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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment