Recent years have presented the universal church with a growing problem: The missing young adult generation. In Malaysia especially, this generation of people who are graduating college, starting their careers, getting married, and starting their own families are bombarded by a constantly increasing cost of living, pressures from work and family, and an overarching need to perform exceptionally well, because “good” just isn’t good enough anymore.
Whether we like it or not, everything costs money and most things cost way more than they are worth. But in order to survive and make ends meet—in order to live comfortably, many young adults are having to make sacrifices so that they can earn the income they need to keep up with all sorts of bills as well as house and car payments… not to mention the additional costs that add up once the kids start coming along.
And so, quite naturally, one of the first things that go out the door is church. After working six 12-13 hour days throughout the week, waking up on Sunday morning just does not seem quite feasible and oh, don’t even bring up prayer meeting on Tuesday nights and Bible study on Friday nights. That’s just not happening.
It’s a difficult reality, but it is our reality. Can we really blame our young adults for falling away from church? And once that happens, what becomes of their spiritual state? What about the spiritual upbringing of their children? Is this entire generation of young adults who grew up in church going to beget an entire generation of unchurched children? How do we win them back and how can we stop any more from leaving?
In light of these concerns and issues, TRAC Institute for Christian Ministry and TRAC Board of Laity co-organized a young adults retreat from 10th to 12th July that was held at the Port Dickson Methodist Center.
Acts 2:17 says:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams.
And so it was that 28 young adults came together to meet with 11 facilitators of the older generation (dubbed the “seasoned saints”) to learn from their experiences and for the seasoned saints to hear and learn from the young adults, thus realizing the retreat title of “Where Dreams Meet Visions.”
The participants were encouraged on the first night to think of their vision for the next 10 years (if money was not an issue), and to write it down. The common theme that seemed to be most obvious was, “I want to do God’s work, but I must be practical with my life.” The problem is that money is an issue.
Divided into groups of an average of 3 young adults to 1 seasoned saint, the night was ended by a time of sharing and prayer.
The second day of retreat was carefully planned so that the participants received a balanced dose of things to think about, as well as time to rest in God’s presence. The day began by a blessed time of sharing from two young adult couples that have dedicated their lives to God’s service in their vocation.
As they related their personal journeys with God and how He called them to do His work, the participants were encouraged to think of questions they could ask them that would potentially help as they wrestled with how they could fulfill God’s calling in their own lives.
The afternoon session comprised of spending two hours in total solitude, followed by a one-on-one session between the participants and their assigned seasoned saints. During this time, the participants were able to share their own stories with their seasoned saints, and at the same time learn from the wisdom and experience of these men and women who have faithfully served God for so many years.
That night, Dr. Herbert Tan brought the participants back to the Bible to journey with the Israelites as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. He reminded those present that God had given the Israelites a pillar of cloud to guide them by day, and a pillar of fire to guide them by night, and the pillar never left them.
He talked about how the Israelites consistently followed the pillar wherever it led them, but for some reason, when it led them to Jericho, they did not follow it in. Instead, they retreated outside the city and sent in spies, then later took a vote not to enter into the Promised Land.
At this point, they stopped trusting God and took matters into their own hands. They, like many young adults today, began to think of practicality versus putting their faith and trust in God. He then posed an important question: What were the Israelites after? God’s grace, or God’s glory?
The same question can be asked of us. What are we really after when we say we want to serve God—when we say we want to follow Him? Do we seek God’s grace so that we can reap the favors of God’s blessings, or do we earnestly want nothing more than to glorify God in everything?
If we were seeking only God’s grace, practicality would get in the way. We will begin to think of all the ways we can maintain comfort while earning His grace. But if God’s glory were the ultimate goal and we give our lives over to Him in total abandon, then His grace would be the byproduct of His glory. By glorifying God, we inadvertently receive His grace.
Of course, certain sacrifices may have to be made. Doing God’s work and being in God’s will may not always be the most glamorous or popular thing to do. God always provides for those who give their lives to Him, but we must also be willing make some adjustments and simplify our lives. After all, the Israelites ate manna and quail for 40 years. However, the joy of pursuing God’s purposes is worth making worldly sacrifices.
Dr. Herbert concluded the session by asking the participants to identify the pillars in their lives, with the reminder that the Israelites knew when God wanted them to move because they looked at their pillar every single day.
The third and final day was one of reflection and discussion. Once again, the concern for the missing generation of young adults was brought up. Nobody had definite answers as to how an entire generation could be effectively rallied to come back to church and stay for the long run.
However, further discussion led to the realization that God does not need a big group of people to do His work. Instead of worrying about the majority of young adults that are missing, why not focus on the remnant that has not yet left? In response to the question, “Where are our young adults?” one of the participants replied, “We’re here!”
As they continued to share and bounce ideas off of each other, they came up with different ways they could practically apply God’s calling on their lives, right where they are at, as individuals, and as a community. Although the young adults in the Malaysian church may be small in number, there is still much potential that can be done for God’s kingdom.
The retreat served as many different things for different participants. For some, it was an experience of God’s love and His quiet persistence; for some, it was confirmation of where God was leading them in their walk with Him; and for others, it was simply a time of much needed rest in the midst of their crazy schedules.
Most importantly, most came away with a refreshed spirit, and a renewed sense of purpose to allow God to use them right where they are, within their circle of influence, in hopes of eventually bringing change to the young adult generation and church in Malaysia!
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