Stages of Opportunity

There are so many stages of life in which God seems to get our attention. Many pastors and theologians have observed that it often takes a crisis in culture or in someone’s personal life before they are open to spiritual renewal.

Let’s reflect on six stages of life in which there might be a golden opportunity for transformation.

Stage 1:  ‘The Teenage Years’

The new youth pastor at our church became a believer here when he was 16. His parents aren’t people of faith and he had a lot of struggles when they split up.  A family from our church knew him from Boy Scouts, saw his struggles and drew him into the life of the church.  He said that our former youth pastor was, “one of the first adults that ever really listened to me.”  The faith that Jesus gave him is now being multiplied.

The first stage of Teenagers may seem obvious.  The statistic is often thrown around that 90% of Christians make a faith commitment before their 18th birthday.  But I believe with cultural changes the opportunity for gospel impact amongst youth is like never before.  They are growing up in a post-Christian but also deeply spiritual and open climate.  I see strong faith amongst Generation Z (born 2000 – current).  Many of them have found what their Generation X parents are still looking for; some are even leading their parents to faith!  In any case, teenagers are looking for a secure identity and the opportunity is there to share Christ with them.

Stage 2: ‘College’

A pastor that has been a huge influence in my life, grew up in a nominal mainline church where he never heard the gospel explained.  He went off to an Ivy League school to further his education – hardly a place that we expect people to grow in the faith!  But through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, he found a community of Jesus-followers that made Christianity intellectually and culturally appealing.

We often discuss college as a seminal time in which many people make a faith commitment. It is a time of learning and growth as people step into new academic and vocational settings.  If your church is in or near a college town, you have a huge opportunity to offer hospitality to people on a journey to Jesus.  Healthy young adults are looking for mentorship and guidance.  It is fun being in a stage of life when I can be a bridge between college students and their parents.  This is a season of life in which young adults can either discover faith for the first time or have a season of deep renewal and growth, as the gospel becomes very real to them.

Stage 3:  ‘Twenty and Thirty Somethings’

When Henry was 8 years old, he saw a billboard that spoke of God’s love and asked, ‘Dad, what do we believe about God?’  Nolan wasn’t really sure how to answer that.  He had previously had a couple of strange encounters with churches in the south but was willing to give our church in Portland a chance.  When they started attending, they found a community that was warm and welcoming.  They found music and a message that connected with them.  Four years ago, I had the pleasure of baptizing both father and son.  They have both grown tremendously in their faith.  Nolan is now a deacon who was recently elected President of our council.

Every person has a different path and journey, but many people get married and start a family in their 20s and 30s.  As children come along and are their naturally curious selves, they start to ask questions.  Every child is made in the image of God and has questions about themselves and their Creator.  Or perhaps parents who walked away after high school still believe, “This would be good for my child.”  Little do they know that this is the way that God will capture their hearts with the gospel!  Special care should be taken to welcome families into the church for the first time, and to walk alongside them patiently in their spiritual journey.  I’ve found that most parents aren’t looking for the hippest children’s ministry but an authentic community where their child can be safe, loved and explore Christianity.

Stage 4:  ‘The Midlife Crisis’

James grew up in a secular home and defined himself as a militant atheist in high school.  In his 20s and 30s that cooled off but he had no interest in Christianity or faith of any kind.  Suddenly, in his early 40s he felt a strong conviction from what had to be God.   It baffled him.  This led him to explore Catholicism and Protestantism.  Through an online discussion group, someone shared with him about the Reformed faith.  Many doctrines in that tradition made sense to him on a deep level.  James was baptized two years ago, has been discipled and is now sharing what he’s learned with others.

It’s an overused term but many in their 40s experience an existential crisis that God uses to get their attention.  Bodies don’t work like they used to and jobs and other pursuits don’t bring the satisfaction they once did.  David Brooks has written extensively about the two halves of life.  In the first half, we are building up our resume; in the second half, we are building our eulogy.  As people turn their attention from acquiring goods in this life to eternal concerns, there is often an opening.  I was born in 1980, and many of my friends and peers are going through challenging seasons as they navigate these changes. I have had several conversations the last few years from lifelong friends that have either lost their spiritual compass or are looking to find one for the first time.

Stage 5:  ‘End of Career and Work Transitions’

I had a conversation recently with Don, a mentor, about the stage of life that he’s in.  He was sharing with me about a friend he has had since high school, sixty years ago.  His friend is an atheist, but has been diagnosed with cancer and is searching for hope.  When Don shared with him the faith he has in Jesus, he said it was the most encouraging thing he has heard since his diagnosis.  They are meeting in person next to continue the conversation.

After they retire or kids move out of the house, people ask the Big Questions, perhaps for the first time.  Don’t be surprised when this happens.  Even courses like Alpha can give people the space to ask the question about Jesus they’ve always wanted to ask.

Lesson 6: ‘The Finish Line’

God often gets the attention of people as they face their fears around mortality.  I have a family friend who literally got onto the hospital bed of his father-in-law and would not leave until he prayed a salvation prayer.  I’m not sure how efficacious that actually is, but it showed the love that he had for his father-in-law.

The Lord is patient with us and doesn’t want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  Praise God that His patience even lasts 80, 90 or 100 years!  There are older people who do not have the peace that Christ offers.  God opens their eyes and helps them to see that Jesus has always been there for them.

As our culture transitions out of Covid and into a new season, we are wise to reflect on both the cultural and personal crises in every stage of life that many people are facing.  We should not be fearful of this moment but see this as an opportunity to live into the hope that we have, and watch God do His thing!

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