What Is a Rite of Passage Experience?

One of the rites of passage for the Burns family was when my wife, Cathy, took each of our daughters away for an overnight trip when they were eleven years old to read and discuss a book about healthy, God-honoring sexuality. The twenty-four-hour trip was geared for good  dialogue and fun. They went out for a fun meal, bought a new outfit, and generally did fun girl stuff along with the sex education experience.

At age sixteen, the first date our girls had was with me. I took each one out to a fancy dinner, bought her an outfit (more of a love language for girls than guys), and presented her with the opportunity to commit to the Purity Code: In honor of God, my family, and my future spouse, I commit to sexual purity.  I then helped her pick out a purity ring as a symbol of her commitment.

What we found with both of these rites of passage is that each daughters experience and response was a bit different, but still a special reminder of God s presence, even in the relational side of their lives. Rites of passage tend to be reminders that His story is also a part of your family’s story.

Rites of Passage Experiences comprise a thirteen-year series of shared spiritual moments between parent and child that use the power of symbols and ceremonies to infuse faith into the natural transitions that take place in a child’s life. They are those special moments when you reach for the camera, invite friends over to join you, buy gifts to celebrate, shed a tear, or just throw a huge party. It’s usually in those moments that you find yourself saying out loud, “They are growing up so fast.” So often we let these times come and go, and in doing so miss a great chance to leverage the moment to pass on faith. You don’t have to ever miss that opportunity again. Each year, you and your child can participate in one faith-based Rite of Passage Experience.

We’ve chosen to use each new school year as a time to introduce a different rite of passage. This is more of a guideline than an absolute. If you don’t start this when your child is in pre-school (and many parents don’t), just pick up at whatever level your child is currently and then look back at some of the other Rites of Passage Experiences and do the ones you think might still benefit your child.

Some have asked why there is only one experience each year. The goal of each Rite of Passage Experience is to inspire you and help you understand the needs of your child at each age. As you will see, each experience contains key spiritual truths as well as practical skills your child should learn. You will be instilling and reinforcing those throughout the year. Our hope is that as you go, God will give you more ideas of how to use symbols and ceremonies to infuse faith into the everyday moments of your life. But we don’t want to make these rites of passage practices overwhelming. One great experience each year is better (and more memorable) than numerous mediocre experiences.

Each year, your child will be invited to participate in a rite of passage to celebrate a value or commemorate a milestone:

• Kindergarten: An Invitation to Generosity
• First Grade: An Invitation to Responsibility
• Second Grade: An Invitation to the Bible
• Third Grade: An Invitation to Rhythm
• Fourth Grade: An Invitation to Friendship
• Fifth Grade: An Invitation to Identity
• Sixth Grade: Preparing for Adolescence
• Seventh Grade: The Blessing
• Eighth Grade: Purity Code Weekend
• Ninth Grade: Driving Contract
• Tenth Grade: Money Matters
• Eleventh Grade: Family Tree
• Twelfth Grade: Manhood/Womanhood Ceremony

Although specific years are assigned to each rite of passage, consider them to be guidelines or suggestions. Certain experiences might need to be repeated so you can let the truths sink in. Others may already be a part of your family rhythm. If you see a rite of passage that fits perfectly for your child right now, go ahead and experience it with him or her. God will inspire you, as the parent, tolead your child through this process in a way that fits perfectly for your family. We like to call this “personally tailored disdpleship.” Each child and each family will look at these experiences a bit diflferently, which is healthy.

We have worked with hundreds of families who have carried out the Rites of Passage Experiences in their home. Let us share some advice for the journey ahead of you:

  • Adjust your expectations. If you expect a certain reaction from your child or teenager during a Rite of Passage Experience, you might be disappointed. Decide ahead of time that this is much more about you carrying out your mission from God to pass on faith than getting your child to have a certain reaction.
  • Something is better than nothing. Life gets busy. Most of the Rites of Passage Experiences can be completed in one or two evenings. This is intentional because we know how hard it is to carve out time. If you are going through a crazy season, don’t try to make this into a big production. Do what your time and budget allow to make the experience as memorable as
  • Awkwardness is the gateway to intimacy. The Rites of Passage Experiences can create intimate moments, but intimacy is often on the other side of awkwardness. You might have to push through some awkwardness with your child, but the reward of intimacy is totally worth it.

Younger siblings are watching. If you do a Rite of Passage Experience with an older sibling, be prepared to carry it out for the younger sibling when the younger child reaches the same age.

As you seek to instill faith in the life of your home, we believe God will instruct, equip, and bless your efforts. You are following God’s blueprint by using symbols and ceremonies to pass on faith in your home. By taking your child on a journey to discover who God is, He is going to show up in ways you never could have imagined. You will be amazed to see what happens when you follow His lead.

This is an extract from Pass it On by Jim Burns and Jeremy Lee. The full book has outlines for all the Rites of Passage. It is available from your normal supplier and via internet stores such as Amazon