Our Hopes and Prayers for Graduates
I hate roller coasters.
I really hate everything about them. I hate the ghastly heights, the incredible speed, the shaking to and fro, the claustrophobia I feel at being locked in, and even the smell. But I am a youth pastor, therefore, I have to ride some. The worst part for me is the anticipation—the “click, click, click” and the disappearance of the first car over the hill is the worst. Despite the best coaching from my middle school boys and girls (who make fun of me), I simply am not ready for the ride. At the apex of the coaster my readiness or lack of readiness means nothing because it is on like Donkey Kong when that first car goes over the hill.
At that point the most helpful thing I have discovered is this—screaming helps!
Graduation is like that…
Are our seniors ready to take their faith into the world? Or better yet, are they ready to discover a deeper faith beyond the walls of our ministries? We have prepped them. We have taken them to retreats and camps, studied the scripture, participated in mission, and prayed with them. We have equipped them through discussions and curriculum, and surrounded them with the most wonderful, Godly people we know. But the question remains, “Can we really know they are ready for the challenges to come?”
I wish successful youth ministry was easy to quantify. It’s just not. This time of year I find myself looking at the list of graduates that are moving on and wondering if they are ready. Each year I come to the same conclusion—it doesn’t matter—they are graduating regardless of their readiness.
So, what are those moments, those glimpses that we can hang our hat on and say, “There it is!”? I like to think of our success beyond our ministries in terms of echoes. We stand together on the precipice of their upcoming journey and we shout out our hopes and prayers for our graduates. Inevitably, through the activity of the Holy Spirit, God echoes back something else—little hints of something different, hard to identify, but often much better than what we anticipated.
We cannot predict the growth or decline of faith in our graduates. But, when we see the following things echo back from their lives, we can marvel at God’s particular grace that he lavishes on each individual student.
They Pursue a People: Christian Community
They seek a new “family.” We would love for our students to go directly to their denominational ministries on campus but frankly, one of the last things I say as a youth pastor is to give them permission to seek out a people, regardless of the denomination, that challenge and grow their faith. We challenge our students to quit playing trivial pursuit with their faith and surround themselves with others they feel might love God more than they do! When we hear that they are being challenged and inspired by the folks they hang with and worship with (not necessarily just the worship itself) they are echoing back our hopes and prayers.
They Pursue a People: Others
Our students compassionately embrace that the gospel message is for others. Youth ministries are notorious for creating an “inward” culture. The emphasis on choosing friends wisely can easily shift into the formation of closed groupings with only the “right” kind of friends. Our ministries are to help students prepare for a Christian life, not become their Christian life. Each generation lives with the tension of what the gospel means for them. When our students begin to dream about what the gospel means for those outside the family of God, they are reflecting the very heart of God. When our students find a place of service on campus, at home, and in the world, they are embracing the fact that the gospel is not just for them—and they are echoing back our hopes and prayers.
They Pursue Answers
When our students move past, “God said it, I believe it; that settles it” and truly encounter the big issues of culture through the study of scripture and other resources, they are participating in something that most adults aren’t willing to do. Many Christian adults aren’t willing to wrestle with doubt or reflect on scripture and form any type of working practical theology by which to live their lives. The “work” is just too difficult. When our students are willing to enter in and struggle for example with key doctrines like “being made in the image of God” and “original sin” and can hold those two truths in tension, they are echoing back our hopes and prayers. Their willingness to do so will set them apart, shape their growth, and will allow them to speak to the “big hurts” in our culture in a meaningful, helpful, honest way.
They Pursue a Purpose
Most every student has a moment when they ask themselves, “What am I doing here?” This question is not related to their location on campus, in the military, or in the workforce; instead they are wrestling with the existential question of why they were born. When students begin to ask, “How can my accounting major bring glory to God?” and seek that answer, they are entering the deep end of the vocational “pool”. If students seek you or a member of your ministry team “just to talk” about how their major can be helpful to God’s kingdom, they are echoing back our hopes and prayers for them.
They Pursue Mentored Friendships
The students I have seen thrive the most beyond graduation are those who have engaged in mentored relationships with older Christians. When a former student talks glowingly about their new mentor, pastor, or friend that has opened their life and home to them, we can celebrate that as growth. When our students begin to value and seek out these relationships, they are echoing back our hopes and prayers.
In scripture, growth in faith is often referred to in agricultural terms. Youth pastors cannot control the growth of faith in our students any more than a farmer can control the growth of a seed they plant–ultimately God is responsible for that. The Apostle Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians 3:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
In the lives of our new graduates, the “clicking” has ceased and the first car has topped the hill. They may not be ready yet for what follows but I believe our hopes and prayers shouted out (remember, screaming helps) on their behalf will echo back something beautiful and fruitful in their lives. Our role beyond graduation is to help them see and interpret these things for what they are—evidence of God’s ongoing commitment to grow their faith.
Tony Akers has been in ministry to youth and families in large and small churches for 25 years. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and just entered his 12th year serving as the Minister to Youth and Families at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Tony also serves as a youth ministry coach and writes fairly frequently at WWW.STUDENTMINISTRYSOLUTIONS.COM
Title photo by Luftphilia.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.