4 ways to encourage and disciple young adults

February 12, 2018

When I was a kid, I loved looking at optical illusions. One of my favorites was the kind with a 3D hidden image, where you look at a busy, colorful pattern and try to spot the hidden picture. To do this, you’d hold the picture close to your face and slowly pull away (or, if you were a cheater like me, you’d just cross your eyes). As you zoomed out, another image would take shape, and you’d see an animal or a flower, or some other form that seemed to stand off the page.

I’d go through books of these illusions until my head hurt and my parents threatened that my eyes were going to stay crossed if I wasn’t careful. If you didn’t know how to approach these hidden images, you would wonder what’s so fun about staring at a hodge-podge pattern for so long. However, if you knew what to look for, all you had to do was hold your gaze and wait patiently for the hidden to become clear.

The disillusionment of millennials

I don’t spend much time looking at these pictures anymore, but they remind me a little bit of what life is like now. As I lead and minister to young adults, I realize that the millennial generation finds itself increasingly disillusioned by what’s in front of us. In a time where truth is said to be relative, and individualism is the standard of living, many are staring into a world that seems chaotic, struggling to find clarity.

The world tells us that what we need to figure out is ourselves—what we’re meant for and who we are. This has escalated from a pressure to find meaning in vocational calling. Now the world preaches that our identity is found in what we feel and what we want, and that to deny ourselves of certain desires is to deny truth and the very essence of our beings.

I read an article recently that declared millennials to be the generation of self-help. Considering what’s available to us at our fingertips, from the Internet to the billion-dollar industry of self-help books, I couldn’t agree more. We have the ability to purchase or obtain information that tells us who we are, what we lack, and how to fix ourselves in order to live our best lives. Yet the more conversations I have, the more I see how so much of this “helpful” information is really driving us further away from a sense of reality and an accurate understanding of our place in the world.

As Christians, we know that the purpose of life is not self-realization or self-glorification.

The self-help generation and the church

As Christians, we know that the purpose of life is not self-realization or self-glorification. We can easily affirm the truth that it’s not about us, and yet Christian culture is not immune from the influence of the self-help generation. I’ve come across resources meant for discipleship and spiritual growth that are laced with or written blatantly in self-help language. It is frighteningly easy, especially with great branding, to lead someone into believing a false gospel by asserting that God wants us to fulfill amazing, personal destinies, if only we would have enough faith and dream big.

The majority of encounters I have with young adults who feel dismayed by the unknown of the future are because they have access to so many opportunities and feel the pressure of living up to the world’s standards of a perfect life. For others, it may be that they are trying to figure out who they are apart from their family heritage or their associations with school and work.

We can say that these stresses are privileges; that someone living in true hardship has no time to worry about self-discovery. That may be true, but in the Western world, there are hundreds of thousands of young people who do live in a privileged reality, and the church has a great opportunity to minister to a generation of people who are at risk of missing the great glories of God in the world because they’re staring too closely at their own lives.

The opportunity to mentor

I remember a day about seven years ago when, sitting across from a mentor, I lamented about feeling confused and disoriented in my life. Nothing traumatic had happened, I was simply feeling the impending pressures of a new phase of life as I had graduated college. As we ate our salads at a local restaurant, I went on and on about how stressful it was to make decisions about graduate school and whether or not to move to a new city. I asserted time and again how desperate I was to know God’s will for my life and to choose the “right” path for my future. I remember that day, and the many others before and after it, when my mentor listened patiently, nodding and asking questions and never once interrupting to tell me to get over myself.

That can be our tendency, sometimes, in situations like this. We might offer some light encouragement in the vein of “you’ll figure it out,” like a parent assuring a child she’ll spot the hidden picture eventually. To ourselves we think, “This isn’t that big of a deal. Life isn’t that complicated.” Or worse, we say, “Just wait until you get married and have kids,” or, “Wait until you’ve got a mortgage and a full-time job, then you’ll really have to worry.” We might go back to our friends and laugh at the days when we were carefree with no responsibility and plenty of youthfulness. Sound familiar?

The reality is that when we do this, we are missing a huge opportunity for discipleship. In a world where we know the enemy prowls around looking to destroy, we must help those younger than us to know and recognize what is truth and what is not. When the world shouts, “Do what makes you happy,” we must reply, “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.” When Satan threatens to twist a shaken faith with lies or multiply fears and doubts to become all-consuming, we must remind those we influence that the Creator of the universe loves order and directs our steps, as he organized the universe when he laid out the foundation of the world.

My mentor gave me a lifeline when, in grace, she helped me realize that I was searching for answers about myself and my purpose rather than returning to the truth of the Bible, which did more than simply tell me about me. I needed to know what it said about God, to be reminded that I am very small in the world, but Jesus has already overcome the world.

Rather than dismissing me and telling me to follow my heart and figure it out, she walked with me through confusion and uncertainty. We studied the Bible together for weeks, trying less to strangle a personal application out of what we read, and more so to hear God speak the story of sending his son to save and redeem not just a generation, but a world that could not save itself.

As the weeks passed and our study time ended, nothing radical seemed to happen in my life, but as the months and years passed, something significant did happen. I began to trust the Bible in a new way, returning over and over to the words I had read, underlined, wrestled against, and finally let take root in my soul. I was grounded in a way I hadn’t been before. I know now it was only because this dear person in my life had spoken truth to me and turned my eyes upward and away from myself, pointing me to the Word and ultimately to Christ, the Word made flesh.

This is the opportunity we have to minister to a generation lost in its own reflection. It is a responsibility and a gift to speak into the lives of those younger than us and remind them that God is in control, and his glory is our utmost purpose. So what does this look like in a practical sense? Here are four ways we can encourage and edify young adults in Christ:

  1. Listen: Be patient with people and hear their stories. Frederick Buechner said, “To see is to love, and to love is to see.” When we seek to understand people, to really see them for all their fears and limitations along with their gifts and blessings, we find it difficult to dismiss them. Instead, we can meet people where they are and let them know they are not alone.
  2. Ask questions: You know what’s really easy? Telling someone they can do anything if they follow their heart. That’s not empowerment; it’s a lie and neglect. It is difficult to ask the tough questions, to help people think about what’s really in their hearts and discern what God may be leading them to surrender in order to fully obey him.
  3. Encourage appropriately: In all my naiveté, I needed to be reminded about grace. I also needed to be reminded that the world is not about me. One of my favorite quotes is from Karen Swallow Prior, and says (paraphrased), “Existential crisis is code for ‘I take myself too seriously.’” We can speak life and grace in ways that build up but do not puff up.
  4. Implant wisdom: Most importantly, we should pass along what we know about the gospel and about the world to those who have not yet learned. Titus 2 calls us to make good examples of ourselves in our works and teaching, and to encourage and rebuke as needed, knowing we too are in submission to God and his authority.

The other night I sat across the table from a younger friend, listening to her share from her heart the ways God was working in her life through both joy and sorrow. I offered some insight from my own slow journey of sanctification, but mostly I listened and marveled at how the Holy Spirit does the work that cannot be done by even the best self-help.

For those of us who know this, who find hope not in personal liberty but in the person of Christ, we have a responsibility to those who come after us. As the world tells us to make our own way and believe our own truth, we must remember the words of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” On Jesus we hold our gaze, leading others to do the same, as we wait patiently for the hidden to become clear.

Ashlyn Portero

Ashlyn Portero is the director of groups and partnerships at Redeemer Queen's Park in London. She lived in Tallahassee, Florida, for 15 years before moving to London in March 2021. After graduating from Florida State University, she worked with a local church plant, City Church, as the executive director. In addition … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24