Confirmation is an important rite of passage in many congregations. A well-balanced and varied set of elements works together to create an impactful, three-dimensional program.
Larger Than Life
He was a giant of a man with wavy silver hair and a booming laugh that echoed throughout the building. He knew everyone’s name and was quick with a hug or a pat on the back. He loved to cover every celebration in red balloons and was an amazing storyteller.
Our time with Pastor Midthun in confirmation was…well, not typical. The pastor was a WWII veteran and had been a prisoner of war. I vividly remember sitting in the classrooms in the education wing of the church and hearing story after story about the war. I think, once in a while, we opened a textbook or a Bible. But mostly, this larger-than-life pastor created a space to tell stories of faith and to grow in relationship with one another. And through him, I learned the stories of Jesus.
Incorporating Varied Elements
What do you remember about your confirmation? Do you remember the lessons that were taught, or the people that taught them? I’ve been in CYF ministry for almost 40 years, but I never memorized the Ten Commandments or stood in front of a congregation answering questions. However, I could tell you every teacher I had in confirmation and Sunday School and how they made me feel. I could tell you about worshipping at Holding Forth the Word of Life (Baptist) Church in North Minneapolis. I could tell you about the retreats, trips, and service experiences.
Not Just a Curriculum
It seems odd, in a blog for a faith formation publishing company, to not focus a reflection on confirmation on the curriculum that was used. Curriculum is important, of course. A primary educational outcome of confirmation is for our young people to come to a deeper understanding of their faith. In some churches, we add service and fellowship events. In others, we concentrate on instructional large group times and more intimate small group experiences. Different approaches work in different contexts. But if we don’t tie education to personal relationships and more concrete ways of experiencing faith, we will fail.
So how can we tie the learning to relationships and experiences?
Serve and Play Together
If your church schedules this into the confirmation program, great—take advantage of these moments. Don’t just watch your young people pack food or jump on trampolines; as you are able, join them. If this is physically difficult, cheer them on. Take pictures and share them with your students and their adults. Talk together about their experiences.
Go Beyond Highs and Lows
Because I do intentional interim CYF ministry, I am in a different church every year. This gives me the opportunity to work with hundreds of small groups, but there is one thing that most have in common: young people will drag out the highs and lows as long as humanly possible in order to avoid getting to the “churchy stuff.” It is important to let them talk, but it is also important to carefully guide these discussions away from gossip and over-sharing. However, if something comes up—a recent school shooting, for example, or a devastating natural disaster—go with that conversation. Let the kids vent their fears and feelings. Ask them where they see God and God’s promises, even in these frightening and traumatic moments. (Note: Always be aware of your own limitations for dealing with the deeper issues of young people. Please refer to a professional and bring parents into the conversation when needed.)
Share a Meal
Often congregations will host a Lenten or Advent dinner. Can small groups attend together before class? Or maybe they would like to go out for Mexican food before the trampoline park (although that’s probably not a great idea…). The best conversations happen over food or in cars; take advantage of and intentionally create these moments.
Do Life Together
With parents’ permission, stay in touch with young people through texts and social media. This is the language they speak; we need to join them there. Visit their games, their concerts, their productions. Sure, an evening at the middle school band concert may not be everyone’s favorite thing to do, but it will make a resounding impact on the life of young people.
We get it: families are busy. But we are all about sharing the story of God and God’s people with our youth, and church is where they hear those stories and find community. Invite them to join you. If certain days don’t work, don’t be afraid to visit a church that worships on a day that works for you. If that church expresses a different theology, talk about it with the young people. When youth see and experience other expressions of worship, it can help them to understand and internalize their own beliefs. Allow them to experience worship as more than just something for adults.
It’s time to start thinking about confirmation as more than a one-hour-a-week experience, and it’s time to move it outside of the building. Sure, relationships can happen in a classroom setting. But we need to surround our young people with adults who care about them, and we need to speak to varied ways of experiencing faith as we plan our programming. It’s in the unguarded, casual, real-world moments where Jesus, too, can really sneak in and enfold our young people in a loving, three-dimensional relationship—and that’s what they’ll remember.
‘Cuz of Christ,
About the Author
Kari has been serving in congregations as a professional Children, Youth, and Family Ministry Director since 1984. She has worked with over 20 congregations through InterServe Ministries as an intentional interim ministry consultant, as well as serving in long-term calls in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, St Louis Park, Minnesota, and Rogers, Minnesota. Kari has worked with Spirit and Truth Publishing as a writer and editor since 2015, She also serves as an editor for Faith+Lead Academy through Luther Seminary. Kari did her undergraduate work in Family Life Education and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and Management.
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