Thirteen months ago, I graduated from college—qualified, credentialed, and confused. I remember the flood of well-meaning encouragement from friends and family: “the opportunities are endless”; “the world is your oyster”; “you could do anything you want to.” Each sentiment rung more hollow than the last, because, beneath all the excitement and potential lurked an almost paralyzing uncertainty. I had learned in InterVarsity that my life was meant for more than the American dream, and I believed it deeply. I wanted to serve God and others with my vocation. I knew I was meant to be deeply involved in the life of a local church. But life after college was something entirely new, and I had no idea how to actually do any of this. And for the first time in my life, there was no obvious next step.
Most of us, sometime soon after graduating, experience a kind of relational, financial, and vocational whiplash. Even those of us who have transformative experiences in campus ministries, as many Chancellotians do, often graduate deeply unsure of how to faithfully navigate the very new terrain of life after college.
Books and sermons on the topic are plentiful. What I learned this year, though, is that the kind of wisdom young adults need in order to transition out of college well cannot simply be taught—it must be modeled, embodied, and practiced in community. Christians like me don’t leave college confused because our churches or small groups or campus ministries failed us—it’s just that as we enter a new phase of life, we need new mentors to walk alongside us, new examples of mature faithfulness to study and imitate, and new communities in which to reflect and process and serve.
I’m now convinced that one of the things we young graduates need most is to begin imagining ourselves in seasons of life we haven’t yet seriously considered, and to learn from our communities what faithfulness looks like in each of those stages. In the next decade, it’s possible that I will be a student, a teacher, an employee, an employer, a single man, a husband, or a father. It’s possible that I will lose a job or a close friend, or begin fundraising my salary, or take a public leadership role, or move into a poor neighborhood, or develop a disability. I can’t know which combination of these are in my future, but I can pay attention to the people God has placed in my local church body, and learn from those who are currently living faithfully in each of these situations.
The more I reflect on the last nine months, the more I realize that the richest lessons I learned were modeled for me by a diverse and intergenerational community of Christ-followers. This year I had the privilege of building real relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ from every possible age group. Every week I attended a bible study of twenty-somethings led by a thirty-something, a fifty-something, and a seventy-something. On Thursdays, I would wake up to a six-year-old practicing piano, spend an hour talking with a sixty-five-year-old mentor over coffee, attend a class taught by a 40-something professor, have lunch with a college-aged friend, and tutor a fifth-grader at a local elementary school. Though I didn’t always realize it in the moment, I was constantly learning by example, soaking up the gloriously ordinary wisdom of Christ-followers living lives of unglamorous faithfulness, in every stage of life.
Helping young adults transition to life after college is not merely the work of campus ministers and theology-of-vocation specialists. It truly is the work of an entire church body: a community giving generously of their time, their resources, their homes, and their wisdom. I am deeply grateful to have been loved, served, encouraged, and sharpened by such a community this year. But the true challenge of making this transition well is not simply finding this kind of community and clawing our way into it; it’s to play our part in creating it. Our call is to take what we’ve learned in our campus ministries and churches and houses, and establish new communities formed by sustainable practices of intergenerational discipleship, in which we are continually both giving and receiving mentorship.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.— Philippians 4:9
...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.— 2 Timothy 2:2
We all need older friends to receive wisdom from, peers to process it with, and younger friends to pass it on to. We are each called to be what William Barclay called "a link between two generations.” This is one reason why Chancellot strives to be a cross-class community—not just for the sake of preserving the house community, but because it models, within the microcosm of undergrad life, the patterns of intergenerational discipleship that should form our entire lives. Seek out this kind of community from your church body. If it’s not there, do your part to create it. Always be a mentor and a mentee; a teacher and a student; a host and a guest. And when the path you walk feels dimly lit, take comfort in the knowledge that the intergenerational body of Christ goes before you, behind you, and beside you.