Take a journey with me back into time. Now for some of you, this trip will take a lot longer. Think back to the day after your high school graduation. Once all the parties had ended, you and your classmates then began the process of discovery. Questions abounded about the next chapter in our lives.?
Why Did You Abandon Me?
For some who had already made a decision as to which college, if any, was selected, their arrangements for that transition were in full swing. For others, life would be filled with uncertainty and desert wanderings. At some point, many of us, over time, would find our way, discover our path, and settle into a career. Many would start a family and build a new community. But those years after high school where difficult. The post-high school years were filled with much change and loss. There were lost friends, loss of community, and loss to some degree of innocence. It was a shock to the system to leave the relative safety of high school to find yourself thrust into the world now labeled as a young adult.
Imagine that same feeling but after eighth-grade. You have finished your spiritual journey, or so it seems. Youth experience a sense of loss after confirmation. When I asked some people who work with youth, what is the most significant challenge they face in youth ministry. Here are some of their responses.
- “The biggest challenge I think we are facing is that students see confirmation, and here at St. Mark’s, communion, as the carrot at the end of the stick. It’s that “graduation type” thing that they have to do, and once it’s done, they think the engagement with the church is over. We’ve been working hard on finding a way to build relationships between our confirmation age students and that post-confirmation to help those younger students see a reason to keep engaged. That reason simply being an authentic Christ-centered community with their friends and peers.”
- “The primary challenge is meeting the individual’s value for long-term faith development. Parents are a factor in the long-term development. There has been a perception of confirmation equating to spiritual achievement. Many parents, who experienced the process, buy into the need for their child to make this rite of passage. However, for the student and the parent alike, I believe confirmation has failed to instill the value of individual long-term faith development. Our congregations are perpetuating the value of cheap grace through its inability to step away from the programs and focus the programs on personal, individual faith development.”
- “Post confirmation, even pre-confirmation in a small rural town here, a smaller congregation – we have about ten middle-school age youth from a variety of schools, and this is a struggle. Parents are somewhat engaged, but the youth are disconnected. Some seem tired from their schedules with school/sports; we have spent a couple of years now studying this and considering how to keep them. We are looking at engaging them in the whole church instead of separate activities,
preparing them for larger events such as servant events or youth gatherings by connecting youth to adults for longer relationships; exploring and planning how to start mentoring relationships. And exploring how they build relationships through confirmation.”
What the church is experiencing with youth today is the same way I felt after confirmation over 40-years ago. What I missed during my most challenging time of transition was, my church. My church, after confirmation, abandoned me. There was no room for my friends and me. There were no programs for us, and I just assumed after the instruction that I was a mature disciple ready now to take on a leadership role in God’s kingdom, the problem was there was no position nor opportunities to lead. No one showed us how to refine, develop and use our God-given gifts to serve God and His kingdom. The church sent an unmistakable message, “You are the future. It is our time now! Your time will come. Come back, when you are all grown up.” Sadly, one by one my confirmation class attendees dropped out. Some I have not seen since eighth-grade. I get the sense from when I visit churches that this feeling was not my reality alone.
We Need a Shift from Ministry as Usual.
If you have followed my blog long enough, you know that I can’t leave you feeling all of this is hopeless. What needs to happen is a shift from ministry as usual. We need to see confirmation as a process, not a singular time anomaly. What is the way forward? How we view youth and their role in the kingdom now, will determine how we can stop the backdoor losses. Here are some titanic shifts in thinking my readers have suggested.
- “Post High school groups: Many of the groups I have developed and facilitated always seemed to miss the mark. The groups would feel forced, unoriginal, and not authentic. With that said, there was a strong personal commitment to make the group more than what really it was proving to be. This age group was found to be more engaged in doing. Many of my best volunteers have come from this age group. This age has a desire to experience a lived-out faith rather than a talked about faith. In this age group, I have also found some of the deeper conversations about how faith is applied to our daily walk. This has happened in a relational way that is limited by group process.”
- “At Lord of Life, we confirm young adults when they were ready and not in a large group of eighth-graders. My last Sunday there I “confirmed” two high school students who shared their testimonies. Doing it this way meant we had “confirmation” on an ongoing basis through the year. It is a great witness to members! By doing confirmation as a group (eighth-grade), we often make an assumption that all are ready and that this is a terminal point in their Christian life when in reality it is only the beginning! Specific ministries are always necessary since discipleship is a life-long process.”
It’s all about relationships. What keeps youth and their parents engaged in the life and ministry of the church is authentic, meaning relationships, first with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and then with His saints. We were built to live life in a community.
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