Tag Archives: Apostles Creed

How Is Community Possible? A Note from Nouwen

In 2,000 years of church history, you will find an ebb and flow of opportunities seized and opportunities lost. While church history is often a study in fracture – who split from whom, when, and why – nevertheless, it remains remarkable that community is found even today among drastically different people. An illustrative moment comes to mind: a few years ago, a friend – a Methodist leader – found herself meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican. How much may change over 500 years.

If those of us in the United States can allow ourselves to be invited to take off our America-centric lenses for a moment, we have an opportunity to receive awe. Christians are worshiping together in Japan; Nigeria (where some recently have died due to their faith); Brazil; Nepal; Russia; Egypt; Switzerland; India; China; and a host of other countries. Just from this handful of examples, we know that China and Japan have a quite painful recent history with each other; but there are followers of Jesus in China, and followers of Jesus in Japan. Week after week, genuine believers gather in community in person (or virtually) to worship, hear Scripture, pray.

We believe in the holy catholic (universal) church, and the communion of saints. The global church is astounding in its breadth, diversity, and liveliness. Within the global church, the Wesleyan Methodist branch of the family tree is also astounding in its breadth, diversity, and liveliness – 80 Wesleyan Methodist denominations with over 80 million members in over 130 countries. Differences may remain, and yet community is also celebrated every five years at the World Methodist Conference, embodied in a procession of flags as representatives enter beaming.

How is community possible? Is it, perhaps, easier to interact with Christians from other nations who are a bit removed from more local controversy? Not always; iron sharpens iron, and sometimes believers outside of our own culture see clearly through our blind spots.

The truth is that the Christian faith has never approached community as possible solely in the confines of an echo chamber. The Holy Spirit destroys feedback loops; if we quench the Spirit, we lose our saltiness. Scripture burns; affirming the Creed tugs us into alignment; the Eucharist keeps us all beggars in a bread line; works of mercy force us to learn names, not just repeat talking points. If you approach community as a customer or a food critic, you will be hard-pressed to find it.

Like a virus, loneliness has grown to epidemic proportions. When an actual virus hit, the two collided. What does community look like when tent-pole communal rituals have to be put on pause? (What does community look like when there is significant difference in risk assessment among believers who have life insurance and health insurance, and those who don’t?) Rituals imbue time and gathering with layered symbols and actions that carry meaning far beyond the immediate and literal. When you and I lose rituals – from physically attending funerals to casually lingering in a store aisle, slowly browsing and picking up greeting cards – these actions, big and small, that mark our days and moor our identity are lost.

Who are we?

We are servants; we are the younger siblings of our sisters and brothers in Christ, who are leading believers through time zones and hemispheres and governments and languages and cultures. We are people of the Way, which means we do not belong to ourselves.

The late Henri Nouwen, a Catholic brother in the faith, lent his contemplative insight on community and solitude with these words:

“Community, like solitude, is primarily a quality of the heart. While it remains true that we will never know what community is if we never come together in one place, community does not necessarily mean being physically together. We can well live in community while being physically alone. In such a situation, we can act freely, speak honestly, and suffer patiently, because of the intimate bond of love that unites us with others even when time and place separate us from them. The community of love stretches out not only beyond the boundaries of countries and continents but also beyond the boundaries of decades and centuries. Not only the awareness of those who are far away but also the memory of those who lived long ago can lead us into a healing, sustaining, and guiding community. The space for God in community transcends all limits of time and place.

Thus the discipline of community frees us to go wherever the Spirit guides us, even to places we would rather not go. This is the real Pentecost experience. When the Spirit descended on the disciples huddled together in fear, they were set free to move out of their closed room into the world. As long as they were assembled in fear they did not yet form community. But when they had received the Spirit, they became a body of free people who could stay in communion with each other even when they were as far from each other as Rome is from Jerusalem. Thus, when it is the Spirit of God and not fear that unites us in community, no distance of time or place can separate us.”

