CNLP 007: Delayed Adolescence: Why So Many Young Adults Fail to Thrive—An Interview with Ted Cunningham

Well into their twenties, or even thirties, many young adults are still reliant on their parents for financial help and increasingly postpone things like marriage, responsibility and their future.

Delayed adolescence is a growing issue for parents, leaders as well as for young adults themselves. In this episode, Ted Cunningham explains why it’s happening and what to do about it.

If you want to do a better job as a parent, manager or employer, or you want some more insight and independence as a young leader, this is a don’t miss interview.

AND….this week, I’m launching the first contest for this podcast. Scroll all the way to the bottom to enter to win a free copy of my book, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity and be entered to win the grand prize—admission to the Orange Conference 2015, and coffee with me and Jon Acuff.

Welcome to Episode 7 of the podcast.


Guest Links: Ted Cunningham

Ted Cunningham is an author, a speaker and the pastor of Woodland Hills in Branson, Missouri. During our conversation, Ted provides fascinating insights to church leaders and parents about how to ensure kids grow up ready to enter life, and for young leaders about how to take on more responsibility than their peers might be ready to embrace.

Ted on Facebook

Ted on Twitter

Woodland Hills Church

Links Mentioned in This Episode

The links and resources mentioned in this episode include:

CNLP 002: How Perry Noble Hit Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches & How He Battled Back

CNLP 004: Why Young Adults Are Walking Away from the Church & What You Can Do About It—An Interview with Kara Powell

CNLP 005: When Leadership Ruins Your Family: How to Live and Lead Differently—An Interview with Craig Jutila

Fun Loving You: Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind by Ted Cunningham

Young and In Love: Challenge the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage by Ted Cunningham

Trophy Child: Saving Parents from Performance, Preparing Children for Something Greater Than Themselves by Ted Cunningham

Dr. Gary Smalley

The Language of Sex: Experiencing the Beauty of Sexual Intimacy by Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham

From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness Can Transform Your Marriage by Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham

Great Parents, Lousy Lovers: Discover How to Enjoy Life with Your Spouse While Raising Kids by Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham

As Long As We Both Shall Live: Experience the Marriage You’ve Always Wanted by Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

Sacred Marriage: Celebrating Marriage as a Spiritual Discipline by Gary Thomas

Why “Just Turn Down His Microphone” is A (Really) Bad Leadership Strategy

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

Ted says that many millennials are enthusiastic about taking on new responsibilities. They just need to be led into the right direction. Here are 3 things you can start doing now to guide today’s generation of leaders. 

1. Examine their ties. Talk to young adults about who they’re still tied to, and then have the hard conversations. Are their parents still paying their rent, their phone bill, their insurance? Talk to them about what they need to do to absorb that responsibility for themselves.

2. Enable them to make their own decisions. A millennial may ask, “What do you think?” Turn it around on them and ask, “I don’t know. What do YOU think?” Let them work their way through the problem to find a solution.

3. If you’re a young leader…assume more responsibility. Challenge what your parents or boss thinks you’re capable of and take on more responsibility sooner.

And if you’re a young leader….

Quotes to Share from Ted

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I’ll be visiting Texas next week for my last two stops on the Orange Tour. Meet me in Austin (November 3-4) and Dallas (November 6-7).

I’ll be giving some keynotes and doing some breakouts on parenting, leadership and the church, and hosting a lunch for senior leaders. I’d love to hang out. Sign up below!

2014 Orange Tour

Have lunch with Carey: Register for the Austin Orange Tour Stop

Have lunch with Carey: Register for the Dallas Orange Tour Stop

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Got a question?

Next Episode: Rich Birch

Next week, we’ll talk to Rich Birch, who writes a blog at, and isn’t afraid of asking the tough questions.

Are contemporary churches really that contemporary anymore, or are we fooling ourselves? Rich, one of the most forward looking church leaders around today, looks at the rapid cultural changes happening in North America and talks about how church leaders can do a better job of advancing the mission of the church as we move into the future.

That’s next Tuesday on the podcast.

Enter NOW to Win a Ticket to Orange Conference 2015 & More!

Win a prize every week with our first ever listener contest! When you enter by leaving a comment in the show notes of the blog, it’s also your ballot to win the grand prize. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Parenting Beyond Your Capacity.

The grand prize, which will be drawn a few weeks from now, is a free ticket to The Orange Conference 2015 in Atlanta in April of next year. Not only does it get you in for free, but you get a coffee with me and Jon Acuff backstage!

