A Vulnerable Transition
Starting Right After University
Article first published on IFES World blog CONEXION, on May 13, 2021.
The world before you
You’ve just graduated university and the whole world is before you. It feels like you could go anywhere, do anything. You get your first job. Like, a real job. You can’t believe that someone is paying you to do this. And maybe you’ve just moved to a new city. You found a great apartment with a flat mate who seems nice. And you settle into your new life.
But after a few months… things get complicated. Your workload is crazy. How can you possibly keep up with everyone else? Guess this will mean another week missing church to stay up to par with your colleagues. Not that it matters… you haven’t been able to find a good church in this new city anyway.
And your flat mate? He is nice and all, but he always wants to talk about big philosophical issues. You know Jesus is the answer to his questions, but you have no idea how to integrate faith into the discussion. It’s the same at work. Every Monday you manage to avoid their questions about what you did on Sunday. Why would they want to talk about church anyway? It’s better to keep work separate.
You tell yourself it will all pass if you try harder. You can figure it out on your own.
A Vulnerable Transition
There is a developmental crisis that happens when graduates leave the university. Around the world there is evidence to show an overwhelming portion of Christian high schoolers stop attending church by the age of 25. Ministry staff say that students often fall away because they do not understand how to connect their occupation with their faith, they have a lack of accountability, and less help dealing with moral temptation.
Not being supported in these ways is a huge problem as students move from one life stage to another. Their presuppositions about life or their worldviews are challenged by fresh circumstances and an ever-widening pool of people with different ideas. The most vulnerable of these transitions is when graduates begin to work. They may move to a new city or country, face new pressures, and have less time for Christian support because they are consumed with a new job.
The problem is not necessarily that these students struggle with faith. The problem is that their faith does not grow to fit their new life stage. Tim Vickers, Director of IFES Graduate Impact, says,
“All Christians in all places, at all times are being discipled (or led) either towards a closer relationship with Jesus or sadly, away from him. This discipling takes places through relationships, conversations with others and the cultural messages they are bombarded with. Usually the winning force – toward Jesus or away from him – is that which appears to make best sense of the world as they experience it. Many young adults face two major transitions between the ages of 18-26 – first the move from home to university and second the move from university to work. In both of these transitions they need to decide again for themselves whether their worldview and beliefs still hold true.”
Lasting Impact – or Tragedy
Should graduates have to deal with these issues alone after they have left their university student groups? IFES thinks they shouldn’t.
In 2003, theologian John Stott described Graduate Impact work as the most strategic work in the church in Europe, saying “you cannot blame the meat for going rotten. That’s what meat does. But you can blame the salt for not being there.” IFES is committed to being there for graduates moving into their professional lives. Tim Vickers says,
“I believe if we can get this right then it will have an impact that flows out over the years. If we get it wrong, we run the risk of doing brilliant evangelism among students only to see them fall away from Christ the moment they leave our groups – and that would be a tragedy.”
So how can we “get it right?” By creating spaces for graduates to talk through the struggles of their new season, offering accountability, and helping them see that work and faith do not have to be separated.
“Our vision is for people to integrate faith and work and flourish as individuals in both contexts. For people who live lives of integral mission, seeing how they can live and speak in every context with Christian distinctiveness that beckons people towards Jesus. For people of integrity who use the platform afforded by their profession to become effective salt and light in our non-believing world.”
That’s where Cross-Current comes in. Cross-Current is a part of Graduate Impact, a ministry of IFES which offers support and mentoring to graduates in Europe who are navigating the professional world. Cross-Current groups connect young professionals with other working Christians in the same stage of life and helps them grow deep roots that serve them well in their new mission context – work!
Through reflection and Bible study, the groups give graduates the biblical foundations for understanding work as Jesus sees it and for understanding a different model of Christian witness that works at work. Graduates can attend groups focusing on their industry or discipline or join a group that allows them to mix with different professions. Cross-Current also involves seasoned Christian mentors who have been walking out their faith in a professional context for years. Providing this kind of support to graduates guides them into developing a new worldview that is big enough to include Jesus and work. Ultimately it shapes them into professionals who are passionate about bringing the gospel into their workplaces.
“Our job is to reach out into the universities with the good news of Jesus Christ, and then to nurture the next generation of adults that will be able to bring gospel influence into our societies. Globally, strategically, there is no other organization so well placed for this strategic work… it is our responsibility, our opportunity.”
If you are a recent graduate or a young professional navigating the world of work for the first time, you are not alone. Join a community of Christians just like you who want to bring their faith into the workplace.
Cross-Current started in Europe and Eurasia but now supports leaders anywhere that groups are needed. If you would like to find out more, visit www.cross-current.org. If you would like speak to someone about how you could be involved as a group member, as national IFES staff or as a possible leader, please email email@example.com.
The IFES Graduate Impact team will host an online presentation exploring three years of research carried out to help shape effective ministry for young professionals as they leave IFES student groups and become graduates. If you would like to attend the presentations on the 3rd of June, sign up here.