Henri Nouwen, excerpt from Making All Things New in My Sister, My Brother: Life Together in Christ, p. 49

Who are we? You and I are called to be Pentecost people, shaped not by national affiliation but by the holy catholic church, and the communion of saints. You and I are called to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us individually and in us as a community, whether gathered or scattered makes no difference. You and I are called to train our eyes and our hearts and minds to see that, “the community of love stretches out not only beyond the boundaries of countries and continents but also beyond the boundaries of decades and centuries.” This is no Sophomore crush love; it is the self-giving, pelican love of the Trinity that makes all things new, thunders and whispers, and loves us too much to let us stay small in our hearts, small in our holy imagination, small in our words, loves, and actions.

Featured image courtesy Simone Busatto on Unsplash.

Wesleyan Accent ~ Soul Posture for the Socially Distanced

Among many angles of spiritual formation during societal and global upheaval, these reflections from church leaders examine dynamics like community disruption and anxiety; the illusion of security in leadership best practices; pastoral wisdom from the Congo; and a community guide for praying during pandemic.


Disruption, Solitude, Anxiety

How is it with your soul right now? Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford, Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator for the Great Plains Conference of The United Methodist Church, took to social media to encourage reflection on the state of our hearts. She writes,

“The chaos of the external world means we’re all going to be staying home more in the weeks ahead. That’s perhaps a bit of a scary thing-not to mention that for many, that means loss of income and loss of essential connection with others. Is there a gift in the disruption of our rhythms? I absolutely believe there is, but it will not be easy. Thinking about those most financially fragile and finding ways to cultivate hospitality and generosity in this time will require something of us.

Not to mention that we’re likely going to be alone with our own thoughts a bit more. Solitude and silence as spiritual practices are the best teachers, but it can take a while to make friends with them. These new disruptions and the anxiety they produce tempt us into creating a hurry of a different sort.

But I’m convinced that this season of cancellations and more time on our hands-even though it’s most unwelcome-has a gift for us.”

Rev. Crawford’s insights on disruption, anxiety, community, and mindfulness are a timely call to lean into silence, or solitude, or self-awareness.

Deepening Character when Strategy Implodes

Meanwhile a gripping narrative has emerged from The Wesleyan Church, pivoting from personal quarantine to profound reflection. Rev. Ben Ward, Asia-Pacific Area Director and Director of Development and Communication for Global Partners, discusses imploding plans and emerging realization:

“On March 9, I was issued a home quarantine order from the Ministry of Health here in Singapore. This means I essentially can’t leave my bedroom for the next eight days. I was on a flight from Istanbul to Singapore on March 3. Apparently, a fellow traveler developed COVID-19 symptoms on the flight. The government began contact tracing to identify those who had close contact with the passenger, issuing quarantine orders. They tracked me down.”

Aside from the personal impact, Ward goes on to share the frustration of watching teams sent home and cancelling a major event that had taken months of resources and planning. With gracious transparency, he teases out a moment of clarity:

“Beyond the inconvenience the Coronavirus has created for me, it is also causing me to rethink what effective Christian leadership looks like.

I used to think an effective leader set a plan and then implemented that plan no matter what circumstances arose. Thinking through scenarios that could derail the plan and creating contingencies were essential leadership practices. If unforeseen events occurred and derailed the plan — well then, the leader must not have planned well enough.

But no one saw the Coronavirus coming. My best-laid plans were shipwrecked.

Ward goes on to share the keen awareness that,

“Planning is harder in the majority world than in the developed world. My Christian sisters and brothers in developing contexts have many more variables to consider that can derail their plans. I have enjoyed more stability than the majority of the world’s inhabitants. I repent of my arrogance, for thinking my hyper-planned-out approach to life is superior. I have more grace for my colleagues who keep loving, learning and leading in contexts marked by uncertainty and instability.”

He concludes with a sharp call to new perspective: “the thwarting of strategy is an invitation for God to do a deeper work of character.” (Click here to read Rev. Ward’s piece in its entirety.) What a beautiful posture toward spiritual formation when our best-laid plans go out the window.

