"Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place." –Daniel H. Pink
One of the greatest obstacles to successful young adult ministry is the difficulty in understanding the experience of the upcoming generations. Most of us feel more competent to talk of our own experience and our romanticized memories of our youthful days. Often, it is with that life lens that we deploy our ministry and mentoring efforts.* Add to this the complexity of the media-saturated, technologically-driven culture of a new millennium, and it is no wonder in many ways we simply "can't relate."
"Empathy is defined as the ability to understand the thoughts feelings or emotions of someone else." Fostering empathy with young adults, and their context, is vital to any ministry or mentoring endeavor with next generations.
It's been my experience that a significant amount of listening and learning is needed to develop some sense of another's experience, viewpoint, and context. Even after thirty years in this field, I still need to continually deepen my listening and learning as the nuances of each young adult cohort emerges.
Recently, I served as the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists lead research facilitator to the Barna Group, one of the preeminent Christian research firms in the nation. The purpose of the research project was to help us understand more clearly the experience of Adventist young adults in relationship to our faith community, and compare/contrast them with the 27,000 Millennials whom the Barna Group has spent most of this decade studying.
Barna Group president, David Kinnaman, presented for the Adventist Ministries Convention, offering the revealing, compelling, and insightful results of Adventist Millennial Research. David shared valuable findings gleaned from our young adults and conveyed candidly ministry considerations.
Exclusive to YGU, find here David's presentation with the encouragement to carefully listen and learn what our young adults are experiencing.
To foster empathy, carefully take into consideration these research-based macro perspectives on the lives of young adults, and compare them to the micro experiences of young adults you know. Take a student to lunch or have group of Millennials over for a meal, and listen carefully to their comparison and contrast. You will find that young adults are quick to refine your understanding, and clarify where demographic research is relevant or off base as it pertains to them personally.
"Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn." —Alice Miller
May your diligent efforts to authentically listen to and eagerly learn about next generations foster a genuine empathy for their lives.
*Truth be told, if we were to be put back into our student self without the benefit of the wisdom garnered in the years that followed, we would find ourselves more sympathetic to today's young adult.