Students have a lot of big milestones in their lives. There’s graduation from pre-k, kindergarten, and junior high. There’s turning 16. Becoming an Eagle Scout. Getting their license. Going to prom. Turning 18. Graduation from high school. And many more celebratory moments.
The sad truth is many of these milestones aren’t celebrated or honored for a variety of reasons. People are busy, so family and friends can’t always make it. There are conflicting schedules and events; people don’t always want to go to ceremonies because of the time commitment. And because there are so many moments in students’ lives, it is easy to assume you can skip one and simply show up at another.
The truth is these moments in students’ lives are pivotal and quite important in how they mentally develop and grow, the shaping of their identity, and their understanding of the Gospel. If these milestones are so important, let me pose a question: when was the last time your church celebrated these moments in the lives of your students? I don’t ask this question to shame or make us feel bad, but instead to push us to do some self-reflection. If I’m being honest, until moving to our current church, I never really considered these moments and didn’t do anything to celebrate them other than going to graduation parties.
But is that the best and only option? Or is there something more that we can be doing? The more I’ve thought about the ways we honor, celebrate, commission, and challenge our students, the more I want to share with you something that we have refined and honed over the past six years in order to do just that: The Passage Ceremony. I know, the name needs work, but let me highlight what this is and how we utilize this ceremony to honor and challenge our students. This isn’t a one size fits all approach, but instead is a resource you can adapt and leverage in your ministry setting and refine to make it beneficial for your context.
The Passage Ceremony.
In the course of middle school and high school ministry there are many key milestones that can and should be celebrated. We have chosen three aspects to focus on: transitioning into 6th grade (or middle school), transitioning into 9th grade, and high school graduation. The reason we chose to focus on these moments is because they are shared among students holistically. Not all students go to prom, not all students do extracurricular activities, not all students get their license at the same time. These three moments typically hit the majority of students and allow for the greatest impact. Therefore, the Passage Ceremony centers around these three “rites of passage.”
Our Passage Ceremony has a few key aspects to it. Here is what they include:
1. Food and community. We make sure to provide a lunch for the families who are coming to the ceremony and we utilize round tables to facilitate conversation and community. We also bring in our volunteer leaders to connect them with our students and families.
2. Explanation of the ceremony. We have someone stand up during the meal time to talk to families about why we are hosting the ceremony, what it is for, and to share our commitment to students and families.
3. Intentional time for parents to speak into the lives of students. We know families are busy and life gets crazy, so we carve out 30 minutes for parents and guardians to speak into the lives of their students. We provide some guidance for what this looks like but have found that parents typically come prepared and actually would desire more time because of how impactful it is.
4. Honoring of students. When families come back from their time of encouragement, we host the formal part of the ceremony. We call up students individually according to their grades and give them a gift. Before we call them up, we explain why we are doing this and the symbolism to our ceremony. It is a time of encouragement, celebration, and intentional discipleship.
We take time in the months leading up to The Passage Ceremony to communicate with families what we are doing and what we are asking of them. At the end of this post, I’ve included that letter for you to utilize if you would like.
How to utilize celebratory moments.
In the letter below, you will see some of the order and flow for this ceremony. Additional things we provide include a light luncheon, facilitating the ceremony, and having a time of celebration and recognition at the end. Here are some key things to highlight in celebratory moments:
1. Make sure to recognize key people. This could include parents, students, volunteer leaders, ministry leaders, and others. Recognizing and pointing to them helps to highlight the focus and who the event is for.
2. Have a good facilitator and communicator. When you are honoring students it is important to have someone who can speak truth and encouragement into their lives with intentionality. You don’t want someone who doesn’t know them or stumbles over what to say because that doesn’t communicate value and worth. But having someone who does communicate well helps your students know they are loved and have a place to call home.
3. Make the environment celebratory. This could be as simple as having food and music, or you could decorate your space with balloons and centerpieces, or you could provide gifts. Whatever you choose make sure to be intentional and seek to create an atmosphere that celebrates your students.
4. Connect them with their leaders. Bringing your leaders into these moments is key because it values them, connects them to their students, and introduces them to parents.
5. Pray over your students. Let them know that they are loved and seen, and that they matter to you and to God. So pray for them and be in their corner.
Letter to Families:
As I have served in student ministries, I have seen a strong desire in parents to lead and guide their children as disciples, but the big question has always been “how?” The Passage Ceremony is one way for us to offer guidance to you and your students by giving you time and space to have needed conversations and by allowing us to support one another in this ongoing discipleship process. Parents, church leadership, and volunteer leaders will be part of this ceremony to signify the student’s desire to live as a disciple of Jesus.
Ceremonies are not a regular part of our culture, but with purpose and direction they can have a powerful impact on the discipleship journey of students. The Passage Ceremony is designed for you, as parents or a significant person in a student’s life, to have the opportunity to personally and privately give spiritual guidance and discipleship to them. The spiritual guidance should focus on:
- Affirming your commitment to being faithful parents and supporters of your student(s);
- Presenting or reviewing clear and specific guidance and evaluation of your student(s) as they continue to live as disciples of Jesus who are sent to build the kingdom of God.
Our vision for this ceremony is threefold:
- To affirm God’s design for parents and supporters as the main disciple-maker of their children;
- To affirm our commitment to you as a church and specifically as a student ministry to walk and partner with you in this discipleship process;
- To provide a meaningful opportunity for you to partner with the church to mark this significant milestone in their life together and commission them to continue to live as a disciple of Jesus.
Ceremonies typically have a symbol attached to them. We request that you supply a special Bible to use as the symbol of this ceremony. In the past families have purchased a new study Bible or use a special Bible they already have. The NIV Bible is highly suggested since it is the translation we most often use at church. Feel free to supply whatever size or color you would like.
We highly recommend that you use the inside cover to write a special note of vision and blessing to your student. Please drop off your signed Bible to the Receptionist’s Office to allow time for our staff to write in it as well. This Bible will be presented to your student(s) at the ceremony. Should you need any assistance in finding or purchasing a Bible, please contact our team and we will do all we can to assist you.
We will also provide time and space for you as parents to speak encouragement, affirmation, and Biblical truth into the life of your student. I would encourage you to think through this ahead of time so you can share this with them on Sunday. You could share why you are proud of them, what you are looking forward to experiencing with them, your desire to walk with them through this next phase of life, the truth of what you have seen God do in their lives, a life verse that you chose for them and why you chose it, and your prayer for them going forward.