Over the next few weeks, graduates will walk across the stage to receive their high school and college diplomas. This ceremony will conclude one stage of life and mark the beginning of another. This is a day most parents both long for and, at the same time, dread. Conflicting emotions of pride and realization that parenting is about to take a different turn are present.

To complete high school is a great accomplishment. Most of us look back on our days in high school as fun-loving and our relationships as priority. School work was important, and learned study habits would follow us to college, but few things hold greater importance during these years than relationships. In many cases, we spent our entire school life with the majority of our friends. The relationships were close and interlocked.

The same is true of church life. The youth group served as the center of our world. Wednesday night worship, discipleship groups, Sunday School, Falls Creek, Super Summer, and the preaching of our pastor tied us to one another in a deeper way than can be expressed. The youth group became, for many youths, the center of their world, and those youth group relationships were more important than school relationships because they had the added strength of a spiritual bond.

College sets before our graduates a whole new set of issues. Freedom, real and perceived, stands at the headwaters. Mom will no longer be there to get them out of bed. Choices will not be made for them, and they can choose friends without parental filters in place. Homework will become optional, yet consequences of ignoring homework will become clear and painful. Sleeping in on Sunday or going to church will be a choice, and there will be no youth pastor to hold them accountable.

As parents, it is true that we spend 18 years trying to prepare our kids for this next step into a world where decisions have real consequences and rewards. It is exhilarating to watch them cross the stage and receive their diplomas, but perhaps the strongest feeling is fear! Have we done enough or taught them enough? Are they ready to face the world without us? I remember the first day of kindergarten for my kids and releasing our babies into the new world of school. It was unnerving. But sending your child to college can bring a parent near a nervous breakdown.

So is there anything to be done to help smooth out the bumps in the road for them? Hopefully, your years of influence will not go unheeded. No doubt, your voice will ring in the ears of your college-bound student at many junctures when they must make choices. But can you build some buffers in their lives that will continue to help them mature spiritually, intellectually, and physically? The answer is yes. I would encourage you to spend the summer getting your graduate ready for the transition by doing a couple of things.

First, visit churches in the college town with your college student during the summer. Meet the pastor and ask to meet the college minister or Sunday School department leader. You want to help your student get involved in Sunday School. Why? It will give them a group with which to connect and leaders who will care about and encourage them. Regular attendance will become much more likely if they have connected through Sunday School. Only attending worship services will not attach them to the church in most cases.

I believe a second, and very important, step is to visit the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) on the campus and get acquainted with the director. If you need contact numbers, call the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and ask for the Collegiate Ministries office. They will help connect you with the campus director. BCMs provide a strong fellowship and biblical discipleship to keep your student growing in Christ. College is no different from high school in that relationships will trump every other thing. You want your student connected with a group whose purpose is to help students grow in Christ and to become all that God intends them to be. The relationships formed at BCMs will last for a lifetime. Frankly, it is also the place where many marriage relationships are formed! You want your child to find a godly spouse, and the BCMs and churches are the best places for that lifelong relationship to form.

Congratulations to all our graduates and to their parents who have guided them through the first major phase of life. The same grace of God that has overseen the steps of these new graduates will continue do so in the next phase of life.