Formation for Mission: Discipleship and Identity for Emerging Adults

Written by Mary Lederleitner, Andrew Macdonald, and Rick Richardson, eds Reviewed By Taylor Mendoza

For those who wish to disciple today’s emerging adults towards mission, Formation for Mission is a practical and thought-provoking book of case-studies. Emerging adults are defined by the editors as those who have ended adolescence and have begun making long-term commitments in adulthood. Today’s emerging adults have prolonged the process of entering adulthood due to several sociological factors. The authors cite factors such as globalization, growing access to information, greater financial resources, the burden of academic debt, and a lack of opportunity for promotion as reasons for the prolonged process into adulthood. Today’s emerging adults attend church with less frequency than their peers in previous generations, thus discipling them will present unique issues (p. 7). This book hopes to speak into these issues.

The editors argue that Christian spiritual formation is needed so that “these emerging adult disciples will then live for Christ, enter into congregational life, and engage in mission in distinctively Christian ways” (pp. 9–10). Their work is intended “to equip anyone who might have a passion to help emerging adults navigate this season of life” (p. 4). With their stated thesis and goal, the authors divide their work into four sections. First, they attempt to lay the groundwork for the conversation by defining their terms and emphasizing the important role of identity formation during the emerging adult years. Second, they attempt to demonstrate that sexuality, church involvement, and lack of leadership are barriers to Christian spiritual formation. Third, the editors explore various strategic ministries and their practices of missional formation. These practices include targeting emerging adults within the local church, singing, racial reconciliation, service-learning trips, and philanthropy. Each chapter includes the insights of a contributor who has contemporary experience in ministry among emerging adults. Finally, the fourth section explores additional missional practices that are uniquely tailored to various ethnic groups.

The book exhibits two major strengths. First, from beginning to end, the book presents practical ideas for pastors and emerging adult workers. Many of the contributors offer insights that can be immediately implemented in the reader’s ministry. For example, when discussing possible solutions to the lack of church involvement among emerging adults, one contributor suggests that leaders should give greater levels of responsibility to emerging adults so as to motivate them to keep growing. This suggestion follows the critique that often “emerging adults were being asked to fit into ministries designed primarily, if not exclusively, for married people with children” (p. 59). This critique highlights the fact that if ministry structures are built for people who are not among the emerging adult demographic, it is unlikely that they will feel welcome and improbable that they would step up to lead. Such oversight will likely contribute to stagnation rather than spiritual growth in the emerging adult population.

Second, as has been suggested above, even though the book is primarily about reaching and discipling emerging adults, the local church remains central. For example, one author laments the amount of time and energy dedicated to emerging adults in campus ministries in contrast to their investment in local churches (p. 61). Likewise, in the third section, as the authors focus on missional practices in ethnically diverse situations, they explicitly argue that this is best accomplished through the local church.

However, for all the strengths and insights in the book, there are also weaknesses. The book and its ministry advice would benefit from more rigorous biblical grounding. Although some chapters do this better than others, some do not include biblical or theological foundations at all. For example, in the chapter entitled “The Role of Identity Formation” the authors attempt to show the importance of identity formation by discussing four theories of formation along with their implications for emerging adults. In this chapter, readers would have benefited from a discussion on a biblical understanding of identity, the image of God, being known by God, self-denial, and the believer’s union with Christ (see Gen 1:26–27; Matt 10:38–39; 1 Cor 13:12; Gal. 2:20; Col 3:1–4). While helpful sociologically, the book does not present a biblical-theological foundation for reaching and discipling.

Further, even though the book is about discipling and reaching emerging adults, it fails to give significant attention to holiness, fighting sin, obedience, or submission. Christian readers would be right to question why a book about formation and discipleship doesn’t address the aversion to pursuing holiness exhibited by today’s emerging adults. Some chapters do highlight character formation or transformation into Christlikeness (see for example pp. 88–90, 156–57) but they do not highlight submission to biblical commands and divine authority as the means of their growth in godliness (John 14:15; Jas 4:7; 2 Pet 1:5–8). Such issues such as self-denial, obedience, and submission are essential to making disciples. And, given the culture described among emerging adults, pastors and ministry leaders will need to be equipped to engage in a counter-cultural catechesis including training in submission to biblical authority.

Despite these weaknesses, the editors and contributors have provided a resource that will benefit those who work among emerging adults. In contrast to academic and theological offerings, the tone and tenor of the book is conversational and practical. For those who desire further study, the footnotes and bibliography provide indications of other helpful resources on various topics. This book will not provide the biblical and theological foundations for discipleship readers might be looking for, but readers who are looking for creative ideas for discipling emerging adults for mission will find them here.

Taylor Mendoza

Taylor Mendoza
Northpoint Church
Corona, California, USA

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