Keeping Up With Students Who Have Graduated From High School Ministry

I still remember the moment vividly. I was a sophomore in college, exam week was right around the corner. I was stressed and feeling worn, as young college students are in early December. I went to my dorm mailbox to fetch a dreaded assignment and, to my surprise, found a letter addressed to me from my high school youth leader. I opened it, and immediately my eyes started to well up with tears. She had written me a short but very sweet note of encouragement. She wrote, “Never forget, Emmie, that you are perfectly known and yet perfectly loved by your heavenly Father.” She also enclosed a Starbucks gift card. My friends were jealous, but also inspired by the tenderness and intentionality of the youth leaders the Lord put in my life. 

Fast forward many years later, and now I am the youth director seeking to pass on the same words of encouragement that were given to me. I had experienced the overwhelming beauty and sweetness of the body of Christ and his Kingdom.  

I quickly learned in my first couple years of youth ministry that I do not simply minister to youth. They graduate, go to college and the workforce, and we keep in touch. My youth ministry has quickly grown to encompass a young adult ministry of sorts. While this can sometimes feel overwhelming, I (and my amazing fellow youth leaders) have found some ways to not only embrace this aspect of ministry, but rejoice in it! Maintaining relationships with students as they have moved on from your ministry is a fruit of your faithful presence in their lives. Praise God for his covenant faithfulness to his people and how he uses his church by his Spirit.

Take a Moment to Pray

Pray for them. While this may not feel tangible, it is absolutely the place to start. For one, it reminds us of our finitude and dependence on the Lord. He is the one who always takes care of our students (and us), whether we do anything or not. In addition, praying for our former students endears them to us. The Spirit will grant us wisdom and discernment in how best to keep in touch with students. Not only is prayer the best thing we can do for our students, but in a sense, it’s the most realistic. We are finite, only capable of so many intentional relationships at a time. 

And then… tell them you are praying for them. Send a quick text. When my coworker and I find ourselves talking about a former student and how much we miss them, sometimes we just FaceTime them from our office for a quick hello and encouragement. Scripture over and over again tells us about the power of encouragement. Though it may seem like an afterthought and only a minute of your time, it communicates a level of love and care to those students.

Write a Letter

Writing a letter is a concrete expression of love and connection with graduated students. Every year, my coworkers and I set aside time to write Christmas cards and send coffee gift cards to our college students. We write a quick note about how we miss them and are praying for them. They remember that they have older brothers and sisters in Christ rooting for them. What grace that the Lord had placed adults in my life to lift me up in prayer and remind me that the love we share in Christ is never ending (Rom. 8:31-39). A letter can be a place to not only show them you care, but explicitly remind them of the gospel. Encourage that student that no matter what, because of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, they are forgiven, redeemed, and loved.

Pay a Visit

And finally – visit them. For many, this may be unrealistic and maybe even unwise. But I bet for at least some of your students, they aren’t too far away. Bring some current high schoolers with you. Not only do you get to visit one of your old students, but you get to give your current middle or high school students a vision for what it can look like to follow Jesus in college. Ask them intentional questions, pray for them, laugh with them. Show them that just because they are away on their own does not mean they are not loved. They still belong to a church family. I know from personal experience how grounding it can be to be visited by someone from what feels like a past life and version of yourself. Your constancy, even with a small visit or text over a couple years, can serve as an Ebenezer of sorts that Jesus is the same. Show and remind them that there is nowhere you can run that is too far away from the love of Jesus.

Think about the ways that Paul encouraged churches, families, and individuals even when he was not physically present. Paul moved from place to place, ministering to particular people for a time. But we see him writing letters of encouragement to and praying for those to whom he had previously ministered. He addresses not only church bodies, but individuals by name. Paul often thanks them for who they are and their particular relationship (Rom. 16; Col. 4:2-18; Philemon). 

In all of his letters, Paul reminds his friends of the truth of Jesus Christ and their security and love in him. Let’s follow this example. While our college age students (and older) are often beyond the direct, physical scope of our ministry, our relationship in Christ does not fade. Through words of encouragement, the body of Christ communicates love across space and time.

Rooted offers mentoring cohorts for youth ministers and family ministers looking for more encouragement and equipping. Consider joining our next round of groups starting in January 2023.

emmie thompson

Emmie grew up in a Christian home in the suburbs of Chicago. She now lives in Chattanooga, TN where she graduated from Covenant College with both a BA in Biblical and Theological Studies and Philosophy and an MA in Teaching. Emmie also holds an MA in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. She has worked in youth ministry in a variety of capacities at Orangewood Church, PCA and Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, where she currently works, for the past 9 years. She also teaches youth ministry courses as an adjunct professor at Covenant College. Emmie’s interests involve reading, exploring new places, coffee (and tea), traveling, keeping up with new movie releases, listening to music (and podcasts), video games, frequenting museums, cheese, hiking, and going to concerts. But what most interests her is participating and sharing the joy of God’s creative work with loved ones.

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