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.