I’ve Graduated, Now What? 3 Steps to Finding Your Place In the Church
P.J. Tibayan | September 3, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
College life was one of the most exciting and sweetest spiritual seasons for my soul. I made great friends, grew like crazy, and learned a lot about how to understand and apply Scripture. I tasted and saw that Christ was good.
But then graduation came. The inevitable push toward faithful discipleship as an adult post-college met me like the top of an escalator with too many people behind me to turn back and no way to slow it down.
So how do we transition well from following Jesus as a college student to following Jesus post college? The difficulty of transitioning can be a confusing or paralyzing discouragement. We go to church gatherings on Sundays and feel out of place and confused on how to embrace the new normal. But college grads who had just been immersed in college ministry don't have to be paralyzed by this transition.
My advice is basic and not limited to those transitioning from college life to post college church life, but for the purpose of this article let's call this advice "the discipleship post-college plan." The plan has 3 steps: commit, show up, and engage.
1. Commit to a Church
If Christians want to obey all that Christ commanded (Matt 28:20), then they must commit to a local church as a member. Church membership is the mutual understanding and commitment of responsibility for one another's discipleship, both collectively and individually. Though you can love and encourage other Christians in general, if you're not a church member, then you're not able to obediently practice church discipline (Matt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5) nor identify the leaders you are to obey and submit to (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
So, look for a church committed to preaching the Bible textually and theologically, discipling one another, a backbone to love wandering sheep, a sense of mission, and a place with people unlike you. When you find that church, ask about the membership process and join it officially as a member as soon as possible. Your public commitment shifts the church's thinking toward you and your thinking towards the church.
2. Show up
As you are committing to the church, show up consistently. Make Sundays an absolute non-negotiable in your life. Be there. Every Sunday. Attend at every corporate gathering of the church (evening service, midweek Bible study, etc.). Join a small group. And be there.
God says, "And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25). Judgment day is getting closer Sunday by Sunday. So think about the church family and habitually show up to encourage and provoke love and good works among them.
I tell our prospective church members that showing up is 51% of your ministry. It's the majority. When you're there you are available to do all kinds of good, even by sharing your burdens for others to bear! When you miss the church's gathering, let the pastors and members know you won't be able to make it, where God is sending you instead that Sunday, and how they can pray for you.
It is important to engage your church family when you're physically there. It's not time to be passive. Pray for people. Talk to people. Ask them good questions: How long have you been a Christian? How did God win your trust? What happened? How did God bring you to this church and city? This will help you learn their story. You can also ask what God has been teaching them lately or how you can pray for them. Remember that fellowship is a two-way street so prepare to share what God has been teaching you as well.
Christ calls his people to watch out for each other and encourage each other daily: "Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception" (Hebrews 3:12-13, emphasis added).
An often neglected way to encourage others is to share your burdens. We all like to celebrate blessings, and most of us feel comfortable bearing the struggles of another. But sharing our burdens? We're too easily embarrassed.
But I have good news for you: They don't have it all together either. They have some burdens too. If everyone in church is happy to bear a burden but no one is willing to share their own, then the church will be ineffective and fake. So, share what’s weighing you down. When you share your burden, you are blessing the person by giving them an opportunity to glorify God in serving you. One guest at our church apologized for being a burden to me. I said, "Don't apologize: Any meaningful friendship inevitably shares burdens."
To any recent college grads (or college students), let me give you two more specific encouragements. First, engage diverse people. Engage other ethnicities and the opposite gender. Engage those who are younger and older. Engage grandparents, widows, children, and everyone in between. Paul writes to Timothy, "Don’t rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters with all purity" (1 Tim 5:1-2).
For Asian-Americans in particular, we must heed both sides of this command. In our culture we don't have a problem treating older men as fathers and older women as mothers. But, we may honor them wrongly such that we never exhort our elders as if it is not our place. That is not what God says. We are called to exhort our elder brothers and sisters humbly yet courageously.
Second, don't underestimate the cumulative impact of your presence and engagement. You may not see immediate impact from your smile, greeting, singing, and meaningful conversations from week to week in your first 6 months. But keep at it. The cumulative effect of your engagement will bring down social and spiritual barriers with many people in due time. We don't obey because we see immediate fruit. We trust God as we engage in love knowing the Lord will use it in his way and time both now and in the future.
So, let me encourage you to commit to consistently showing up and engaging your church family in corporate gatherings and in small groups. Decide now and commit to this. Commit to them.
If you don't commit to a church you will miss opportunities to build up and encourage others, be increasingly discouraged, and aimlessly search for your place in God's commission after college. But if you show up and engage consistently you will feel connected, grow in confidence that you can encourage people, strengthen your church, glorify God, and set yourself up for a growing trajectory of being a fruitful member of a local church!
Remember, God is working in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). He has prepared you for the good works you will do in, through, and with your church family (Eph 2:10). Show up this Sunday.
P.J. Tibayan is a pastor-theologian of Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA, where he lives with his God-fearing and beautiful wife and their five children. He writes at gospelize.me and helps lead The Gospel Coalition LA Regional Chapter and the Shepherd LA Conference (for pastors). He is currently a doctoral student (DMin) in Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary working on the book of Revelation.