Thursday, May 12, 2022

CONFIRMATION: What do you believe and why do you believe it?

 Every year in the Lutheran church we confirm the faith of 14 year-olds and then nothing. We, essentially, tell them to repeat the answers we've given them and then tell us in public that they're willing to die for their faith in Christ because He died for them. It's been going on for centuries (beginning in the early Catholic church). 

The average life expectancy is 80 years today and the brain is fully developed at about age 25. Dr. Frances Jensen (2015, The Teenage Brain) tells us that the teenage brain is "like a brand new Ferrari. It's primed and pumped, but hasn't been road tested yet." In middle school their bodies release hormones and the brain has to learn how to deal with them. Their frontal lobe, the part that deals with executive functions and self-regulation, is the last part to develop. This area is the CEO of the brain. It's the manager of the other cognitive operations, deciding what to do when, dealing with planning, focusing attention, remembering instructions, and the ability to do multiple tasks. While the emotions are ready to run, the part of the brain that says, "Slow down, buddy, this may not be a good idea," is still under construction. 

Think about it this way. Children begin being able to think abstractly and logically in the middle school years, so it's a good time to start them thinking about faith (an abstract concept) issues. That's about (because brains don't all develop at the same rate) age 12. For the first 12 of their possible 80 years they're not ready to understand the complex issues talked about in the Bible, but can learn about it. We teach them stories and introduce them to God, Jesus, other people in the Bible, cultural issues, etc. (2021, The Art of Teaching the Faith: Preschool through Adult). Then, at 14 years-old (just 2 years later), we teach them the doctrine of the Christian faith (the 6 Chief Parts), have a big party about it, and then... nothing... for the next 66 years. 

I am not saying that we should do away with Confirmation. I'm saying that it's time we put it in perspective. It's time we realize what's going on in a 14 year-old's brain and life and not expect this to be their moment of great commitment. Fourteen years is the first 20% of an average life, of which 85% of that is too young. It's similar to expecting an 18 year old to decide what they want to do for the next 52 years of their life. Fortunately, changing your job doesn't affect your eternal life. 

My bigger question is this: How do you teach confirmation and what is your expectation of the outcome? How long do you expect them to remember what they've learned in 7th and 8th grade? In 2 years time, if a friend asks them whether or not the 10 Commandments are valid today, why we baptize babies, or how on earth we would believe the Lord's Supper contains Jesus' body and blood, how will they respond? If that friend then presses with, why do you believe that? Can they answer with anything other than, "I'm not really sure," or do we prefer "that's what my pastor told me." 

So, what do I mean when I say we should put it in perspective? 

  • Do not assume that memorizing the catechism or all the right answers will stick with them the rest of their lives... or even until they graduate high school. 
  • Do not assume that kids who do well in confirmation class at 14 will have a faith that lasts 66 years. 
  • Do not assume that because the box is checked in the database that they've been confirmed, that they have any idea of what the Bible says or teaches. 
  • Without regular revisitation, most, if not all, will be forgotten sooner than you realize whether you have them write an essay, participate in a questioning night, or create a video, or not. 

What's the answer? It's not about starting earlier. It's about continuing through the 80% of their life that occurs after the age of 14. 

Some people will never want to learn more than they did in confirmation. Some will study and learn for the rest of their lives. You can't depend on people showing up for a class to review the 6 Chief Parts, especially the way we currently educate. A simple, easy to participate form of Confirmation review needs to be built into the regular life of your congregation, and no, friends, I do not mean that you should copy and paste sections of the catechism into the weekly bulletin. 

I'll post more about what that would look like next time. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

CONFIRMATION: Time to change how you teach confirmation? Probably.

 In a new podcast I answer the question: Why should you change how you teach confirmation? There are some pretty compelling reasons to consider how you teach and how middle schoolers learn. Take a listen here. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

EDUCATION: Early Communion - 5th Grade

I wrote this workbook The Feast of Victory: Preparing for First Communion. for my husband who was asked by his church council to have a 5th grade first communion option for those parents who want to explore that possibility.

The Feast of Victory is a basic course on the Lord’s Supper for those who are interested in participating in the Sacrament earlier than eighth grade confirmation. It is designed for students in 5th grade and includes text, Bible readings, thoughtful questions, family discussion questions, and a quick quiz at the end of each lesson. It also has a certificate at the end that the pastor can fill out for each student. The information is told in a narrative fashion with Scripture and thoughtful questions, leading students to an understanding of the mysterious Sacrament. Lessons can be read and understood easily and can be taught by the pastor or by the parent.

The workbook begins at the beginning, explaining to students why we need a Savior in the first place and moves forward to the purpose and gifts of the Lord’s Supper. There 6 lessons which are:

Lesson 1 – The Fall: Why We need a Savior
Lesson 2 – The Law: Why We Cannot Save Ourselves
Lesson 3 – The Gospel: God’s Plan to Save Us
Lesson 4 – The Meal: How God Nourishes Us
Lesson 5 – The Exam: How We Prepare
Lesson 6 – The Gifts: How We Are Blessed

Taught by the Pastor
The pastor can walk and talk students through the workbooks, asking questions and completing both the discussion questions and brief quizzes at the end of each lesson, which can be done orally or written. The workbook can be completed in as many sessions as the pastor deems necessary. Each child needs their own workbook. The final quiz is best given orally by the pastor to show confidence in understanding. After the final quiz the certificate at the end of the book can be signed with confidence that the student is ready for participation in the Lord’s Supper.

