For many Christian teenagers, community has developed gradually over the years and might seem to have simply come together and fallen into place.
For students who have grown up in the same church, those friends have always been around and the relationships are deep. A high school graduate who leaves lifelong friends behind needs to learn how to approach the daunting task of seeking new relationships to replace that community.
This challenge can create a lot of questions about the importance of a Christian community and the need for accountability. We must assume that most transitioning students will not know how to find a Christ-centered community, because they most likely have never had to be intentional about it before.
We must not only teach them the value and importance of community and accountability but also the process for how to find a new community during this major transition of life.
In the previous post in this series, I wrote about the importance of identity. As we teach kids to see themselves through an identity in Christ, we must help them to value Christian community as a reinforcement of that identity.
The best place to do this is within the church. When Christians surround themselves in a healthy faith community, they will begin to develop a genuine love for the church.
The church is the body of Christ, and we are made to be in community with one another in fellowship, accountability and love. This is the essence of being one with Christ, and our students will need to understand the purpose and value of a church community before graduation, so that they will feel the void when they leave it and will feel compelled to replace that guiding influence.
If we do not teach them the value of a Christ-centered community, they will not desire it when they are no longer expected to attend.
A community worth valuing is one that is healthy, encouraging and worthy of the individual’s investment of time and energy. A great model of a healthy community is found in Acts 2: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common” (verses 42, 44). (NKJV)
A healthy faith community has four components: fellowship, growth, accountability and shared work. For so many, a church youth group includes a lot of fellowship, a little growth through discipleship, the occasional shared work through serving in missions, and very little open accountability.
For those involved in such a group, there is very little to value other than the memories of hanging out and playing together. In order for students to truly value community so that they feel the void when they leave it, they must see that community as something they can not live without.
Taking students deep into the heart of community will involve personally connecting with each person so that the church knows how to reach the needs in that teen’s life. This comes through discipleship, fellowship, shared experiences of serving and authentic accountability.
Once an individual values community, he/she will be in a place of ownership with a desire to transition that need for community into life after high school.
The Three Circles of Community
The biggest issue related to students struggling to transition after high school is often community related. Students are going from Point A to Point B without the influences that have helped them grow in faith in the past.
They have never had to find a new church or start over with developing community. You or someone close to them has possibly served as a mentor, and the teen will need to replace that guiding influence as well.
It’s like moving to a foreign country and attempting to continue your normal life there without any help or advice.
When teaching students how to make a healthy transition of faith and community, I challenge them to see it in three circles.
Circle one is the largest of the three circles and represents a community-at-large. This will be similar to the church youth ministry from high school. This larger community will give the individual opportunities for corporate worship, discipleship, serving and fellowship.
If the student learns to value this level of community prior to graduation, with a little guidance, he/she will hopefully seek to replace that influence in the next stage of life.
Circle two fits inside of the larger circle and represents a small group for discipleship and accountability. This circle is a little harder for most to create and often develops out of the community at large.
If an individual is simply coming once a week to a large worship event followed by pizza and cookies, he is not getting the full value of community that his heart and soul are longing for.
A small group of accountability is necessary for growth and maturity for individuals seeking community after high school, and understanding this need begins by having it in high school as well.
The third and smallest circle represents a mentor. Having a mentor is often automatic in high school as a student will have youth workers at church as well as caring teachers, coaches and neighbors at school and home.
As the teenager grows, she becomes accustomed to caring adults giving advice, but after the student leaves home, she becomes independent and no longer feels the need for older mentors to guide and counsel her.
This is a common misconception of early adulthood. The truth is we all need mentors guiding us through life as we all need to grow into opportunities to become mentors to others.
As Psalm 71:18 says, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” NKJV
If we hope for our students to seek a healthy community of faith after they transition to the next stage of life, we must teach them what community is and how to find it. We need to provide for them all three layers of the community circles and then train them to know how to recreate those influences when they are on their own.
Finding a new, healthy community early on in the transition will keep them from many potential struggles of faith.