23. What if . . . graduating seniors were prepared and sent into their next ministry?
“My church calls me an extension of their ministry.” Youth move on to colleges and other areas of life. Leadership ministry intentionally sends youth to new ministries. When the youth moves away, write a leadership recommendation letter and send it to campus ministers or young adult ministries, letting them know how and in what ways they can expect the young person to become a valued part of their ministry. Develop prayer mentors from your congregation, who will stay in touch to offer support and prayer.
If we believe youth really are leaders, then after high school graduation, it is our job to send them into their next ministry.
Jim lives for college. He loved his home church. His youth ministry experience was central to his life and leadership. He graduated last spring, moved off to the university in the fall and quickly made new friends and got caught up in the life of campus. Homework loads in high school are nothing compared to what he experiences now. Church? It soon becomes something he did as a kid. He gives it little thought now.
Jackie also was involved in her church and youth ministry during high school. When she graduated, she started working at her family’s hardware store. For a while she continued to go to her church, but most of her friends had moved on. Everyone was polite, but there was not anything to get involved in. If someone would have asked, she may have gotten involved, but no one ever did. Bit by bit she quit going.
Jeremy had a good experience in his small church. He was one of three high school kids, so youth group didn’t seem to make sense. Instead, the church worked hard at cross-generational involvement. Jeremy knew many of the adults, and the adults cheered him on. As he arrived at college, one of the first groups of students to welcome him was a large Christian religious group that said it included all denominations. He went to some of their gatherings, which included lively singing, heartfelt talks, and their passion shined through. He joined a small group Bible Study. As he continued into the first semester, he was taught that he had never been a real Christian. He needed to give his life to Christ, to be born again. He started to believe that his home church had led him astray and were lukewarm Christians.
Jill graduated and decided to study in another state. Before she graduated, she was invited along with other high school seniors to her youth minister’s home. They ate pizza in the living room and then entered into discussions about college life and faith. She was told that the church had already contacted a campus pastor from her denomination. She was told how they had talked about some of her gifts and leadership abilities. When Jill arrived at school, guess who was one of the first people to call her? The campus pastor. It was so good to be wanted, and by someone that seemed to understand her faith journey. Not only that, but she got an actual handwritten letter from one of the adults who used to volunteer with her high school ministry. At Christmas break, her home church asked her and several of her classmates to meet with the new high school seniors, sharing college life and faith.
Some churches mark high school graduation with a baccalaureate service or a milestone celebration. What few churches have thought through is sending youth to their next ministry! Paul sends Timothy to the Philippians with glowing recommendations. (Philippians 2:19-24) We need a sending mentality, may be a “Timothy project.” For a new graduate, sending communicates a sense of worth and value.
As a youth I lived in Cedar Falls, IA and had become involved in Young Life. After high school graduation, I moved to Rochester, MN. My leaders were very concerned that I connect and be included in leadership. On a visit to the school I would be attending, I met with the area Young Life director. When it came time for school to start, I was quickly welcomed in and included. I remember the sense of importance I felt. I stayed involved, eventually moved to leading a junior high club and then on to church youth ministry.
I have a son who works for the retailer Nordstrom’s. He started working in their cafe, later moved to a Nordstrom’s Rack and worked in stocking. Mangers kept talking to him about his future. He was moved to sales, then to their management school, and now works in Des Moines. He has been impressed by the quality and mentality of the company. They may soon send him to Chicago. “We need you” is the message this business communicates. Nordstrom is about growing leadership, about sending talent to new positions and areas. As a church, we can learn to name and claim our youth’s talent and make sending connections. “You are important.” “We don’t want to lose you.” “We need you.” These are the phrases our youth need to hear from their church.
When we believe that youth are our ministry leaders, sending becomes an intentional and essential church ministry. Help your youth bridge their talents into the next congregation, ministry at your church, or campus ministry.