Thinking About College Ministry, Part 1

We asked a few youth ministry workers some questions about college/young adult ministry and preparing youth for life after high school. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing their answers. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section below!

What are some of the greatest challenges facing our youth after they graduate high school? How do you prepare them for those challenges?

Leon Jameson: When a young person turns 18 and graduates from high school, it can be a crucial step in their faith journey as well as their life journey. Some graduates will be staying in the area for college or will enter the workforce; others will go away to college, technical school, or the military. Regardless of the path they choose, this is a time of transition. Some of the greatest challenges for youth graduating high school feel like “great challenges” because of the immediacy of the situation. These young adults are launched into a series of situations that require answers. Answers that they may not be ready to answer. What school do I attend, do I enter the workforce, the military? Do I leave home? What will my roommate situation be? Will I meet new friends? How do I stay connected with my friends from high school? What do my parents expect of me in this next stage of life? Who do I sit with during lunch?

It is important for the church to care for these young adults during this transition by reminding them that they are not alone. They have a God and a church that is with them in the midst of these transitions. Sometimes the most important thing the church can do is to encourage them to take a deep breath and reassure them that they have a God who walks beside them. Especially during times of change. Isaiah 43:2-4, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… For I am the LORD, your God…and I love you.”

One of the ways Immanuel guides this transition is through a Graduate Blanket Blessing Ceremony. In this ceremony each graduate receives a public blessing and a blanket from their parents. The blessing and blanket serve as a reminder that even as they embark on a new stage of their faith and personal life, they remain wrapped in God’s love. Parents are affirmed for the long years of effort behind them and strengthened for the years of support still ahead. Providing this ceremony is one way that Immanuel helps our young adults and their families to know that God’s love doesn’t leave if or when they leave. The faith that has been shared with them is now their own. It goes with them. God goes with them.

Jessica Bordeleau: After high school graduation many emerging adults leave the spiritual support of their home congregation, youth leaders, and parents. They are at a point in their lives when they are making decisions that have long lasting impact on their faith walk and they suddenly find themselves without a spiritual support network. Dr Christian Smith, sociologist and professor at Notre Dame University, in his book Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, cites results of his intensive research as part of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). His study revealed that:

“A little more than half of emerging adults remain quite stable in their levels of religious commitment and practice or lack thereof <as when they were teenagers>.” (p 282) That means that about half of American teenagers who were committed to their faith are still committed as young adults.

This statistic really surprised me, I had heard that emerging adults (aged 18-23) and young adults in their 20s and 30s were drastically less committed to their faith than they had been as teenagers and were in general hostile to the idea of religion. The results of this intensive study show a different story.

To summarize the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) the breakdown goes like this: among American teens and young adults about 10% are committed to their faith, 10% are hostile to religion, and 80% are indifferent. That 80% are an open mission field!

One of the best ways to prepare teens to stay firm in their faith after high school is to help them build a firm foundation ahead of time. Dr Smith writes, “What the best empirical evidence shows…is that even as the formation of faith and life play out in the lives of 18 to 23 year-olds, when it comes to religion, parents are in fact hugely important. Of the many teenage-era factors that our study investigated as possible influences on emerging adult religious outcomes, one of the most powerful factors was the religious lives of their parents. But when it comes to religion, many parents seem keen not to ‘impose’ anything or to ‘shove religion down their throats.’ Very often, as a result, many adolescents are thrown back on themselves and left floating in a directionless murk to figure out completely on their own some of life’s most basic questions concerning reality, truth, goodness, value, morality, and identity. Thus, in the name of individual autonomy–informed here by a cultural myth that is sociologically erroneous–the usually most critical players in teenagers’ lives disengage from them precisely when they most need conversation partners to help sort through these weighty matters.” (p284 Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults)

Leland Jackson: Staying connected to a church community when they move away from the home. How to help them continue to grow in their faith as they are away from home. I don’t think we at Trinity are doing that great of a job. We send Care packages at finals. We send Birthday cards and try to Facebook them as we go through the year.

Lauren Nietubicz: I think one of the greatest challenges is suddenly becoming an adult. Growing up, people make decisions for them. They have things handed to them and expectations are fairly low. Once they are in college (if they go) suddenly the decisions become theirs to make. Some are easy, but some are harder than they are used to…

Another challenge I think is simply scheduling. It can be hard to go from the mentality of ‘I go to school for 7 hours, then I come home and do homework’ to ‘I go to class here and there, throw in some homework, friends, hanging out, etc’… the scheduling of studying can get hard and often forgotten. That’s generally when I see church and Bible study go to the wayside.

Preparing them–I think we just do the best we can at challenging them. Helping them figure out how to make sound decisions based on the Word. It also takes us focusing on discipleship throughout their high school years so that when they leave home they don’t leave church and worship as well.

So, what do you think are some of the greatest challenges youth face as they graduate high school? Share in the comments below, and check out Thinking About College Ministry part 2.

Our contributors:
Leon Jameson, DCE, is Director of Discipleship at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Missouri.
Jessica Bordeleau is Young Adult Ministry Consultant for the LCMS Youth Ministry Office in St. Louis, Missouri.
Leland Jackson is the DCE at Trinity Lutheran Church in Garden City, Kansas.
Lauren Nietubicz is the DCE at Trinity Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas.

Published April 8, 2011

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