Speaking to youth workers in Norwich this week really crystallized some key themes in relation to preparing young people for uni. Three steps now seem impressed in my mind...
Challenge number 1: Leave them to it.
Stop texting them, reminding them to turn up. Stop telling their parents when they need to be there. Stop making sure they do the things they say they'll do. Maybe push the challenge further and give them more responsibility - have them lead one week's group completely without you.
For some that'll sound freeing, for many it'll feel irresponsible and scary. The fear, of course, is that they'll sink - they won't come, they'll forget, they'll slack off. If that is true it will happen when they leave home. It is not a victory to hold them in whilst they're home out of fear, then see them drop off afterwards. You cannot keep their faith and their commitment to church going - it has to be their own; and both of those are important to keep them on track at uni. Without getting stuck in with a church community your school leavers will often struggle in their faith in those three to four years, and may never return once they graduate. They need to be able to put in the effort independently.
To enable them to fly, you must let go.
The first shot the disciples had to cope fully without Jesus was a bit of a nightmare. Most of them fled (Matt 26:56), Peter denied him (Matt 26:74) and John is the only disciple named as still standing tall and public at his crucifixion with the faithful women (John 19:26). But Jesus had time (post-resurrection) to pick up the pieces - to encourage, challenge, reset the bar and to help them back on track before he was gone completely (John 20:20, Mark 16:14, John 21:15-18, Matt 28:18-20). This experience of stepping back (or not in some cases), then re-discovering and re-committing was an important part of their story.
We need to do this for our young people.
We need to let them go - stop holding their hands - and let them sink or swim whilst we've still time to encourage, challenge and reset the bar. Then when we're fully out of the picture, hopefully they'll have the confidence, the self-discipline and the desire to do it all by themselves.