We are selecting the grand prize winner from all of the comments shared over the next few weeks so you can enter multiple times by participating each week. And each week one person will win the book of the week.

So…enter to win by answering this week’s question ­­– 

What is the one best thing you’ve done as a parent or church leader to encourage young adults to take on responsibility?

Scroll down, leave a comment, and don’t forget to answer this week’s question for a chance to win a free ticket to Orange Conference 2015. Go!


  1. […] CNLP 007: Delayed Adolescence: Why So Many Young Adults Fail To Thrive—An Interview With Ted Cunni… […]

  2. Robert Morris on November 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    As a church leader, the one thing we’ve done to encourage young adults/adolescents who serve with us is to attempt to diminish the “tiers” of children’s ministry volunteers. For instance, once a volunteer hits high school age we ask for and expect the same things we would ask 40-year old volunteers. In some contexts, we’ve gone as far as to put some younger people purposefully in places where older members/team members serve with them and “under” them.

    Teenagers/young adults don’t always rise to the occasion, but when they do, it’s a huge moment for those individuals to see how they’ve impacted our church/next generation.

  3. Scott Dawn Busby on November 4, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Two things. First, see myself for the micromanager I can be and back off and enjoy coaching. Get off their field of play.

    Second, see my late teenage children for the leaders they can become and give them a chance to fail. Their successes far outweigh their failures, if for no other reason than they gain experience when they falter. Their imperfect execution is better than no execution of their own.

    Hard to practice as a parent with a freshman in college making straight A’s in Sigma Chi this fall. Your podcast reinforced my instinct to let go more. Thanks!

  4. Carey Nieuwhof on November 3, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    And now the contest winner for week one. Wow, you guys made this HARD. But the winner is Michael Fuelling (see the featured comment above).

    The intergenerational, side by side leadership model was great. You’ve got a book coming your way Michael. And ALL of you who left a comment are entered in the Grand Prize draw in a few weeks.

    By the way, if you comment again on Episode 8, 9, 10 or 11 each comment counts as a separate ballot for the Grand Prize. The Grand Prize will be drawn randomly from all entries. 🙂 Keep the entries coming next week and let’s keep learning together. So good folks.

  5. Rodney L. Hull on November 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    During a hard winter a few years ago, my high school son and I were once again shoveling our 90 year old neighbor’s driveway. He comes out and said he was embarrassed. I asked him why and he said because I was having to shovel his drive so much. I said it was no problem and how else could I show my son the importance of helping others if I wasn’t willing to do it myself. Modeling is the number one way to show a teen responsibility.

  6. Matt Hart on November 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    As a youth pastor I was blessed to allow some of our students to take leadership last year in regards to our Sunday morning programming. A group of leaders began a class specifically designed for our students where they choose the curriculum, planned the lessons and activities, and trained new leaders to replace them upon their graduation. They have not only created a great addition to our ministry but they have also continued to lead each other in new and creative ways as they have entered college.

  7. Rodney Dobbs on November 3, 2014 at 10:00 am

    The one best thing I have done as a parent to encourage my children to take on responsibility is to encourage them to find a job, even if it is just short term like mowing lawns, raking leaves or shoveling snow.

  8. Grant Dodson on November 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

    Yet another great podcast Carey! They continue to challenge, stretch, and inspire me in my leadership role here in my community of Stratford.

    I’ve really tried to make a concentrated effort in my ministry to encourage teens and young adults to take on more responsibility in our groups, churches, schools, and communities. For example, I will regularly have students lead a game, lesson, testimony, or outreach, either on their own, with a peer, or with an adult volunteer to coach and mentor them throughout the process.

  9. Daniel B on November 2, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I’ve plugged them in in various roles in ministry. Whether it’s getting their ideas on “relevant” outreaches or Having them serve on our A/V team and greeting team.

  10. Vicki on November 2, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Give them space to lead in a safe enviroment that allows success and failure as a learning process with a mentor. Follow up on each to help them grow.

  11. Carey Nieuwhof on November 2, 2014 at 6:13 am

    These are great ideas! Thank you every one. This week’s winner will be drawn Monday, November 3rd by 5:00 p.m. I’ll announce the winner here in the comments. Love learning from each other. Keep the comments coming for another day!

