It is May 2012 and the end is here for so many students. The end of all-nighters (studying and partying), $60 books, tuition fees, “interesting” professors and roommates, weirder work schedules, hours at the library, and sitting/sleeping/texting/emailing/blogging/Facebooking/etc. through lectures. It’s over. You’ve made some incredible friends for life, you’ve changed so much from four (give or take) years ago, and now “regular” life is staring you in the face. Pat yourself on the back, raise your glass for another toast, and bask in the spotlights of that stage you’re walking across to shake hands with the Dean and snatch that diploma. You’ve earned it.
As you sit back and relax, you also know the world feels like it might be spinning faster than ever, and you’ve got to keep moving. If I had any advice to give the 2012 Graduates, this is it:
A moving car is easier to steer. We all utilize a degree of processing to make decisions, but we can also do that while moving forward in some way. Figure out which early steps will help you follow your career path, and if every door seems closed, get another job in the meantime. When I hire an intern, I prefer someone who can show they’ve been active pursuing their career, not just a degree. Note, I said ACTIVE, and not simply BUSY. A seminary student working at Starbucks while participating in a small group at his church is far more attractive to me than a seminary grad with a 4.0, academic honors, and not a single relationship with anybody outside the church. Apply elsewhere.
Things aren’t easy. The housing market is uneven, tax rates are going up, and it doesn’t seem like companies are able to hire as many people as they want. Historically, the people who work hard and provide value to their organizations are valued, kept, and rewarded. Sometimes you’ll experience what it is like to work under someone ungifted to effectively manage the workplace, other employees, or build for the future. Work hard to gravitate to your strengths, and at the same time be careful not to appear as a complainer and a source of constant dissent. You may need to move on and find a new employer or department, but always seek to do so in a way that doesn’t burn bridges. It could take a few weeks or several years to find a place you love being a part of. But be smart: I’m going to avoid hiring someone who freely dishes out venom on their former employers.
I believe Jesus is not just the key to this mythical thing we call eternity, but also vital for the life you live today. As a result, I believe each of you needs to be connected to a group of Christ followers that we can grow with and serve our community. There are a lot of churches out there doing amazing creative things, with lots of fans and momentum. Most important though, is that you connect with a group that truly values the Gospel. Musical preference, location, and the age/style/personality of your pastor are all things that will likely be a part of how you choose a community of faith to connect with. But first and foremost, before anything else, is to build relationships in a church that values the Gospel. Be a part of a church that values Jesus, what He stands for, who He is, and His work outside church walls. Plant roots in a community that puts that faith into action, not just in terms of church event attendance, but how they engage the community outside the church walls. I don’t see a way to grow spiritually if your entire life is spent inside the church building. Do you? Be a part of a church family that truly values taking the hope of Jesus outside the church auditorium and into their neighborhoods. Be connected to a church family that values your family. Stay connected to a church family that connects the love of Jesus to their coworkers, local businesses, and next door neighbors.
Stay connected in a family like that, because the Gospel is the heart of what Christians are, both for new faces, and lifelong churchgoers. I “grew up” spiritually, became a man worth marrying to my wife, and found many lifelong friends and mentors by being a part of a church that valued families, small groups, and serving the community. Find a place like that. Buildings are an asset, music is enjoyable, but the Gospel is essential.