What happens to our graduates after high school? Have you ever seriously considered this question when it comes to their life direction, their relationship to the pastor and church, and their spiritual support? We live in a culture that has verifiably extended the “teen years” well into the twenties—and parents and churches have yet to respond! In fact, most parents and pastors literally have a mental “disconnect” when our kids turn eighteen. It’s as if we say, “Well, you’re eighteen now, so you’re on your own.” Yet, if our young adults will stay faithful and seriously embrace God’s purpose for their futures, they will have to deliberately swim upstream against the multiple pressures of the culture around them—and they need our help to do so! This is not an easy battle, and it requires a lot of encouragement and support, but it can be won! How can we come alongside our graduates and help them navigate their late teens and early twenties? Let’s take a look at what usually happens.
Understand the Progression
The progression away from God for high school graduates often takes on these eight steps:
1. Culture teaches them not to grow up.
2. Some church youth ministries have indirectly taught that God isn’t fun.
3. Many parents and churches provide a lot less spiritual support after graduation.
4. Graduates who don’t go to Bible college get jobs and start going to local colleges, often working on Sundays.
5. At their jobs and colleges, graduates face a multitude of new temptations and wrong friends.
6. These new and appealing connections and relationships draw them away from the “boring spiritual things” and a church where they have little connection.
7. The allure of the world, a paycheck, and a new level of “adulthood” promise freedom, pleasure, and fun.
8. The process ultimately leads to disappointment and spiritual devastation.
Sustaining Spiritual Life After High School
First, it helps to start warning them of this process while they are still in senior high. God says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Any Bible teaching series that will help them see the deception and prepare them to go the right direction is well served at this time. Second, it is vital that we offer spiritual and relational support after high school. Here are a few thoughts:
Challenge parents to stay engaged. A parent’s role changes after high school, but it is no less vital. It becomes more about mentoring and guidance, and it demands a close relationship and a heart connection. Consider meeting with the parents of your graduates and challenging them to stay closely connected. Inform them of the challenges their graduate is going to face, and give them ideas for providing spiritual encouragement and prayer support. Ephesians 6:4 teaches, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Establish an 18–23 year-old student department. We call ours “College and Career,” and it falls under our student ministry organizationally. This department is led by teachers and leaders who truly invest their hearts and prayers into our students after high school. I’m eager and excited for my own son to be a part of this department as he transitions out of high school this summer. This group is significantly different than a high school youth group but absolutely essential.
Love them through the test of their faith. Every young person experiences some tests and trials during this time of life. Often those tests strike at the core of their faith. This is a time when their faith is proven personally. Stand with them, pray for them, encourage them, and invest into them.
Be accessible for counseling and encouragement. At a time when the devil tries to distance them from every good relationship, be available. Have an open door and an open heart towards any question. At this age, they need biblical logic to answer honest and difficult questions. Jeremiah 3:15 admonishes us, “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Support them through tough decisions. Be an unbiased counselor. Many of our young people are not called into the ministry, and they need to be reminded that the will of God for them is just as vital as full-time ministry. Many of our young people at LBC attend secular colleges, join the military, or choose local career paths. Our heart and passion for them is that they would follow God passionately and stay in His perfect will. I love to see the many faithful families of Lancaster Baptist Church who were once young adults attending local colleges or getting degrees in things like teaching or nursing. Seeing them stay faithful to God is as much a reward as seeing someone serve on a mission field.
Be sensitive to their unique needs and challenges. This is a distinct stage of life that requires focused Bible teaching and encouragement. Consider some of these challenges: Because of classes and work, they don’t have a lot of extra time. They often work second shift and will not be 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.
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.
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.
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. Visit them at work if needed.
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.
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.
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” (Psalm 1:3).
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.
Because they are tired of being viewed as a child, they can often overreact to the perceived overbearing of authority—so 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 lives, but because wise people always build good lives by listening to a lot of good advice.
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 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. We were honored that they wanted to spend time with us and they desired to get biblical counsel!
We MUST do a better job in our homes and local churches at letting our young people know that there is spiritual 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. that night at our College and Career Retreat, and I was reminded once again that 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 eighteen 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 eighteen and thirty! Get rid of the “eighteen 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!