Philip Tallon ~ Emerge from the Waters of Your Baptism: Investing in Confirmation
There aren’t many times in the life of the church where people sit down and say, “Please teach me doctrine.” As a theology nerd, I wish it would happen more. But it just doesn’t happen that much.
Now, this isn’t to say it never happens. In my ministry as a youth pastor I have students who are full of questions and are hungry for deeper answers. We’ll go out for chicken wings and spend hours talking about weighty matters. But these discussions over chicken wings don’t happen that often. Most of the time, our learning is set on cruise control. And the default speed isn’t that fast.
However, there is one time in the life of a family where almost everyone leans in and asks for some doctrinal training. There’s a time when they put the pedal down. And that’s confirmation.
Now, I don’t know about your confirmation, or what you do at your church, but growing up, confirmation felt like an afterthought. We met in the pastor’s office for a few weeks and he led us through some teachings. Then he took us in a van down to a district conference meeting where we sat through a few youth talks before he drove us back. It was cool for us to get face time with the pastor, but it didn’t feel cool to him. An unkind but not inaccurate word for the process would be “perfunctory.”
This is a problem. Because kids can sense when you aren’t that invested. They know you’re going through the motions. And I find that passion gets watered down in the transmission. If you want kids to care, you need to care twice or three times as much they do. You need to deliver passion concentrate.
So if you care at all about instilling some solid theology in your future church leaders, you should care about confirmation.
Now, I didn’t write this post to brag, but I’m pretty proud of what we do in student ministries at my church. Here’s what it looks like for us.
We do eight, hour-and-a-half sessions at the same time as our middle-school large-group meeting. The eight classes end with a fun weekend trip to a local camp.
The classes are a relaxed and rowdy atmosphere. We do games and have the groups compete against each other for points.
We partner our 10th-graders in the student ministry up with our 6th-graders. 10th graders act as big-brothers and sisters, bringing candy to confirmation class and going on the retreat as cabin leaders.
We’re very intentional about teaching through the basics systematically, biblically, and visually. Students are learning the full scope of the Apostle’s creed, how each article is rooted in scripture, and are given memorable visual hooks to help aid their comprehension.
We ask parents to help their students memorize scripture and study up for the following week. (This means confirmation is a ‘toofer,’ we get parents learning and engaging as well.)
That’s the how. Here’s the why.
INGRAINING: Confirmation is about catechesis, which means that students are called to ingrain Christian truth on their hearts and minds. This means that we’re making the students actually learn some stuff. They memorize scripture and learn the answers to specific catechetical questions. This is real Deuteronomy 6 kind of stuff. We’re doing what God commands us, to pass on this teaching about who He is to the next generation. And since we’ve found that our students are reluctant to bind Tefillin around their arms and foreheads, scripture memorization is necessary to get the content inside their heads.
EMERGING: Confirmation is also about initiation. It’s the final step in the baptismal process bringing them into full membership in the life of the church. The phrase we use for this at Christ Church is that confirmation is about “emerging from the the waters of your baptism.” This is helpful theologically because it grounds us in the infant baptismal tradition and makes good on the promise that the community made to nurture the child as part of Christ’s holy church. The metaphor is powerful in that it conveys the grace that our children have been swimming in this whole time, extending, in a sense, the baptismal moment until the present. But it also conveys upon our sixth-graders the notion that they have to emerge, dry off, and join in – or else they’ll simply drown. Now is the time to begin to take responsibility. By pushing parents and students to seriously study during confirmation, dedicating time and brain bytes to memorizing scripture, we’re not only talking about the importance of responsibility, but also giving them a chance to embody it.
I would encourage all pastors and youth leaders to dig into confirmation. Make it fun. And make it serious.
It’s worth it.
Also, of course, it’s commanded (Mt. 28:20).