Conversations with young adults increasingly tend toward discontent over the economic challenges facing our country. I define contentment as “being satisfied with what you have.” There seems to be little satisfaction with unemployment, student loans, credit card debt, and driving a beat-up 1992 Ford Escort. Contentment is hard to come by these days, as we are in a valley of discontent. Our Great Recession will prove to be formative for the generation entering the workforce during these years.
The unemployment rate among young adults is considerably greater than the current national 8.1%. As baby boomers hold off retirement, the generation entering the work force is bumping into a wall. This is creating immense anxiety and frustration. A recent Newsweek magazine article cited that in 1960, almost 70 percent of men were married, had children, and started careers by age 30. Today less than 30 percent can say the same. This generation of males may be the first in our country’s history to be downwardly mobile. Parents have always said, “I want my children to have more than I did.” But after generations of progress, there is now regression. And discontent.
This is a prime opportunity for the church to bring the gospel into a generation’s most formative years. There are monuments that mark each generation, such as the Great Depression, WWII, Vietnam. Along with 9/11, the Great Recession will affect young adults for decades to come. It will inform how they see the world and how they respond to adversity. How the church responds to the discontentment of this generation will be crucial to how young adults see the church for the rest of their lives.
First, this crisis is a prime opportunity to teach biblical contentment. Paul says in I Timothy 6:6, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” These are teachable moments in one’s life. For a generation that has generally grown up with prosperity, such anxiety is a venue for developing character. They must ask, “What do I really need? What is ‘daily bread’? Could it be that what I have right now is what I need and what God wants?”
Second, the church must carefully apply the gospel. From preachers to lay members, the whole church must be prepared to speak clearly to a generation frustrated and anxious. A young adult may ask, “What does Jesus have to do with me living in my parent’s basement with an empty bank account?” Such circumstances challenge one’s identity, security, and meaning in life. A starting place to speak the gospel is to reaffirm that identity, security, and meaning are given to us in Christ (Galatians 2:2). Our worth is not in what we do, but what’s been done to us. The Son of God “loved me and gave himself for me.” This gives me worth and value, even when it seems nobody wants me.
Finally, like all crises, this is a moment for faith. Faith is holding fast to God precisely in the midst of uncertainties (Heb. 11:1). Martin Luther, in the Large Catechism, relates the first commandment to such faith that “clings” to God alone. Times of anxiety and frustration are where a depth of faith is drawn out. In discontent, everything else has let us down. It is here that we find contentment in the One who never let’s us down.
Some practical suggestions for engaging frustrated and anxious young adults: