Helping our High Schoolers Reveal and Replace Idols with Christ

May 19, 2020

Charlie Goeke MA '13 is the director of Vanguard, the gap year of Wheaton College located at HoneyRock. 

Helping Our High Schoolers Reveal and Replace Idols with Christ

Upheaval and uncertainty tend to highlight our deep-rooted fears and idols. Our emotions, actions, and things we cling to for comfort might point to idols in our lives that have taken over where Jesus should be in our lives. 

While I’m writing about juniors and seniors in high school confronting their idols, this is just as applicable to me and you.

For the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside young adults. Most recently, it’s been through our local high school youth group and Vanguard, the gap year of Wheaton College.

During this time, I’ve seen the idols our students create and have tried to help them grow the spiritual maturity it takes to recognize and confront them.

Faced with a Crisis: What Now?

Recently, our high school juniors and seniors are experiencing a significant crisis—one unlike any other they’ve faced in their lifetime. While COVID-19 has had a profound impact on families around the world, we can’t ignore the pandemic’s impact on the “what comes after high school” question our juniors and seniors are facing. College visits, standardized testing, and decision deadlines are all radically different than they were just a month ago.

The pandemic has highlighted, for many, the loss of perceived control over their post-high school plans.

Slowing Down, Confronting Uncertainty, and Reconsidering Options

As juniors and seniors are forced to slow down, confront the uncertainty of the future, and reconsider their options, we have a great opportunity as parents and mentors to speak Truth into their lives and be a part of the conversation as they transition to adulthood and beyond. 

My experience with helping young adults name and confront their idols is through our gap year program, Vanguard. I’m going to share some practices we’ve integrated into their year—these can easily be incorporated into any home or youth group setting.

Three Steps to Help a Higher Schooler Reveal and Replace Idols

First, slow down. Carve out time and quiet space. During Vanguard, students have 4 hours that are blocked into their schedule every month as alone time. We call them “Solos”. They’re invited to quiet their souls, seek God, and reflect on what is happening in their lives.

Second, invite and ask questions. The upheaval of our norms, sparked by COVID-19, actually makes incredible space for us to examine our hearts and name the idols. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, offers three ways to identify idols:

  • Where do your thoughts go to when there is nothing demanding your attention?
  • Consider how you respond to unanswered prayers or hopes. If you go into deep despair or uncontrolled anger, you may have found an idol.
  • Look at your strongest emotions. In our most painful emotions, we can find our idols embedded. What are the deeper motivations, needs, desires that when unmet, elicit our strongest responses?

Third, discover (or rediscover) spiritual practices. Once we have had time and space to seek God and ask ourselves the tough questions, we can repent and seek to put Christ above all things. Instead of merely “giving up” idols, we need to find something to turn our heart and mind back to Christ. How?

Spiritual Practices for Young Adults at Vanguard & For Home

At Vanguard, spiritual practices are woven into the year on an individual and communal level. In a given week, Vanguards engage in community devotions and prayer, have weekly small groups and worship services, and choose individual spiritual practices to incorporate into their daily lives.

Living this way for a year creates habits—setting aside time to seek God, asking tough questions to reflect and expose idols, and seeking spiritual practices that will replace our idols with Christ. 

If your student is in the throes of upheaval and uncertainty, introduce these ideas. Encourage a daily or weekly quiet time, invite them to connect with a trusted person to talk through Tim Keller’s questions, and introduce spiritual practices.

If you have questions, I’m happy to connect. You can best reach me at

Vanguard Allie smiling
Meet Allie Lambert, Vanguard '18

"Vanguard was really great. I wasn’t in school, so I could focus on my questions and thoughts and ideas without the stress. With a whole year to figure out what’s on my soul and in my brain and going to God about it…God definitely answered me.

I think he showed me – above all – his overwhelming love and grace. That was really powerful. One of the main places I saw that was in the work rotation at the barn. I didn’t really want to be there at first but God totally spoke through it."