Affirming Baptismal Identity in Your Youth

April 11, 2024 Julianna Shults and Mark Kiessling

Early adolescence is an especially formative time in the life of a Christian—not only as youth take ownership of their faith for a future of following Christ, but also as they contribute to the Body of Christ in the “here and now” at the congregational level. The following post, excerpted from Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry, expounds on this with practical advice from Youth Ministry professionals, Julianna Shults and Mark Kiessling. 

The Importance of Christian Education

Helping young people deeply understand their baptismal faith is not just a goal of youth ministry. It is a goal of all Christian education and catechesis from the time of Baptism until the end of life. While we focus on youth ministry, we recognize that this is just a small part of congregational Christian education.

In some congregations, responsibility for educational programming is divided into separate boards or may have different supporting staff. Youth leaders should actively communicate their activities and goals with leaders focused on other age groups. At each level, a new depth of understanding can be added to biblical text. As children age, their ability to use the Bible independently grows, so the vocabulary youth leaders use to teach them can grow and develop as well. Sharing information about topics covered, languages learned, and even verses memorized can help prevent gaps and help future teachers build on new understanding.

Congregational Christian education often relies heavily on volunteer lay leaders who are willing and gifted to take on the task of teaching Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, confirmation, small groups, and adult Bible study. At each of these levels, the curriculum helps assist teachers and directs learning toward critical goals. Choosing a curriculum with specific goals and criteria in mind is helpful. A shared curriculum helps teachers teach similar topics at a developmentally appropriate level. When working together to choose a curriculum, teachers at different levels help create continuity from the youngest students to adults. There are different needs at each age and stage, and it is easier to meet those needs if everyone is teaching and engaging in the same direction.

Christian education programming is also a common place for youth to find service opportunities. Youth are often tapped as Sunday School helpers, Vacation Bible School leaders, and more. There are big benefits for teens who have passion and skill for working with young children. Nothing helps cement learning quite so well as having to teach the material. Teens who help teach and lead children’s programs can gain both understanding and experience. However, we need to be careful that they do not miss out on developmentally appropriate lessons themselves because programs designed for them happen at the same time. Supportive adults must guide teens away from missing out on material that will help them deeply understand their baptismal faith in the name of service.

It is important to recognize that youth ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s part of a larger ministry of the congregation. Leaders of different age groups working together in the congregation can help everyone better care for children, youth, and adults. It may even spark opportunities for each level to create goals for each age group and for families that will help them choose lessons, activities, and programming. Christian education at every age repeats God’s timeless truth over and over in new ways as we learn and grow throughout our lives.

Deeply understanding baptismal faith is the solid ground we build from childhood into the teen years and into adulthood. Congregational Christian education helps all to see that we never stop learning and exploring our baptismal faith. Our baptismal faith is so deep that we will never stop learning and exploring new things. The Christian education of young people is one part of a lifelong process of continuing to learn about and be thankful for the many gifts we receive in Baptism. . . .

Confirmation

Youth ministry is often connected to the preparation for and Rite of Confirmation. Confirmation is a unique educational opportunity to help young people truly dig into understanding the faith into which they were baptized. Youth are challenged to memorize Scripture and the Small Catechism in a way that will hopefully stay with them in difficult moments. It models how to ask significant questions of faith, including “What does this mean?” and how to find answers in God’s Word.

While not every young person and his or her family are engaged in the confirmation process, it is one of the few times pastors, church workers, and lay leaders can get intensive instruction time with (typically) middle school students. Families may return to regular worship or engage in confirmation programs even if they have not been active in prior years. This can be a key moment to reengage parents in the faith lives of their children as well. As much as possible, it is important to take advantage of that time, both in teaching and building relationships.

While the scope of confirmation is usually limited to learning and understanding Luther’s Small Catechism, there is also space for other topics. In seventh and eighth grades, the time most common for junior confirmation, youth are learning to understand abstract concepts. This means some areas of theology are going to be more challenging than others. For many, confirmation can be a time when youth begin to learn, perhaps just enough to ask good questions. We pray that from there they continue to engage in deeper learning.

Confirmation is not graduation. As young people are confirmed, their need for Christian education continues. As students enter high school, what we teach them can help answer key questions about who they are, who they are to others, and their place in the world. High school youth ministry and adult ministry can both build on things learned in confirmation. As we will fill out in more detail later, confirmation is only the start for resilient, lifelong learners.

Youth ministry should connect with confirmation ministry in some meaningful ways. While every congregation handles its confirmation a little bit differently, the more connections that can be made between youth ministry, wider congregational ministry, and confirmation the better. Active older youth might come into a confirmation class to discuss how what they learned has impacted their lives in high school. Youth leaders may join in lessons or even help teach so that they can build relationships. Youth ministry can help celebrate on Confirmation Sunday and encourage youth to join them in the future.

As we look to help young people deeply understand their baptismal faith, what time is more important than confirmation? While adults may not always remember their time in confirmation with great joy, it can still be a powerful moment in the lives of youth. In fact, in our Millennials and the LCMS study, we had one active LCMS young person say that Confirmation was a pivotal moment in his or her faith life because this person realized the gravity of the public profession of faith. It was in that moment of public proclamation that the Holy Spirit worked on him or her to see just how seriously he or she needed to take his or her faith. Youth leaders, pastors, church workers, and parents can work to take full advantage of this time of intense learning in the faith lives of young people.

Blog post adapted from Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry, pp. 125–26, 133–34, copyright © 2023 LCMS Office of National Mission—Youth Ministry, published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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