Forged: An Interview with Austin Wofford

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What is the big idea behind your new book Forged: Young Adults and the Renewal of the Church, and why is it such an important work now?

Leaders who cultivate family-like community will bring renewal to emerging generations and to the church. Nothing resonates more in the hearts of young adults than the invitation into authentic friendship. Yet, they are afraid of it. Their life-stage comes with barriers that keep them isolated. Real relationships feel out of reach and overwhelming. Leaders who help them break these barriers to practice the spiritual discipline alongside others will forge a spiritual family that embeds these generations in the faith for decades to come.

You discuss at length several barriers that stand between emerging adults and spiritual awakening: identity, distraction, competition, self-sufficiency, and transition. Which one is the greatest impediment and how is it uniquely posing a challenge to faith in the early 21st century?

Social media and digital communication would be the “tantalizing” answer to this question because we all experience a visceral guilt when thinking about the effect that smart phones have on our everyday relationships. I do passionately discuss screen addiction in the writing. However, the thing that most challenges young adult’s faith is largely undisclosed, and more insidious as a result.

It is the search for identity that poses the largest challenge to faith in a person’s 20. Most Millennials and GenZ unconsciously view their identity-making as a search for what Charles Taylor calls the “authentic self.” Most hold the inherent and subconscious belief that their inner feelings must be discovered and then expressed through their actions for an authentic identity to emerge.

Your authentic adult self is discovered when you throw off the identity given to you in childhood and begin to act out your feelings. That is the unchallenged life script most adhere to for their twenties. This far too often causes them to both question religion (a thought structure that suggests ultimate truth about their identity) and to leave their religious community. They find their desires at war with the self-sacrifice required to commit God and others. Thus, young adults exit both Christianity and the church in a journey of discovering their authentic adult identity.

What is “banding” and how does this practice offer a special solution to the temptations of digital culture, or our world of “ghosts,” as you call it?

Digital connection is the junk food of relationships. You can consume as much as you want and still be badly malnourished. Thirty mins of scrolling through social media is not the same as thirty minutes in conversation with a friend, who is across the table from you. We need meat and potato friends—people who we see face-to-face and who don’t disappear like ghosts when our connection is no longer convenient or easy.

Banding provides a space for real community that is centered around the deepest and most meaningful aspect of life—following Jesus. These groups of 3-5 people gather weekly for discernment of the Spirit’s guidance and accountability around obeying the teachings of Jesus. Bands provide space to be nourished and to mature into real community and real Christianity. Banding is where relational intimacy intersects spiritual depth.

You recommend older Christians consider becoming spiritual parents to emerging adults. Aren’t young people skeptical of older people and don’t they prefer to spend time with people their age? What does practicing spiritual parenthood look like, practically, and is it a gift reserved only for some in the church?

If you want to see a group of college students raise their hands, then ask them, “Who desires to be mentored?”

Information is easy to come by online, but inter-generational wisdom is at a premium. Students are lost in a wilderness of faith. Textbooks are not an adequate guide. They can only be led out of the wilderness by people with real life experience. They need spiritual elders who they actually know and belong with—a home base of spiritual blessing in a desert of doubt. Spiritual parents are the physical ambassadors of the Father who said, “This is my son, with whom I love and am well pleased.”

Have you been through the wilderness of emerging adulthood and come out on the other side in love with Jesus? Are you available to share a meal, a prayer, and most importantly, a listening ear? Will you encourage them in their identity as a son or daughter of God in times of confusion? Then you can carry the blessing of a spiritual parent to the life of a young adults.

Who is the audience for your work and how can people meaningful engage with it?

Forged is written for anyone who wants to lead in renewal of GenZers/Millennials and the church. For seasoned leaders, this book will give you a fresh understanding of the barriers between young adults and faith by gaining a fresh perspective of their life stage, the culture they’re in, and their relationship with the church. For young leaders, this book will help you diffuse the tension you feel around following Jesus in your twenties. You will see the key principles at play in your own life and gain language needed to understand your experience. You will also pick up tools useful for leading you and your friends toward Jesus and one-another.

Read Forged with family, friends, church staff, or in a small group, to discover the fires that burn up young adult faith and to learn how those same fires can be used to forge spiritual families of Jesus followers in emerging generations.

If God’s people were to embrace and live out your proposition in this book, what would happen in the church? In the world?

Spiritual awakening leads to social renewal. In imagining what an outpouring of God’s love looks like for GenZ and Millennials, we must to picture it reversing the cultural trends of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and isolation. An awakening today would almost certainly forge new Jesus followers into family-like community.

And this is good news for the current-day church, because New Testament community also has the power to embed young Christians in the faith. We find ourselves in a moment of desperation, unsure how to keep emerging adults from exiting religious belief. Family-like community was the adhesive that bound the early church together and it can be the adhesive that binds young adults to our churches today.

Your church or young adult community can buck the trends of the emerging adult exodus by simply listening to the Millennial and GenZ generations, and by cultivating a forged family community that will reach and form them.

Forged equips you to do this by: 1) making these generations alive and personal to you and 2) shedding light on how your church can re- engage them in this moment.

This book illuminates both the darkness that surrounds most emerging adults, and the blind spots that keep most churches from effectively ministering to them. Take a second to look critically at these generations and evaluate how your church can serve them. Some simple but profound changes in how you approach young people may spark renewal. God has called you to lead these generations in this moment. Forged will help you confidently lead your church into a bright and positive future with twenty-somethings.

Perfect for:

  • Campus ministers
  • Mentors to young adults
  • Pastors desiring renewal
  • Family ministers

In these pages you’ll:

  • Rally your church or family to re-engage emerging adults with creative and potent strategies
  • Learn how to plant micro communities that can reach and disciple young adults
  • Learn principles to successfully disciple and develop the next generation of their church leadership

Get Forged: Young Adults and the Renewal of the Church from our store here.

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Austin Wofford is a writer, speaker, and church planter from Lexington, Kentucky. As a ten-year campus ministry vet, he has pastored at local universities and has also established national collegiate ministry networks. Together, Austin and his wife/co-pastor Maddie passionately pursue spiritual awakening among emerging generations and the church.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am an “emerging adult” myself and was nodding vigorously throughout the entirety of this article. Yes, yes, and yes! Austin has really hit the nail on the head for what young adults are needing and yearning for in life and from the Church. For most of my late teens and twenties I have felt a deep ache for that real connection and mentorship as I’ve tried to figure out what following Jesus looks like… what it really means. Many times I felt alone, discouraged, confused, insufficient… you name it. It wasn’t until recently (in my late 20s) that I pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone and began directly asking my pastor and other “already emerged adults” in my church for connection and mentorship. I am so thankful for these relationships and have been seeing the fruit of it in my life as I finally have begun to feel my roots planting in the rich love of Jesus and his people.

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