There are several things that need little explanation in the Lutheran church. They just ARE. The youth are cooking Easter Breakfast? It just is. LWML mite boxes–they just are. Confirmation, for many years and for many churches, has been relegated into the category of a thing that just “is.”
Confirmation has been and is one of our best opportunities to teach our students and their families about our Christian faith and Lutheran heritage, but like many things, may need some tweaking to better fit the needs of the church today.
1. If confirmation is the only thing that kids are “required” to come to, it will be the only thing they come to.
Many of us in the Lutheran church are guilty of falling into the camp of “if you have it, they will come,” and this is especially true for confirmation. We all have stories of students we’ve never met before, who, on the first day of confirmation, sit down at the desk, attend church and confirmation faithfully for two or three years and never again attend youth events, church, etc. How do we prevent this from occurring?
This is no easy change. I do think it is very possible. Confirmation must be part of a lifelong faith development plan. If confirmation is the only intentional faith or education experience that we provide for families (other than Sunday school), they will treat it (and church) as such. There are many very good programs, such as Faith Legacy or Faith Stepping Stones, that provide a way for parents and families to make faith a natural part of the conversation from the very beginning, so that confirmation is seen as a part of it.
2. Confirmation, along with teaching doctrine, must also teach and encourage spiritual habits.
One of the most beneficial and challenging classes that I took during my undergraduate studies at Concordia Seward was the “confirmation” class. One of the things that was part of our homework was to memorize (or re-memorize) parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. I am embarrassed to say that our class failed spectacularly. I have a very vivid memory of our class shamefacedly mumbling the meaning of the first article in front of our professor, Mark Blanke. The lesson learned was that, while memorization has its place and time, it may not be the best instructional model for confirmation. (Please don’t fire me for saying that.)
Confirmation provides for us a wonderful and rare opportunity. For two or three years, we have malleable, wonderful, funny and captive students at our disposal. Using that time to help them think critically about their faith as well as develop lifelong habits (reading the Bible for personal growth, praying consistently, fasting, serving others) can only behoove them as they move into high school, college and adulthood.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is great value in teaching Luther’s Small Catechism and the six chief parts. It shouldn’t be the only thing we teach.
3. Confirmation should incorporate many different types of teaching–not just lecture format.
My confirmation experience was pretty standard. I met with my pastor and several other students once a week for two years. During our lesson time, we highlighted and underlined things in Luther’s Small Catechism while the pastor talked about it. The thing that I remember the most is playing flag football afterwards. It wasn’t until I was teaching confirmation myself that I revisited Luther’s Small Catechism and found it to be more than just a book that I doodled in.
There is a lot to learn and a lot that we want to teach during confirmation. That’s why it has been such a priority of our church tradition for so many years. However, for the lessons to connect with our students, they need more than just a lecture to impact them. It’s important. If this is the only time a student may hear this, we need to make sure that they leave understanding the message of Jesus, His love for us, the gifts of faith that He has given us in Baptism and Communion and how the other chief parts display how we live our lives as such. And that means that we can no longer rely solely on the lecture method.
Using art, small group discussion, activities, hands-on projects and videos help get across the lessons in ways that all students can understand. Yes, it does mean that it’s more work for us as instructors, but the pay-off–the fact that our students can articulate and express their faith and that they have a solid foundation of what it means to be a Lutheran follower of Jesus–is worth it.
4. Confirmation must involve more people than just the teachers and the students.
Confirmation is not free babysitting. Confirmation is not free babysitting. Confirmation is not free babysitting. Chap Clark, author of the book Hurt states that teens today are busier than ever and are more isolated from adults than ever before. This includes, but is not limited to, church activities.
Confirmation, for many years, has been a place that parents “send” their kids. For a long time, this model worked. However, according to Clark, it needs to change. Students need to be connected to people of all ages, walks of life and those who are in different stages in their faith life. Confirmation provides this opportunity. It is an excellent time to not only involve parents, but other faith leaders in the local congregation and community as well.
This also works in reverse. Many confirmands are required to acolyte as part of confirmation instruction, but there are many other ways that students can serve and connect with older members of the church. This is vital. Students, especially middle school students, need to understand their value as a part of the body of Christ. Serving with older adults helps students see that. Students can pair up with ushers or with members of the chancel; they can help lead Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. Middle School students often are willing and enthusiastic volunteers. If they are paired up with older members who can mentor and shape that experience for them, they will have a foundation for remaining connected to the church beyond confirmation.
Confirmation is a wonderful, rich part of our Lutheran Christian faith. But, there are some things that need to change. Our goal, as educators, teachers, parents, pastors and youth workers should be that, “with the help of God,” when students profess their faith in front of the congregation on Confirmation day, it is only part of their faith journey, not the entirety. That they can with confidence say that their faith “is most certainly true.”