When Lent Means Fasting from Easter 

Over the weekend I saw comments online wryly expressing that people hadn’t meant to give up quite this much for Lent. Today (March 16), tired pastors woke up to new CDC recommendations for the next eight weeks and realized that Sunday gatherings may be suspended over Easter. When I saw the comments on fasting and Lent, a memory stirred: last spring, Rev. Carolyn Moore asked me to write for her series on the Lordship of Christ, and I sent her “Jesus is Lord of the Valleys,” which expressly calls out what happens to fasting and Lent during upheaval, unpredictability, and loss. I wrote,

“Out of the corner of our eye, we have peripheral awareness of how close to being faith consumers we really are. We choose to go to a conference so we can grow spiritually. We choose to show up to Bible study so we can grow spiritually. We choose to read a book so we can cry or become more efficient or grow spiritually.

We choose.

We choose the parameters of our growth. Where we next discern/feel/think that God is leading us. What we will “give up” for Lent.  The problem is the insidious mindset that is entangled in our approach to faith: that we set the table, invite the guests, and choose the menu of our own spiritual growth. That we can choose what outcomes we want to see in our spiritual life. That we control how we want to be made Christlike. Lent changed from practices I chose to something outside my control, and I didn’t like it.

God allowed my chosen self-denial to be replaced with real desperation. I can’t guarantee you stability in this life. I can’t guarantee you won’t face tragedy. I can witness to the goodness of God, though…”

When the shape of spiritual formation is taken out of our hands – what is left? Grabbing onto Christ, proclaiming the goodness of God.


Shared Prayer Guide for the Coronavirus Season

As we see the season of Lent turned inside-out, one way to witness to the goodness of God is through the discipline of shared prayer. Early on Rev. Pete Grieg shared a prayer resource as a community guide for praying about the impact of Covid-19. At the time, the likelihood of Coronavirus disruption had barely punctured American consciousness, but Grieg is quite in touch with global developments – the 24/7 prayer movement he helped to found stretches around the world. What seemed a bit early was, in retrospect, very timely: a lesson in itself perhaps. (Checking the calendar, “a bit early” in reality was just a week and a half ago.) Here is an excerpt:

“JEHOVAH SHALOM, Lord of Peace, we remember those living in Coronavirus hotspots. May they know your presence in their isolation, your peace in their turmoil and your patience in their waiting. Prince of Peace, you are powerful and merciful; let this be their prayer – ‘May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Saviour, for the glory of your name.’ (Ps 79:8)

JEHOVAH RAPHA, God who heals, we pray for all medical professionals dealing daily with the intense added pressures of this crisis. Grant them resilience in weariness, discernment in diagnosis, and compassion upon compassion as they care. We thank you for the army of researchers cooperating towards a cure – give them clarity, serendipity and unexpected breakthroughs we pray. Rise Sun of righteousness, above this present darkness with healing in your rays. You are powerful and merciful; may this be our prayer – ‘Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.’ (Jer 32:17)

(Click here for downloadable slides for the entirety of this excellent prayer guide to use in community prayer – even if praying together occurs in virtual worship, and not in person.)

Spiritual Formation Lived in Shared Membership Vows

For congregations, Rev. Andy Stoddard reinforces community spiritual formation through the lens of membership vows, organizing congregational communication and resources through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, with resources linked in each. He writes,

“There’s an old hymn of the church that reminds us: “The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” We all believe that, we all know that, but in a season of “social distancing” it can be really hard for us to remember what it means to be connected.  That, in many ways, is my worst fear. We need each other.  And we need the church.  The church will continue to be at work, and we each can continue to do our part, and remember vows that we made on joining the church. In this time, in this moment, we continue to need God and need each other.  I love our memberships vows, and I believe that in this time, as we keep faithful with our prayers, presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness, these vows will hold us together more and more.  I want to share some useful resources that can help you and me live into our calling in this and every season. This will be a growing list in the days to come.”

What a great way to order posture for the days to come: to remind people of who they are, what they have committed together, and who the church will continue to be.

