By Paige K Slighter
“Woodland Hills has helped me better understand the merciful character of God and our call to live extraordinarily compassionate lives.”
Dan has been a podrishioner in Jersey Shore, NJ, for three years now. He said, “I love how y’all communicate the radical Kingdom vision in which every believer has a role to play.” He wouldn’t describe himself as a naturally empathetic person, but recently he’s been motivated and inspired to serve others by Christ’s example. He said, “I realized that Jesus wasn’t merely telling us to ‘be nice,’ like is often taught in churches. He is radically calling us to lay down our lives for others.”
During the summer of 2020, Dan saw many people stuck in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, addiction and loneliness. After a lot of prayer, he decided to do something about it. Ever since, he’s been reaching out to young adults his age, and initiating friendship. He spends quality time with the lonely, hearing their stories and encouraging them in God’s goodness. He said, “I walk alongside young adults in their struggles and doubts and deconstruction. I message people I know via text or Facebook and invite them to take a walk or go to a cafe, not with the motive of just trying to get them to ‘say the prayer’ but because I genuinely care.” Most people he reaches out to identify as Christian but are not part of a community. Dan said in Jersey Shore, “Young adults are virtually absent from the churches. We’re failing to reach out to them.”
To be part of the solution, Dan began organizing Bible study hangouts open to the public. He said, “It’s just a matter of meeting at home or the beach or a park with some food, some music, some activity like a card game or frisbee and our Bibles.” The majority of the people who come are experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness, addiction, depression or anxiety, or have been hurt by the church. Dan has created a safe environment for everyone to feel welcomed and loved authentically.
Though this ministry has been fruitful, Dan said it’s a huge challenge to keep people involved. Sometimes fifty young adults participate, sometimes only five. He said, “I’m trying to disciple leaders, but even life-long Christians become disinterested with Bible studies or reaching out to the broken and want to settle for comfort and stability. Also, people my age are stuck in vicious cycles of their own, like porn, alcohol or food addictions that cause them to self-isolate.”
Yet, Dan continues reaching out and loving others. He has seen many young adults who have committed or recommitted their lives to Jesus. Dan can personally name the pastors, worship leaders and teachers that have grown out of this ministry. He said, “There are currently and will be those who are raised up, as well as many others impacted on a smaller scale, and many that we have inspired or challenged whom we will never know about. Just as Woodland Hills is reaching and will influence more people than we know.”
Dan believes caring for young adults, ages 18-30, is a big problem among churches. He said, “These ages are missing in most churches. They need a place in which they are known and not judged or shamed, a place where they are free to wrestle through their questions and doubts while hearing the radical Gospel lived out and communicated boldly.”
Overall, Dan agrees that loneliness is an expanding epidemic for all ages, but he is currently focusing on what he can do to help those in his age group. Writer Kurt Vonnegut’s quote inspires him: “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
As a church, we are inspired by Dan’s zeal for befriending young adults. It’s definitely true that young people need authentic community, especially in times of upheaval and uncertainty. If you’re local to MN and in the 18 to 20s age range, we invite you to check out Vessels, where you can experience Kingdom community. If you’re not local, try out a Gathering Group! And if you’re not a young adult, try inviting one or more to dinner with your family. We need to remember to include and support all the members of our Kingdom family!