Yesterday I wrote about the appendix in Brian McLaren’s latest book, with its image for Christian community of a table supported by four legs: a compelling story, inspiring saints, meaningful practice, and a vision for the future. I wondered how those four legs might support a curriculum template for youth ministry.
I also wonder how those legs might support another youth ministry staple, the Statement of Faith (SOF). For many youth workers, especially those in mainline Protestant churches that deploy some version of Confirmation, the SOF is an annual ritual in which the pastor and her team of leaders coax from 8th or 9th graders written statements of doctrinal belief that are then shared with the church session, or board, who receives the young people int active church membership.
As with any youth ministry habit, this one has pros and cons. For perhaps the first time in their lives, students producing a SOF are systematically reflecting upon and then articulating the beliefs they feel they actually hold. They’re doing it together, in community, accompanied by caring adults. That’s valuable. Flexibility is typically the rule rather than rigidity, authenticity rather than doctrinal conformity. Expressions of doubt are even encouraged.
This approach is validated, I believe, by the graduating seniors who preached in worship last week, more than one of whom told a story about their Confirmation SOF. They didn’t really know what they believed. They doubted some of the doctrinal specifics. Yet that posture of uncertainty did not disqualify them from church participation. They were welcomed, and four years on they are active church participants thinking seriously about how their faith will guide the next chapter of their life.
Yet the SOF has some drawbacks. We don’t ask adults joining the church to produce such a statement. We don’t even ask it of post-Confirmation youth. So there’s that. Also, how much do we care–how much do we think God cares–about an 8th grade young person’s ability to state what they believe in written propositional form?
I’ve never been high on it, so I’ve made a habit these past ten years of tinkering with the SOF, moving it away from propositional “I believe . . . ” statements toward more descriptive expressions of how their faith has changed since childhood and what they want it to be in the future. One year it looked like this. It changes almost every year.
So now McLaren and his four-legged table have me wanting to ask students to write statements expressing the parts of the Christian story they find compelling; the saints they find inspiring; the practice they find meaningful; the future they want to see.
Unless somebody talks me out of it, this is what I’m going with.