June / July 2015 - Vol. 80

Transition Fail

by Michael Shaughnessy

In high school, Johnny Jackson went to church every Sunday with his family. The pastor of his church knew him by name, although they had never really talked. Johnny participated in his Christian youth group every week. He was part of the leadership team. He knew his youth leader, Mark, well. They often met just to gab but also to talk about how Johnny was doing with prayer, Bible reading, and the hot issues of the month.

Johnny had been to camp three times. It was there, in his tenth-grade year, that he gave his life to the Lord. His best friends were part of the youth group, but he got along well with almost everyone in school. He graduated third in a class of 227.

Over the four months after he graduated he would be stripped of every system of support that he had for living the Christian life. Not because he chose so—most of the supports simply evaporated.

By the week after his graduation he no longer had his weekly youth group meeting. Like most youth groups, it didn’t meet in the summer—the most challenging season of the year for youth.

By mid-June his youth worker, Mark, had turned his attention to summer camp and was putting his time into building relationships with the incoming ninth-grade boys so he could have them on board in September. But then Mark got offered a full-ride scholarship for divinity school and part-time job in Dallas. His youth career was over. He resigned on June 25th and moved to Texas.

Johnny got his first, well-paid summer job, doing construction. The crew was a bit rough and fbombed their way through the day. That wasn’t shocking to Johnny. He’d heard it before, but now he joined in, at least some days, and then more days. Johnny went to a few parties with his peers that summer. They got drunk for the first time because now they couldn’t get kicked off the baseball team anymore.

Johnny still had one more summer camp. He went as a counselor. On the third night he acknowledged he was becoming a backslider and repented as genuinely as he could.

In late August he left home to attend a small liberal arts college in upstate New York where his father had gone. It was a Christian college when his dad went but the church was no longer an integral part of the college. Johnny arrived, thinking he would attend Sunday services, but he just didn’t connect in the first few weeks. His mom texted him once, asking him if he had found the church. He responded he had, which was true. He just hadn’t been there yet.

At the “Fresher’s Fair” he signed up to be part of the biggest Christian student group on campus. He got a text message inviting him to their first barbecue but no one from his new peer group was going—not that he asked them, but none said they were going. The barbecue was only a block off campus, but in a place he didn’t know, with people he didn’t know. He didn’t go.

His new peer group was made up of the guys and girls in his dorm, a couple of people he met in class, and others he met through his new roommate, a lapsed Catholic from Miami. They got along fine but never talked about faith. In fact, Johnny had no discussions with anyone about his faith during the first month of college.

Johnny didn’t expect the direct assault on his faith he experienced in biology class. Dr. Smith made it clear that faith had no place in science. He would only tolerate “objective opinions.”

Two weeks into September Johnny was living in a hostile environment with no Christian peers, no parental support, no pastor, no church, no idea of when church services were, no youth worker, no program, no role in leadership, no charitable service, and a Bible that was gathering dust in a box in the trunk of his car.

And most of the church is puzzled about why Johnny lost his faith.

Is Johnny (or his sister) about to graduate from your youth group? Now is the time to prep them for one of the most difficult transitions of their lives.

Michael Shaughnessy Michael Shaughnessy is the Kairos director for the Sword of the Spirit both in North America and Internationally. He is the editor of the Kairos Youth Culture Newsletter (http://www.kairos-na.org/YouthCulture_News). Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.
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