At Work

Helping College Graduates Navigate Faith, Life, and Calling

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Do Christians graduating from college understand faith and work? How can we best prepare them for understanding their role in God’s kingdom work? We interviewed John Kyle, the executive director of The Fellows Initiative (TFI), a consortium of programs in churches around the country that help new college graduates integrate faith, life, and vocation.

IFWE: Tell us a little bit about the fellows programs and how they equip new college graduates.

John Kyle: The Fellows Initiative (TFI) is a network of church-based leadership development programs. Each fellows program is a practical nine- to ten-month spiritual and vocational experience that prepares recent college graduates to live seamless lives of faith. The program includes a part-time professional job in a fellow’s field of interest, theological coursework, biblical study, personal mentoring, and service in the church and city. All of this takes place in community with the other fellows in the cohort (usually 10-12 in each location).

The program is one of deep and intentional discipling, and it equips young adults to have a thoughtful impact on the world as leaders in the workplace, church, home, and society.

IFWE: What is the biggest fear recent college grads have based on what you hear from those embarking on their fellows’ “year”?

Kyle: More than anything else, new college graduates tell me that they fear getting stuck vocationally. Most young people want exciting jobs that are interesting and allow them to make a difference in the world, but they are sometimes driven by the desire for bragging rights from landing the “big job.” Some recent graduates fear being “stuck” working in a cubicle on spreadsheets all day. Others fear they might make a “big mistake” with their early career choices.

Along with the fear of getting stuck, many recent graduates fear that they will not find genuine and meaningful community after graduating. And, if they are honest with themselves, many would admit to the fear that they won’t live up to their parents’ expectations or the level of worldly success they imagine their friends and siblings have achieved.

IFWE: How do you explore calling in the context of a fellows’ program?

Kyle: Exploring calling is one of the hallmarks of TFI fellows programs. First, we explore calling in the broad sense that God is the caller and we are the called. Broadly, he calls us to be like him.

We often misunderstand calling to mean job or career. It’s much more than that. For example, we explore the idea that we are called not just to work, but to love, think, and serve. Like every generation before them, young people come into the workplace chasing the idols of wealth, success, power, fame, control, etc. We work with each fellow, exploring these ideas, uncovering their unique abilities and desires, and facing their idols. We also work with them to explore the idea that God is calling us to serve him by serving others…making great products, offering helpful services, righting wrongs, serving the common good.

Second, we explore the idea of calling in a very personal, individual way. God has made each of us unique; we bring different experiences and abilities to the circumstances of our lives. Mentors help fellows apply what they learned in college to their jobs, their home life, the church, and the city around them.

The TFI educational approach has three parts: classroom learning, practical learning in the workplace and in-service opportunities, and learning through mentored reflection. The goal is to help each fellow “start well” in life after college.

IFWE: What change(s) have you observed in the marketplace nationally in the past five years and how has that impacted the format or content of fellows programs?

Kyle: There are so many changes in the marketplace that it’s hard to pick just one. One change is the dramatic increase in the number of nonprofits in the United States. One study suggests that nonprofit employment is increasing by more than 20 percent per year nationwide, well above virtually every other industry.

New college graduates seeking jobs in the nonprofit space often see for-profit companies as driven more by greed and short-term gain than by a desire to do good in the world.

Each fellows program in the TFI network approaches this a little differently. We touch on three areas: 1) helping fellows understand that nonprofits are not all the same—they fall into the realms of advocacy, think tanks, and social services, etc., 2) helping fellows explore and narrow their personal passion and sense of calling into specific areas, and 3) helping fellows explore the idea that even nonprofits must make a profit or risk going out of business.

IFWE: How are you seeing growth in fellows’ program participants?

Kyle: By God’s grace, fellows really get “new eyes” to see the needs of the world around them, how they can be part of working and serving into those needs, and how Jesus is alive and well in every area of life. Fellows get an opportunity to grow beyond the “me first and me most” mentality.

Since the first fellows program 25 years ago, we are thrilled to see fellows leading companies, nonprofits, and government agencies with a sense that they are called to bring honor to the name of Christ in all they do. Fellows are also serving and leading in churches. Many former fellows also mentor and employ younger fellows.

IFWE: What advice would you offer grads who don’t go through a fellows’ program and are going straight into the workforce?

Kyle: Depending on where they are in life, I have two pieces of advice. If you are a recent college graduate, one to three years out, you can still do a fellows program! Many fellows across our network come to us after a year or two of post-college work. The program is often especially meaningful for them because they bring some additional life experience to the community. If you’re not able to do a fellows program, I would recommend three things:

  1. Find a mentor. Pick someone 10+ years older than you in your church who can disciple you and help you work through the questions of vocation, leadership, service, and community. Work together with your mentor to learn about your own abilities and desires so that you can apply these most effectively to the work to which God is calling you.
  2. Find a community. Pick a few friends—maybe two to five—who also want to explore these ideas. Work together through helpful resources like the ones provided by IFWE (How Then Should We Work? by Hugh Whelchel). Push yourselves to really dig in—to uncover your idols, your fears, the expectations you have, etc.
  3. Find a place to serve. This might be in your church. It might be in your community. Pick something and stick to it for at least a year. Sacrifice your time and energy in getting to know the people that you are serving. Learn to listen. Learn to serve.

Editor’s note: Get 15% off How Then Should We Work? Offer ends 6/18/18. Use code: TFI15 

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