If people are using the thing we make for something other than our intended use, maybe we should start perfecting it for how they’re using it and stop judging them for using it wrong.
Take youth group. I may bleed and sweat to design gatherings for, say, junior high kids, that teach them the Bible, but if they are consistently hacking my agenda to socialize with their friends, then maybe I can reverse engineer the youth group as a tool for them to socialize even better. Hack the hackers.
Give over youth group to hanging out? Give up completely on Bible study? No. Design the Bible study to meet the socializing need youth are expressing.
The same goes for parents.
If parents are insisting their kids participate in confirmation as a vague sort of cultural and moral rite of passage and not an entrance into active church membership, then maybe that signals the need for a high quality version of the thing they’re defaulting to. Maybe we could design confirmation to be a high impact experience of moral and religious exploration that issues in some sort of ritualized conclusion detached from the question of church membership.
What kind of impact might that have culturally? Who says a cultural rite of passage is less crucial today than institutional growth?
My 9th grade confirmation students used to write one-page statements of faith. Then I changed the assignment it to a “story” of faith in which they wrote about their experience of God in the past, present, and future tense.
I’m now on my second year of not requiring a written product at all, owing to a gnawing ambivalence about 1) the value of a writing exercise meant to express either a teenager’s beliefs about God (whatever that means to a 15 year-old) or their perception–as if all of a sudden–of God in their life and 2) the lack of a similar expectation of adults who make professions of faith and become active members of the church.
I haven’t thrown down the gauntlet on this. The assignment has evaporated more than fled. I’ve lost something in its disappearance, though, but I’m not absolutely certain what.
Our 9th graders used to fret over my expectations for these statements, and I spent a lot of nervous phone calls assuring them that neither I nor the session would be grading them–like a history essay. Those phone calls now focus on an exclusively face-to-face outcome of confirmation, a meeting with the church session at which no paper changes hands. There’s a lot less anxiety about that.
The writing exercise had value in that it forced some concrete decisions about what our teenagers sensed was most important about their faith and the church. Even though I’m not certain that such a concrete exercise is all that great, developmentally speaking, for adolescents, I recognize at least some value that’s been lost in removing that requirement, even though I lack all conviction about what ought to replace it.
But to the point about what we expect of adults: should our processes for hearing their statements of faith mirror our process for teens? If one of confirmation’s functions is to introduce youth to adult membership and responsibility in the church, then should we be using a procedure that has no corollary for new adult members?
My tortured love of confirmation grows . . .