This year’s theme is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with…..
The Life of Transition
Jamie Mackey is the Minister to Students at First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. Jamie has been doing this ministry with students for 24 years. He is married to Hope, and they are parents to Cade and Story.
Today is a Wednesday in the middle of August. I find myself living in the world of transitions. Two Sundays ago was our promotion Sunday called “7Up Sunday” because we welcome 7th graders up into the Student Ministry. Two Sundays before that, we moved high school graduates into the college ministry. Today, I had lunch with three guys before they leave town to move into their college dorms. Last week, two students got their driver’s license. Students grow older, step into leadership and begin mentoring younger students all while I am wondering how did they get this old?!
Student Ministry is filled with transitions. Why would we want it any other way? We are sharing life with adolescents. Their entire lives are a state of transition.
Students transition from being a child to hopefully becoming an adult, from concrete thinking to abstract, from smelly and not caring how they look to being obsessed with their looks, shape, and smell. Our intentional time with them over the course of 6-7 years is critical. How we navigate and mark their transitions is critical.
Why should we make the most of transitions? What of a transition time in a person’s life gives us as ministers the leverage to speak into them? A transition creates a platform for a person to place memories and decisions on it. There is the potential for change and grow to occur in these transitions.
In our church, we call transitions “rites of passage.” We make the conception and birth of a child the beginning of a series of rites through graduation. These different markers fall within our family ministries. In Student Ministry the two biggies are welcoming new coming students and then sending them out. It’s the bookend of working with students — welcoming young 7th graders and sending graduating students. We make the most of these transitions by being intentional.
Let’s work backwards and begin with graduation. Every church handles graduation recognition differently. Some have their graduates dress up in their graduation robes and process into a worship service. A family meal may be a part of the festivities. Of course we have to have the 2-hour video of pictures through the years in there too. Our church does all these things. We have tissues available for the parents. It’s a sweet weekend. And after it’s all done, it simply could just that — a sweet weekend enjoying pictures and giving of a new Bible and we are just happy it’s all over and done. If that’s the end result, we missed a big opportunity. We missed the speaking words of life into the graduates that help them transition into their next phase of life.
What do we do to leverage the possibility of building a platform? First, I make an intentional point in the family dinner to recount specific memories of our time together. Many are fun, but they are all transcendent to God’s presence being among us. I also try to have a one-on-one conversation with each graduate to say how thankful I am that they allowed me to be their youth minister and to share in their life. This conversation is also intentional. The words of gratitude give the opportunity to cement into them that this relationship between pastor and student will continue beyond this graduation and this transition. This one-on-one conversation many times does not happen over graduate recognition weekend. I’m able to have a handful of them then, but most take place over lunch (like today) or on the summer mission trip or by the pool at one of the many pool parties.
Before we can make the emotional shift of graduate recognition and the sending out of students, new students are eagerly waiting to enter the youth ministry. Many churches differ on the age and the exact time of the year as to when new students are welcomed. Our church’s practice is to officially welcome them in August when school starts, but the connections start well before 7Up Sunday. A letter goes to them and their parents in May listing 4-5 opportunities over the summer they are invited to join. These events can be a lunch with students during Bible School or a pool party on a Wednesday night. The one we get the most bang for the buck is a cookout for the upcoming 7th graders, their parents, and the adults who will be their Sunday Bible study teachers that fall. The purpose is to learn names and make connections. Both the student and their parents need to feel known when they enter the youth ministry.
We need to be intentional to welcome the parent as much as we welcome the student. The parent is learning a whole new world in the life of the church just as their child is. That mom or dad is both excited and fearful to embark on this new phase. How we welcome both the student and the parent builds the platform for the ability to speak words of life into their child and into their family. Will their platform have memories of trust, connection and acceptance on it? If it does, their journey in the youth ministry will be a positive one.
Finally, how do we personally navigate ourselves through these transitions. One moment has us teary-eyed to saying goodbye. The next has us excited to be beginning the journey with awkward middle schoolers. It can be a whirlwind of unconnected moments if we are not intentional. Being intentional with these transitions helps us navigate ministry in a healthy way.