  12. Laura Petel on November 2, 2014 at 5:49 am

    As a parent of a ten year ONLY child, we have struggled to keep him grounded and remind him the world doesn’t revolve around him. It’s also a difficult task to try and not helicopter in and save him from struggles or do everything for him because it’s easier for US. One of our best discoveries has been learning about The Birthday project which is a national movement to do random acts of kindness on your birthday–based on your age. We started when he was turning 8 and each year since, we spend his actual birthday doing acts of kindness for others. He uses money he’s earned or has been gifted and we plan out our acts for the day. It’s a wonderful way to show him to give back and that he can spread a little kindness to remind people that there is good in the world. Since we started, his school, the church I work for and our home church have all done different things to highlight random acts of kindness. We continue to work on all the other stuff but since taking the focus off what he can get versus what he can give, he’s become less focused on himself. My ministry area is preschoolers and as their parents get younger and younger (or I get older 🙂 ) I find myself in a different role as the director of their children’s school. The parents need guidance, resources, a shoulder to cry on and sometimes just a hard conversation. It’s all a part of the generational shift and we have to constantly change our approach to keep the kids and their families engaged and active in our ministry.

  13. Stacey Cosden on November 1, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    I love this podcast.
    With my own kids, and my student group, I let my kids make decisions, and give them space to talk through them. We give them ownership of their own decisions, and have them come up with solutions for negative outcomes, instead of fixing it for them.

  14. Tara Rowe on November 1, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    As a parent and church leader, I have made a commitment to know the eye color of each of our youth. In a world of instant gratification and the reality that we have become more comfortable at reading the life of others instead of living it out alongside of them, I have been intentional about giving less merit to written words and invest in the spoken words of this generation. I want to SEE the story God has written instead of READING the chapters as they unfold.I ask what the names are of the people in your tribe? Now, tell me their eye color. If you are unsure, send them a text right now and tell them that you want to meet for coffee. Then you will know their favorite cup of joe and the more importantly, the color of their eyes. Jesus was and still is about authentic relationships. I hope that you will know my eye color and coffee order at #OC15 Thanks Carey!

  15. CS Areson on November 1, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    My wife and I have made it clear to our daughter (24) we are not taking care of her and meeting all her needs. What I am surprised about is other parents blasting us. I might understand if we had lots of money, but the people around us looking at us as monsters.

  16. Aaron Newell on November 1, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    I was a young adult pastor and was frustrated with several of the people I pastores complaining about the government both local, state, and national, especially when I asked them if they had voted, and if so why they had chosen to vote the way they did, I did not ask who they voted for. The few who had voted said they voted for the person that Jesus would have voted for as described by the senior pastor or mom and dad. The rest just didn’t. After prayer and discussion with leaders, we brought in candidates from moth parties and had them debate a bit. We asked hard questions and helped th them make informed decisions. When the candidates left we talked the importance of living your convictions praying for guidance and being a part of the process as an important part of our faith.

  17. Jared M on November 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    I try to give them responsibility WITH authority. It makes them a valuable part of what we are doing and the authority makes them more accountable. I have some young adults who have been serving since they were teens that are incredibly trustworthy, mostly because they already have years of eexperience.

  18. Ethan on November 1, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Hands down the best way to engage the next generation is working WITH our student ministry peeps to engaging Jr. & Sr. High in SERVING. Some of them have even stepped up to intern. Wonderful growth opportunity for them and us!

  19. Danielle Hedgepeth on November 1, 2014 at 10:31 am

    I love your podcast! You give us so much food for thought every time. My children are still very young and I’m so glad to be thinking about this now. Despite knowing this because of my work with young adults still in prolonged adolescence, I’m still in danger of raising children who can’t launch because of the influence around me every day. I have to be intentional in the small things now. I have a daughter who doesn’t like to lose, so we’ve been making sure she doesn’t win every time just because she’s the youngest. Lately, I’ve tried to be very intentional in teaching and enforcing that we have to get our work done first. And Ted’s comments about helping kids see the future- I think that applies to our kids when they’re young too. I’m going to start helping my daughters think that way on a regular basis.

  20. coreyrayjones on October 30, 2014 at 9:41 am

    As a church leader I encourage young adults in ministry to take responsibility through our summer internship. I hire a college aged student who is pursuing ministry and spend 10-14 weeks mentoring them. I begin by showing them what I do. I then give them responsibility and and do the work beside them. Eventually I give them the reigns and watch them lead. And finally, I challenge them to train another person and to guide another person through the process.

    This process takes intentionality and time, but honestly, seeing their personal drive and character thrive after the internship makes it well worth the cost.

  21. Charlie McNeill on October 30, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I am not a parent but I love working in family ministry so the best thing I have bone would be on the leadership side. We remind weekly that as you volunteer the kids see the face Jesus in you. That the way you act, have fun, and love will shape their faith for the rest of their lives and not to take that responsibility lightly.

  22. Alex Street on October 30, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Love the podcast! Great stuff.
    We flipped our Youth Min model upside down last year
    Now, our weekly program is called, “Tribes”. Tribes require a host family, a Tribe Pastor, and 4-5 Tribe leaders.
    There are 8 tribes, meaning 8 Young Adults now being called “pastors” and essentially running their own youth group.
    They aren’t being left alone, the Host Family’s role is to care for the leaders in their home each week. They quickly adopt these Millenials as their own, they mentor the leaders, while the leaders mentor the students.

  23. Carey Nieuwhof on October 30, 2014 at 4:56 am

    Love these ideas friends. Thank you! I’ll select the winner Monday November 3rd…so keep the ideas coming.

    Hopefully we can learn and grow from each other! I’m learning already. 🙂

  24. Brent Dumler on October 29, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    The best thing I’ve done (to date) is challenging young adults to put action to their concerns in the church. I was on staff at a small traditional church in mid-Michigan about 8 yrs ago. A handful of young adults were expressing concerns to me that there wasn’t anything for them in our church. So we created a small group in our home and asked them to commit to coming every week. When we left that church one of the young couples took over leading the group. What was most amazing, one of the guys was a former Mormon and gave his life to Jesus through our group.

  25. rossman0605 on October 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    The best thing I’ve done is to get them out of their comfort zones, and into a mission field. Serve on a week mission trip, at a food pantry, or in a place where there is a bunch of poverty. Not only that, but give them a task in that environment where they have to lead something small, and go from there, giving more responsibility in leadership as they hunger for it.

  26. Tom Bump on October 29, 2014 at 11:16 am

    One of the best things I’ve done is never doing ministry alone. I always tried to invite a young person to come along with me as I visited homes, or spoke at retreats or as I worked to plan the calendar of events. I wanted them to see the highs and lows of ministry and how much joy comes from serving in the Kingdom. Then I’d give them a project that I tried to custom fit to their talents and passion and turned them loose to do great things. I gave them ownership of something and let them go! The ones I did this with the most are still in ministry today! Praise God!

  27. Jon Stallings on October 29, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Great topic Carey, I have seen this in a number areas, even in how I dealt with my own children. Tomorrow night I will be officiating the wedding for my 21 – It was so tempting to tell them to wait but letting them grow and take responsibility. I actually do feel good about it.

  28. Andrew Brehmer on October 28, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    as the director of a bible camp I look for my young adult volunteers to help lead bible studies. They are also responsible to designing and organizing our worships.

  29. Stevethepastor on October 28, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I have a question that I ask, it generates good discussion, think I first heard it a few years ago from Caesar Kalinowski. It’s pretty simple, I just ask, “Who are you becoming?” Moves me from preacher problem solver to listener; before long the wheels start turning. I’ve got Ted earmarked for some future reads, thanks for the blog.

  30. Michael Fuelling on October 28, 2014 at 11:11 am

    As a millennial church leader, the one best thing I have done to encourage young adults to take on responsibility has been to open up age-appropriate, measurable, & personally meaningful leadership positions for young people as early as 6th grade.

    – As a youth pastor I started leadership small groups for kids (2-3 kids) who had the most influence, though often the not the best behaved. I taught them how to read the bible, pray, teach, serve, plan events, and lead. The responsibility gave them purpose. As they accomplished measurable goals as a team, we would always evaluate and give them more meaningful responsibility.
    – As a millennial Lead Pastor who took leadership of a largely boomer church at 28 years old, my approach to almost everything was… different. We implemented an intergenerational team-building strategy which every staff and ministry leader embraces. Every leader is responsible for building teams that mobilizes volunteers for ministry. It’s not a new idea, but we fully committed every leader at every level of our church to this goal.

    Specifically, our children, youth, & worship pastors have focused specifically on building teams with our young students & Millennials where they are given measurable leadership responsibilities and measurable goals that they are specifically passion about. It’s hard and doesnt always work with kids like we hoped, but when it does it so meaningful and really encourages the church. Even when it doesn’t work, the kids will always know we believe in them and see what God can do through them.

