Blog

Taking Confirmation Out of the Classroom

     Below you will find a blog post written by Bishop William H. Willimon discussing the confirmation material titled Making Disciples.  Please read his information about this confirmation curriculum:

This year Abingdon Press brings out a new and revised edition of Making Disciples, my apprenticeship based approach to Confirmation. Since Making Disciples was launched a couple of decades ago, it has been used in thousands of churches of dozens of different denominations.  The new revision strengthens and updates the program, innovative in its inception, now setting the standard for mentoring novice Christians into the faith.

 

You can find information on the Coordinator’s Guide, Mentor’s Guide, and Confirmand’s Journal at https://www.abingdonpress.com/product/9781501848186#.W4c7iMQna1s.

 

Here’s the article from the March 16, 1988 Christian Century that launched Making Disciples and helped make this program of Confirmation one of the most widely used resources in the American church.

Taking Confirmation Out of the Classroom

As I met with the Christian education committee that evening, I could not hide my displeasure at the thought of spending three long months of Thursday afternoons trapped with a group of unwilling teenagers in our annual confirmation class.

I couldn’t help recalling an Episcopal friend of mine saying, ”Confirmation is a second-rate junior high commencement ceremony after we have marched the kids through a series of boring classes and then laying-on-­of-hands to graduate them out of the church.”

“Can’t we come up with something better?” I wondered aloud to the committee.

“One can’t devise appropriate educational methods,” commented one laywoman who teaches youngsters for a living, “until one has first defined what it is that one wants to teach. What is the ‘end product’ of this confirmation? What do you hope to accomplish?”

I responded with a thought off the top of my head. ”All I want is a group of youth who may one day grow up to resemble John Black.” (A true “patriarch” of our congregation, Black is every member’s idea of how a Christian ought to look.)

“That’s it!” she said. “All we want is a dozen youth who, in their beliefs and lives, come to look like our best Christians.’ ‘

“Now how on earth do we go about doing that?” asked another.

We put our heads together and created a confirmation method that might meet our goal. We agreed on a number of points:

        1. The goal of confirmation is discipleship: training people to resemble more closely, in their lifestyle, beliefs and values, disciples of Jesus.
        1. We want our young people, instead of knowing more about Christ, to know and follow Christ. Therefore, confirmation must require more than the elementary mastery of a few facts about Jesus, church history, the Bible, etc. Confirmation class should do nothing less than equip young Christians to be disciples.
        1. Christianity is more  than a “head trip”; it  is a way of life together. The total person is engaged in it. Education for this life must therefore be experiential and personal, suggesting that confirmation doesn’t end our growth as Christians. Our youth are already Christians. They are not ignorant of the faith; they have already been trying to live as Christians. Confirmation continues and strengthens Christian growth already begun.
        1. Most of us became Christians by looking over someone else’s shoulders, emulating some admired older Christian, taking up a way of life that was made real and accessible through the witness of someone else. So, while books and lectures could be used in confirmation class, they should only supplement the main task of putting young Christians in close proximity with older Christians- ‘mentors” who invite these younger Christians to look over their shoulders as they both attempt to live as Christians.

We polled various people in the church, including the youth, asking them, “Who of this church’s adults would be especially good in helping our youth deepen their faith?” From these (confidential) lists of names I selected 12 candidates, ranging in age from 23 to 68. When I asked each of them to participate, some expressed reservations, but all except two agreed to help. All were deeply moved that they had been suggested. I then assigned each of our ten confirmands to a mentor, or guide, as we eventually called the adult leader.

At the set-up meeting during the first week of Lent, the youth met their guides, and the Journey (as we called it) began. To each pair we gave a list of learning activities which had been devised by the committee. We told them to proceed at their own pace, and to follow their own interests. The activities could be completed in a few weeks or three months.

Among the 15 activities were:

Read the Gospel of Luke together. As each of you reads at home, note the. passages you find interesting, confusing or inspiring. Every two weeks, get together to discuss what you have read.

Attend Sunday services together for the next three months. After each service, discuss your reactions, questions and impressions

Get a copy of our church’s budget. Find out where our money goes. Discuss how each of you decides to make a financial commitment to the church.

