High school graduation is upon us, and if statistics ring true, then a majority of teenagers who currently claim to be Christians will abandon their faith sometime after the tassel is turned. Some will turn on it and become atheists. Others will put it in a drawer for a later time down the road. Some will have it eroded by hedonism or the Philosophy 101 professor of their secular university.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m convinced that graduating seniors can not only keep their faith after high school, but learn to advance it effectively.
So how can you help get graduating seniors keep (and advance) the faith in those tricky college years? Here are four ways:
1. Pray for them to not just survive, but thrive.
Prayer is a vastly underrated tool in helping our teenagers keep their faith long-term. There’s a reason that Jesus escaped so much to pray (Mark 1:35-36) and that’s because he knew that prayer worked.
Part of his get-away-to-pray quest was interceding on behalf of his young disciples. We see this especially in Luke 22:31-32 when he tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus was praying that Peter’s faith would stand strong in the midst of trial and temptation. He also prayed that Peter would not just survive but thrive, by helping the mostly teenaged disciples stand strong well after he was gone.
In the same way we must pray for our graduating seniors to have a strong faith in the midst of the inevitable trials and temptations they will face. We must also pray that they, like Peter in the book of Acts, will thrive by strengthening the other believers around them to serve Jesus with all of their hearts.
2. Mentally prepare them for what is coming.
Teenagers need to know that the years following high school can be filled with intense temptations. We need to mentally and spiritually prepare them for this battle.
The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian believers about the upcoming trials that awaited them in Acts 20:29-31, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!“
In the same way we must prepare our teenagers by speaking forthrightly about the temptations that await them after high school. We must help them be on their guard and learn how to be fully “armored up” with the spiritual protection that Jesus provides every believer (Ephesians 6:11).
3. Inspire them to look at the next few years missionally.
Mormon teenagers graduating from high school often take two years to go on a mission before they head off to college. During these two years they spread the message of Mormonism door to door across different parts of the planet. After two years of door knocking and proselytizing, the average Mormon young person knows what they believe and why they believe it.
What if we trained our young people to look at their university training as a four year mission trip? What if we helped them to tackle their college years as missionaries to their peers?
Instead of just playing “defense” by begging our graduates not to abandon their faith, let’s equip our graduates to play “offense” by teaching them to spread the Gospel. In the process their faith will grow deeper and their Christian convictions will grow stronger.
If you need help equipping your high school seniors (or juniors or sophomores or freshmen for that matter) to share their faith, give them the Dare 2 Share Field Guide. This little book will make a big impact in preparing your high schoolers to know how to clearly, compassionately and confidently share the Gospel to anyone and everyone.
4. Encourage them to plug into a strong Christian community.
A coal without a fire will soon burn out. So will a Christian without a community.
As Hebrews 10:24,25 reminds us, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.“
Finding a solid Christian community in any university setting is essential for teenagers to be “motivated” and “encouraged” to keep and spread the faith. Too often incoming Christian college freshmen get involved in the wrong circle of friends. When this happens the gravitational pull of temptation and sin become harder and harder to resist. As 1 Corinthians 15:33 reminds us, “Bad company corrupts good character.”
But when incoming freshmen circle themselves with on-fire believers right away the pull is in an upward direction. So how can we help them do that?
Campus Renewal is a great resource to help graduating high school seniors connect with solid campus ministries at their university of choice BEFORE they even get there! Their mission is to “create and catalyze united movements that transform college campuses for Christ. By bringing students, campus ministries and local churches together in prayer and evangelism, we strengthen the influence of the Body of Christ on campus.”
If you’re a parent of a graduating senior who is going off to college soon then get him or her connected to a solid campus ministry before they even get there. If you’re a youth leader then make sure you, your seniors and their parents use these resources to help their college years become some of the most spiritually impacting years of their lives!
Let’s stop playing defense and let’s start playing offense by inspiring, equipping and unleashing our graduating seniors to transform their campuses for Christ!
What are some other ideas to help our graduating seniors keep (and advance) the faith after the tassel is turned?
This article originally appeared here.
We’ve all been to them: awkward small groups. For one reason or another, something wasn’t clicking. As small-group leaders, we want to avoid doing those things that make it less desirable for people to join. There is no perfect answer, but here are a few tips to make your small group feel less awkward.
1. The format.
The meeting times, discussion topics, icebreakers, etc., can all influence whether or not your small group feels awkward. Getting the format right is extremely important if you want to make your small group enjoyable.
Timing matters. If you’re meeting twice a month only, you run the risk of cultivating shallow relationships. Schedule weekly meetings. It’s important for the members to interact regularly in order to form close relationships. And if they are joining a small group with the desire to be part of a community, then a weekly commitment shouldn’t be an obstacle.
Additionally, the format of the small group is important. Some groups do a Bible study, others discuss the week’s sermon and some may just gather to share their lives over a meal. Let the small-group format be dependent on the people and personalities. Tailor it to what feels the most natural among the members. There’s nothing more awkward than forced conversations around a study that just isn’t working for the group.
2. Lack of commitment.
I know we’re all a little gun-shy about asking people for a solid commitment these days. Everyone is so busy with extracurricular activities that a request for regular attendance seems unthinkable or that it will scare potential members away from joining the group. But if we don’t, the relationships in the small group will suffer.
The best small groups consist of people who come every week, open up about their lives, and really want to invest in the lives of others. If they aren’t willing to commit to regular attendance, then maybe these things are not what they’re looking for. The only way to foster trust and build relationships among the members is to have consistent interactions, connecting on a deeper level, and making a solid commitment to be there for one another.
