By Carol Pipes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A quick scroll through Facebook and you’ll find photos of fresh, young faces mugging for the camera dressed in caps and gowns, tassels flowing. It’s graduation season.
Graduation is a rite of passage, and churches across the country are celebrating with special recognition Sundays and commissioning services as they launch teens from their student ministries into adulthood.
This is also a great time for churches to celebrate the unique partnership between student pastors and parents, says Ben Trueblood, director of Lifeway Students and author of Within Reach: The Power of Small Changes in Keeping Students Connected.
“Student pastors recognize that parents are the most influential people in students’ lives,” says Trueblood. “Student ministers indirectly influence the spiritual health of students by investing in their parents.”
Trueblood says the parent/student pastor partnership has always been important, but as student pastors adapted their ministries during the pandemic many realized they needed to take a more intentional focus on ministry to parents.
The pandemic revealed that for most student ministries, a ministry to parents consisted primarily of feeding them information—calendars, sign up info, release forms, here’s what’s going on in the ministry, says Trueblood. “These things are good but fall painfully short of equipping parents to be a spiritual influence in the lives of their teenagers.”
One way Lifeway has come alongside the church in this emphasis is through a resource called Parent Partner (lifeway.com/parentpartner). This is a monthly subscription resource that helps student pastors equip parents of the next generation of college bound students to be spiritual influencers in their lives.
“This resource is simple to use, powerfully impactful, and we hear great feedback from student pastors who use it in their ministry,” Trueblood says.
“One of the many ways Lifeway looks to the future is by staying connected to the rising generation,” says Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell. “Today’s students will become our missionaries, Bible study teachers, seminary professors, and pastors of tomorrow. One of our main priorities is to come alongside churches, pastors and parents to help them disciple students as they develop a heart for Jesus and build a firm foundation for their faith.”
Trueblood agrees. “The teenage years are a time when people form the foundation of their worldview, and research tells us the majority of those who place their faith in Jesus do so before the age of 18,” Trueblood says. “These two facts alone make it necessary for us to focus on ministry to teenagers.”
He understands the urgency to make sure students are ready to launch with a solid faith foundation. A study of young adults by Lifeway Students and Lifeway Research found that 66% of students who were active in their church during their high school years were not active in the church during their college years.
“The research shows students don’t see involvement in a local church as a priority during this phase of life,” says Trueblood.
“We know from our research that those who have a strong personal belief system, have a private prayer life, read the Bible, and agree with the beliefs they’re taught are more likely to stay in church,” he says. “What if we could help our students not only develop these spiritual disciplines but help them understand how to use them in the ministry of the local church in their continued walk with Jesus?”
When picturing student discipleship in today’s environment, Trueblood says it requires intentional time investment. “Of course, it’s discipleship centered on God’s Word, but occurring through relationships in smaller groups,” he says. “These smaller groups allow an environment for young people to have honest conversations about issues they’re struggling with or struggling to understand while providing an opportunity to teach them how God’s Word actively speaks to the real issues of their lives.
“For many teenagers, the college years represent the first time where they are free to make decisions entirely on their own and must bear the weight of the responsibility for those decisions on their own,” Trueblood says. “If teenagers have built a foundation on God’s Word, then these decisions can be more easily navigated creating a situation where a person’s college years can be a catalyst for closer relationship with Jesus and impact for Him rather than accumulating the baggage of poor decisions.”
Trueblood says students who stop attending church during their college years aren’t necessarily turning their backs on God or angry at the church—they simply drift away over time. But there are some things that can help students make the transition.
“Student pastors and parents can help students see their role in the kingdom of God and help them grasp a bigger picture of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.”
He also said students may need help finding a church when they head off to college. “Finding a church isn’t an easy task.”
He suggests student pastors help parents and their kids know what to look for in a new church home and encourage parents to plan church visits in conjunction with any college visits they have planned.
“Graduation is an exciting time in the life of a student ministry,” Mandrell says. “And student pastors have an incredible opportunity to help parents and teens during these key transition moments in the lives of the next generation of spiritual difference makers.”
Carol Pipes is director of corporate communications for Lifeway Christian Resources.
About Lifeway Christian Resources
In operation since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is one of the leading providers of Christian resources, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, worship music, VBS, and church supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest provider of Spanish Bibles. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Lifeway receives no denominational funding and operates as a self-supporting nonprofit.