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Rites of Passage and Cultural Markers

By David Olshine | Director of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He is the bestselling author of Studies on the Go and leads a consulting ministry, Youth Ministry Coaches (YouthMinCoaches.com). | May 30 2012

 I started my research by reading Arnold van Gennep's 1909 classic, The Rites of Passage, which argued that separation, transition and incorporation were three stages that mark the passage from childhood to adulthood and full inclusion into the tribe. Today, we observe these cultural markers through ceremonies such as infant baptism, youth dedication, high school or college graduation and marriage.

What about youth workers? What kinds of markers observe their times of growth and transformation? Here are six rites of passage you can use to gauge the maturation of your life and ministry.

1) Take a Mission Trip Without Teenagers

Many of us take students on mission trips, but have you ever considered enlarging your world vision and lens of how others live by going on a trip without teenagers? You can experience the journey with your wife and family, and you won't have to chaperone a herd of teens.

2) Do Church Without Corporate Church Twice a Year

Youth workers know the joy and pain of having to be on call most every Sunday. So find a way to take two Sundays off from corporate church. Here are some options: Do it at home, sleep in, read and rest. Have church on the beach, hike a trail in the mountains, worship God on the lake, perform biblical skits at home, pray a blessing on each other, play basketball or foursquare! One pastor told me, "Church attendance is great, but everyone needs a break. Plus, it helps me appreciate collective worship when I return."

3) Vacation Without Technology

Why not try leaving your laptop at home when you go on vacation? If that worries you, try an experiment: Take one day off from the computer, cell phone or TV. If you can do that, you can go five extra days without one of them. During my most recent vacation, I spent seven days without looking at a computer. Not only did life go on, it was glorious.

4) Do a Prayer Retreat Without Planning

The word sabbath means "a time of ceasing." Most of us know the power of prayer and time away with Jesus. In January, I tried a prayer retreat without planning or setting agendas and goals. It was difficult but very inspiring. It revealed some of my personal insecurities, the compulsion to succeed and the need to be in control of my calendar.

5) Experience a Day of Silence Without Serving

When I turned 50, I went to a monastery devoted to silence. It was one of the most rewarding days of my spiritual journey. We were sworn to solitude and prayer with no talking. At times, it was worse than being stuck in a library, but it started a process of transformation that has made me more comfortable in my own skin. If you want to do something radical, try silence for a day.

6) Spend Time in the Word Without Sermon Preparation

Recently I asked a gathering of youth workers: "How do we read the Bible for our own growth and application?" People started laughing, because deep down we all struggle with reading the Word for ourselves. We read a passage and immediately say, "Man, this will be a killer talk for my youth group." Why not take spend half a day in the Word with no intent other than letting God speak to you?

Consider some of these markers, or create your own rites of passage. Doing so will keep your mind and soul from being stagnant.

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