by Cari Hogan Arias –
It is a question that is asked all over the Army these days: Why are young adults leaving? We have trouble getting them. We have even more trouble keeping them. So why are they leaving?
One word: pastors. Young adults need pastors; we need true pastoral care. Yes, everyone needs a good pastor, but consider how many changes young adults go through. In our programming, The Salvation Army defines young adults as 18 to 30-something. I don’t know about you, but those years have been some of the most life-changing for me.
I recently turned 30. In the years since I became 18, I left home for the first time to attend college. I left the country for the first time to be part of Service Corps. I fought, struggled with, and found my own personal faith. I moved 1,000 miles away from home to attend graduate school. I rented my first apartment (and paid my own bills for the first time). Then I moved 3,000 miles away from home to serve overseas. I got engaged. I got married. I bought my first home. I had my first child. I’ve held at least half a dozen jobs. And I’ve recently moved half way across the country to start a new life with my family. Can we pack any more life changes into just over a decade?
My husband and I went through a time, with so many major life changes and adjustments (first home and first baby within two months of each other!), that we felt like “sheep without a shepherd.” I consider us both to be fairly stable, responsible, well-adjusted young adults. If we struggled with the need for true pastoral care in our lives, what about those young adults on the other end of the spectrum? It’s no wonder we lose so many from the Army ranks during this period of life. The problem is that in the midst of it all, I’m not sure we even realized that we were craving pastoral care and counsel to bring a little bit of security and sanity to the craziness of life.
I feel blessed to be in a corps with amazing pastors as I head out of the “young adult stage.” I admit that we had our time away from the Army, but we are blessed to be back with more joy and vision than ever. As we have adjusted to married life, home ownership, and parenthood, we finally feel like we have hit the coveted “stable” point in life, though undoubtedly not without many more speed bumps to come. Now we can see the Army with fresh eyes instead of flailing arms, looking for someone to keep us upright.
Nearly 10 years ago, as I was struggling with my frustrations of “Army politics,” officers and corps leaders whose walk didn’t live up to their talk, and judgmental Christians around me, I had a conversation with a college professor that I will never forget. He told me two basic truths that, while obvious, had somehow bypassed me: 1) The Salvation Army is an institution made up of all sorts of people. Institutions, by their very nature, are secular. But the people really are what make up the mission of the institution. 2) As imperfect as the institution may be, perhaps God has placed me in this particular one because that’s where he can best use me. That’s where my knowledge and experience are. That’s where I have the open doors to bring his kingdom to the lost.
Ten years later, I still need pastoral care in my life. I believe it must be a focus on the young adults if we are going to keep them through this turbulent phase of life. But I can now see beyond the shepherd in the corps to the Shepherd who is opening doors for me to minister to his sheep through The Salvation Army.