For more than a decade, I’ve been involved in youth ministry in the United Methodist Church. During this time, I’ve participated in hundreds of confirmations, both as a youth director and as a volunteer.
Confirmation literally means “to make firm.” The journey involves guiding young people toward publicly affirming their faith in front of family members, friends, and the congregation. It’s the bar mitzvah of the Methodist church.
Before this big moment, the youth staff and church pastors meet with each student individually. We ask a few questions about their confirmation journey and faith. The goal is to make sure they’re ready to affirm their faith in public and in their heart—and that they understand the commitment they’re making by becoming part of the church.
A few years ago, after months of class, one confirmand was struggling with doubt. He still had questions about Jesus and about himself.
“I’m not ready,” the student shared with our senior pastor. “I know everything we’ve been taught in class about being a Methodist, being a believer, knowing Jesus, but I’m still learning. I still have doubts, and I’m not ready to be confirmed. I don’t want to stand up and say I’m a Christian when I’m still trying to figure it out.”
This student decided not to get confirmed. When our pastor reported the news, my mind went in a few directions:
- This kid is ready; he’s just nervous.
- The pastor should’ve prayed with him and encouraged him in his faith. He must not have said the right thing.
- Wow! This kid admitted he wasn’t ready. That was really honest and bold. Now what?
You have to understand: For some families, this is like calling off a wedding. But we stood with this young man, and so did his parents. We recognized his doubt, supported him, and were inspired by his honesty and faith, no matter how much doubt he was experiencing.
Here’s what doubt can teach us:
- Faith is a journey, and that journey looks different for everyone. Students who aren’t as confident in their faith as others don’t need to be “fixed.” They need to be held—held in their doubt, held in their questions, and loved right where they are until they’re somewhere else.
- Just because young people don’t ask questions doesn’t mean they don’t have questions. Meeting with confirmation students before the service lets us find out where they’re at, one on one. Teenagers should receive this kind of attention more often in youth ministry. Many never have the opportunity to be honest about their faith because they’re just going along with the flow of youth ministry traffic. It’s our job to partner with parents and guardians to get their kids out of the traffic so they can pause and be transparent—and so we can serve students where they are.
- Confirmation and similar ministry programs aren’t for everyone and might cause deep thinkers and more spiritually sensitive kids to adapt to their setting without having an authentic discipleship experience. We need to consider each student’s personality and learning style, offering ministry opportunities and community that meets their needs.
I’m proud of the confirmand who didn’t get confirmed. He was willing to do something that no one else was. He didn’t just go with the crowd; he placed his heart and thoughts at Jesus’ feet. He continued growing in his faith, and his relationship with Jesus wasn’t part of an assembly line of spiritual clones coming out of the church. His faith and his doubt belonged to God.
And the church? We were blessed to plant the seed and watch it grow as we let go of our expectations and our timetable to allow Jesus to work as only he can.