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The Problem with Confirmation

By Rev. Marcus J. Carlson | January 21 2013
Confirmation is one of those interesting programs we seem to struggle to discuss, as well as implement well in our churches. Most mainline traditions still have some form of confirmation at least in Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian and Catholic traditions. The spectrum of its importance ranges from the symbolic to the required. As a Lutheran pastor, most churches in my tradition hold confirmation in rather high esteem. The makeup of the program varies from one church to another in length (one, two or three years) and content.

While confirmation is seen as important, rarely is it done well, consistently, with passion or with the youth participating in mind. While we see it as important, there is a part of it that feels forced or dated to many people; so it is often assigned a rather low priority.

Here is the problem: If it is important, it should be a priority. It should be done well with thoughtfulness and theological reflection and should be meaningful. I am not suggesting I have all the answers or know the best way to do confirmation. One thing I am certain of is that if your church has confirmation, and it is important, then how you do it can make or break your youth ministry.

More students are lost after confirmation than are retained in our churches and youth ministries. This means that whatever we are doing is causing youth to leave the church rather than connect with it in a deeper and more meaningful way. The answer is not to get rid of confirmation; the answer is to find a way to do it well. Doing confirmation well is not as much about the curriculum or entertainment value as much as it is about the structure and focus of confirmation. Confirmation does not have to be fun or entertaining, but it should be meaningful and effective.

Youth workers are notorious for re-thinking things. We are known for our ability to think outside the box, yet we have failed to use these gifts and ignored this critical ministry opportunity. Confirmation is that rare opportunity of having a more committed audience of parents and youth, and it should not be wasted. The word confirmation means "to strengthen." How would our youth ministries and churches look if we were to take confirmation and reform it in a way that strengthened our students' and parents relationships' with Jesus and His church?

Rev. Marcus J. Carlson has worked with children and youth for more than 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as associate pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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