2016 youth-ministry symposium explores confirmation

Confirmation — a singular right of passage for a Lutheran Christian teenager — was the focus of the annual symposium hosted by the LCMS Office of National Mission — Youth Ministry office Jan. 14-16 in St. Charles, Mo.

Confirmation abounds with traditions from Palm Sunday (or some other Sunday), to red carnation corsages and boutonnieres, to public examination, to the selection of a confirmation verse, to making a banner and more.

But as symposium presenters pointed out, there isn’t just one way to do confirmation, and there is often confusion about it. Also, with competition in the public sector from sports and other extracurricular activities, confirmation can end up challenged and compromised.

Mary Stafford, director of Christian education (DCE) at Brookfield Lutheran Church in Brookfield, Wis., led off the conversation by sharing the challenges her church has confronted with confirmation. They include exploring how a church can create an atmosphere where young people are growing in the faith. Also, what’s the best age to confirm?

Stafford observed that it’s more than a class and studying the catechism, or a ritual.

A five-point outline

She shared a five-point outline for confirmation, to:

  • develop a biblical worldview,
  • raise biblical literacy,
  • build intentional community,
  • grow competent witnesses, and
  • teach the value and purpose of worship.

Dr. Jan Lohmeyer, a Christian apologetics professor at Lutheran High North in Houston and a member of the LCMS catechism-revision committee, told symposium attendees that growing in the faith is a lifelong process of training in apologetics so that, in the words of I Peter 3:15, we are “always prepared to give an answer.” He passionately called for stressing the biblical response to science.

The Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations, made a presentation on the thinking and direction being taken in the catechism revision — including an approach to address specific issues raised in contemporary society.

The Rev. Dr. Terry Dittmer, youth-ministry specialist with LCMS Youth Ministry, challenged the group to consider the newest generation populating confirmation classes. Dubbed the “Plural Generation,” they are noted for their diverse makeup (by 2019 they will be less than 50 percent Caucasian), tolerance, team development and consensus building. He emphasized that knowing their characteristics is helpful in building a successful confirmation program.

Following Dittmer, the Rev. Dr. John Oberdeck, director of Lay Ministry at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, Wis., reviewed adolescent brain development. He noted that the adolescent brain is not a broken adult brain. Rather, he said it ranks high on the complexity index of everything God created and is a work in progress through a young person’s mid-to-late 20s. Oberdeck asked how understanding brain development can help in designing effective catechesis.

‘How do we help parents?’

Dr. David Rueter, DCE program director at Concordia University Irvine, Irvine, Calif., addressed the matter of who teaches confirmation and how parents are critically important in faith formation. Author of a new Concordia Publishing House book, Teaching the Faith at Home, Rueter noted, “The single biggest predictor for a student’s connection to the church following confirmation is their connection prior to confirmation.” So, he asked, how do we help parents participate effectively in faith formation? “Nothing you can do can outdo parents talk[ing] about the value of faith,” he said.

In a second session, Rueter addressed the greater involvement of the Church in raising up faithful adolescents, especially if parents have no interest in faith or being a part of the confirmation process.

On Saturday morning, participants explored the world of social media and technology and how to use these tools in confirmation. Among other things, DCE Julianna Shults, who is program director for the Synod’s Lutheran Young Adult Corps, helped participants explore the topic of media websites. She noted that 81percent of teens with access to the Internet use some kind of social media and that 90 percent of text messages are read within three minutes of being delivered.

“It’s all on your phone,” said Shults, who also noted the challenge of developing coordinated social-media efforts.

Dr. Deb Arfsten, DCE director at Concordia University Chicago, in River Forest, Ill., served as facilitator for the symposium.

The conference experimented with using a modified Ted-talk format — with speakers presenting their materials, followed by table conversations about questions developed to explore the topics. Participants also had the opportunity to ask the presenters questions. In the two evening sessions, there were options to talk with facilitators about rural and small-town confirmation challenges, addressing confirmation age and issues, dealing with traditional confirmation models and rituals, and confirmation and the Lutheran school.

‘A lot to think about’

“This was terrific,” one participant said. “There was a lot to think about. I appreciated that it was so practical.”

In welcoming participants to the symposium, newly appointed Director of LCMS Youth Ministry Rev. Mark Kiessling said, “Christ continues to strengthen us to stand in our baptismal faith. I give thanks that you care for young people … and that you continue to hear Jesus’ call to walk alongside young people through all of life’s experiences.”

Posted Jan. 29, 2016

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One Response to 2016 youth-ministry symposium explores confirmation

  1. Carl Vehse January 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    One would think one important topic on the Rite of Confirmation would be the public confession of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to be faithful and true. This is a requirement for individual and congregational members of the Missouri Synod, and it is required in constitutions of LCMS congregations for communicant members.

    This public confession is also important because it is part of the understanding by the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod of the doctrine of closed communion.

    Yet this public confession by the confirmand doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the above article. Further discussion about the significance of this public confession in the Missouri Synod is discussed in the article, The Lutheran Confirmation Vow.

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