The service of Confirmation is the companion service to Holy Baptism. For those blessed with baptism as infants, Confirmation provides the opportunity to “own” the promises that were made on their behalf by their parents and godparents. It is the moment they can say for themselves, “I believe in Jesus Christ and accept him as my Savior.”
Some have looked at what happens next and conclude that some young people tell a lie at that moment. Young people go through with it, perhaps out of courtesy to their parents, and once they’re off to college they don’t bother with church again. Or is that just a myth?
I came across a couple of reports lately that treat both sides of that issue. One was Amy Becker’s book report for Christianity Today on a new book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith (Zondervan).
These two authors apparently encourage parents to instill a living faith in their children by letting them see one in their own lives. Children will know Jesus if they watched us know Jesus.
Reviewer Amy Becker is honest enough to admit that lots of what her own young children see in their home is little more than praying for meals and singing Sunday School songs in the car. Could that possibly be enough to anchor them once they grow up and see the world we know is out there? And pray as we might, if that’s the only foundation children are given at home, it hardly seems likely that another hour in church on Sunday will be sufficient to fill in the gaps.
Still, every seed looks tiny to begin with. Perhaps more of them take root than we think.
In a new report The Barna Group has sorted the young college demographic into four categories. They admit those they label “Prodigals” (about one in nine) are generally gone for good. The church will find them only if we go looking for them “out there.”
Two other groups only seem to leave for awhile. “Nomads” (four in ten) wander away from institutional churches they’ve grown up with – but they don’t seem to give up on Jesus himself. Presumably they are worshipping him while fishing or golfing and don’t think they have rejected the Christian faith they knew. But they don’t grow in it, either. So we have adults with an infant faith, of a sort.
“Exiles” (two in ten) also depart the church structures they’ve known. They also wish to redefine and re-form a Christianity they believe better suits their lives. They “stay active” as Christians but on their own terms. The redefinition part is problematical from an orthodox perspective, unless you are sure that fresh, young minds could never be mistaken when tweaking the faith handed down to them.
That leaves the “Faithful” (three in ten) young people who stay plugged into a church family and introduce their own children to it.
In terms of visibility at church, each generation does seem to evaporate at a 50% or worse rate.
These sobering facts have weighed on my mind as I teach this year’s confirmation class at All Saints’.
For one thing, I’ve thought about the fact that, as a child, it was impossible for me to have foreseen what an adult Christian life would be like, if only because a child’s mind doesn’t have any way to fully grasp the adult viewpoint. It seems almost unfair to ask a young person to make a lifetime promise they cannot fully understand.
But there is no alternative that I can see. We make promises intended to bind our future lives all the time (installment payments, marriage). This is one that tops all the others. It’s not fair NOT to give young people the chance to own it.
Secondly, what a young child has learned about Christianity, it seems to me, will be pretty useless in making a transition to the Adult Faith it truly is. Stories about Noah and David and Goliath may have kept your attention as a child. They are not unimportant. But now you’re dealing with power and sorrow and broad roads with intoxicating promises. It is a new day and requires, almost literally, a new faith. Jesus can handle that challenge. Can we? Will we even give Him the chance?
The first night of our Confirmation class I asked several people to come and talk about that transition. How is it different being an adult Christian believer in Jesus Christ? What could we say that might help young believers to step up instead of away?
I know one thing. Adult Christianity includes a church where we can talk about it honestly with each other.