Taught by the Parent
The pastor can have a parent walk and talk their child through the workbook, discussing the questions and checking the quizzes at the end of each lesson. Quizzes may be written or oral. They should also meet with the pastor either one family at a time, or all together once or twice to have questions answered or problems discussed, and understanding assessed; the number of meetings to be determined by the pastor. In this case either the child or both the parent and child could have a workbook or the parent can be given the leader’s book with answers. It can be very valuable for parents to have to work through the questions with their child as a refresher as well. In this case the pastor would give the final quiz (oral or written) and the certificate at the end of the book can be signed with confidence that the student is ready for participation in the Lord’s Supper (and the parents have had a great review as well).

I also created a parent packet which includes a letter introducing the option and questions parents can ask their children to assess whether or not their child is ready for early communion, as well as a description of the process. If you're interested in those document, feel free to contact me and I can email them to you. 

Watch the video below to learn a little bit more about the workbook.

Monday, January 31, 2022

YOUTH: What's the purpose of a youth group?

Someone recently asked me, "What's the purpose of a youth group?" 

People have been asking this for years, and the answer may seem obvious. A CHURCH youth group must include worship, prayer, Bible study or faith education, discipleship, and fellowship. After all, it's not a club. It's not just a place for kids to get together and "hang." Our main goal is that they grow in knowledge of God's word and that their faith grow and strengthen so that when they get out in the world they can confidently answer two questions: 

      • What do you believe? 
      • Why do you believe it?

The challenge is to make it a place that teens want to be so that we can educate and challenge their faith in a way that encourages spiritual growth. This is why I spend so much time writing about knowing what's going on in the hearts and minds of kids. It helps us know how to equip and encourage them in the faith. 

So, what's most important to teens?  The answer is much simpler than it is to make it happen. At that time of life everything is about belonging. Beginning in about 5th-6th grade kids develop a strong inner drive to belong to a group. They've got hormones raging around inside them pushing them, they're brain is heavier on emotion than reason, and how they see themselves is highly dependent on how their peers see them. Girls are looking for a best friend or a few best friends, and guys are looking for their "squad." A teenager's life is all about social connections, being with friends, and "hanging out." Given the chance they would not go to school. Not one of them gets up every morning excited to go to school and learn Algebra 2 or Biology, even though they may enjoy those classes. They get up excited to see their friends and hear the latest social information. They are social creatures. It's their basic need and it's a challenge to have an effect on someone whose basic needs aren't met. 

A teenagers basic need is belonging. They will choose the group that accepts them no matter what the values of that group are, so, one of my primary purposes is to provide that group where they can feel safe, valued, wanted, and connected; with Jesus at the center. What does this mean? It means that your goals and their goals are different, and that's okay. 

Knowing that teenagers' goals are social and focus on belonging (and knowing that an adult is not the best answer to that), we understand and work with it. Some people think that youth group should be fun over everything in order to keep them coming, but coming for what? This is not a social club. It's an intentional social club with the intent of Bible education and faith growth. In spite of what they want, we have a much broader and more important goal; looking toward their eternal life and not just this one. When they leave your church to go out into the big mean world, as Christians we want them to be confident in their faith because the world will eat away at any faith they have.  

Honestly, ALL people want to feel they belong somewhere to a degree, but in the teen years it's very strong. So, what happens after high school? They continue to look for that group, but they're out in the world now. EVERY church near a college or university should keep that in mind. Create a ministry to connect your high school graduates to a Christian group if they leave town. That's why we need a men's ministry, a women's group, and opportunities for children and families to be encouraged and stay connected in the faith. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere. Everyone needs to have someone they feel safe talking to about life issues. Everyone needs friends and it's hard to hug a computer. 

For more about teaching the faith to teens in a way that touches on their social needs, see The Art of Teaching the Faith

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

EDUCATION: Bible News is now available!

My congregation had the wonderful opportunity to read the Bible in chronological order this past year and many succeeded. In order to make things less confusing for them I created the BIBLE NEWS for all 66 books. There is so much information that we don't have when we start reading the Bible; especially the Old Testament. There are all kinds of commonly used terms that we aren't familiar with, ancient Hebrew poetry (what's up with that?), themes that span the whole Bible that we should be looking for, common misconceptions, and situations with the prophets that we don't know. This information definitely deepens our understanding as we read. Researching and writing them was a great blessing to me and I hope they are to all who use them as well. Interested?

Friday, January 7, 2022

PODCAST: 3rd Graders - Ready? Set? Teach the Faith!

 Introducing BIBLE INQUIRY!! If you know a parent or teacher who wants to know how to effectively teach the faith to 3rd graders? Here you go! Episode 9 of To Cause to Learn: Effective Teaching in the Church.