This is the second in a three-part series of columns by Joe on the subject of ministering to recent high school graduates. The first column in the series can be accessed here.
Regardless of whether they are moving on to college, heading to technical school, going into the service, or starting a career, graduating seniors need some things from us as a church, from previous mentors and leaders, and from parents. It is important for students to be sent into college well from both the parents’ perspective as well as that of their church.
Parents, there are so many things going through your brains right now. Time did not “stand still” as you asked of it over the last 18 years.
Did I prepare him for life out in the world or simply manage his/her life?
Did I instill the values I claim to espouse or was it the values I modeled? Was there a difference?
Did I give her a good biblical foundation in the home, or did we count on church, or someone else, to do that?
Did I remember that the home is the very first place for discipleship to happen?
Did I prepare him to be financially savvy or did I not have time to model and mentor those behaviors?
Did I help her be prepared for life in a dorm or an apartment where everyone else may not share the same values, boundaries, or ground rules?
Did I help him to think critically and effectively problem-solve when confronted with life in the “real world?” Or did I simply jump in and fix things that needed to be fixed in her life?
Churches, there should be many things you are pondering at this juncture in the lives of your graduating seniors.
Did we consistently reach out to our youth and their parents over the years?
Did we have an intentional discipling process for new Christians, regardless of the age they made a decision for Christ?
What was “success” defined to be in our student ministry?
Was it “the number of kids showing up for a number of activities” each week/month/year or did we utilize intentional life-on-life discipleship that mentored and invested personally in every student?
Did we invest in the development of adults to fulfill the role of mentor and discipler in the lives of our youth?
Did we give our students, as they matured, serious leadership roles in all areas of church life?
Did we help them discover their spiritual gifts and begin to help them connect their giftedness with The Great Commission?
Based on what we’re learning, what things do we need to change NOW with our children’s ministry, our student ministry, and our discipleship strategy?
Here is a word of grace to all parents and church leaders. None of us did this perfectly. We are all growing and maturing in our faith and leadership in the midst of the task of helping disciple and prepare our students. We may not have “touched all the bases” but we can look back, look around, and then begin to look forward – changing our definitions of success, our priorities, and our church programming to match the direction(s) we need to adjust moving forward.
“Sending them well” this summer should not involve trying to fix all the shortcomings of the past 18 years in a few short weeks. You’ll be tempted to cover all the things you missed in quick “discussions” that may be more designed to deal with your guilt than to help them launch well. Here are some practical suggestions for how to use these last few weeks before your senior leaves home.
- Parents – Do talk to your graduate. Set aside 15 minutes every day to spend quality time with your senior. Set it at a time that is convenient for both of you. Be consistent. Admit up front that you’ve not been a perfect parent and ask forgiveness for ways you’ve fallen short along the way. This can be a very important breakthrough for authenticity and for setting a good path for the future. Listen to him; learn from her.
- Churches – Have an event or two (properly socially distanced of course) where pastor and youth leaders give dedicated time to your graduates. Anything involving food is a great start. Listen to them; learn from them.
- Parents – Take time now to assess your relationship with each other. Often, as children grow up, parents spend more time parenting than they do “spouse-ing.” When your child leaves home, there will be a very different family system in place. Have you been taking care of your marriage? If not, what steps can you take in the next few weeks to begin a new course in your relationship?
- Church Leaders – When children leave home, the family undergoes significant trauma, grief, and change. Statistics tell us that one of the most dangerous times in the health of a marriage is when the last child leaves a home. Spouses have often been relating more to their children and careers and may not have given each other the time needed to keep their marriage strong. Pay attention; ask questions; be a bit nosey if need be. It is far better to do so now as opposed to trying to deal with a marriage that has blown apart at the seams.
- Parents – Give your blessing as your child heads into a new season of life. Make sure your child knows that you will always love him and always “be there” for her. Practice now what it means to “be there” while allowing your child to struggle, critically think, and problem-solve for himself. Resist any and all urges to fix things – especially if you’ve been a fixer in the past.
- Churches – It is time to give your blessing as well, as your students begin this new season. You will always be their home church. It’s important to give them your blessing and your expectation that they find a college church when they move off to school. Encourage them to also be involved in an on-campus ministry (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) where they will find discipleship in small groups, loving spiritual mentors, and an encouraging atmosphere. Here they will be able to develop leadership skills, gain confidence in their faith, and be mobilized for missions and service – all with a goal of preparing them to be trained, mature believers when they graduate next time – from college. Send me their names, where they will be going after graduation, and their contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will make sure they are contacted and invited to BCM and to local churches where they are going.
Send them well. Pray for them and promise them that you will always love them and care for them. You don’t have to “kick them out of the nest,” but you do need to help them flex their wings, gain confidence, and then “Go with God.”
Joe Graham serves as Collegiate Ministries catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.