Chuck Bomar has a huge heart for reaching the college-age people in this world. For the past couple years, he has been pointing out that churches are often overlooking this stage of life. They have something for birth through high school, and they have something for older adults and parents. However, this in-between stage is frequently forgotten.
Chuck describes the development of this new in-between stage as a shift in the American culture, especially in connection with education.
Late 1800’s – Child labor laws
Children used to go to work when their parents needed them to go to work. The kids ended up being abused, as they were working too much and getting paid too little. The cultural view of children began to change. Now, there were children needing the care a nurture of older adults. School started becoming more popular. Some outside organizations, like Boy Scouts and 4-H came into being, to fit the need.
Kids under 12 years-old are not working much, but older kids have jobs. When the depression hit, businesses kept the older, more experienced employees. The younger ones went to school, as high school started to become a necessary stage. It is interesting to note that 1830 was when the first high school opened in Boston, but the first one in New York was opened in 1930. Employers eventually began hiring people again, but they started to require a high school diploma.
1970 – Present
The church begins to catch on, and they realized that kids are thinking about life differently. They were thinking about adult-life later in life. Their life was not shaped by working. It was shaped by the educational system. In 1950, 9% of 18+ year-olds had a degree. In 2009, that number was over 70%.
Graduating high school is a right of passage to begin thinking about adult life. Some are later than others. Chuck states that, “College is a period of mind opening opportunities that lead to the mindset of a lifetime.”
There are four areas these students are “in-between” in:
It is an issue of identity. They are in between themselves as their family and their identity as an adult. There are about five different stages within this area (this is compiles from ethnographic research = what Chuck has seen):
- The Substitute (It made sense at the time): Limited exploration, experiences, and exposures in life. They begin to substitute who they are for where they are. They lack self awareness apart from others.
- The Floater (I’m waiting to see what happens): Not pursuing new experiences or commitments. They lack direction or goals.
- The Explorer (I want to try different things.): They will explore with very little commitment. They are gaining self-awareness through experiences. Often times, their searching is limited to circumstances. A lot of them will look for a circumstance to find their identity.
- The Tentmaker (This fits me.): They have a combination of exploring and commitment. They have found a place, but they are not just yet solid.
- The Theologian (I am a child of God): They have a theological definition of self. Through exploration, they embrace their unique calling in life and society. They realize they are a child of God who happens to do something else. What they do and their circumstances do not change their identity.
Key Point: Who or what we identify ourselves in will drive every aspect of our lies as spiritual leaders.
There is a universal reevaluation (regardless of their upbringing) of all the assumptions they grew up with. Their exploration is based in exposures and relationships. Surface answers to complex questions don’t cut it anymore. They have three major influences (all in the context of relationships): Religions, Sciences (worldviews), Philosophical discussions.
Key Point: Faith convictions are cultivated in, with, and by relational connections.
3) Life Direction
This is one of the biggest tension-points between parents and kids. There is a dichotomy in definitions. The parent is looking forward to future responsibilities. They want their child to be prepared for those responsibilities. They also look at their own past to hardships they want their child to avoid and have. The child sees their parents and how they do not love what they do for their job. They look within themselves to determine what they desire. Because they do not have an answer to who they are, they do not have an answer to their direction. They end up not going anywhere, out of fear.
- Vocation vs. Career: The younger generation is looking at their path as a vocation (calling) instead of a career (job). They look for that one thing that God wants them to do. We need to help them understand who they are and what God wants them to do.
- Entitlement vs. Service: In regards to the workplace and marketplace, college-age students feel entitled to have a voice. Because of the culture they live in, they are able to voice their opinion at any time. They feel like their gifts (God working through them) should be used. The older generations were just happy to have a job and the ability to prove themselves over time. We need to give the students a voice.
4) Church Structures
Most churches are split between 0-18 years and parents. The college-age students are often left out.
Key Point: If we don’t have a sense of belonging in the Church, we lose our identity in the world.
As he closed, Chuck gave three application points:
- Belonging is gained through relationships.
- Cultivating valuable relationships is a must.
- Measuring quality of relationships is priority.
The goal of a College-age ministry is to move people from student-life to adult-life. If identity, belonging, convictions are found in relationships, and we want college-age students to move toward adult-life, then we need to connect them with older adults. All of this is based on 2 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 2.
After serving for almost nine years as pastor of student ministries at Cornerstone in Simi Valley, California, Chuck Bomar is now the senior pastor of Colossae Church located in Portland, Oregon. He’s also the founder of CollegeLeader: an organization focused on helping local church leaders understand and embrace ministry to college-age people. Chuck has written numerous resources including, College Ministry 101: a guide to working with 18-25 year olds (YS/Zondervan). He and his wife, Barbara, have two daughters, Karis and Hope.