Yesterday, Dr. Lisa Kimball, Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership and Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at VirginiaTheological Seminary, posted a reflection on youth confirmation as a catalyst for congregational development, which just made me want to stand up and cheer! We have always maintained that Confirm not Conform is a congregational development program, but have never been able to articulate that as well as Lisa did.
The thing is, when a church takes confirmation seriously, it will involve the whole congregation. When the whole congregation is involved, the whole congregation can grow. Think of that in comparison with a confirmation program where a group of kids is ensconced in a room with a pastor or teacher for a certain number of weeks, and brought out to be presented when they’re “ready,” or the bishop arrives, whichever comes first. With this kind of process, how has the congregation been challenged to grow? The congregation can only watch on passively.
With Confirm not Conform, we’ve tried to incorporate the whole congregation in the process. We pair youth with adult mentors who meet with them throughout their program. We’ve put youth up front as they sign a commitment pledge in front of their faith community, and the community agrees to stand with them. We’ve involved youth in the workings of the church by asking them to come up with a project, getting the buy in of the leadership, and involving the congregation. We developed CnC for Adults so that parents (and other adults) can learn and go through the process beside them. And we’ve invited youth to teach the congregation, sharing what they have learned and their own reflection on their faith.
We all want youth become leaders in their own congregation. But for that to happen, it’s important that the adult members of the congregation become aware of the fact that youth can be and are leaders. Without that crucial component, youth remain shut out and frustrated that their voices aren’t heard and their gifts are not put to good use. For adults to learn that lesson, they need to be part of the process. And in so doing, the whole congregation can be transformed.
Taking confirmation seriously means the whole congregation needs to take it seriously. And when we do that, congregations gain new life from within, which becomes energy that can be shared with their community and with the world.