Graduation season is in full bloom. Our youth group will graduate this month 25 seniors from thirteen schools and two homeschool groups. We hosted an 8th grade graduation (last Wed) and host an upcoming Senior Sunday (this Sunday). Personally, my youngest son’s eighth grade graduation from the school of dialectic at Augustine Academy was last night and my oldest son’s graduation from Jenks Public High School is Monday night. You might not be shocked to discover I have been thinking about graduation celebrations.
As I called a number of senior’s families this week and several 8th grade families last week, I heard their stories and was able to encourage and to pray for them. I was struck again – as I am each year – by the privilege of “coming alongside” and “being with” families in times like these. I jotted down some thoughts about graduations in the church. They are almost stream of consciousness. Let me know what you think:
Why do we celebrate graduations in the youth ministry and in the church?
It seems to me that the very heart of what we should be about finds its antecedent in the ministry of Jesus. He was WITH people both in the common times (along the way, at a meal) and at the celebrations (wedding, parties, Passover feast etc) and other transitions (funerals). It is interesting that His ministry both starts and ends with a wedding celebration.
How should we celebrate? The Incarnation as presented in the ancient Christ Hymn in Phil 2 calls us to not seek our own interest or agendas, but to value highly those of others. It calls us not to be grasping at position or power or role, but to empty ourselves and serve. It calls us to go on others turf and to experience with them their joys and sorrows. We have talked a lot this year in our youth ministry about Christ as a model of invitation and not exclusion. Scripture teaches us that we may choose to exclude ourselves, but that Christ gives us every opportunity to understand and respond to His invitation. As His ambassadors, we seek to operate the same way.
Graduation is a time perfectly created for youth ministers and other incarnational missionaries in our culture. The whole culture celebrates, but has no answers. They know this is a meaningful time. But they don’t really know why. That is a great starting point. Graduation provides a time for us not to preach or correct, but to join in with those that celebrate…to serve…to encourage…to alleviate stress for…and with our very presence in the parties as Christ’s ambassadors…to lift up Jesus Christ.
How does that work within our programming? I believe Jesus would be at the graduation parties. Jesus would be listening to the parents and grandparents brag. Jesus would take an interest in the half-formed dreams of kids. Jesus would show up….and lift up…and shower with love in all joy. And so…
We go. We attend every graduation and we connect with every graduating family. At least one of us is there. We cheer. We affirm. We ask good questions. And we listen.
We throw a party. Not only to celebrate, but to do the things that a rite of passage does – to offer “safe passage,” to provide significant learning, to connect to community, and to provide opportunity for transformation. But also to celebrate. As the First Family – the priority relationships for those who belong to Christ, we join graduates in their joy.
We invite. Every single phone call is a chance to share in the joy and to offer pray for this joyful, stressful and occasionally painful time. Every intentional personal invitation is a reminder that they are not forgotten. That they are loved. That we long to be included in their joy. So we call everyone. The program is announced. But the people are contacted. We invite. And we discover stuff. And so we pray.
We stay in touch. Because our sheep are not just the ones that find their way to the church each week. They are those we have been given to shepherd. We have compassion. We understand that they – like we – are just dust. We know how sin and busyness alienates. And we keep the bridge clean and the door open and the communication inviting.
Why do we celebrate graduations in the church? Because we are Christ’s ambassadors!