Ministry to young adults
By Debra Benis
When Rob Bell walks on stage at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the 38-year-old sports chic black glasses and black jeans with a wide, white 1970s belt. His geeky, affable presence and energized speaking style warm up the room quickly and signal a seasoned performer. After you hear Bell speak, it’s not surprising to learn that his childhood hero was David Letterman or that when he was a student at Wheaton College in the 1980s, he was lead singer in a band called “__Ton Bundle” (the blank space allowed band members to change the band’s name by adding various adjectives).There’s plenty of evidence that Bell’s been successful at engaging the culture. He’s been written up by Time magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times, which calls him “the next Billy Graham.” His 2006 book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith created a following of diehard fans who eagerly awaited Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality and his latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile (written with Don Golden of World Relief).
His NOOMA videos have sold 1.2 million copies in 80 countries (NOOMA is a phonetic spelling of the Greek pneuma, or “spirit”). In 2007-2008 he visited 22 cities as part of “The Gods Aren’t Angry” tour. Bell has come in for criticism as well as adulation. Conservative evangelicals like blogger Eric Rung think Bell’s approach to ministry is “out of step with scripture” and that his philosophy will “erode true biblical faith.” Another Web site-one of many-notes that while Bell is packaged as Christian, “nothing could be further from the truth,” and calls Bell “a New Age evangelist.”
What is Bell doing to earn so much attention? For one thing, he can preach. As Bell warms up a congregation or audience to hear “the truth of the text,” he drops jokes based on pop music, references to favorite cheap wines or the quirks of cell phone technology, a mainstay of the 20-somethings among his listeners. In his sermons, he prepares the congregation by announcing that he’ll be teaching for 80 minutes. (Some of the visitors thought that he must be kidding. He wasn’t.)
Several times during the 80 minutes he stops in the middle of exegeting a Bible passage when he senses a lull in listener focus and shouts, “Are you tracking?” After a resolute yes from the congregation, he dives in again.
This article provides us with a lot of insight on what is neccesary if older mainline churches are to be effective in reaching young adults. I am left asking the question, “Should we be equipping .young adult lay and clergy pastors to engage their culture more aggressively? I believe that the answer is yest but this also develops a second question. Will the young adult sensitive ministries flourish at the expense of established older congregations dying?