Graduate ministry that works
Students don’t stay students for very long. When IFES students become IFES graduates, the challenges and opportunities in their lives grow in new ways.
Is their IFES connection over? Not at all – at least it doesn’t have to be. The role of IFES ministry with former students comprises two distinct strands: supporting graduates in the workplace and inviting graduates to help the current generation of students. These threads can be woven more tightly than might first appear and therefore create a culture of care that goes both ways. Graduate ministry has been identified as a priority by national movements – but how do we do it well? Here are some examples of what’s possible.
Why we should mentor graduates
Students live with a sense of trajectory; with degree in hand, many have professional ambitions in a wide variety of sectors. But in addition to degrees and ambition, they also bring their joy in Christ and the Great Commission mandate to make disciples into their new careers. Graduate Impact’s research suggests that Christian professionals are uniquely placed and not well understood, finding themselves between the expectations of a Christian community and the demands of a workplace. Graduate Impact aims to address this by equipping graduates to make a gospel contribution to society, while also bringing their experience to the church. They envision young adults in every country thinking, speaking, and living distinctively for Christ in their workplaces, motivated by their love for Jesus and desire to make his love known.
A big part of the Graduate Impact ministry is Cross-Current, which gathers young professionals in location or profession-based groups for six sessions of teaching and mentoring. It instils in them the sense that Jesus is the Lord of all, including their careers. He is to be worshipped Monday to Friday, as well as Sundays.
As Rodica, Cross-Current Coordinator in the IFES Eurasia region shares, the pandemic brought wonderful, unexpected growth in some places, but revealed fragility in others. Cross-Current has been active and supported, for instance, in CSC, the national movement in Moldova. Participants of the first city group in Chișinău found this so helpful that word spread, and Rodica was invited to Balti in northern Moldova. ‘As a result,’ she writes, ‘they wanted to start a Russian-speaking group and invite young graduates from Transnistria [the eastern separatist region of Moldova] to join. We hope that CSC pioneering student work there will continue to grow as we take care of the young grads – the first fruit of their work. This and a new Romanian-speaking group in Moldova will start in June 2022.’
Rodica reports that ‘in the last five years, Cross-Current groups have sprung up in Finland, Romania, Ukraine, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Albania, Georgia, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Canada, and Norway. We’ve also had 16 professional groups, including Economics, Law, Science and Media. Because we moved everything online for the pandemic, a wider reach is possible.’
Because of this development, ‘people have reached out from Portugal, Norway, Italy, Canada, Philippines, Burundi, and the Latin America region. At the end of April, Nepal started their first City group. Other organisations, such as The Christian Working Woman in the US, also plan to use our resources.’
According to the feedback given to Rodica, ‘many participants lack such teaching and training in their Christian communities.’
In response, one young priest, a recent graduate of CCX Russia, ‘said that he intends to start teaching this in his church – a great example of impact. While every IFES movement has students who graduate, not all of them stay involved. Although this isn’t one of the primary aims of Cross-Current, it would be wonderful if people felt that they were cared for by their student movement, and not left behind. When people feel cared for, they become a blessing for others.’
Graduates giving back – and joining in
What does it mean for student ministry to become a blessing for others? There are countless examples of individuals who love and serve students sacrificially, through hospitality, teaching, mentorship, and prayer. In Prayerline last November, we shared how God used the initiative of two IVCF Trinidad & Tobago graduates to create a large team of alumni who supported the movement, financially and spiritually, throughout lockdown. They initiated a new prayer group, talks, donations, and mentorship for current students. Moreover, they provided prayer support for IVCF student Cherelle Thompson as she attended the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan, and, according to General Secretary Joel Chryskarsten, their assistance ‘was vital in helping ensure our financial stability throughout the fallout period of the pandemic’. Without the support of graduates who remain mindful of the student experience, listen to current student perspectives, and leverage their resources to ensure the continuity of student ministry, new generations of students would be considerably worse off.
