How well do you remember Middle School? I hated middle school. The world around me was changing and even my own “world” was changing, if you know what I mean.
Then there was high school and college. From the age of 11 through about 25, your world never stops changing. Throw into the mix unstable home environments for many, bullying and the constant desire to advance up the social ladder, it is no wonder why these can be some of the most difficult years in a young person’s life. What if the church had a different way to respond to the problems? For years youth ministry has seen the incredible value of creating adult relationships within the context of student ministry. Now others such as Chuck Bomar (Slow Fade) are coming in and saying the relationships are the key to the transition from High School to College. What if student pastors and ministers had an even bigger picture of the life of a student and possible impact of their ministry?
The national average tells us around 60% of church kids will walk away from their faith before they graduate from college. I believe there are several reasons this is happening. However, instead of just stating problems I want to talk about solutions. I want to help equip parents better disciple their own children. I also want to help teenagers connect and develop relationships with other adults in the church, to encourage them and help them to bridge the gaps during times of transitions. This is where TRANSIT comes in. Transit will be focus around several key transitional times in the life of a teenager. First, the move from 5th to 6th grade. This is an enormous jump in adolescences. The second jump is from 8th to 9th grade with the transition from Jr High to High School. The next significant transition is moving from Junior year into Senior Year. The final key transition comes as they make the jump from High School to college. Of course there are other milestones that will occur along the way, but I want to focus on these four times.
At Westhill, I have been thinking through transitions for students. The one thing I am discovering is the transitions are constant. But what if the relationships we were creating for students to transition from High School to college were the same relationships the student had when they transitioned from 5th grade into 6th when they entered our ministry? How could this work? What would it look like?
So here is my plan is to begin this May with students who are finishing 5th grade and moving into 6th grade. We are going to have a memorable weekend designed for parents and their students. We will spend time worshiping together as families; and praying over each other, helping to equip parents and students for this huge time of transition. The weekend will end for the new 6th graders with a Rite of Passage Ceremony. Parents will sit down with their son or daughter and help them to pick out 3 or 4 adults in our church they consider to significant in their life. The adults along with their parents will make up the group. During this ceremony, the adults which the student has invited will share some positive character attributes they see in the student and each adult will give the student a specific charge. The ceremony is built around 6 key topics, FAITH, HOPE, LOVE, PURITY, INTERGRITY & FAMILY (Concept taken from James McBride’s Rite of Passage). To close the ceremony, I will give these adults a special charge to walk with these students through Jr. High and High School. The mentor’s goal becomes helping in their transition into college and career and to them get connected to a church, no matter where they end up. My desire is this relationship is one that will last a lifetime.
So how do we keep these relationships fresh and the commitment strong? My hope is to come back each year through Jr. High and High School and have something geared toward the 6 key topics. Not a full ceremony every year because I think it would lose significance. Still having something every year to pull the student, parents and adults back together to re-commit to their walk together. During these events I want to provide parents and students with resources that will be helpful to them in their journey. My desire for our student ministry to start focusing as much time on the mentors and parents as we do the students.
Here is what I am thinking right now as far as special weekends.
- 6th Grade – Ceremony – Transition from Elementary to Jr. High
- 7th Grade – Purity Covenant with parents and the group
- 9th Grade – Transition from Jr. High to High School
- 16th Birthday (Equip Parents to do their own Rite of Passage ceremony with their son or daughter. Rite of Passage is a great resource for the ceremony.)
- Finishing 11th Grade – Preparing for the next step
- Finishing 12th Grade – Tying this into our Senior Sunday and allowing the group of mentors to each give a charge, a blessing and a gift to each student.
So these are my initial thoughts and I would love to hear yours as I continue to develop these ideas in our ministry. As I mentioned, I am beginning with our 6th graders this May so give me some of your thoughts.