Do you work with college students and sometimes wonder if you can continue in your current role? Here’s one (from the archives) on why summer is bad time to decide to quit. Be encouraged!
My husband, Craig, and I love watching home remodel shows. We grieved the Fixer-Upper farewell with the rest of the HGTV-watching world, and we’ll continue to tune into some of our other favorites. The son of a contractor, Craig comes by this interest honestly. While I have no talent for repairs, seeing an old home restored inspires me. There is something beautiful—even biblical—that happens when someone uses their skill to take a broken-down building and restore it to a gorgeous home. It’s fun to view these shows, but if you’ve ever lived in a home with a construction project or worked on one, living in it is often not as pleasant as seeing the transformation on TV.
When you’re in the messy middle of a remodel, the final outcome can seem far off. We were watching an episode of Property Brothers in which a newly-wed couple stood in the living room of their “new” home with the walls gutted, wires exposed, and sheetrock in pieces all over the floor. The wife exclaimed, “I think this was a mistake. We never should have done this.”
Often, the same is true for the transition out of college (or other major life transitions). Over the years, I’ve talked with alumni who—while in the middle of it—have seriously questioned if they’re on the right track. They want to know, “Did I make a mistake in moving here? Should have taken that other job offer? Maybe I should have moved back home? Maybe I shouldn’t have moved back home…” These questions are normal when we’re in transition! Just because something feels difficult or messy, it doesn’t mean we need to go elsewhere. Most likely, we are “in-process” and we need to be okay with that.
In his book Transitions, William Bridges discusses the cycle we go through during times of transition. The process has three parts:
- Neutral Zone (or middle)
- New Beginning
At one point, he compares transitions to a house remodel, saying “It starts by making an ending and destroying what used to be. Then there is a time when it isn’t the old way anymore, but not yet the new way either… It’s a very confusing time.” As we go through the “ending” part of the transition, there’s a process of “dismantling” that takes place. There may be a physical dismantling as we take pictures off our walls and pack up our belongings. But, let’s not miss the internal process. We may have to “take down” old ways of doing things or certain expectations. Whether we need to let go of our financial dependence on our parents or adjust our expectations when it comes to finding friends right away after college, let’s be faithful to go through the “ending” part of the transition.
Let’s also embrace the neutral zone or middle. It’s hard to be in an in-between time. Often, we want to run back to what’s familiar or rush ahead to the new thing. But, this fallow time is crucial for processing the past and preparing us for the future. In the same way a tree drop its leaves in the fall and goes through the fallow winter time in order to make way for new growth in the spring, we too need to give ourselves permission to be in the neutral zone. We need to make time to reflect, mourn the ending, and to be okay with the questions that rise up in this time.
As we’re perhaps literally unpacking our belongings in a new location or at a new job, let’s also be mindful to “unpack” our time at our old context and even parts of the identity we formed while there. In a transitional time, we dismantle, but we also rebuild. The new thing will come. Though the future picture or new beginning may feel far off, let’s trust the process. Most importantly, let’s trust our God who is sovereign over all of it and who speaks a constant, daily promise of newness over us.
Contractors and their clients have to set their sights on the final outcome—the dream home—in order stay hopeful and focused in the process. We should do the same. Let’s dream big for our future as we fix our eyes on the One who holds it all.
Citation: Bridges, William. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004, p. 115
When life after college does not pan out as expected, it can be easy to question, “Have done something wrong? Did I make a mistake in moving here, taking this job, or marrying this person?”
Just because something feels disorienting or distressing, it doesn’t mean we need to go somewhere else. In fact, we might be exactly where we need to be. Recent graduate, Jeff Schallick, comes to realize that his life and work have not turned out as expected. BUT, he’s not throwing in the towel. Instead, Jeff is determined to be faithful to his present calling, trusting in a bigger view and better dreamer for his life than himself.
By September of his senior year, David had two great job offers. Two offers. In two totally different cities. As he compared the hiring packages, starting salaries and corporate cultures for each position, we challenged him to consider one more factor: location. As his campus ministers, we asked, Which offer will land you in a place where you can find a healthy church?
