Opportunities In The Interruptions: How To Serve Young Adults During COVID

Jenna Stepp

Founder, Heroic Leadership Institute

Vineyard Digital Membership



Opportunities In The Interruptions: How to Serve Young Adults During COVID (Vineyard Pilgrimage)

[This post was originally shared on the Vineyard Digital Membership Blog. Vineyard Digital Membership Blog Posts are all about resources that can serve you. Now may be the perfect time to run one or more of these studies with the Young Adults in your church.]

There is something significant that God shapes in us during times of interruption and uncertainty. As someone who has worked with youth and young adults for over two decades, I believe there is a unique opportunity available to the church right now to engage with young people in our communities. Last week I spent time interviewing Vineyard young adults asking about their experiences over the last month.

I wanted to know what immediate effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on their lives socially, economically, emotionally, and spiritually. I wanted to hear what they had found most challenging and what they were finding helpful, especially in regards to their spiritual growth and how the church could come alongside them

Help Them Navigate The Interruption

Speaking from my own experience, interruptions are a time when our worldviews and our “God-views” are shaped. One of the events that deeply shaped my journey with Jesus and my ability to “see God in all things” happened in 1999 when I was on a college outreach team heading to Tibet.

We had trained for 6 months, learning the culture and the language, building relationships with the local churches, and preparing physically to be in the Himalayan terrain with it’s impressive elevation and limited conveniences. My team had bonded through our preparation and prayer and we were eager to spend the summer working with the faith communities in the beautiful landscape of Tibet.

We started our journey and our layover was in Tokyo, how exciting! During this layover, our team leader called the university to check in and he learned that due to an unforeseen international conflict US citizens were not being allowed into Tibet. We were being rerouted to Singapore but only 2 of our 11 trekking packs would be joining us there. Um, what?!

As you can imagine, the team (11 of us all under the age of 24) were flooded with all the emotions. Disappointment, anger, unbelief, deep sadness, apathy, fear, confusion, and more questions about the future. Where would we go? Who would we be working with? What about our plans?

Many of these are the questions our young people are asking right now but on a much larger scale!

Current college or graduate students feel that most of their plans are now uncertain.

  • Most colleges and many gap years programs, including HLI, have had classes moved online.
  • Some dorms are closed.
  • Some graduate programs have paused completely.
  • Internships are being cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

Most of the young adults who are affected, had a plan and have been working diligently towards their plans for years. You likely remember when you were a senior in high school how many times someone asked, “So what are your plans next year?”

Many of these students have been planning, working, and praying about this college journey for years, and now it is all on a vague pause. This is both disappointing and disorienting.

Help Them Deepen Their Trust In Jesus

I believe that as they walk with Jesus, there is an opportunity for them to deepen their trust during this time of uncertainty however WE have to be willing to walk through this initial shock and adjustment with them.

As with my Tibet team, we had been through training classes that encouraged flexibility and even fluidity, but all classroom theory and inspirational chats were now being filtered through the adrenaline in our veins and challenges in front of us. We had to pivot. There was no choice. The government said so, our University said so, and our leader said so.

The first few days in Singapore felt like a blur. (Maybe you remember this feeling a few weeks ago as the news of closings, cancelations and stay at home orders poured in?) Each team member would process their journey in their own way.

Some would be eager to get to the next thing, make the new plan and cast a new vision. Others needed more time to process, to share what they were feeling and sad about. We all had to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and decide whether we would engage with the opportunities in front of us or not.

I remember our team leader, with more wisdom than one might expect at 21, encouraging us to stop looking at the lucrative skyline around us that was so jarringly different than the Tibetan landscape we had been expecting and instead to look at the people.

He encouraged us to look into their eyes, see their humanity and ask God what he was doing right here and now. Once I heeded this advice something shifted in my perspective. I began to see God’s love and power show up in various ways during the rest of the trip.

Help Them Gain A Kingdom Perspective

Our plans continued to be disrupted but each time we saw God’s faithfulness. We ended up getting to work with some incredible leaders both in Singapore and then in Nepal (where we were happily reunited with the rest of our luggage).

