A few years ago, I faced a dilemma.
Debbie, one of my graduating seniors, wanted to stick around in the fall and help out with our youth program. She had no plans to attend college and desired to stay involved in a program that meant so much to her teenage years. I felt she needed to move on and grow with students her own age. I turned her down.
A few years later, Troy made the same request. Troy had faithfully attended our youth group throughout his middle and high school years. He was bright and mature in his faith. He even felt called to ministry. I turned him down too.
I have a policy in my youth ministry. Students need to be one year removed from youth group before they can serve as an adult in the youth group. For my current graduates, they can return as adult chaperones in August 2014. This is not a hard and fast rule in all youth ministries, but it is in mine.
It stems from an incident I witnessed in college.
When I was in college, I got involved in the Baptist Campus Ministries (known as the Baptist Student Union then). Every year I would see students graduate and then hang on to their college years by attending all the BSU events. Some did this for several years after college.
And it stunted their growth.
Instead of moving on to serve in a church or make adult friends, they spent their free time socializing with college students on a college campus where they didn’t attend class. They had trouble moving on and acclimating to the church at large. They stayed “stuck” emotionally, spiritually and physically in college.
That image always sticks in my brain this time of year. I want more for my students than just our youth group. I recognize that a student must separate from youth group if they ever hope to be an adult with a strong foundation in Christ.
First, I want the graduate to grow and mature, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t want them spending their time in a perpetual high school department. I want them fed and serving God in an environment filled with peers.
Second, I don’t want to harm or affect their relationships with our current students. I want our students to see our adults as adults, not as friends. A graduate cannot be friends one week and an adult authority figure the next. A buffer time is needed to make that transition.
So, the one-year rule went into effect. Once the hiatus is up, they are free to serve, and I welcome their input and service. By then, hopefully they’ve grown and matured and spent enough time outside of the group to be seen as an authority and not as a friend.
It’s not the way everyone does it, but it is how I do it. So far, it’s saved a lot of heartache.