II have a hunch that has been developing for about a year. It started when I was teaching confirmation last year, and began to take shape as all of those trend pieces and blogs were flying around about Millennials and the Church. I suspect that the Methodist tradition has a few ideas that would really make a difference in the faith formation of Millennials… if we can dust them off and present them in the right way. In particular, I think one of these ideas could be particularly helpful in Confirmation. But you’ll have to read on to see what it is…What is our Purpose?
Many of us have asked the question, “What should we include in the confirmation process?” Depending on who you ask, the answer can range from “a few meetings with the pastor” to an impossibly long list of activities, theological concepts, and lessons.
I wonder if a better place to start would be to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of the confirmation process?”
…I guess the easy answer is “to have youth become members of the church.”
But which church - The Church? The UMC? or this United Methodist church?
And for how long? Until they finish confirmation and “graduate” from Christian Education? Until they go off to college? I think most of us hope that we are forming lifelong United Methodist disciples. But is that what is really happening?
Remember that Pew Religious Landscape Survey that came out a few years ago, and told us that almost half of adults surveyed (44%) had switched to a religion or denomination different than the tradition in which she or he was raised?
That one statistic forced me to take a long look at what I believed about the purpose of Confirmation.
What does it mean for me to know that it is statistically likely my confirmands will change denominations? Or stray away from the church for a time - or maybe forever? Or even completely change religions?
I decided that my first priority in the confirmation process is to help students experience God’s love and develop relationships with people in the congregation.
These connections can help to help young people develop lasting relationships with their communities of faith. (See the Barna Study on 5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to the Church).
What is our Approach?
There are many different approaches to adolescent initiation.
We all know there are churches that practice believer’s Baptism, so when the person has an experience of coming to faith, she baptized.
Catholic Churches hold confirmation as a Sacrament. As such there is a great deal of preparation, but the emphasis tends to be on God’s grace working on the confirmand through the sacrament.
Thanks to the Reformation, Protestant denominations tend to have a catechistic approach to confirmation. In other words, our underlying assumption is that sound theology produces faithful Christians.
In addition, today’s theologians are starting to take developmental psychology into account - acknowledging that adolescents and young adults naturally wrestle with questions and doubts about faith, and that this is a perfect time to invite them to think theologically.
In practice we all want to have aspects of each approach, don’t we?
Our Mission as United Methodists
When it comes to our purpose in confirmation, I think our United Methodist mission statement is a good place to start:
Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
...Not for the survival of the UMC.
...Not to improve the giving in my church.
...Not even so that my confirmands will be good United Methodists.
For the transformation of the world.
In confirmation we invite young members of our congregations into discipleship.
In doing so we pray for their own faith to be kindled, because we want our young people to know the blessings of life with Christ. And because we want to pass on our faith tradition to the next generation. And because what better investment can we make for the transformation of the world than in our young people?
Young people totally want to change the world. And God totally wants to use them to do it.
Our Secret Weapon for Reaching Millennials
So the next question is, how do we invite young people deeper into discipleship? And for that matter, how do we do it effectively?
I think our Methodist heritage has a great framework for us here. In fact it’s such a great framework I’m a little ashamed that I didn’t think of it before now… the Quadrilateral!
Go ahead, roll your eyes at me. We’ve all sat through dry as dirt presentations on the importance Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason in Christian tradition.
But friends, we need to dust this idea off and start using it because I believe it is one of the best assets we have in reaching a world who thinks that as Christians we are against science, too simplistic and judgmental, and unfriendly to those who doubt. (Barna)
In my last confirmation program we devoted a a session to the Quadrilateral… and the students got really into it. We spent a little time talking about how John Wesley believed that those four sources of understanding were important, and that scripture was the foundation.
But we didn't just talk about the Quadrilateral, we practiced using it.
We let the students break into groups and pick topics to examine with the assistance of Bibles, concordances, the Social Principles, and smartphones (and adult leaders). We gave the students guidance, but not “the answers.” They got really into it!
I think there are two important reasons this experience was so meaningful to my students:
First, there are issues that really matter to young people as their faith develops, and they are often issues that we adults are hesitant to take on. My kids wanted to talk about those hot button issues, but we reframed them as theological issues (which they are, right?)
Second, young people thrive spiritually when they are encouraged to think theologically. Were you at Annual Conference two years ago when Adam Hamilton talked about being drawn to the UMC by The Book of Discipline? In the midst of struggle, the “answers” given to him by his Christian tradition were falling flat, and he was excited by the way we incorporate reason and experience into our faith.
The same is true of young people in our churches… if we haven’t taught them to think theologically their faith may not be robust enough to survive all of the doubt, questioning, and struggling that happens in adolescence and early adulthood (or the rest of adulthood for that matter).
The confirmation process is a critical time when we can prepare young people to transform the world with God’s love. What about your church? Have you had good experiences teaching the Quadrilateral? What part of your confirmation process seemed most meaningful?
Pecometh's Re:View Confirmation Retreat April 29 - May 1, 2016
This confirmation retreat is an opportunity for small confirmation classes to come together for an engaging retreat experience. The retreat is designed to incorporate Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason in an out-of-the-box setting.