When Prudence and Cooperation Are Spiritual Formation: Wisdom from the Congo

Often community is pictured locally; but people of faith constantly affirm the unity of the global church. We are part of a local-global connection tying us to believers around the world. We all follow Jesus: it’s that simple.

While weighing the challenges of Coronavirus-related restrictions, Rev. Beth Ann Cook reached out to a clergy friend from the Democratic Republic of Congo; he has pastored people, “in the midst of war, economic and political unrest, and a cholera epidemic.” She expressed, “I was so very grateful to be able to ask, ‘what do I do?’” He responded,

“In such a situation we ask people not to panic but to be prudent.

Help people as Christians to turn our faces to God in prayer and ask for his wisdom to face the situation.

Mobilize the community and congregation to follow instructions given by health authorities.

Develop an excellent communication network.”

The posture suggested by a pastor who has led during war, economic dives, and cholera? Be prudent rather than panic; help people turn to God in prayer and to pray for God’s wisdom; use influence in your region and congregation to follow health authorities; and invest in a strong communication network.

If energy spent in helping people to be a non-anxious, careful presence or promoting health authority protocol seems separate from spiritual formation, it’s not. Centuries ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to Christ followers on the edge of the Mediterranean, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As we form and grow, Paul – and a pastor from the Congo – remind us of the value of practicing mental habits and choices that the Holy Spirit can empower and illumine: in the middle of difficult circumstances, we can take joy, let gentleness be evident to everyone, resist the nagging call of anxiety, and in every situation, present our requests to God through prayer with gratitude. These postures are both individual and communal, hammered out personally and corporately.

In Matthew 22, we read, “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Building a posture of humility includes mindfulness about Christians’ presence and witness in “the public square.” In times of outbreak, a response of simple humility might be, “of course we may have the right to do something, but we love our neighbors with the sacrificial love God has shown for all of us, and our actions must not ever be only about our own interests, real or perceived. And for the sake of our congregation and our community, we happily submit to anything that does not require us to deny Christ. We can easily worship Christ in our homes just as easily as we can in one building. We have nothing to fear by worshiping at home and serving safely wherever we can.”

The Discomfort of Spiritual Growth in an Outbreak: Wisdom from the 1500’s

About two weeks ago, Wesleyan Accent shared an adapted piece written during the Ebola outbreak, on Martin Luther’s pastoral responses to contagion in the form of the plague. People of faith don’t only have global connections during crisis; we affirm in the Creed, “we believe in the communion of saints…” The Body of Christ stretches across space and time and sometimes there is wisdom to be found from voices through the centuries.

“Even if people are accustomed to relative health and ease – or especially if they are – it is impossible to insulate any life from certain realities: illness, vulnerability, lack of control, mortality. Pastoral care during outbreaks is in part the quiet calming of deep existential fears usually ignored, avoided, or drowned out by many people in the Western world.

In addition to taking sensible precautions and exercising common sense and good cheer, we can outfit ourselves with wisdom from church history. Perspective is never so valuable as in a time of panic, warranted or unwarranted or somewhere in between. So let’s inoculate ourselves against denial, on one hand, and fear, on the other, with a visit to the Book of Common Prayer and a cantankerous German monk, Martin Luther.”

Luther gives counsel on the shape of prayer in the face of contagion; he offers frank advice on the social and ethical responsibilities of serving others if it puts you at risk; and he comments on pragmatic angles of dying well – a deeply ignored element of spiritual formation in the U.S. Despite the difference in what we now know of disease spread, a great deal of his insight translates remarkably well – and sometimes with unexpected kindness toward those who feel themselves faltering.

A Note to Tired Pastors

There are times that church leaders are tempted to grow discouraged; we know how much energy ministry can take when things are going well; will people turn toward their faith if there is no Sunday gathering, if the activity calendar suddenly goes silent? But activity and spiritual growth are two different things.

The question of whether people will grow or wilt may be thrown into clearer relief when business as usual is disrupted; but it’s not a new question, it’s an old question. And there is nothing that pastors have ever been able to do to guarantee that the people who often sit in the pews will push deeper into their faith in moments of chaos.