Many of those young adults who were with me on that team, continue to be incredible leaders today that have had to pivot through some incredibly challenging circumstances over the last two decades, and one of them is helping to run his state emergency plans through the COVID-19 virus today.

We know that this time is unprecedented and we know God shows up and forms us in the interruptions. (I find myself thinking of the life of Joseph and Paul a lot these days!) As leaders, we have an invitation to serve and bring Kingdom perspective to this season.

As a senior pastor, I have spent the last four-plus weeks in crash-course-mode trying to figure out how to move my church plant online, how to care for those in my community who have lost their jobs, how to care for those who are sick. As I pause and take inventory of the big picture, I feel expectant. Although there is much uncertainty and many of us have very challenging days ahead, we also have unprecedented opportunity to walk with our community towards healing.

A few additional realities that the young adults asked me to consider during our conversations:

  1. They are missing people A LOT. There is great grief over the loss of physical connection to other people.
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    Emma Reichart, from Vineyard of the Rockies, mentioned one of the outreaches that her church did with their city. They set up stations around the church to make hand sanitizer and purposefully invited the young adults to volunteer in these assembly lines. Since young people tend to be in the “less risk” category for the virus, but still need connection, a 6ft apart assembly line allowed for a win-win.
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  2. They are experiencing significant financial loss. Many young adults work in the service industry which has been affected significantly. Others are just starting a career or have recently launched a small business, which means they often have very limited savings with which to weather this season.
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    And about the high schoolers:
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  3. The class of 2020 has a common story of interruption, innovation and loss. While on one hand, this class has an epic story of the most days off and a heroic online schooling pivot,  they are also missing many of the celebration markers and events often associated with the rites of passage into adulthood for our culture. Final concerts, plays, proms, graduation ceremonies and such are currently on hold. This is a big deal.
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  4. The Vineyard Youth network loves each other a whole lot and many are super sad. Last week the announcement was released that regional gatherings including Project Timothy were not going to happen this year. Within hours, Instagram tributes to their PT classes and zoom calls were set up around the nation (by the teens!) to grieve together. The investments made over the last decade in these youth networks shows. As a mother of teens, my eyes filled with tears as I heard their laments “This was going to be Isaac’s last year” “Oh no, this was going to be the first time Ellie and Kaeden were going to get to go”. “Ugh, I can’t believe we won’t be together” and questions directed at me “You know people, can’t you get them to reverse this decision?”
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    Of course I can’t and they understand the reasons, but they are sad. This is what love sounds like, this is what community sounds like, this is what grief sounds like. As I write this, I am watching teens from our region pray for their friend from winter retreat who’s parent is struggling with this virus. As a movement, we walk together. We should be so proud that our young people love each other so well.

What can we do?

I am sure the solutions of how your church family responds to the needs of these young people will be creative and varied. I encourage you to connect with those who work with teens, the families in your communities, maybe even your local schools and see how the missed celebrations and losses can be acknowledged and even redeemed a bit.

This might be the right time to ask the young people in your community how they have been impacted and what help they might need? As their own God stories of financial provision develops, maybe they would benefit from meeting with a more seasoned business leader that knows how to apply for the small business loans or fill out the unemployment forms?

Maybe they are asking questions about budgets that they did not have to ask before? I think the more questions we ask, the more we will hear the opportunities for mentoring and discipleship that might not have been discovered before this, especially for the young people that may not have strong family connections to turn to, including international students.

Above all, let us see and hear the journey that our young friends are on. Let’s hear what God is shaping in them through these interruptions and invitations. As I have learned, sharing stories can be healing. Naming our losses in God’s presence can be healing. Worshiping together and praying for those in need can be healing. As we share where we see God in the interruptions, we grow towards each other and towards Him.

I hope you will share what you see working in your churches!  Let’s keep praying, let’s keep reaching out, and let’s keep learning together.

Cheering for each of you as you find Him in the interruptions!

Submitted by:

Jenna Stepp
Co-pastor of Saltwater Vineyard
Heroic Leadership Institute Director of Development

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See these Vineyard Pilgrimage Resources For Youth & Young Adults On The Vineyard Digital Membership:

Youth Curriculum & Materials

Young Adult Booklets & Studies