In the early 80’s, Toys R Us launched one of my most favorite advertising jingles. As a kid, I loved to sing along with those unforgettable lyrics – “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid…” – and imagine what it would be like to stay young and play with toys forever. However, that was a childish dream, not a viable lifestyle choice. We all knew the day would come when we would grow up, move out, get jobs and have families of our own.
That is, we all knew it until now. Now we have young people (particularly men) staying at home and living like children into their late 20’s and 30’s. Sociologists have coined terms like “extended adolescence” or “adult adolescence” to label this new phenomenon and continue to move the age for early adulthood later into the 20’s. As one man said, “If 60 is the new 40, then 25 is the new 13.”
Whether this social change is a problem or not is an issue that I will leave to the experts. My concern is of a more practical nature as it relates to the church. Whatever labels or opinions we want to apply, many of these young men and women are a part of our church families. As such, it is our responsibility to care for the spiritual development of these young people. Toward that end, I want to make some suggestions:
• Differentiate between societal norms and biblical truth. What might seem abnormal to you might be nothing more than a matter of personal preference. Societal norms such as leaving home and finishing school, while a good idea, are not biblically mandated behavior. Though certainly not an exhaustive list, the following biblical principles might apply:
o Honor your parents (Eph 6:2).
o Avoid laziness and work at meaningful labor (Many proverbs like Pro 6:6-11; Col 3:23; 2 Thess 3:10)
o Be unselfish (Gal 6:2; Phi 2:4; I John 3:17)
o Use your gifts for the benefit of the body (Rom 12:6-8; I Cor 12:4-11; I Peter 4:10-11)
o Use wisdom in your finances (Pro 6:1-5, Ecc 5:10; 2 Cor 9:6-7).
• Clearly communicate expectations of adulthood. Once we’ve established the difference between societal norms and biblical truth, we must clearly communicate some expectations. Though the church should help educate all people on what the Bible teaches about being a spiritually and socially mature adult, this responsibility largely falls to parents. It is not fair or safe to assume that your child or young adult has just happened to figure out what is expected of him as he grows older without you having told him. This obviously begins with biblical instruction, but extends to social norms as well. Clearly spell out expectations as to when and how they should become financially independent, etc.
• Refuse to enable unacceptable behavior. Many of the parents who are frustrated by a 25 or 30 year old son living at home and playing video games all day are paying for those video games. They are also more than likely paying the bills, providing food, doing laundry, keeping house and otherwise generally pampering that same son. After clearly communicating expectations, you have to start enforcing consequences when those expectations are not met. Simply put, under normal circumstances, people grow up when they have to and not much before.
• Extend grace. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when dealing with those who are different than you is that whether right, wrong or just plain different – everyone needs grace. We should graciously be patient with those who are immature and simply need to grow up. We should graciously forgive and instruct those who are in sin. We should graciously show Christ’s love to those with different preferences. Approach others with grace, remembering that as God’s child you are the recipient of great grace.
Though traditional milestones may change or be delayed, it is vital that the body of Christ stand willing and able to help our children mature into godly men and women who will be equipped for the good work God has prepared for them.