Attend together any of our church board meetings during the next three months. Decide what congregational board or committee you would like to be on at the end of the confirmation process.

Explain ”why I like being a United Methodist Christian.” Discuss two aspects of our church about which you would like to know more. Ask our pastor or church librarian to help you find this in­ formation.

Attend together a funeral and a wedding at our church. After the service, discuss where God was at this service, and why the church is involved in these services.

Spend at least 15 hours volunteering at Greenville Urban Ministries, or one of the other service agencies which our church helps to support. Why is the church involved here?

I did far more work during the process than I would have if I had simply conducted classes. A number of guides needed frequent encouragement and advice. At the end of Lent, I met with each confirmand for an hour to discuss what she learned and what she still needed to know. On Holy Saturday, the Saturday preceding Easter, all guides and confirmands met at the church for a late-night vigil. At dawn on Easter, they participated in another service, followed by breakfast.

At the 11 A.M. worship service, each guide introduced his or her confirmand before the congregation and described one thing that this young disciple was bringing to the church-some aspect of personality or talent. Then each confirmand thanked the congregation for one gift-perhaps a church school teacher, a helpful sermon or the church basketball team-that had helped her grow as a disciple. Each confirmand’s guide, parents and I laid hands on the young person as I pronounced, “Jane, remember your baptism and be thankful. “John, remember . . . ”

Confirmation should bring generations of disciples together. Confirmation should give youth an opportunity to con­ firm their developing faith, but perhaps more important, it should provide the church the opportunity to confirm the developing young Christian-to say, “You  are  one of us already. God has need of your life. We want to take time with you to give you the skills, insights and experiences you need to be faithful.”

Part of the beauty of this approach is its suitability for people at any age, at any stage of their faith journey.  It suits the half-willing 12-year-old or the earnest 19-year­ old. It can be done with one candidate or a hundred. It moves us from the inappropriate classroom model to a master-apprentice one. Its activities can be devised to suit the particular characteristics and mission of each congregation.

Recent studies suggest that most mainline Protestant churches have become the last stop for youth on their way out of church. We are doing a poor job of retaining our young. Of course, the sources of the problem are many. Yet I believe that a renewed engagement with our young people, through a new look at the purpose and method of confirmation, can be a big part of the solution to a pressing problem.

William H. Willimon

A Peculiar Prophet

This year Abingdon Press brings out a new and revised edition of Making Disciples, my apprenticeship based approach to Confirmation. Since Making Disciples was launched a couple of decades ago, it has been used in thousands of churches of dozens of different denominations.  The new revision strengthens and updates the program, innovative in its inception, now setting the standard for mentoring novice Christians into the faith.

 

You can find information on the Coordinator’s Guide, Mentor’s Guide, and Confirmand’s Journal at https://www.abingdonpress.com/product/9781501848186#.W4c7iMQna1s.

 

Here’s the article from the March 16, 1988 Christian Century that launched Making Disciples and helped make this program of Confirmation one of the most widely used resources in the American church.

View original post 1,222 more words

Judging By Outward Appearances

 

     But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 MSG

     When I was a child growing up on the farm my grandfather was considered to be an expert on which vegetables were best and which were worst.  It was a common occurrence for me to go to the garden with him and I would always carefully examine the tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, or cucumbers, and would always reach and grab the biggest and prettiest on the vine.  My grandfather would then go through my container and take out much of what I had picked.  He then would attempt to explain to me that it is not always the biggest and prettiest that is the best.  It was obvious that I was concerned with the outside rather than what was on the inside.

     I have thought about those trips to the garden many times over the years.  You see, I feel all of us far too often judge things by outward appearances.  How often in my life I have been guilty of judging something or perhaps someone based on outward appearances.  Most of us find ourselves guilty of judging people based on outward appearances before we ever have an opportunity to see what is on the inside.  How often we find ourselves guilty of only wanting to associate with those who have an outside covering that meets our approval on first glance.  Too often we attempt to choose and associate only with people who are like ourselves.

