Thoughts on Postmodern Youth Ministry

With this book being published in 2001, I know I’m a bit behind in my reading it; can it still be postmodern if it’s almost 10 years old?  Tony Jones would say yes, postmodernism has staying power.  You can read some more reviews of this book here and a more in depth one here.  This is by no means an in depth look at the over all book, as there is just too much to look over.  Rather I took one chapter and framed it within my context.

Overall I think this book has had more impact on my thoughts than it would have when I first started in youth ministry almost 7 years ago.  It speaks to some of the struggles I have with youth ministry in my own context and ministries I do.  If I had read this book when I first started, I’m not sure it would have served the same purpose it has these past few weeks.

I found the chapter “The How of Discipleship” to be interesting.  Tony delves into what it may have been like for the first Christians to be initiated into the church with a fictional story of Lucius.  Through this story we see a way of discipleship that is not a means to an end, but a means to a beginning of life in the early church as part of the community of believers.  Tony states:

“As youth workers, we must take the process of initiation into the Christian community far more seriously.”

“Confirmation.  The very word provokes a litany of reactions: boring, irrelevant, outdated.  Indeed recent surveys by the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches have shown that only 43 to 50 percent of their Confirmands are still going to church (six times a year) by the time they’re 40 years old.

But the problem may be with how confirmation has been done over the last half century rather than with confirmation itself.”

I have often struggled with Confirmation since I myself was confirmed in high school.  I struggled with having to memorize the Small Catechism and having to attend class.  I have had conversations in seminary where Confirmation is the first thing to be bashed as being outdated and irrelevant.  In some case I have led the charge against how we do confirmation.  I think Tony is onto something here when he mentions that maybe it is the way we go about doing Confirmation that is the problem rather than confirmation itself.

In the majority of churches, in my opinion, Confirmation is the “graduation” from church.  In many cases youth are getting Confirmed because grandparents expect them to, or because their parents are forcing them to because they want grandma and grandpa to get off their back.  Confirmation is less about affirming faith and more about making people happy or continuing a tradition, “I was confirmed, your grandparents were confirmed, and you’ll be confirmed.”

In my opinion the Church is not doing much to help!  The way our program is set up is a list of requirements and hoops to jump through to get to the end.  It is a means to an end.  Youth come to church, do sermon notes, come to class, do a faith paper and service hours because they are “required” to, in order to complete the program.  (Disclaimer: I do think there is a balance of having “requirements” to keep the integrity of a program.)  Again, the problem isn’t the process; it’s the set-up of the process.

Can we get back to the way Confirmation was done in the early church, as discipleship?  Are we willing to admit that maybe we don’t have the process right and haven’t had it right for awhile?  Are we willing to challenge our family’s motives for having their child confirmed at the risk of offending some?  Are we willing to recapture the importance of affirming the faith at the risk of losing families because our “requirements” are too involved for busy families?  Or are we going to continue to duck our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is okay because youth are still getting confirmed and writing great faith papers?

I know I’m not the first one to write about Confirmation and the struggles within it, and I also know I fall right back into doing things the easy way, because…. well it’s easier.  At the same time we need to think about the health of our church and more importantly the health of our youth’s faith life when they leave our church after confirmation (I wanted to say graduation but couldn’t).  The Church needs to reclaim confirmation as an important part of our faith journey, not just for youth, but for congregational members as well (this is another post to come, but click here for a book worth checking out in regards to confirmation being an ongoing process.)  We need to say yes, hockey, basketball and other extra-curriculars are important BUT so is your child’s faith and the baptismal promise you made, because faith needs to be important in our lives.

I’m off my soapbox now.

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