Let your small group know that you understand there will be circumstances that come up that are out of their control but ask for their commitment to be in attendance regularly and tell them why it’s important.
3. The over-sharer and the under-sharer.
You can’t control who joins your group. But you can control the discussion. If someone is consistently dominating the conversation, it can be awkward for the other members. Suddenly others feel less inclined to share for the sake of time, or frankly, to spare the others. As the leader, you can politely steer the conversation in the direction you’d like it to go—which in some cases means away from the over-sharers and on to the under-sharers.
Those who refuse to open up are equally a challenge. Sometimes those people just need more time to come out of their shells. Try spending time with those people one-on-one before the discussion begins. Help them to feel comfortable with you so that they’ll feel more at ease in the group setting. It’s unlikely they joined a small group with the intention of keeping to themselves. It could just take a few strategic interactions to make them feel more comfortable.
4. Sticking to the script.
In many cases, leadership at the church will provide small-group leaders with a list of study questions to go over as an outline. But if you’re locked into that list of questions, you can miss some great opportunities for more meaningful discussions. Don’t be so concerned with finishing all the questions or quickly moving on to the next. Let the Spirit lead the discussion and try not to be too rigid.
When preparing for the week’s group, think of your own questions that could be tailored to the people you have come to know. If you know personal situations that have been shared before, use that as an opportunity to hear more about the person’s story while tying it into the study. This will feel more natural and less scripted.
5. The leader.
Know your strengths. If you feel called to lead a small group and enjoy hospitality but find yourself reserved or lacking as a discussion leader, don’t force it. Consider co-leading a group instead. You can offer your home as a meeting place, provide care for the members of the group and specialize in one-on-one communication. You may find that you add more value using your strengths in these areas while letting someone with different abilities lead the group discussions.
6. Adding kids to the mix.
Some groups describe themselves as family-friendly and children are welcome to play in another room during the gathering. If that’s working for you because everyone in the group has agreed to it—great. But take into consideration families that may not have children or whose kids are grown up.
Sometimes adding tots to the mix can cause a big distraction or it can deter others from joining the group. At the same time, families with small children may have a hard time committing to a weekly group without childcare. You don’t want anyone to feel excluded, so finding the right balance is necessary.
Talk with your group about raising funds to provide childcare at a nearby location, or perhaps hiring a teen from the youth group. Not only will the people without kids appreciate fewer distractions, but the parents will probably feel more at ease if the kids are being cared for, too.
Due to generous grants from the Lilly Endowment, two of our universities are offering extraordinary summer camp opportunities, at a fraction of their cost, to students who are exploring a call to ministry.
Southern Wesleyan University: The Called Camp
Last summer, SWU launched The Called Camp. That camp experience made a huge difference in the lives of the participants as they unpacked their understanding of what it means to be called to ministry. This summer, they plan to reach even more high school students.
The dates for the camp are June 24-July 1, and there are three tracks from which students can choose (see video):
- Adventure Ministry
- Missional Outreach
- Worship Ministry
These tracks are led by inspirational camp faculty leaders. We hope pastors and church leaders will encourage students who are exploring a call to attend. Costs for the camp have been reduced significantly. Consider investing in the future of the Church by financially partnering with your students, especially those that might face financial challenges.
Pray with us that God will work in mighty ways to identify kingdom-minded church leaders through this camp experience. We have spots for 40 special participants for this summer’s camp. Please check out the camp website at www.swu.edu/thecalled.
Indiana Wesleyan University: Examen
IWU has a similar camp called Examen for young women and men who are wondering whether or not God might be calling them into the ministry. For two weeks (June 17-July 1), they are inviting twenty of these students to wonder alongside theology and ministry professors as well as 19 other teenagers who are probably asking some of the same questions. Wondering in the classroom while earning college credit. Wondering as they cook meals together. Wondering while they laugh, dream, and pray with people who have the potential to become life-long friends.
Find out more about it here: http://www.exameniwu.org/.
Have you ever felt like you were working as hard as you possibly could and still at the end of the day were left with a pile of work that didn’t get done? Ever feel like everyone was coming to you for you to weigh in on every decision that needed to be made? Ever feel like what you thought was just going to be a busy season has turned into a normal way of work?
Pain points like this can be a gift because pain is an indicator that something is wrong and needs to change. The good news is things can change. When you experience this kind of pain it’s time to ask yourself the following questions:
Have I Hit a Capacity Lid?
The first question to ask is, “What am I doing that is contributing to this?” Great leaders always start with themselves, not others. They take personal ownership for where they are and how they got there. Is there a new skill you need to learn or a new approach you need to take? Do you need to increase your capacity and break through that lid?
What Needs to Change?
Do you need to learn to delegate more tasks to others? Do you need to empower others to make decisions and build strategies that get the team to designed outcomes? Are you doing too much as a high level generalist and it’s time to narrow your focus and allow other specialists to do a better job at what you were doing an OK job at? In other words, oftentimes this kind of ongoing experience can be an indicator that it’s time for a growing church to restructure.
What Does the Church Need From Me?
Where do you bring the most value to the church? Where do your gifts, abilities and experiences advance the vision the most? Are you contributing greatly in that area? The thing that most people don’t realize is that as the church grows the church actually needs something different from its leaders along the way, not all that dissimilar to parenting.
What Do I Want to Do?
Of all the things you find yourself doing right now, what do you want to keep doing? What would you give away to others to do if you could? Is what you’re doing right now moving you closer to the vision or further away? And do you want to go where that vision is leading you?
This article originally appeared here.