Why Rites of Passage Are Clutch

Jonny Radcliff
September 3rd, 2018

One of the fondest memories I have from my childhood is summer camp. Our church’s camp was nothing flashy. I’d say that the quaintness even added to the experience. Even to this day, I can still savor the smell of the cabin. It was an illustrious mix of mold and nostalgia. Can’t beat it.

I remember looking in awe at the gargantuan 6th graders. Every year – even though a new crop would come in – they would dominate the place. They were fast and loud, seeming to own the space more than even the adults.

I couldn’t wait to be a 6th grader.  But it wasn’t so that I could be the cool kid on campus. The real reason is that I wanted to have 6th grader privileges. This group was able to do everything we were not allowed to: ride the horses ON THE TRAIL, get first pick of activities, and best of all… the pool gladiator jousting. I’d watch in awe every year as they continued to knock each other off the plank and into the pool. The pool instantly became a tumultuous wave pool once their massive bodies crashed beneath the water surface. I was filled with jealousy.

It is only in looking backwards that I can understand that these rites were not in place to torture me; they were to honor the oldest group in their last year of camp. Establishing intentional, thoughtful rites of passage are a huge momentum booster for your student ministry.

It Creates Variation

Let’s face it, a middle schooler undergoes DRASTIC change in just one year. The differences experienced over these 3-4 years is incredible. For us to treat an 8th grader the same as a 5th grader over this time period would be a disservice.

By creating intentional rites of passage, we show our students that we take seriously their maturation. Whether it’s a special privilege on a retreat or an added responsibility during our weekly program, upper classmen will have extra ownership in their ministry if it is offered.

Imagine year after year going to the same retreat, the same weekly program, the same apple-pie-slurping-soda-chugging eating contest – year after year. When considering a student’s experience from year 1 to year 4 of your middle or high school, it is crucial to think through ways to vary up your program. As much as we want all grades together in the same room, students benefit from having focused, upper classmen time all to themselves.

Special experiences and expanded responsibilities for your upper classmen are key ways to do this.

It Provides Opportunity for Leadership Development

Sometimes students stay stagnant because we do not challenge them to reach for something higher. A low bar can be reached with the swiftest of ease. We all want to believe that our students are capable of great things, but is this reflected in the leadership opportunities we create? Do we challenge them with this mindset?

Imagine the impact these actions would have on the underclassmen:

• You enable your 8th grader to lead the prayer time following your sermon.

• You personally challenge your bubbly 11th grader to make it her duty to greet every kid who shows up tonight.

• Instead of you texting out retreat sign up reminders, you coach your 7th grader on how to do this.

• You bring in your three 12th graders to help form the calendar for next quarter’s events.

When you empower your upperclassmen to be the producer of ministry instead of the product, you begin to initiate a leadership farm system that will be self-replicating over the years. They are de facto leaders according to chronology. The question then becomes whether we will capitalize on this admiration and help them to take giant strides with leader-sized intentionality.

What are some creative ways you have created rites of passage in your ministry? Comment below to begin the exchange of ideas!

Jonny Radcliff

Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministry Director at Storehouse Church and the Philly Area Coordinator at National Network of Youth Ministries. He lives near Philly with his wife and the three little monsters that they rear together. His 10+ years of youth ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.