I can remember all the excitement I was feeling nearly twenty years ago as I neared high school graduation. I remember the hope of soon being independent, going to a new place, and starting a new season. I also remember all the angst of what was still unknown. What would it be like? Was I ready for this much responsibility? But, as I look back, there’s one conversation I desperately wish someone would’ve had with me.
For those of us who work with college students in the local church, now is the time that we’re beginning to plan and coordinate our efforts to help those about to graduate high school transition into a new phase of life. That hand-off may look different from church to church, but I think it presents an incredible opportunity to help these students. Each fall and spring, I meet with the students in our church who are Seniors in high school to help them prepare for this next season. One of the most important parts of those conversations is walking through three things I believe ought to inform what they do after high school.
Here are three things to consider when deciding what to do after high school:
1. The centrality of the mission of God.
There’s one thing that stands above everything else when it comes to the Christian life: the mission of God. We have a responsibility to help those we lead in our churches and ministries understand the importance of the mission, as well as how to participate in the mission. We must learn to help those in this very vulnerable season coming out of high school see the importance of this now. Otherwise, we run the risk of an increasing divide in their minds between preparing for a career and engaging in God’s calling for the life of every believer. So, help those preparing for life after high school to see the centrality of making disciples by making Christ known everywhere and in everything they do.
2. Debt matters.
One phenomenon of our day is the amount of debt people live with. Debt is something that has spiraled people into depression, caused people to get second or third jobs, and, unfortunately, prevented people who sense a call to the mission field from being able to go. This season of life that high school seniors are about to step into has great freedom and potential for Kingdom impact, but this may be limited or stifled by something as unfortunate as high amounts of debt. I like to tell students that you never want your financial decisions today to prevent you from obedience tomorrow. So, make decisions today about the school you go to, the places you live, the lifestyles you lead, and the money you spend that will set you up for the freedom to go and do whatever it is that God calls you to in the next ten to twenty years.
3. Start with the local church.
It amazes me that we will tell high schoolers that church shouldn’t be overshadowed by schoolwork. We tell parents that travel ball shouldn’t be more important than church. We tell all ages that tithing should be your first ten percent of income going to the church. But, when it comes to deciding where to go to college, suddenly church is a second or third priority rather than a top priority in that decision. What if we began our conversation about what to do after high school with the local church? I encourage students to find a church they can be a part of that will faithfully teach the Bible, help them grow in community, and call them to sacrifice themselves and leverage their lives for the Kingdom of God. Then, find a school to go to near that church. It seems upside down next to the traditional approach of finding a good church once you get to school, but I believe the local church shouldn’t be an after-thought, especially considering it is God’s primary way of accomplishing His mission.
Now, there are two things I can’t avoid here. One is that this always leads me to selfishly admit that I hope these students stay local for a season. I hope ours is the church that leads them to stay at home to save money and leverage their life for the Kingdom of God. But, I always warn them, if you stay here long enough, you’ll be gone. You’ll be sent to be the church where the church is not. Secondly, very few parents are accustomed to thinking in such a way about this decision with their kids. Be sure that the parents know what you’re saying as well. Help them see that this isn’t a way to keep their kids around, but it’s a way to disciple their kids for Kingdom impact. And, be sensitive to the parents of these students who don’t know the Lord.
What if we raised up a generation of students who saw the mission of God as their primary purpose in the world, managed their debt because of that, and believed at their core that the local church is God’s plan A for accomplishing this mission? I believe it would not only change our college ministries, but it may just change the world!
Steven Ackley, his wife Emily, and their four kids live out their love for anything sports and Cookout milkshakes in Murfreesboro, TN where Steven serves as the NextGen and College Pastor at LifePoint Church. Steven holds a D.Min. and an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter.