4 Steps to Successful Graduation Celebrations

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Why do we celebrate graduations in the youth ministry and in the church? It seems to me that the heart of what we are doing 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).

The Incarnation as presented in the ancient Christian Hymn in Philippians 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 talk a lot in our youth ministry about Christ as a model of invitation and not exclusion. Scripture teaches us that we may 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.

How does that work within our programming? 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, lift up and shower with love. And so…

We go. We attend every graduation and we connect with every graduating family.  Someone is always 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. Our program is announced. But the people are contacted. We invite. And we discover stuff about their lives in the process.  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!

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Hal has been the Youth and College Team leader at First United Methodist in Tulsa since 2007. He has five children, ages 15 to 23. He is married and has been doing life and youth ministry with his wife Annamarie full-time since 1986. He earned a Doctor of Ministry in Youth, Family and Culture from Fuller Seminary. He is a deacon, a certified Sticky Faith trainer and coach, and an adjunct professor of youth ministry at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He loves basketball, soccer, missions, worship, teenagers and young adults, chocolate cheesecake and the Rocky Mountains. He occasionally blogs at halhamilton.com

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