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Spring 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 1 · pp. 101–4 

Ministry Compass

The New Adult: Life in the Brave New World

Tamira Regier Wiebe

Every generation is unique, yet Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). Parents make efforts to do a better job or as good a job as their own parents. Choices are made as to discipline, direction, and a core set of values they will set for their children. Society makes choices in a similar fashion. And so an entire generation is raised with many differences but with some subtle similarities which are seen more clearly once they have left home and are trying to make sense of the world based on the values they hold.

The most exciting group of people within the church today is by far the new adults. This is where, if we watch closely, we can see the unfolding of awarenesses that are very pleasing to God.


The current generation of new adults (eighteen to twenty-two year olds) is no different than the many before them. They have the unshakable belief of a young person that they know exactly how society should operate, and stemming from that belief are the various behaviors one sees when one encounters these wonderful creatures en masse. Their attitude toward authority, the way in which they rate the various wrongs one can do to one’s fellow human beings, and their methods in choosing friends and love interests, all can be baffling to the uninitiated. It may be interesting to unpack some of these behaviors and see what kind of {102} values they may be hiding.

We hear consistently that what matters to young people is what their peer group thinks, not so much what their parents think. Although this is not true to the furthest extent, it is certainly true in part. A parent’s place in a teen’s life is usually in the background, someone who has always been there, (whether this is good or bad) and someone to whom they can run when there is no other place to go. Their friends are a constant. They have to live with these people, coexist in a sometimes hostile environment, which is why they are the ones to whom they pay the most attention. Attitudes toward authority figures are to some degree dictated by the social group, but they are also affected by the role the parent has played.

When a person has been parented loosely, they are not likely to respond easily to a strong leader who uses power and intimidation and expects prompt obedience. Conversely, when a young person has been parented very closely, they may not respond well to authority which expects them to make a lot of decisions and face consequences confidently. All this is mostly initial reaction to a new authority. Young people are very amenable when treated with respect and dignity. It is amazing the change one can see in attitude when a little respect is shown for the new adult just emerging from the cocoon of youth.

In my work with young people within the Evangelical fold, I have found that parents to a great extent shape their values indirectly. Interestingly enough, their words tend to reflect what their peers think, but the deeply held beliefs are derived from how their parents handled situations. Did mother try to save money on clothes by claiming tax exemption status after Johnnie turned fourteen? When Susie smashed up the car while she only had her learner’s license, did father claim he was the one driving, or did she have to take that on herself? Attitudes toward authority and dependence on the sovereignty of God are taught in these moments.

Many of this generation’s young people have had parents who have worked hard to achieve much more than the generation before them. The main interest of the parents has been to make sure their children do not have as hard a time of it as they did. Almost half of today’s students have their post-secondary schooling paid for by their parents. They are encouraged to do what they want to do, to look for their own happiness. These are wonderful changes to the way some people have been raised, but taken to the extreme, and left untempered by acts of responsibility, they have led to a generation that is low on the concept of needing God. When daddy solves all of your problems, how do you learn that there is a God who can comfort you in distress? How do you learn that it is possible to live through the shame of being discovered in a mistake, and that {103} you become stronger through it?

I have had many conversations with young adults who still believe the worst thing you can do is to inform on a friend or acquaintance. This firmly held belief is true for those who flout every form of authority, and those who are careful to never break a rule. I recall explaining to one young man that the most loving thing you can do for a friend is to bring them to the place where they take responsibility for their actions and have the opportunity to be molded into a new type of person. This was an entirely new idea, and it was clear he was not going to take the initiative to follow it.


Being eighteen and in charge of your life for the first time is a daunting experience. Leaving the family home where one is defined by siblings and parents and joining the world of school or work can leave a new adult exposed to the elements. How well the young adult faces these challenges is not easily forecasted. It seems to depend on their relationships with the Lord and with their parents, and on their own ability to make choices and stand firm in those choices. The latter seems to be the area of most concern.

For twelve years, most young people have been in the structured environment of the school system. Whether they have conformed or rebelled, they have been hemmed in by a set of expectations and parameters. Once out of this setting, into a new school setting or in the work world, new adults are often looking for some of that to which they were accustomed. They get it from their peer group. This is where they get clear expectations: don’t “rat” on a friend, always keep your promises, never go to an adult when you can go to your friends first. Looking at this from the standpoint of people in authority, we may shake our heads and wonder why they bother to form this kind of strict society while we offer them freedom to grow in responsibility and authority themselves. The answer is simple: there is safety in numbers. When you move in a pack, you do not have to think too deeply, you do not have to assess your own feelings about an issue, and you never have to be alone in this new world that feels anything but brave.

The comforting thing about the way young people manage their new adulthood is that it is very often a passing phase. They gradually learn to enjoy their own opinions, feelings, and ability to stand alone, given some good authority figures and mentors who allow them the process. What a privilege it is to be a part of this awakening!


One of the most baffling sights when observing young adults is {104} seeing them in relationship with the oddest selection of people. Watching a truly remarkable young woman, clearly a leader in the making, choose the most unpromising of boys to date has baffled and bothered me many times. On the other side of it, watching a young man destined for greatness in the church, be hampered and hurdled by a girl with problems is equally hard to watch. Why do some young people choose the absolutely wrong person to date?

It is a sad truth that within the Evangelical church there is a not-too-subtle pressure on young people to look toward marriage sometime between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five. When a young girl begins to feel the call of God on her life and is excited to follow and go into ministry, she is often hampered by thoughts of marriage, children, and when they will come. She is in tune with God, she has sought him and found direction, she is obedient, but there is a side of her that is afraid. She does not want to change her life plans, e.g., ministry, further education, but she needs a boost. Is she still feminine? Is she still datable? So she chooses someone who is clearly temporary, just for fun, just for now. Sometimes it is a harmless deviation from an otherwise steady course. Sometimes it leads to deep sorrow and regret.

One of the most common messages I have conveyed to young women intent on ministry is that God is greater than anything we can imagine. He can bring a husband to the mission field. He is never later than just in time. The last thing you want to say to this person is that they may have the gift of singleness. If they have this spiritual gift, they will have felt it; they will not have a deep desire for marriage. It is important for us to encourage young men and women to follow the Lord absolutely, and for us, as their supporters, to have as much faith in him for their happiness as they need to have.


The most exciting group of people within the church today is by far the new adults. This is where, if we watch closely, we can see the unfolding of awarenesses that are very pleasing to God. It must feel like watching the creation of humanity all over again. It behooves us to value these people closely and to offer them the support they require for the journey they are about to take. We offer them dignity, which communicates to them how God feels about them. We offer them responsibility, which is their right. We offer them discipline, which is their privilege as it takes them to a greater understanding of the Lord. And that, of course, is the greatest offering we can make, to guide this generation to the service of the Lord.

Tamira Regier Wiebe is an at-home mother of two children, formerly the Associate Dean of Students at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, British Columbia. She now resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her husband, Elwood. They are members at North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church.

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