Spring in youth ministry is a funny time. The teenagers have matured but the nearness of summer injects an extra-squirrel factor, monster-drink infused buzz that begs for summer swimming and up all night video game marathons. At the same time–quieter moments are happening. Braces fly off teeth like pancakes off the griddle at IHOP. And you see your once wild 6th graders walking calmly into youth group. Our 8th grade guys now know that they don’t have to break into the ball closet, they need only to ask for the key… or ask us if they can break into the ball closet (smile).
While so much has changed, not much has changed.
And we are endeared.
For the last twelve years, the middle school and high school students in our ministries have needed the same thing.
The proof exists in salutatorian and valedictorian speeches. The proof exists in award ceremonies and grad nights. The proof exists in end of year parties and teachers who read poems to their graduating pre-schoolers. The proof exists in tears, in laughter, in celebrations, and in quiet trepidation.
In college (at the beginning and end of the year), our chaplain (Gary Sivewright) would engage us in a transition tradition. It made a difference to me as a student and stood out as a defining moment my senior year–so much so that I’ve emulated him and carried it with me into youth ministry.
- At the beginning and end of the school year
- At the last day of youth camps where I speak.
- At the start or end of a retreat
What’s the recipe for a great transition in ministry? When students cross from children’s ministry to youth. When they take giant leaps of faith. When a particularly stretching experience draws to a close.
Somewhere in your conversations, in your talk, in your group or gathering…
- Define the relationship.
- Speak words of truth to them, in love.
- Give thanks and give grace for the past.
- Celebrate the future together. (Give them a preview before it happens.)
Let’s put some flesh on these transition to-do’s.
At our last “regular” youth service of the school year we asked our 6th graders to stand.
I give them a healthy non-romantic DTR. They started out physically smaller…I share that while there have been some areas to grow, the truth is that they are growing. And that is awesome. We are thankful for those moments and we don’t hide them but relish them as gifts. We celebrate them as official 7th graders and remind them of their responsibility to love and encourage the new ones joining us soon because they literally walked in their shoes this year.
We ask the 7th graders stand. They were the filling to one great oreo cookie this year. Not the youngest, not the oldest they held our littlest and our largest together with consistent determination. Even though they might be responsible for the new rear projection system in our gym…we now have a new rear projection system in our gym. They’ll be the leaders next year, the younger students will look to them for cues on how to live and how to act. We count on them to lead us in the fall in their gathering, in their growing, and in their serving.
We ask our 8th graders stand. (And we pause for the wildest of cheers). We celebrate the short time when their lives felt like a crazy accordion of emotion and physical growth. We look at the pictures of them on their first day of youth group and laugh when we the picture morphs into people who are literally six to seven inches taller. We thank them for being human, for being vulnerable, for being leaders. And we launch them into a new chapter where they’ll find themselves feeling young again (and that is a good thing!). And then we pray over them–and promise to walk with them as they continue to grow in their faith, in their families, and in their deep friendships with each other.
I love this time of year. It’s a wonderful reminder that our calling is eternal. Noticing the teenagers in our ministry, speaking truth to them and over them in love, giving them traditions that serve as tangible reminders that we are growing in Christ, these are all a part of the ebb and flow that is youth ministry…such a joy filled calling. So much fun. So very sacred.
Do speak to your students with the future in mind?
How do you speak truth to them in love when they transition into and out of your ministry?
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. -Ephesians 4:15 NLT