I’ve struggled with Confirmation throughout most of my tenure in youth ministry. I believe the process of how we do Confirmation is broken. Broken in more ways than changing a curriculum or adding more worship notes to get more participation.
The process of Confirmation, the generic process of every kid in such and such grade starting at the same time, hearing the same teaching, going through the same booklet and being asked to affirm their baptism at the same time. This is broken. Faith Formation cannot be a standardized test in which we ask youth to learn what they need to learn and move on. In the past we have modeled our faith learning much like the educational system in America. (Let me say, I’m appreciative of the examples of school classrooms around the nation in which children are given the ability to learn at their level of understanding or to learn in a way that connects with them, regardless of their grade level.)
As a church, we saw this working, and we said if it works there, then it can work here. So we created models of learning and stage development for faith and plugged in catechesis. In general this hasn’t changed. Yes, some congregations have mixed it up a bit and have thought more about why we do what we do. But the generic process has continued through the years and generations.
This process is broken, because on the one hand we are saying “You are a special child of God, designed by God and different than everyone else!” and on the other hand we are saying “That doesn’t matter, we need you to get confirmed.” In some ways we are “processing disciples”. We are not taking into consideration what this youth has experienced in their life and how their story is different than anyone else’s. They may be similar in some aspects, but they are different, their faith is different and their understanding of God is different. And yet we stand up front and explain the Ten Commandments and teach what Luther wrote in the Catechism as if this is somehow translating to the lives of youth today. We make an elaborate process for them to go through, with expectations and requirements, a checklist of things to do and how to do it, without ever really asking how this process is impacting our youth and those who are confirmed and leave.
We need to shift our intentions of teaching faith knowledge to teaching youth to see and recognize where God is active. This is not to mean we throw out Confirmation all together, I think Confirmation is an important opportunity to remind everyone of the promises of Baptism. But we need to shift from the instruction of knowledge leading to understanding, to the experience of God in everyday life leading to understanding. If youth can experience the living God in their lives, through an interaction with their life and their story, I believe they will have a better understanding of God and their own faith. And to be able to do this in a way that meets every youth, every family, every member, where they are at in their faith. Instead of assuming they are where we want them to be, because it’s easier, or just ignoring it altogether.
What if instead of class every Wednesday or starting in a certain grade, we offered families the opportunity to engage with the process of Affirmation of Baptism no matter what age they are, but when they may be ready to think more deeply about what Affirmation of Baptism will mean for them. I’m sure this isn’t a new idea, and I know there are logistical nightmares popping up in your head, but think about what this says to the youth, the families, to the congregation as a whole. We say Confirmation is not a one time thing, but it is with the system we find it in. The affirmation of your baptism should be an everyday thing, an every year thing, something you do when you want to be specifically reminded of the love God has for you, or when you NEED to be reminded of that love. This kind of opportunity also speaks to the diversity within our families and youth. It claims the promise God gives each of us as children of God.
(I’m interested thinking more about this, the pros and cons, the transitional hurdles and any other thoughts. If you want to read another blog on this same idea, check out John Vest’s Confirmation for All Ages post from a couple of days ago. I think he does a great job of excitingly taking a look at what it could be!)
Confirmation ties us to our history, to those who have gone before us and it reminds us of God’s Love for us at all times, there is no doubt good bits and pieces in the process of Confirmation. But I wonder if it has lost it’s effectiveness, especially in today’s society and is instead seen as a way to get done with church to “get through” the process. (But that’s a whole ‘nother post!)