recent Facebook pic) but he’s still an adult. You would be the better judge on whether he will be treated like an adult at UPC in Austin.

    “Getting young people into church” is an increasingly annoying concept to me. It can be compared to “bring a screen and folk music into worship and all will be well.”

  4. I am starting to hate the concept of “young adult” ministry. That was one of the things I was supposed to do here. I got the impression that they wanted me to get a “young adult” social group started (and I kept asking, what do you mean by ‘young adult’?)

    I can understand starting a group for youth. But adults — it seems to me they can lead their own social group, if they want to?

  5. I started a young adult group at our church, and the 20-somethings thought it was for the teenagers, the 30-somethings thought it was for those in their 20s, and the Boomers thought it was for them!

    I changed it to the 20/30s group. That seemed to clear up some of our confusion….

    Your right frcathie, the best way to minister to young adults is to give them some power and let them minister to us.

  6. I have been talking about the odyssey article for a week now because it struck me – a 32-yr old whose life fits the description of the odyssey years to a tee – as comforting. It is comforting to feel the companionship of being part of a trend, and also nice to realize that if the odyssey years are a phase, it means they might mellow out. That’s good news because, quite frankly, it has gotten exhausting.

    The response I’ve gotten from everyone I’ve talked with about this, including my recently retired 60 yr old mentor, is some version of “hmm…I think I’m probably in that phase now too.”

    The challenge to me as a pastor and a person is to realize that these phases are probably present in varying degrees in everyone’s lives. Or, at least they come around in cycles. I agree that we dismiss 20-somethings if we think of them as less than fully-grown, but we also dismiss the 60-yr olds if we think of them as having fully arrived.

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