How do we do confirmation post-James KA Smith?

For those of you Jesus nerds who haven’t read James K.A. Smith, you need to change that. Smith names what is probably the most important problem with the way that the church approaches teaching: we teach as though people are most fundamentally rational creatures whose actions are shaped by the abstract principles that they just need to get drilled into their heads, when in fact people are more fundamentally liturgical creatures whose habits shape them far more than their principles. I was thinking about this as I interviewed our church’s confirmands this past week: what would a liturgical confirmation process look like?

When I say liturgical, I mean it in the broadest sense. We are engaged in dozens of liturgies every day. The way we brush our teeth could be called a liturgy. Many liturgies are indifferent routines. Some are routines which are spiritually beneficial; others are destructive. The problem is that our consumer culture instills liturgies that make money for people trying to sell us stuff while causing damage to our self-identity.

In any case, as I was talking to the confirmands, I was really trying to get underneath the Sunday school answer, but I guess when you’re a pastor, that’s the answer you’re going to get from a teenager. I couldn’t help but feel like we’ve failed them if what we’re giving them is material to regurgitate so they can “pass” their confirmation interview (nobody really fails though if they think they’re not ready or not interested in being confirmed we give them that out).

What would confirmation need to be for it to be about living a certain way rather than a list of theological concepts? I’m very drawn toward placing a lot more emphasis on the mentor relationship. We have mentors but they are basically a secondary supplement to our class time. I would think that ideally confirmation would involve shadowing a mature Christian who has healthy habits of discipleship and exploring the practices that you witness until you gain mastery of them.

This may be too great a burden on mentors who live in a time-starved culture. But perhaps that can be dealt with by making confirmation something that kids only do after expressing an interest in becoming a Christian disciple and not just what everybody does in 8th grade. The numbers would decrease but every kid doing it would be doing it of their own volition. So many families come to our church for a year while their kid goes through confirmation and then disappear after that. It really scandalizes me how many people do that. I want to think that if confirmation were more habit-focused than concept-focused, then maybe we would retain our confirmands better.


14 thoughts on “How do we do confirmation post-James KA Smith?

  1. Pingback: Teaching United Methodist confirmation classes as action/knowledge

  2. What exactly IS the point of confirmation? It can’t be to “teach the faith” – because we are doing that all the time (and learning it all the time). Is it to get people to join the church? If so, that’s not working. Is it a “coming of age” ritual? The challenge there would be that making a commitment to follow Christ has little or nothing to do with how old you are. In that regard it isn’t like rituals associated with puberty or other milestones related to chronological age. Teaching them the basics is fine, but when it is associated with a specific age group, the decision to get confirmed can be heavily influenced by peer pressure. I opt for not doing “confirmation” tied to any specific age group. This is not a way of weaseling out from underneath Christian Education programs for children and youth; quite the opposite. I would challenge any congregation (or pastor) to check the intensity of their commitment to children and youth by a criteria related to the willingness to have a staff position in children & youth ministry. Confirming teenagers, or eighth graders, or sixth graders has not made the UMC’s witness for Christ stronger. I am sure there are exceptions, and for these I am grateful. But for the most part, confirmation seems to have done little to clear the path toward Christian discipleship or strengthen the witness of the church.

    • I think we’re on the same page here. I just don’t see any point in doing it at a particular age rather than just joining when you’re ready.

  3. As someone who sees confirmation at our church lacking in several regards, I’m open to any ideas that will revitalize the quantity, but the quality. One idea that I’ve had is making it something that happens in the 8th grade year or older. Now, we do 6th graders, and I’m not sure how well it goes over. We shall see. I think that allowing our Junior High ministry to give them the “confirmation curriculum” over a two year period without them even knowing what they are doing, and then asking them if they are ready seems more appropriate than asking if you are ready and then giving them the info. It’s just a really weird thing, and we don’t do our adults that way.

  4. I was confirmed at 14, for the previous 12 months we met each Wednesday before Guides for 45 minutes, during which the vicar (Anglican church in UK) talked about various things from The Book of Common Prayer. I didn’t understand it and thus didn’t listen. Was duly patted on the on the head by the Bishop and was then allowed to take communion. Several years later I changed churches, and did the membership classes at the new, Methodist church – 3 short sessions when we discussed Charles and John Wesley’s hymns. I had no idea what I was doing in either case. I would very much like to remake those promises etc, by way of believers baptism, but sadly Methodist church in UK doesn’t all that.

  5. That did it, I am – as they say, “out of here”. With the world as it is and Christianity reeling under an onslaught of idiocy approaching from all sides, to waste even a moment writing about ” confirmands” – makes me head for the “head”….

    • Really? Don’t want to come across as snarky, buddy, but teaching the faith is IMPORTANT. There are way too many people out here who think of themselves as Christian, but barely have a grasp on what that means. And teens are leaving the Church in large numbers as soon as they’re grown.
      On one hand, having fewer people who are cultural Christians isn’t totally bad. On the other hand, you can’t make a real decision on what you believe when you don’t have a clue what it is.
      Ranting, dear Sherwood, is a waste of your time and mine. Let’s be real about our beliefs. Let’s do better at understanding them, so we can actually teach them. That is, if you care enough to do so. I hope you do, anyway.

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