It started for me when I was a senior in High School. I had only recently become a Christian. Although I grew up in a church, it wasn’t until my last few months in High School that I really began to live for Christ. During graduation time something strange happened. My church wanted to celebrate my graduation, but I wasn’t interested, in fact, I was flat out against what they wanted.
I suppose it really wasn’t that big of a deal but for some reason, I couldn’t be a part of it. There were about 5 graduates that year at my church, including my best friend who happened to be the pastor’s son. Like many graduates my parents, as well as the other parents, had made posters with pictures and other cute momentous on them. That’s not really a big deal, personally I love looking at the pictures on those posters at the graduation parties of my students.
However, my church decided to put those posters in the sanctuary during worship. They wanted to call up each student, talk about their accomplishments and then pray for them. I had only recently become a believer, but I knew that putting those posters up in the sanctuary during a worship service was wrong. I refused to let my poster be put up. It made my parents upset, it made my pastor mad, and it caused division between me and my friends.
Now I am all for recognizing the accomplishments of graduates, and looking a cute pictures, and having parties to celebrate the accomplishment of graduation. The problem I had was that this celebration impeded and encroached on the worship of God. To me putting up those posters in the worship service would be like slapping God in the face. We were there to worship God and to commune with him (or at least we should have been). It was not the place to give laurels to graduates.
Unfortunately many churches engage in practices like this year after year. Whether they intend to or not, they engage in celebratory practices in the worship service that are not honoring to God. This is a dangerous practice for many reasons. First, it opens the door to other things in a worship service that are not about God and his glory. Our purpose is to glorify God. It is the reason we were created, it is the reason the church exits. The second danger is that it teaches our youth that worship and God’s glory are not that big of a deal. There is no more clear way you can tell someone that the worship of God doesn’t matter than by engaging in the celebration of man’s accomplishments in a worship service. Finally, God warns us that he will not share his glory with anything or anyone else. “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” ( Isaiah 42:8)
In youth ministry this can become a difficult subject to tackle. Parents, grandparents, and even senior pastors might have expectations that go against your conscious. For me this is a serious matter. I believe strongly in the worship of God. I believe it so much that I’d rather be fired than violate my conscious in this matter. But there are some practical things you can do to celebrate your graduates and also keep worship only for the glory of God.
- Use The Means Of Grace-It is appropriate to do certain things in worship for your graduating seniors. You can pray for them, read them scripture, and even give them a charge (i.e. 1 Timothy 6:11- 17). These things are all in accord with scripture and are appropriate for God centered worship. Just make sure you leave the part that centers around them and what they have accomplished for the graduation party.
- Have A Reception-Host a reception for the graduates, but do it after the worship service. At the reception, recognize their accomplishments, talk about what they’re going to do, put up posters with pictures of them. The key here is to celebrate at the right time.
- Go To Your Students Parties- Not only should you attend them, but give them a gift. Recognize and appreciate who they are. In other words, when you have a chance to celebrate your graduates outside of a worship service, make the most of it.
- Make Worship About God-The issue here really has nothing to do with graduates, but with the glory of God and one’s view of Worship. Make it a point to emphasize and teach the centrality of worship throughout the year. If this is the only time of year that you make God’s glory and worship a priority it will seem strange to everyone and probably get you into trouble. Make a commitment now to never compromise for the glory of God.
Recognizing your graduates in important. However, we must never worship our students no matter what the guise. The worship of God should be at the center of our very existence.
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