The strange journey of confirmation class

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My most recent confirmation class.

In the life of our church, we baptize most of our children as infants and then raise them in the Christian faith. When they are eleven or twelve years old, I get to teach them the basics of the faith in a systematic way, using Luther’s Small catechism as a guide. After two years of weekly classes, we gather with family, friends and congregation for a “confirmation” of the blessings of their baptisms. That day is a reminder of God’s faithfulness as well as a public confession of their faith. My goal is to provide some tools and encourage them to continue to grow in their faith as they enter their high school years.

I believe I have taught thirty-two groups of middle schoolers. It is a fascinating, only-by-the-grace-of-God journey.

I enjoy teaching this age group because they have so many questions. Late-elementary aged children and high school students tend to think they have all the answers. But in middle school, you’ve learned to ask questions.

I also struggle to teach this age group because most of their parents haven’t done much with them since their baptisms. They may have come to some worship services or been in a few Sunday School classes. But on their twelfth birthday, an alarm goes off, and parents insist, “We have to get you to confirmation class!” Few students are familiar with – and some haven’t even heard of – basic stuff like the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed and the Ten Commandments. Many are cracking open a Bible (or a Bible app) for the first time. When I drop familiar names like Abraham, Moses, David and Paul, I’m interrupted with, “Who’s that?” Each year I am starting from scratch.

But that’s OK, because these students are smart! They are taking algebra and geometry, designing and programming robots, and creatively solving future problems. They are active, involved in athletics, music, dance, and scouts. While the digital world is a second language to me, they’re fluent in it.

It takes about two weeks for them to get comfortable with me. Once they know they can trust me and I am a person with a family, a job and a sense of humor, they let down their guard, their personalities come out, and some real learning can begin. While I want each student to have a growing relationship with the Lord, the second-best part of the journey is developing a relationship with me.

Each student claims they can’t memorize anything. Catechism? Bible verses? Can’t do it. Until we start talking about all the lyrics they can sing, movies they can quote, athletes they know everything about and video game strategies stored in their minds. Until I show them how to memorize with purpose. That exercise will serve them well in other areas of life, too.

Every student grows up a lot, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Especially over the summer between seventh and eighth grade. At the start of year two, everyone not only a few inches taller, but the guys start showering and combing their hair and the girls pay more attention to their hair and begin wearing makeup.

Sin and grace are, of course, big concepts to grapple with. Some students never get in trouble. Others constantly get yelled at by their teachers for no apparent reason. When we try and identify sins to confess, few can get beyond not picking up their room or fighting with a sibling. So the idea of forgiveness doesn’t quite have the same impact. Yet. In the course of the middle school years, they will encounter hatred, jealousy, injustice, bullying, and fear in their own lives or in the lives of their friends. That’s when grace begins to mean something.

I am sure I get more out of this journey than my students. I know from experience that those students who were not active in the church before confirmation classes will not be active after. Those who were will be. It’s that simple. It’s all about their family. I just plug in and do my best to help for a few years.

What do I get out of it?

  • I reinforce my own knowledge of Scripture and the Small Catechism. I am no less a child of God, struggling to remember and understand his promises, and come to grips with both sin and grace.
  • I see God’s Spirit at work in the baptized. I am humbled by how little I can do and how much He can do!
  • I see the timelessness of Scriptural truths. So much has changed in the last thirty-five years, but Jesus has remained the same. He is just as relevant for this generation as my own.
  • I have great hope for the church. While my days are numbered in ministry, theirs are just beginning. I tell them they would make good pastors and teachers leaders. To tell you the truth, someday I hope they are mine!
  • It keeps me young. When you hang out with young people, some of it rubs off on you. I thrive on their contagious energy, laughter and creativity.

It is just as much a journey for me as it is for them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take your time

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

This comment caught my eye the other day when I quickly glanced through some social media: “Our Christmas tree lights are on, Christmas candles are lit, presents are about all wrapped; it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

When I read that, I felt sad. These words were written on November 30. This person made it sound like Christmas was a task to be completed, and the earlier the better. When did the goal become “get ‘er done?”

What about the places we’ll go to see the lights, hear the music, sing the carols, and eat the food? What about the travel plans we’ll make to be with family and friends? What about the memories yet to create, the laughter to be heard, the food to be prepared, the stories to be told, and the photos we’ll capture as we spend the time together?

Rather than a destination, Christmas is a journey. (Spoiler alert: I’m going sound theological here.) It’s the journey of the Creator to his creation, the journey of a couple to have the baby, the journey of the angels to announce the news, the journey of the shepherds to see the Savior and their return to tell about what they saw.

I, for one, don’t want to get there too quickly. There is so much to see, hear, and experience on the way! And I don’t want it to be over too quickly, either. Christmas has a wonderful “finish” that lingers in our hearts and minds, enduring flavors of hope, love and joy that are meant to carry us through the ups and downs of life.