What happens when you ask youth at a Manitoba Bible college some pointed questions about the future of the Church?

By Terry G. Hiebert

An EFC panel on the future of the Church in Canada recently provided an opportunity for Evangelicals in various spots across the country to reflect on the Church today. The EFC asked questions like ‘what in our experience gives us the most cause for concern and the greatest sense of hopefulness related to the future of the Church in Canada?’

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I took the opportunity to ask these questions of students at my college, Steinbach Bible College in Manitoba, and discovered their passion for the Church as they expressed concerns and hopes for the future. While students identified concerns about Biblical authority, evangelism, holiness, divisions, and individualism in today’s church, they expressed hope for the future Church as well. Students identified mentoring relationships as one of the hopeful practices in Church of the future.

Their response should not surprise us. Thom Rainer’s research in The Millennials (2010) stated that 60 per cent of millennials welcomed parental involvement and advice. This Father’s Day, one of our students preached in his church on the value of parental advice. His father had passed away just before he entered college two years ago. Now missing his father’s involvement and advice was one of his greatest regrets. I read the sermon and wondered how many aspiring preachers in my generation would have given this much respect to the advice of our parents.

Rainer’s study indicates that 3 out of 4 millennials would like a leader to mentor them. The EFC (and partners) Hemorrhaging Faith (2013) report confirmed that mentoring is a key component in young adult faith development and continuation in the Church. Student in our college identified six essentials they were looking for in mentoring relationships.

  1. Parental involvement. Students considered the role of parents important for discipling children especially as with the increasing gap between traditional faith and cultural values. Appreciation for parental mentoring extended to a desire for intergenerational mentoring relationships with seniors. Students expressed concerns whether busy leaders would take enough time to mentor them.
  2. Authentic faith. Students looked for adults living an authentic faith, demonstrating the change they want to see in their mentees. Older leaders striving for purity and integrity in life were identified as examples of desirable mentors. Students looked for mentors displaying integrity between Sunday worship and the rest of the week.
  3. Youth ministry discipleship. Students looked for youth and young adult ministries emphasizing following Christ and building relationships with others rather than simply providing entertainment. These young adults want to move beyond the “feed me” mentality to where they take responsibility for mentoring younger persons.
  4. Bible, theology, and prayer. Several of the students wanted mentoring to have a more of a God-centered focus. They desired to be formed by the teachings of the Bible, to engage in theological and ethical thinking about life, and to experience the Holy Spirit at work through prayer.
  5. Genuine community. Students looked for a faithful community with relationships extending beyond the worship service. These mentoring communities are marked by unity in the faith and by welcoming diverse voices as well. Close relationships with diverse individuals gave students a sense of belonging, and that they were not alone in their struggles.
  6. Mission and social justice. Students considered ministry experiences as prime opportunities for mentoring. They believed that ministries should challenge to serve more boldly. Experiences in mission and social justice ministries were seen as opportunities for partnership in the gospel with persons from different backgrounds.

The stages of young adult faith development have implications for mentoring. Sharon Daloz Parks observes that young adults transition from conventional thinking, to a potential faith crisis, followed by probing commitment, and hopefully convictional commitment. During this transition, beliefs taught by parents, churches, and schools are challenged by new opportunities, experiences, and influences. Young adults navigating their faith stages are often mobile, so that mentoring relationships change frequently. Christian colleges design networks of deep relationships and diverse experiences to promote young adult spiritual development. A challenge for the Church in Canada is in developing and sustaining networks that young adults will call relevant.

Terry Hiebert is Academic Dean and teaches theology at Steinbach Bible College, Manitoba. You can read Terry Hiebert’s article on “Young Adult Perspectives on the Church in Canada” in the Jul/Aug Faith Today. Subscribe today so you won’t miss more articles like these on the future of the Church in Canada. 

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