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Why Graduation Sunday Saddens Me

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It’s currently 2023, and even though I wrote this in 2011, things have not only changed but gotten worse. It is now a foregone conclusion that graduates will not be back to church any time soon, but, our calling as youth pastors and college and career directors hasn’t quit just because they have.

Where we thought going out to the highways and hedges meant reaching sinners, it now means reaching students who are deconstructing, have gotten fed up with politics in church or have lost the plot for attending church altogether.

With that said, read on see if you see yourself in my own sadness then ask the Lord to give you wisdom, hope and perseverance to help this generation of students find and walk with Jesus for a lifetime.

Let me preface this post by saying I’ve been at my church for under a year. I understand that you have to jettison a senior class or two within a youth ministry to expunge former philosophies and practices and to import new ones that will grow over time, but I’ve come to realize that I must focus on these moments now, instead of looking to far in the futures.

A sure way for a wide receiver to drop a ball is to think about running before they have completely caught the ball. I’ve dropped a few balls (graduates) because I did not embrace the short times I had with them. I was ready to get on with my plan and do away with the past.

Eighty percent of the seniors I’m graduating, have not had any significant relationship with me or haven’t been involved in the youth ministry over the past year. This means, when I stand up to introduce them to the congregation, I will not be able to

  • Share stories of spiritual growth
  • Share moments from trips or events
  • Share about about how much I care about them (I do but it’s hard to really care about people you don’t know)
  • Share about funny moments we all shared

Even sadder, their parents could care less if I shared about these things. Maybe because they’ve had all the spiritual moments they needed in life. Maybe because these graduates had strong family units and they didn’t need another spiritual community. If this is the case, God Bless them. Here’s a another saddening realization, their futures, unfortunately, include

  • Not attending church
  • Not continuing to grow in their faith
  • Not caring whether the generations that come up after them in the youth group will have spiritual role models

What if I read this as their future plans in addition to going to college? How would that go over? Right, like a lead balloon. Can you say job hunting?

The last of the saddest news is, I don’t know if there is an answer for our community. Oh, I could say Jesus is the answer but that is trite, and quite frankly, stupid. Jesus is not duct tape, You don’t slap him on broken spiritual lives like Flex Seal and hope it holds them together.

I know my limitations. I also know God’s, He has no limitations. Only God, by his grace, can save, inspire, and bring to pass, the spiritual growth needed to move this community past Graduation Sunday. I have no confidence  in the flesh. I have great confidence in God, but, that does not make me any less sad on Grad Sunday.

So, what are youth pastors, like us, to do? We must take advantage of the moments God gives us to minister to the students we have for whatever amount of time they are given to us. Yes, these moments may be brief but we must embrace them because God can turn them into bigger opportunities later.

As sad as this confession is, as of April 17, 2023, I have not quit youth ministry. In fact, I am a part time youth pastor at a small, rural church. Instead of bemoaning the situation, I did something about it.

Check out my Launch Well: Graduating Your Senior Class In Style if you’re looking for ideas to impact your graduating seniors one more time.

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