More Than an Afterthought
As students prepare for life after college, too often they focus a few items necessary for living on their own: securing a job, finding an apartment, having a paycheck in hand, and so on. Church becomes an afterthought. If we want to equip students to land in a local church after college, we need to help them consider this aspect of their lives long before they actually transition. There are many reasons why students don’t connect to a church after graduation: they can’t find one they like, they don’t know how to search, or they’re not convinced it matters. In the challenges of transitional times, church may feel like “one more thing” in the midst of other priorities.
If we want students to choose church, first and foremost we must offer a robust ecclesiology – what church is and why we go. Recent graduates need the church and the church needs them. They also need to know that their church experience in the next phase may look very different from college, and that’s okay! Most churches are not filled with individuals who are the same age or in the same life stage as they are. Age (and other) diversity may be an adjustment for some alumni. That’s why it’s crucial to offer good theology and healthy perspective. Church, in all of its mess and beauty, allows God to manifest his glory, us to experience community and the world to find hope. We are all diminished without it.
Students who understand why church matters are better prepared to find one when they leave. Post-college life requires purposefulness. Perhaps like no other time, accountability structures and social momentum have been removed; the onus is on them. If recent graduates know why they’re looking (it’s all about Jesus, not about me) and what they’re looking for (there’s no perfect church and no two churches are alike), they can make a short list of the non-negotiables they’re searching for in a church but be open from there.
List Non-Negotiables, Leverage Networks, & Consider Place
On a practical level, we can help our students discern their list of non-negotiables. For example, they can choose their musts (i.e. gospel-centered, bible-believing), their wants (i.e. band-led worship, people my age), and those things they’re flexible about (i.e. service times, small group structure). Also, we can help them leverage their network and ours for church recommendations. We keep a database of church recommendations that current students and alumni can access. Students can use it for suggestions, and once they’ve graduated and land in a local church, they can update the database with their recommendations.
Last but never least, let’s help our students consider place. We encourage students to think about moving to a location where they know they will have good church options, or if they’re not sure what’s next, we challenge them to move for a church community or church plant instead of for a job!
David took our challenge seriously. In fact, location was a key factor in accepting one offer over the other. He did some reconnaissance and learned that one of the positions would land in him in a city with dry spiritual soil and few gospel-centered churches. The other position took him to Philadelphia where he quickly plugged into a growing local church. Months later, David discovered that the job he accepted was not a fit. One could argue that he should have accepted the other offer! However, David does not see it this way at all. Because he had such a great church community, David was surrounded by support when he decided to leave his job. And, this community is the very reason he chose to find a new job in the area.
David credits the conversations he had during his senior year as pivotal in helping him find a healthy church after graduation – a crucial part of why he’s thriving beyond college…and why he has no desire to relocate. He’s found a church and community he wouldn’t trade.
This article first appeared in the Association of College Ministry Newsletter, © February 2018. Adapted from After College by Erica Young Reitz. © 2016 by Erica Young Reitz. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com
In her Onward State column, photographer and graduating senior, Sarah Snyder, looks back on her college journey, which did not play out as she predicted. Instead of freaking out or throwing her hands in the air when things did not go as planned, Sarah embraced the unknown. She writes, “There are always so many blessings in the unknown that you’ll miss if you’re focused on what didn’t go according to plan.”
Sarah’s reflection offers hope for today and wisdom for tomorrow, especially as graduation is here! Change is coming. But, as Sarah says, “[W]e are given the choice to look at change as either something to be afraid of, or an opportunity for growth.”
Life’s “disruptions” lead to growth. In fact, transitions—like graduation—can be times when God does some of His best heart work in us if we’re open to it. We hope you have the courage to freefall into the unknown, trusting that God is there to catch you, teach you, and carry you through to the next adventure!
Check out Sarah’s column as well as this previous guest post by Sam Van Eman on 3 Ways Graduation and Other “Disruptions” Lead to Growth.