I’m not a youth ministry expert but you might call me a post-youth ministry expert.
Spending years working with college students in secular and non-secular settings, I’ve seen the gambit. I’ve seen students shipwreck their college careers by breaking policies a couple of months in. In my career as a Resident Director, I’d be the one to call the parents to let them know, “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, your student has been evicted.” Of course, I can never share the reason with them due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but the parents usually plead with me, explain how great their student is and precious they were in the Christmas play. One comment I heard all the time was— but my child was so involved in church—how could this happen?
98% of the time, by the time it escalated to eviction I had met with the student beforehand. I had reinforced our rules; the student had written papers about irresponsible behavior, etc. Trust me, resident directors wanted students to succeed, but like Willy Wonka, sometimes we wind up whispering, “No, stop, don’t.”
Then bloop, the student was in the chocolate river. But instead of Oompa Loompas– I’d wind up calling the police.
I found that some of the students in trouble were highly involved in youth ministry, came to college and their decision making ability somehow ripped apart at the seams. What happened? What was the common deminator among these students?
After many interviews with post youth group college students, these were the commonalities:
They Want to Time Travel: Students that were highly popular and involved leave that behind when they get to college. Consequently, they have to start over. No one knows their name. They aren’t invited to lead a youth group or a discussion. They want to go back to their youth group and be the popular kid.
Their parents are WAY INVOLVED: Maybe you have a parent who corners you every Sunday—”Can you talk to Billy about eating his vegetables? I found Harry Potter under his bed. Can you talk to him?” That student may explode when he or she arrives at college. In your discipleship, take the time to get to know that student’s fear, worries and stresses when it comes to his or her home environment. (My parents were like that. My rebellion wasn’t in the form of drugs or alcohol. I became a clown in a circus. It’s not something I’m proud of. It was a rough time of big shoes and animal balloons. I digress.)
Their Growth is Stunted: Some of your students might have their growth severely stunted because their parents rescue them every time. These students come to college without basic skills such as laundry or making a bed. Many of them do not come to college with any conflict resolution skills. (If I could teach 17 year olds one skill it would be to talk through a conflict and apologize. I’ve seen thousands of students through my tenure. About 20% can apologize.)
They Don’t Know Where to Go: Most students who attended church in high school will want to find a church. Try and develop those contacts or help them search. Maybe have a Senior-college transition night to help them along.
Are all Youth Group Students Like That?
Of course not. Most of the Christian students I worked with were a light on their campus; because of their integrity and willingness to work hard, they received leadership positions on the campus quickly.
But I also remember having many conversations with students, with my M.Div hanging on the wall, breaking the news to them that I would be evicting them (about 80% for drugs and alcohol).
“Man, my youth pastor is going to be so disappointed.”
I’d hear that and cringe. “I’m sure your Youth Pastor will be.”