Virtual Confirmation Retreat
Due to the on-going Covid-19 Pandemic, I am moving the content I was scheduled to present the Confirmation Retreat, sponsored by Crestfield Camp and Conference Center, online. You can find the videos and discussion questions here.
Confirmation Resource Developed by Brian Wallace and Stephanie Martin
When I began my first full-time church ministry job, Confirmation was one of my responsibilities. As someone who grew up in a Presbyterian church I went through Confirmation (I believe I was in 8th grade) so I was familiar with the concept. The first year I taught confirmation I viewed it as a “connecting the dots” process. The assumption was that these kids had been attending Sunday school on a regular basis growing up, so they had the pieces they needed. Confirmation was then, in essence, putting together the puzzle pieces to build the foundation of an adult-like faith. And the first year, it worked! The crew of eight kids I had largely fit the profile I imagined and they process went smoothly. We addressed theological topics such as the Trinity, Atonement, Resurrection, etc. The second year I tried the same thing with a different group. And it bombed. The group had a lot of more kids who lacked a strong connection to the church. To use biblical terms, some kids were ready for filet mignon while others needed milk from a sippy cup. But that made picking a curriculum, per say, a difficult task. Especially because In general, I’m a big fan of this quote: “The best curriculum you use isn’t the one you buy, and it isn’t the one you write, it’s the one you modify.”
My problem was that I couldn’t find a curriculum that I felt did what I wanted the curriculum to do. So, against my better judgment, I developed my resource. Note, it’s not a curriculum in a traditional sense, but a framework. As I’ll explain later, you should not do things the exact way I did them.
- Theological (The Explicit Curriculum)
- Uses the model of “follow me” discipleship – The phrase “ask Jesus into your heart” isn’t very much in style within my circles (and for a good reason). However, there is a biblical warrant for understanding discipleship as an active following of Jesus Christ in the world as part of a larger community. The overarching goal is for participants to start or deepen a personal commitment to being a disciple of Jesus Christ in the context of a community of fellow disciples.
- Present a broad overview of the bible with a Christo-centric (Jesus first) approach – Too often I’ve found that we produce functional unitarians when we start with God and then try and shoe-horn the Trinity in at the end. So approximately half the year (the first half) is spent reading through just Luke and John. The core idea here is that the God we meet in Jesus Christ is the only God, sent from the Father.
- Help students read and apply scripture – Every reading comes with three questions (Review, Think, and Apply). The review question is basic – look back at the passage for the answer. Think questions ask participants to reflect on the passage within the context of the passage itself. The idea here is to provoke their theological imagination. Apply questions ask the participant to apply the text into their lives in the present day context. The ultimate goal is two-fold: 1) Help students think theologically 2) Help them see that the teachings of scripture have an immediate application into their present-day life.
- Introduce specific topics and resources (the symbols of the Christian faith). Beyond an overview of the scriptures, I wanted to introduce students to some of the classic ecumenical symbols of the church. In this case, the creeds (Apostle’s and Nicene), parts of scripture (Psalm 23, Lord’s Prayer), and specific topics (Faith/Doubt/Belief, God’s Faithfulness, Covenant/Baptism).
- Encourage participants to learn to listen to a sermon. I believe learning to listen to a sermon is an important skill that we often don’t teach and just hope our students will pick up. This resource asks participants to respond to two sermons each month. This is the area where I often saw the most growth. Early in the year, their sermon responses were terrible, but by the end of the year, it was obvious that they had learned to listen.
- Involve participants in the life of the congregation – By the end of my time, we required students to complete 50 church activities by the middle of May (starting in September). We found that giving them a target and saying “get there” maximized flexibility both seasonally and weekly for families.
- The Sacraments – Our local Camp and Conference Center (Crestfield) sponsors a Confirmation Retreat every spring which covers sacraments and developing a statement of faith. Because of this, I did not cover the sacraments as part of the regular content of the program. It’s not because I don’t think it’s important (I do) but rather I knew it would be covered as part of the retreat.
- Social Goals (The Implicit Curriculum)
- We met 17-18 times (twice per month from September – May) for an hour and forty-five minutes during the week and not during any of other primary activities (Worship and Sunday School were on Sunday mornings, youth group on Sunday night).
- We used a basic “a small group bible study” format. Lots of discussion and very little “lecture.” If the kids didn’t do the work ahead of time, it was difficult for them to participate beccause the bulk of the time was spent discussing the readings they had completed.
- We met at participant’s homes – I preferred meeting in participant’s homes in part because it helped connect that group of kids with the parent’s whose house we were meeting in. It also gave the parents a little taste of what was going on during confirmation.
- We always had a snack – This is a no-brainer. An hour and forty-five minutes is a long time without a break and the snack provided for that break. But it also created an opportunity for relationship-building among the participants.
- I wanted the group to grow in their relationships with one another – Much of what we read today reminds us that for a lot of teens, belonging is way more important than believing when it comes to whether they continue to participate in the life of the church. The shear amount of hours spent together helped deepen existing friendships while initiating new ones. In general, I found that our participation rate (% of kids on the roster actively involved) was higher in high school than middle school. The only reason I think that happened is that because of Confirmation they felt a greater sense of belonging.
- We bounced back and forth between the serious and the absurd within minutes. One minute we’d be talking about something crazy that happened at school that day and then move on to something serious, only to have someone make a side comment that sent us down a whole new path. And that was ok in my book.
- We made time for personal sharing. Part of the night we’d split up into guys and girls and do “highs and lows,” “happies and crappies,” or “rainbows and EpiPens.” The idea was just to give the kids time to share about what was going on in their lives. Did it take a long time? Yup, usually at least half an hour. My last question, if we had time, was always “How can I be praying for you this week” and I wrote their responses down. If I had time and remembered, I’d try and follow-up during the week, and if not, I could ask them when we met the next time.
- I invited others into the process. Over the years I had different people work with me – interns, volunteers, etc. While I did still did most of the heavy lifting (and probably more than I needed to or should have) it allowed other adults to be a part of the process and get to know the kids better.
Should you do Confirmation the way I did? No way. Look at my quote above – the best curriculum is the one you modify. This worked given my context and the resources I had (which admittedly, were substantial). If there’s a huge downfall to this resource, I think it would be difficult to use if the leader didn’t have a good working knowledge of scripture and possibly theological training. (Not say a volunteer couldn’t lead it, but it would need to be a volunteer with a decent knowledge base). Also, from a time perspective leading confirmation was an important part of my job description and one that I took seriously. We were able to have very high standards regarding participation in the life of the church because everyone in the program lived nearby and it had become an expected and appreciated rite of passage within the church culture.
So no, this is not how you should do it – but maybe you can take it and modify for your context, time requirements, and leadership.