UESI, the national movement in India, has developed a member care programme that allows UESI graduates to remain invested in student ministry. Among their nearly 8000 members, more than a third are directly involved in mentoring students. These graduates are a crucial part of the UESI ministry, coordinated by the National Evangelical Graduates Fellowship (NEGF) within UESI. In February 2019, UESI-NEGF initiated Graduate Membership & Member Care Month to promote the continued role of graduate support in student ministry and encourage wider membership. The theme of this most recent Care Month was Romans 8:29, which reminds graduates that they are
‘Predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son’.
In addition to recruiting new graduates, Member Care Month also enhances the spirit of servant leadership amongst existing members and equips them to bring God’s kingdom to society through their own lives. UESI conceptualises their members as consecrated to God by student ministry, recalling the consecration of the Nazirites, as laid out in Numbers 6. They see the membership form, renewed every five years, like a Nazirite vow to consistently grow in Christlikeness and prioritise the UESI vision. But the UESI leadership also see a duty to care for their past students, in the spirit of 1 Peter:
‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.’ (1 Peter 5:2-3)
The graduates and the student movement bear responsibility for one another. And in some instances, the distinction between them fades away. Recall the Common Minimum Program in Francophone Africa, a regional student leadership training programme funded from Global Giving Day 2021. While graduates were directed to provide the training for student participants, it was also the case that large numbers of graduates signed up to be trained themselves. Organisers reported that ‘more than 200 registered for three training seminars’; consequently, they ‘organised four days of in-person training for graduates of GBUR, the national movement in Rwanda.’ Certainly, this development is ‘a great encouragement,’ and organisers ‘expect the same faith, commitment, and resilience as we call [graduates] to serve student leaders.’ The blurred lines between the training of students and graduates, and the leadership of students, graduates, and staff, empowers all to make their contribution and to receive with joy when others make theirs.
Graduate Ministry in Latin America: Assembling the loom
Blas Lopez recently began in the role of Graduate Coordinator for Latin America. He shares that ‘70% of the Latin American movements have done some work with graduates; but of these, 80% have less than three groups.’ Blas explains that most often, ‘graduates meet to pray, study the Bible, and stay connected to one another.’ His ambition is ‘to see if we can help them, and whether they can help us. I meet with them regularly to discuss this. The problem is that apart from financial giving, the channels and precedents [to facilitate] this just don’t exist here.’
Blas shares that in Latin America, ‘students are generally very grateful to the movement, and they give a lot of their time, [so too] the little money they have, to move the ministry forward, as their faith is strengthened. When they graduate, however, the majority disengage’, partly because there is a ‘lack of space to serve and lack of resources for the new challenges they face.’ One solution has been to bring Graduate Impact to Latin America, through the Transition resource. The threads cross at this point; ‘accompanying graduates in their challenges at work should encourage them to contribute in a natural and committed way to the movement. The movements would also be more free to ask for financial support; currently, a widespread feeling that graduates have is that they are only asked for funds.’
There is a key caveat. As Blas explains, ‘it forces us to ask ourselves whether we should invest in graduate ministry, and whether this takes us away from our primary goal of reaching students on campus with the gospel.’ While acknowledging this danger, he reasons that ‘if we take the lives of students seriously, we will long for them to continue to walk faithfully with Jesus after university, and we will seek ways to accompany them in the integration of their faith and profession for a faithful witness that we know our society needs.’
Blas understands the importance of helping ‘Latin American national movements to see graduate ministry as an integral part of the movement, where graduates are accompanied, [but] at the same time serve with their gifts and knowledge, as well as with their resources.’ To that end, he is ‘working towards a structure where collaboration works, and everyone benefits.’
While threads must be fixed at perpendicular angles to be woven, this composition is strengthened on account of that vital structure. There is a question to be asked about the place of graduate ministry in reaching students on campus and establishing university witness; the two strands feel incongruent. It feels as though graduate ministry means either taking resources from student ministry to support those who have already benefited from it, or a potentially cold invitation to old members to cough up and give back. At its best, however, graduate ministry can be a powerful grassroots way for student evangelism and discipleship to be supported. Done well, it signals to graduates the movements’ continued care for them as valued individuals, with a contribution to make.
Two online launch events for Cross-Current’s Transition course are taking place on 7 and 14 June. Contact email@example.com for more information.