Fear that people will fall away from church because a time of outbreak occurs is the same fear that a person will fall away from faith because of a cancer diagnosis. We cannot inoculate believers from loss, challenge, or hardship. Some people may have casually engaged with faith communities, and they will become more invested, more active – they may even discover a call to ministry through this time. Others may have casually engaged with faith communities, and they will become less invested, less active – their belief may diminish in the face of self-preservation or trauma.

In your work to strengthen communications, encourage prudence over panic, support health initiatives, and lead into deep and regular prayer, be at peace. Do your best to support spiritual formation in the face of quarantine, and trust that while the congregation may look different when all is said and done, you will have new and more reasons to witness to the goodness of God than you can imagine right now. The well-being of your congregation and community is not all on your shoulders; so commit with boldness to stretches of rest, and let your spirit be formed.

JR Forasteros ~ Can People Change? I Believe in the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the God who gives us new life. To believe in the Spirit is to commit not to try to change people (because we can’t…only God can). 

We love each other by holding space for people to feel safe enough to be honest with us, with themselves and with God.  Faith is not self-help: only God can really change us.  


Note from the Editor: Click below to listen to the audio of this sermon on the Holy Spirit by Rev. JR Forasteros, preached on August 6th, 2017 at Catalyst Community Church, a Nazarene congregation in Rowlett, Texas. 

Omar Rikabi ~ He Descended into Hell: Why Death Matters

Note from the Editor: It is rare to find sermons on one line of the Apostle’s Creed that frequently is cut from the weekly recitation: “he descended into hell.” Yet that line is the parallel to the confession that Christ “ascended into heaven.” 

 If you’ve ever been caught by surprise mid-Creed by the inclusion of the mysterious affirmation, we encourage you to listen this sermon preached at FUMC Heath by Rev. Omar Rikabi. 





Tom Fuerst ~ I Pledge Allegiance to…Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son, Our Lord

For the last year, my wife and I have sent our son at least one day a week to a local church’s preschool program, where they work with him on his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers. At times he even comes home having learned important Bible stories. But at his graduation ceremony two nights ago, I realized he’s picked up a few other things, as well.

During the ceremony, the graduating preschools performed several songs, danced down the aisles, received rewards, recited poetry, and at one point they recited The Pledge of Allegiance together.

On some level, reciting The Pledge of Allegiance probably seems as benign to most people as reciting poetry and singing songs. Most of us grew up saying The Pledge of Allegiance each morning in school, a normal, ehem, liturgical aspect of the day. But when my son, together with his classmates, recited The Pledge of Allegiance together at a Christian preschool, something occurred to me. My son doesn’t know the Apostle’s Creed, but he can recite The Pledge of Allegiance without thinking about it.

This wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’d gone to a secular preschool. It didn’t surprise me when my daughter could say The Pledge of Allegiance after her first week of kindergarten in a public school. It also wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we’d sent him to a Baptist or Pentecostal preschool, as they’re largely non-Creedal denominations. But the preschool my son has attended the last year is part of a mainline Protestant tradition where the Apostle’s Creed is a historic and contemporary part of the church’s liturgy.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am also responsible for my son not knowing the Apostle’s Creed. We pray together and sing praise songs together each night, but I have not taught him the Creed.

Still, watching my son recite The Pledge of Allegiance, I couldn’t help but ask several questions. In what world are we living in where a church feels teaching children The Pledge of Allegiance is more important than teaching them the Apostle’s Creed? Is our nationalism so embedded within our church culture that we don’t even think twice about teaching our children it’s their citizen’s duty to pledge allegiance to America instead of spending the little time we have with them teaching them what kingdom beliefs look like? Why would a church institution think reinforcing nationalism is of higher value than teaching the basic historical beliefs of the church?

By teaching my child to pledge allegiance to America, by teaching him to physically place his hand over his heart (a symbol of allegiance in the deepest part of our being), we assume that our nation ought to be our highest allegiance, well deserving of our praise, and, indeed, our lives. We reinforce the idea so prevalent in American culture that religion is this privatized preference while nationalism is a public debt we all owe.

