We began Holy Week today with little ones waving palm branches as they made their way toward the altar, followed by 11 young men and women ready to make their confirmation vows to God—vows to follow Christ even unto death, to hear His Word regularly and to take His Supper faithfully. I was teary eyed from start to finish, listening to a group of young people articulate their faith with boldness and love.
75% of high school Christians leave the Church during college, a good many never to return. American Christianity seems to be failing at handing down the faith to the next generation. And by American Christianity, I mean you, me, our parents, our pastors, and our lay people. The statistics are startling and it seems that our answer to the growing mass exodus of our youth is to try to keep them around with activities, entertainment, music, and the like. In other words, we have often tried to keep them in the faith by serving up everything they can already get from the culture. Except that the culture does culture better than the Church.
What they really need from the Church are the things they can only get from the Church—confession and forgiveness, baptism, teaching, and the Lord’s Supper. In other words, they need Christ—His life, His death, and His resurrection delivered to them by the means of grace.
I didn’t grow up in a church that practiced confirmation, but I have been blown away by the commitment of our pastor and our church to hand down the faith of our fathers in a very ancient and intentional way. Our church describes it this way:
“Confirmation ministry is a pastoral and education ministry of the church which helps the baptized person through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission.”
The girls’ confirmation class has been so good that I often stayed and listened in myself. There was no attempt to entertain and no attempt to make the class relevant or hip. It was a 2 hour class taught by our pastor for two years every other Sunday on all the major doctrines of the faith, extensive teaching on the small catechism, and a survey of every book of the Bible. The teaching was Christ-centered from start to finish.
He covered topics like the Trinity, the Atonement, Creation, the history of the ancient Israelites with all their wanderings and festivals, the events of Holy Week, the parts of the Divine Service, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and their meanings, Law and Gospel, Confession and Absolution, Baptism, and Communion, and much more. The one thing my girls said yesterday after they were confirmed is that they are sad the class is over. Granted, our pastor is a gifted teacher and I could listen to him all day, but it never ceased to amaze me how much my girls, even at their ages, enjoyed and looked forward to the class.
I remember when our girls first started—I was secretly worried about the time commitment. We live an hour away from church and I knew that this would be quite an effort and sacrifice on our part. It meant that many Sundays we left home at 8 and got home at 3. It meant we had to say no to being in the Nutcracker one year. It meant we had to drive two cars to church sometimes. It meant that for those two years, this class was the priority and trumped everything else.
But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And watching them make their vows to God and to the Church to continue in the faith, to hear God’s Word regularly and to take the Supper often was certainly one of the highlights of my life. In a world that shirks vows and profanes sacred things, it was one of those moments that touched heaven.
It felt like coming home—to the best things in life.
The Confirmation Blessing
O, Lord God and Father in heaven, I rejoice that through the waters of Baptism You made me Your own child and by Your grace You have raised me to faith in Christ Jesus. As I remember the day of my confirmation, I rejoice in Your gifts; You have made me Your own, You have made me a member of the Body of Christ, and by Your grace You have sustained me in the faith with Your Gospel and Sacraments. By Your grace I am able to profess this faith. I pray that You will keep me faithful to my vows to the Church and help me to stand strong in the faith.
Help me receive You gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation with humility and gratitude. Help me always rely on the words of Your beloved Son and on His body and blood to sustain me in the faith. All this, so that I may stand before Your throne on the Last Day, redeemed and sanctified, ready to feast forever at the foot of the Lamb.
I highly recommend this podcast, called Giving Up Gimmicks and Reclaiming Youth Ministry from Entertainment Culture, for a different view of youth ministry and training.
I’d love to know what you think about the startling statistics of youth leaving church and how you think we can help stop the hemorrhage.
Did you grow up with systematic teaching something like a confirmation class? Do you think it was a turning point in your faith?