    I was at the lunch with you on the Indianapolis stop of the Orange Tour. Great time and so appreciate your time and blog.

  31. sweatshopking on October 28, 2014 at 9:42 am

    While there are some good ideas, I have a few issues with his position:

    Chores are great, and children need responsibilities. My children have all been hard workers and understand that they have things they need to do as a part of a family and a wider community. They’re absence, however, is not the reason for delayed adolescence. It might play a part, but children mimic their parents. Children that have selfless parents that show and expect responsibility will grow up to be responsible and selfless (if we discount the unhealthy example general society provides that must be overcome). If the role model is lacking, the child will be as well. This issue is a problem for wider society, and not by any stretch with youth alone. We as a society advocate to cut social services, foreign aid, hide from our neighbors, and generally display selfish behavior.

    Children do waste too much time on sports. they’re a great hobby, but they’re a hobby. They should be treated as such.

    Adolescence might have been “invented” 100 years ago. So were cars. Modern computers are 50ish years old. Psychologists learn stuff too. I’m not saying they are 100% right, but saying something is 100 years old makes it sound OLD, not young.

    Anecdotal evidence about “how much money i had back in the day, and i was the man” are as useless as the kids specific life example that he’s talking to. There seems to be a massive generation gap here where Ted seems to fundamentally misunderstand the economical and national changes that have occurred over the last 20 years. I’m not making excuses for lacking children, but there is a fundamental gap here. Paying for college 25 years ago was a LOT easier, and your example sets some of them up for failure. Your example is only useful if you’re saying “look how much easier I had it back in the day”, which is the exact opposite of the way you’re using it. I suggest you discontinue it without a completely better explanation.

    Complaining and worrying about the youth of today isn’t new:
    See what Socrates said 3000 years ago: “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders…. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
    chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their
    legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.”

    The youth today have FAR surpassed their parents in a great many aspects. Racism is down, gender equality is far greater, stronger grasps of the importance of science, etc. Sure, some of them have issues, but as you said, some of them have a heart to give. If the sleep of a labourer is sweet, is the sleep of an investment banker? do capital gains count as production? Everyone MUST be a producer, as it’s fundamental for human dignity, but let’s not discount that not all work is paying or is equally valuable. Millennial’s are (statistically) for more flexible with work, 10% more likely to own their own business than baby boomers, but the income gap keeps widening. Economics are the issue here, not “lazy” employees. Every generation has lazy employees. Welfare wasn’t invented in the last 20 years. Everyone has worked with people that goof off, regardless of age.

    This isn’t a new discussion, let’s not forget that your parents generation had the same conversation as you’re having now. Your parents complained about somebody ruining a car and their parents getting a new one. Don’t confuse youtube with reality. things are more visible, but this isn’t the first time somebody complained about it. Every generation has the same issues, the importance, as you say, is to grow you character. Millennial’s are kinder, more loving, and generally better educated. They are a group to be proud of, while they do need support, as your generation did, don’t get lost thinking this is a new discussion.

    Helping kids grow up is important. Let’s continue the discussion to make sure we’re doing that in a united and loving way. Stop blaming millennial’s for a problem baby boomers weren’t able to fix after they went through it – children continue to grow up at different speeds. Almost as if we weren’t all created exactly the same.

  32. Chuck on October 28, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Today’s colleges are flooded with this kind of “delayed adolescence” (to borrow your term).. It is a never-ending source of frustration to see how character trumps competency when study habits are poor, priorities are messed up, and the “helicopter parents” loom in the skies. This podcast provides AWESOME validation, clarification, and even advice as to how to deal with some of this. Thanks!!

  33. Jarrod on October 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

    I’m really just learning this but what I see working with my young leaders is when I let them have some authority along with the responsibility. When they ask me what to do next and I offer them options and then say, “it’s your call,” that’s when I see growth and performance. They don’t always get it right, but if things don’t go well, they have to look at what went wrong and deal with the consequences. My job is to keep them feeling more and more ownership and responsibility and ultimately authority. The balance is giving them enough to challenge them without setting them up to fail.

  34. Joel Dortch on October 28, 2014 at 8:54 am

    In my children’s ministry there are a lot of jr. highers that want to help in the preschool area. When they serve I try my best to find a spot for them and not just sit there. I give them responsibility and have them help with sound, greeters, snack, puppets, and other responsibilities that they can succeed in and feel a part of the team.

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