April 04, 2009

Life After the Youth Group (Part 3)

Written By Cary Schmidt

Part Three in a Series on Sustaining Spiritual Momentum After High School

In the previous two articles (part one, part two) we’ve been visiting the subject of supporting our graduates after high school. The years of 18-24 are filled with much spiritual battle and faith-testing temptations. And we are wise to understand this group and minister to their specific needs and spiritual challenges. I shared five responses in the last article—a list which is by no means “comprehensive,” but rather a good start. (One side note: all of these references to ministering to this age group should complement a most important factor—godly parents that are engaged in their lives. We will address strong parent relationships in the final article.)

When we started our college and career department, we sat down with a group of young adults and talked about their lives and challenges. From that meeting and hundreds of other counseling appointments and fellowship times, comes the list below—a list of challenges fairly new and unique to the 18-24 age group. Perhaps considering these things will help you forge a biblical approach to ministering to them in this day and culture. Consider the following:

1. Because of classes and work, they don’t have a lot of extra time. They often work second shift and are not able to attend a lot of weeknight activities, like teenagers can. This doesn’t mean they don’t want and need fellowship. It just means it should be scheduled on Sunday nights after church.

2. Because of minimum wage jobs and bills, they don’t have extra money. This means group activities should probably be free and in the form of fellowships or game nights. Nearly all of our College and Career activities are held on Sunday nights and are free or minimal cost.

3. Because of the constant peer pressure in classes and on the job, they need to be reassured—consider getting this group together frequently to share testimonies and encourage one another with their challenges.

4. Because of their schedules, they can be hard to track down—get emails and cell phone numbers and do your best to stay connected with them or visit them at work.

5. Because of their culture, they can often be non-committal and easily discouraged—challenge them not to reconsider their good and biblical decisions, and be patient with them through times of uncertainty.

6. Because their values are constantly hammered, they have many really good questions and can struggle with doubts—constantly strive to understand and answer their questions without getting frustrated that they have them.

7. Because of an instant-gratification world, they often struggle with patience and fail to see that God’s best is worth waiting for—reinforce God’s principles of patience and fruit bearing “in His season.”

8. Because they see themselves as one small spec in a mass of humanity, they need vision for their lives—help them see how significant they are in God’s perfect plan.

9. Because they are tired of being viewed as a child, they can often overreact to the perceived overbearing of authority—make sure they know that you believe in them, and don’t be overbearing! Tell them that you know they will do the right thing. Encourage them to get counsel, not because you want to control their life, but because wise people always build good lives by listening to a lot of good advice.

10. Finally, because they long for relationships and are highly technical, they look to be accepted and connected in every way possible. Stay connected, keep up with technology, and show them a godly example through close relationships. Be available for one on one time.

Do They Leave Us Behind or Do We Leave Them?

One of the highlights of our year in ministry is our January College and Career Retreat. We trim the budget to bare minimums so they can afford to attend. We go away for two nights, and I have the privilege of teaching and fellowshipping with our graduates. My wife and I truly love this time. They submit anonymous questions on cards and we spend hours talking through them with biblical principles. We do our best to build them toward the Lord, their pastor, and their church family.

This past year we had nearly 100 attend this retreat—more than three times the number of our first retreat years ago. On the last evening, after the service, I told the students that my wife and I would sit in the hotel lobby and talk until they were done. We each chose a table, and for several hours, students hung out in the lobby. They were talking with and encouraging one another while they waited to speak with us. Some came in couples, some as individuals, and some with friends—but we absolutely treasured every moment, and we were honored that they wanted to spend time with us and that they desired to get biblical counsel!

We MUST do a better job in our local churches of letting our young people know that there is life after high school!  We must tell them that life gets even better after high school if they stay faithful to God! Many of our young people walk away from God and fail to grow up spiritually simply because we haven’t given them a compelling enough reason to keep the faith.

We stayed in the lobby until about 2 a.m. at our college and career retreat, and I was reminded once again—sometimes it’s not that our graduates leave the Lord (at least not at first)—it’s that we leave them. We leave them to themselves just because some unwise person from a time long ago determined that 18 is the legal age of adulthood. Well it may be legal—but that certainly doesn’t make them ready for all of the challenges they face between 18 and 30! Get rid of the “18 and on your own” mentality! Grab your graduates by the heart, support them, love them, and do everything within your power to guide them into a godly future. God will bless your efforts!

Here’s one final article on helping your graduates prepare for the future.

Note: These articles are also shared in the April 2009 issue of The Baptist Voice—a subscription-based magazine from the ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church and West Coast Baptist College.