And while I love my country and the privileges of living in this country, I don’t think the claim that our nation should have our allegiance is beyond question. I don’t think it’s a simple “given” that we should indoctrinate our children with the values and liturgies of the state when they haven’t first learned the political and social resistance offered in the Apostle’s Creed.

I understand we think teaching our children The Pledge of Allegiance is religiously benign. But I don’t think we’ve thought it through (there’s a reason so many people want to keep “under God” in the thing – they see the entire piece as a religious affirmation, while ignoring that the “God” represented by the phrase is ambiguous and lacks definition). Further, we don’t realize that oaths or affirmation of commitment like the Pledge actually form us, shape our character, and even direct our worship.

But maybe most telling of all is that we don’t realize how counter-cultural, anti-imperial, and politically subversive the Apostle’s Creed is. Maybe worst of all is that people are bored with the Apostle’s Creed, while they’re willing to pay millions of dollars to protect the amorphous “under God” in the Pledge. But let me take just a moment to show you how the Apostle’s Creed challenges all human political machinery.

When we say the Apostle’s Creed, we announce to the world that we believe the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth, His Son Jesus Christ (a crucified Lord), and the indwelling Holy Spirit who resurrects the dead, is the only One to whom the church owes its ultimate allegiance.

By claiming that the Father created the world, we announce that our nation, our existence, and our freedoms are not ultimately created or sustained human will.

By claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, we state definitively that he rules us, and therefore no nation, governmental structure, or ruler can demand our allegiance.

By stating that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, we announce to the world that governmental power and allegiance are always a threat to the Christian faith, and the closer we are tied to that governmental power, the less we are tied to Christ.

By claiming that Jesus resurrected from the dead, we announce to the world that neither death – nor those who wield death – can hold us or demand anything from us, be it our allegiance or our lives.

By claiming that Christ ascended into heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand, we announce that he, and he alone, is the rightful ruler of the world, and therefore any temporal nation-state, like ours, claiming we owe it allegiance asks something from us which it has no right to ask, and asks from us something we have no right to give to anyone other than Christ.

By claiming that the church is “one,” we announce that the church throughout time and space (that is, geographic location…i.e. nations) is united, not by some abstracted idea of freedom, but by the Holy Spirit who liberates us from the claims of human structures and governments.

We announce in the Creed each week that the church’s primary human allegiances are not with fellow citizens of America, but with brothers and sisters of faith across geo-political boundaries.

By saying we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we do not just state a belief that God has forgiven us, but that God has empowered us to forgive others, including those who live on the other side of the trenches.

In our affirmation of the communion of saints, we assert that we have Holy Spirit empowered connections across cultures, races, political agendas, and national boundaries.

And by stating our belief in eternal life, we maintain that God’s politics and people will out-survive the temporal nation in which we live.

The Apostle’s Creed is nothing short of politically subversive. It challenges The Pledge of Allegiance. And its Triune structure and Christ-centeredness surpasses the oblong blur of a deity represented by the phrase “one nation under God.”

Saying The Pledge of Allegiance is not a Christian virtue or requirement. In fact, I think a case could be made that Christians shouldn’t say it at all (but I’ll not place that rule on everyone). Nevertheless, there’s something amiss in the assumption that it’s more important for a church school to teach my son The Pledge of Allegiance than to teach him the counter-liturgy of the Apostle’s Creed.

I’m not angry as I write these things. But I’m not surprised either. And that’s probably what bothers me most. How are we not surprised when the church feels it’s our job to reinforce nationalist identity? Why do we just automatically assume the two go together? Do we not realize how repugnant this idea would have seemed to Jesus and his earliest followers?

Certainly, some will disagree with me in this post. I’m genuinely okay with that. But I’m not comfortable with an assumed allegiance to a human institution. I’m not okay with the church treating the nation almost like a divine entity. I’m not okay with my kid ingesting nationalist identity without him first having the tools to resist it, challenge it, subvert it, and offer alternatives to it. Clearly, I’ve got some work to do.

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).