If you have read my last two articles, you have journeyed with me from my experience as a child who initially engages the Christian faith to a teenager who has a maturing, sustainable life in Christ. I now invite you to journey with me through the next decade as I move from being a high school graduate entering Bible college to becoming a young married man with children seeking to faithfully pursue God’s leadership call in my life.
The transition from home life and high school to college life, often involving relocation, remains one of the most pivotal moments in the spiritual formation of students. In reliable Canadian studies the statistical evidence remains concerning that both religious service attendance and faith commitments go through major changes during this time frame in students’ lives. The 2018 “Renegotiating Faith” study shows that about half (49 per cent) of young adults continued to attend religious services at the same frequency they did as a teen, while almost the same share (45 per cent) reduced their religious service attendance and a small minority (6 per cent) increased their religious service attendance.
Parents, friends, churches, and especially partner ministries on campuses are critical influences at this time as intentional actions are needed to maintain the peer and mentor relationships that will strengthen the faith formation of a young adult.
My story—partially because I chose to attend Bible college after high school graduation—is one of a deepening of both my faith and leadership development. Attending Northwest Bible College (NBC, now Vanguard College) in Edmonton, Alta., I was able to experience the ongoing influence of my parents and of my mentors and friends at our home church. Our associate pastor allowed young adult college students like me unbelievable access to his time, heart and mind. Peter shaped my expectations of life and ministry in a positive, formative manner. Later Bob would do the same in the year that followed my college graduation as I helped out part time at the church while picking up part-time jobs: welding bread baskets, baking “nuts and bolts,” and working in a dairy throwing out rotten milk and cottage cheese … yummy!
Later I would serve as an assistant pastor in two settings with each of these gentlemen. I have heard numerous stories of younger leaders who were disappointed by the lack of relationship and mentorship they experienced in their initial ministry callings. I recognize there are usually two sides to these stories, but I pray that we who supervise younger ministers or volunteers in the ministries we lead will recognize the high priority the Scriptures place on our being spiritual parents.
Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, describes his commitment by saying, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Paul describes how these new followers of Jesus were able to mature so rapidly under his team’s influence that he could say, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Godly—not necessarily perfect—mentor leaders who open their lives, hearts and minds to newer and younger leaders, who in turn are prepared to imitate and follow Christ as their mentor does—what an unbelievable combination for leadership development in the Lord’s church. I experienced that as a young adult from my late teens into my 30s. Thank you, Peter, Ron, Bob and David.
This era of my spiritual and leadership development would not be described accurately without reference to two hugely impactful influences I experienced at this stage of life—college and peers.
The story of my college years at NBC must be contextually linked with the strong sense of calling to serve the Lord and His church that I had prior to my entrance. Aged 17, totally uninformed of what lay ahead, I still entered with clarity that I was being prepared for what God had called me to as a child and throughout my teenage years. That calling was affirmed, stirred up, and tested by teachers who took a personal interest in us, stretched our thinking, and challenged our arrogance and ignorance. It’s interesting how often those two go together.
I am a strong advocate for young women and men to be very open to how God would use them, to be all that God calls them to be. No more, but no less. A great way to cultivate one’s calling is to engage one of our colleges and be influenced, as I was, by those who were informed and passionate about specific topics. I was deeply impacted by Dr. Harry Faught, who was informed and passionate about theology. I was similarly impacted by Dr. Gordon Franklin, who was informed and passionate about Paul and the pastoral epistles. Finally, I was impacted by Dr. Ross Olson, who was informed and passionate about church history. When Pentecostal icons from the subarctic or Quebec came and described their lives of witness and sacrifice, or when global workers serving in other nations came and shared their heart for their place of calling, a passion was lit that still burns bright 45 years later.
My college peers, Dan, Ron and John, greatly influenced me, both by example in their love for the Word and prayer and by their consistent friendship and care. They have been lifelong friends, as have many others. If, as a young adult in the Spirit you sow truth and godly relationships into your life, as promised from the Spirit, you will reap life.
The most influential peer in the development of my character and spirit walked into my life during our first year in college. Susan Patricia Ann Marie McQuinn, a spunky French-Irish-Loyalist woman from Campbellton, N.B., appeared in our class a week late with everything she owned in a shipping trunk. She was lively, intelligent, funny, attractive, and had a clear leadership calling from the Lord. She was passionate for Him and for people to come to know Jesus.
My world was rocked, so I did what every young man turning 18 does when he wants to attract a young woman. I made fun of her—in this case, of her N.B. North Shore accent. That went over really well!
Summed up in one paragraph, here’s the thing. A young man from Alberta who was called by God and wanted to follow Jesus completely entered a loving marriage covenant with a young woman from New Brunswick who was called by God and wanted to follow Jesus completely. This mutuality of calling to God and to each other has been absolutely the greatest influence in each of our lives for becoming more like Jesus, and for fulfilling His purpose for our lives. For many of us as young adults, the person we choose as the number one human influence in our lives often determines if Jesus can shape us into all we are called to be.
Heavenly Father, choices regarding mentors, education, careers, peers and spouses all have a lot to do with whether we fulfil Your purpose in our lives as we move from youth into adulthood. I pray You will come alongside young women and men making crucial decisions in these areas of life. Let them experience Your wisdom in mind and strength in the inner person today so they will end up being more like You. For Your glory and their benefit. Amen.
- Rick Hiemstra, Lorianne Dueck, and Matthew Blackaby, Renegotiating Faith: The Delay in Young Adult Identity Formation and What It Means for the Church in Canada (Toronto, ON: Faith Today Publications, 2018).
- Ibid., 103.