"The clearest indications of fear of commitment are evidenced in thephenomena I see among younger generations of serial monogamy, cohabitationand delayed marriages," says Tom Beaudoin, author of "Virtual Faith: TheIrreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X." Beaudoin defines serial monogamyas the habit of getting into relationships that are "more or lessmonogamous, fully sexually expressive, emotionally over-invested andshort-term."

Since many young people don't like to take time off between relationships,they end up giving all their resources to one relationship after another, hesays.

"I think these experiences can be understood in the context of a generationwho grew up in what we might call a divorce culture and also in a heavilyconsumer culture. Neither a divorce culture nor a consumer cultureencourages permanence or fidelity. This is not some magical situation inwhich we find ourselves. It is our own doing," says Beaudoin, a Catholic anddoctoral candidate at Boston College.

Bridges, the Dallas marketing specialist, says churches must blame themselves for commitmentavoidance. "When a church has a conflict, what normally happens? A split anda new church is started.... It is more acceptable to kick 'em out or quitand start over than it is to reconcile."

Yet young adults desperately want to commit tosomething. "Given the suspicion of institutions characteristic ofmany young people, they often want to know exactly what they're committingthemselves to before they put their foot in the water," says Beaudoin. Wes Eades, a pastoral counselor in Waco, Texas, says this fear ofcommitment, with its hunger for certainty, doesn't reside only in GenerationX."No one group has the monopoly on fear or peace," says Eades."There is definitely a hesitation to make commitments unless one can beguaranteed that he or she will get what is wanted from the commitment." Many young adults like to keep their options open when they face careerchoices too, says young-adult minister Keith Pate of Austin, Texas."Many people are jumping from job to job, never finding happiness. They mayhave lots of money, but they're still not happy."

The church can be a source of support for those overcomingcommitment fear. But the first thing Christians need to do is quit makingthe problem worse, says author and speaker Blaine Smith of Damascus, Md.The traditional message of the church to commitment-fearful people--namely, recognize your responsibility to God and commit out of obligation--only reinforces their fears and insecurities, says Smith in "The Yes Anxiety:Taming the Fear of Commitment." People who fear commitment already areparalyzed by their guilt and fear, he writes.

Yet church leaders should not shy away from challenging thecommitment-resistant, says young-adult minister Pate. "In some ways, we'vetreated baby boomers and the younger generations as if we can't challengethem, and that's a mistake. We've pulled back from calling for commitment.They want people to shoot straight with them and to communicate a clearvision."

The solution to the fear of commitment, particularly for young adults, arechurch ministries "that first and foremost offer experiences ofunconditional acceptance," says Gen-X author Beaudoin. "That will requirehaving ministries that allow for significant disagreement on some issues ofimportance to Christians. "But the deeper issue here is the transformation of the culture away fromsuch a heavy investment in consumerism and divorce. This is entirely withinthe power of Christians--and all people of goodwill."


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