The word “transition” is defined as a process of change from one state to another. We all experience transitions throughout our life. You could even say that our lives are made up of defining stages with transitional periods in between. Therefore, how we handle any particular transition will greatly determine how well we begin that new stage of life.
For most students, the transition that takes place just after high school graduation represents the first major transition that they will face. With one symbolic move of the tassel from one side of the cap to the other, a teenager is jolted from childhood and is planted into the wide world of adulthood (in theory, at least). This change is far more dramatic than even realized by the graduate at the time and will bring with it many challenges and new opportunities.
For the first post in this series, we need to look at “Point A” of the process and determine why this particular transition is so challenging, so that we can begin to help students navigate their way through it. Regardless if “Point B” equals college, military service, or a new job, Point A represents a childhood that is either preparing the teenager for the next life stage or not.
You have most likely heard statistics suggesting that well over half of Christian high school graduates drift away from actively growing in faith during this transition, yet most Christian leaders struggle to understand how this can be. Often, in an attempt to determine an answer to these questions, many Christian leaders point a finger at where the teen transitioned to (Point B), rather than looking back to the environment that was intended to equip the individual for the challenge (Point A).
Therefore, the question that we have to ask is this: Why aren’t eighteen years of Christian home life and over a decade of active church involvement enough to ensure that the majority of Christian teenagers make a healthy transition of faith from one stage of life to another? To begin answering this question, let’s think about this scenario. Suppose you need to drive from Alabama to northern California. You know that you need to go west, and you can most likely name all the states you will need to drive through. But to understand the exact road names and interstate numbers, you will need some help. To get the help you need, you ask someone for a map, and they give you a road map of Alabama. Even though that is a good start, it is not enough to get you where you need to go. So you look to the internet, but instead you get a webpage with pictures of Northern California and a list of popular tourist attractions. Finally, you look on a GPS for the directions from your Point A to Point B, but instead you only get a route planned out from Alabama to Texas. Frustrated, you just start driving west, hoping that you eventually make it to where you need to go.
This story is much like how we prepare students for the transition of life after high school. We talk a lot about growing in faith, but we don’t help students understand how to grow in the setting of college (or other post-high school destinations). We give them community and opportunities for fellowship, but we rarely go so far as to teach them how to find community when one doesn’t simply fall into their lap. We tell them what they should believe as a follower of Christ, but we stop just short of helping them understand why knowing what they believe is important to the process of believing it. As youth ministry leaders, we are often good about helping them know where they are now (life at Point A), but we struggle in equipping them to navigate safely to the next destination: knowing how to get there and what to do when they arrive. In short, we teach them about faith, but we don’t help them develop lasting ownership of that faith.
Ownership is the pathway to faith maturity. Ownership is the missing link in what it takes to help a teenager make a healthy transition into life after high school. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” As student ministry leaders, we have the incredible privilege to watch children grow up in front of our eyes. We see them go from an awkward, insecure boy or girl in middle school to a grown, young person eagerly anticipating the chance to venture out into the world and experience it fully. Physically, they are ready. Socially, they are often ready. Even emotionally, many of them are ready to make the transition. But spiritually? Statically, most are not. Instead, many of them say: “When I was a child, I worshiped like a child, I prayed like a child, and read my little quiet time devotional like a child. When I became a man, I put those childish practices away.”
In this course, we will be looking at what it takes to effectively transition faith from Point A to Point B in the lives of our teenage friends. You will be challenged to re-evaluate everything you do in ministry, to make sure that it is a catalyst for ownership and is equipping students for the journey ahead to the places that God has called them to go.