We’re Teaching Our Children to Graduate from Church

Posted: July 17, 2014 in Rite and Rituals

I was just introduced to a bgraduationook by Christopher Rodkey, UCC pastor in Pennsylvania, where he argues that we, as a church, subconsciously encourage our children to leave the church.

For many denominations it’s called “Confirmation.”

Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we fill children’s heads with dogma.

Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we use books that look a lot like school books to “teach” children about faith.

Confirmation: the frustrating program that pastors secretly dread because they have to fight with parents and youth over sports schedules and vacations and the youth have enough homework, why give them more…

Confirmation.

Now I will admit that my faith community has gone through a bit of a transformation with regards to Confirmation.  We use a question-based curriculum that doesn’t intend to fill heads with ideas, but rather (I hope) fills hearts with questions.

And I don’t really ever have trouble convincing youth or parents about the importance of our weekly meetings.  We generally have 100% attendance.

And yet I can’t help but think that this whole process is talked about as a way for our children to achieve, graduate if you will, from the need for church.

Church then becomes something you did and accomplished, not something you live and do.

We teach about the faith.  We don’t teach faith.

And by “teach faith” I don’t mean that “I want you to learn to rely on Jesus” language that is so often used but so often vacuous.

I’m talking about living into a pattern of life whereby you see yourself in a cosmic sense as part of a radical movement within the world that we call the church.  Yes, that does mean that you often rely on Jesus, rely on your faith, to ground you.

Yes, that does mean that you must learn some history and be familiar with some doctrine that the church has historically taught.

But more than anything it means that you begin to live into faith more radically.  And it will affect the way that you buy and sell, the way that speak and act, and the way that you see yourself and others, and the way that you view work, and school, and home.

And the church then becomes your feedbox as you gather with a community to hear ancient words, sing and pray in community, and learn to encounter a God together so that you can identify when and how to encounter God anywhere.

That’s Confirmation.

But instead of that, we’ve created a system, a pipeline, to bring kids in, teach them in the style of the school room, parade them in front of the congregation, and effectively hood them with a hug and a handshake.  Some even wear special robes for the occasion.

And then they come on Christmas and Easter to tour the faith that they used to participate in, pointing out the places and memories where this or that happened, like they’re touring their old elementary school recalling Ms. Clodfelter’s therapeutic shoes scuffing up the asbestos tile floors.

The current behavior of the church subconsciously works on our children to give them the message, “This is the culmination!” instead of the real message intended, “This is the beginning!”

In fact, I see this with the baptismal rite in many places, too, especially with adult baptism.  We have these rites of faith that now have become rites of the culmination of faith…

I hear many complain that families “don’t take Confirmation seriously” anymore.

I wonder where they get that idea.  I mean, if it’s just a mechanism for leaving the church (as our rite has set it up to be), why wait until it’s done?  Now is the acceptable time, right?

As a rite of the church, Confirmation needs to go through a serious re-adjustment.  And not just in curriculum.  We need to rethink the whole thing.  I’m considering ways for this to happen, but in the meantime we must at least admit that at some level we’re graduating our children out of church, all the while blaming them for being uninterested in the church.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, if this is the message that we’re sending with our actions, if not with our words, well…what does that really say about the faith that we’re trying to pass on?

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Comments
  1. Daniel says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes! And if the confirmation process culminates in a ceremony in front of the congregation, don’t do it in the spring during graduation season!

  2. Bryce J. Muenchow says:

    I’ve been struggling with all of the “requirements”. Some of the older members of the church want me to heap on various requirements to the confirmation youth. It is my belief that if we heap on too many requirements, rather than encourage them to participate through our willingness to take an active part of the life of the church, then church will become like a job, or a chore, and will just further the “graduation” feeling of confirmation. Any thoughts?

    By the way, I found a curriculum this past year that de-emphasizes the indoctrination aspect of confirmation. It is called “Confirm, not Conform” and is published by Forward Movement publishing.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Hey Bryce,

      I hear what you’re saying. “Requirements” have such a negative connotation. That being said, I’m a firm believer that high-commitment Christianity is so much better at being a tool for life transformation than low commitment Christianity. I think the mainstream has tended toward low-commitment Christianity, which is why we’ve adopted a “school model” when it comes to Confirmation: it’s easy to replicate.

      It sounds like what you’re talking about is that high-invitational stuff I’m chomping on.

      I think a lot of “requirements” are just checks off a list. Sounds like the stuff you have to get done to graduate. But commitment…that’s something different. That’s invitational. That’s high expectation, high reward stuff.

      I’ll have to check out the curriculum you suggest! I really like our curriculum, actually…but I think we can do even better. I have dreams of writing and designing my own. Until then, we hobble together the best and burn the rest.

      Thanks for writing and commenting!

      • Bryce J. Muenchow says:

        What curriculum are you using? I am searching for curriculum for this upcoming year that studies the Bible. We usually do a two year sequence: one year Bible based, one year Small Catechism etc. At this point, I’m thinking I might try to develop my own, but it would be good to have some options.

  3. Thanks for reading my book. I am currently working on a new book specifically on Confirmation and radical theology, and developing the ideas originally put forth in The Synaptic Gospel (the section of the Synaptic Gospel on confirmation was originally published as an article in the AUCE newsletter a few years back)….

  4. wydok says:

    Our church has all members go through the same membership class, regardless of age. You do not have “confirmation”.

  5. alicia276 says:

    I recommend combining Confirmation Sunday with the congregations annual meeting.
    During the service the youngsters are confirmed as members, told about their new start as full voting members, and then they get to go to their first congregational meeting.

    This does two things, it disassociates Confirmation Sunday with public school graduations and endings, and puts the focus of the rite on the new beginning rather than the ending.

    This is, of course, easier to do when you have a multi-year confirmation course.

  6. […] a somewhat related post, Pastor Timothy Brown writes that “We’re Teaching Our Children to Graduate from Church.” I think this speaks to the need of “The Confirmation Project.” What do you […]

  7. KtHathSpoken says:

    We’re changing where I serve. I write the lessons. It’s very highly relational. The old graduation thing? Come on. That’s been an issue since beginning of time. That’s nothing new. The church as a whole has given up on faith formation bc we are afraid of sounding like absolutes. We need confirmation more than ever.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      No one is suggesting that we do away with Confirmation here.

      Defense is the easiest position to play when norms are being questioned.

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