     In the Gospel of John we listen as Jesus says, “Don’t be nitpickers; use your head—and heart!—to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right.” John 7:24 MSG.  This verse comes to my mind each time I remember those trips to the garden with my grandfather.  After a life of experiences this lesson has taken on a new meaning for me.  I know now that we cannot take anyone or anything at face value.  Truly, it is what’s on the inside that counts.

     For us to truly live into our mission of Love, Serve, Grow, we must stop judging and seeking only the fruit that looks good on the outside.  We Must dedicate ourselves to Love as Jesus loved, Serve as Jesus served, and to Grow by reaching out and forming relationships with all God’s children, realizing that sometimes the best fruit might not be appealing from outward appearances.

     I look forward to seeing you this week in worship where we realize you cannot judge by outward appearances, and where everyone is welcomed!

No Rest For The Weary!

     30-31 The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.

32-34 So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.  Mark 6:30-34 MSG

     For the past two weeks my mind and my prayer life have been focused on the 12 boys and their coach trapped in Tham Luang Cave complex in northern Thailand.  These past two weeks have been every parent’s worst nightmare.  To know that your child, or anyone else for that matter, is suffering and in need of help and just hoping that there would be someone, anyone, that could do the impossible.  Today, July 10, 2018 at 9:40 A.M. CST all trapped in that cave were safely rescued.  It is now being called a miracle!

     The Thai Navy Seals devised a rescue plan which began on Sunday, July 8th, in which four of the boys were rescued, followed by four more on Monday, and the remaining four boys and their coach on Tuesday July 10th.

     As I followed this story each day after the actual rescue began there would always be word that the “rescue had to be halted” to resupply air tanks and allow the Navy Seal divers to get much needed rest after an eleven hour dive.

     I could not help but think about the lectionary passage for July 22nd from Mark 6:30-34.  The disciples gathered around Jesus after a demanding period of teaching, preaching, and simply pouring their all into their ministry.  They are tired, exhausted, and need rest!  They are well aware that there is an urgency as to the needs of the crowd, that they need to get the rest of those boys and their coach out of that cave.  They are “like sheep without a shepherd.”

     Forgetting about much needed rest, Jesus sees and feels the hurt of the crowd and his heart broke for them.  Jesus then went right to work teaching them and caring for them.

     Folks, there is a vast flock of sheep who surround us that are suffering, lost within a cave with no way out other than by rescue from disciples whose heart is breaking because of their suffering and who are now willing to give up rest to tend to the world’s hurting.  Do we see the crowd?  Can we see the hurt?  Are our heart’s breaking?

     Because Jesus had his heart broken for people who were like sheep without a shepherd, and has confidence that his bumbling disciples (us) have what it takes to feed them, the resources of the bumbling disciples (the church), blessed by Jesus are enough to transform the shepherdless crowd from being strangers, lost wanderers, boys trapped in a cave in Thailand, to being like children, boys and their coach, safely back home.

     There is great urgency from the “sheep without a shepherd.”  Transformation can and will only happen when we realize that there is “no rest for the weary” and allow Christ to move us toward rescuing the lost!

What Will We Offer At Christmas?

Worship Image

     I am convinced that any church that fails to have a Christmas Eve service is missing out on an extra Sunday of attendance for the year.  Christmas Eve services in most churches are one of the top two services for the year.  Any church that cannot boast this fact needs to seriously examine what they are currently offering.

     Christmas Eve is a special time for worship and one in which families normally choose to worship together.  Even though it is not a bad idea to offer something distinctive and unique, there are certain traditions that simply must be kept on Christmas Eve.  There are certain experiences that folks expect on Christmas Eve, good music, a relevant message, and candlelight are all things folks want as part of this service.

     Personally I believe that every Christmas Eve service must include at least one fine solo or choral piece.  This means that pastor’s and music directors must work far enough in advance to assure that the choir or soloists have adequate time for preparation.  By the worship team preparing well in advance it will enable them the opportunity to share hopes of how the music and the message will enable those who do not normally attend worship to enter into the sacred space of worship and draw closer to Christ.

     It is also always good for the worship leaders to get together for prayer prior to every service throughout the year.  It is especially true that this must be done on Christmas Eve and Easter.  There are few occasions during the year when the music and the message will have greater potential to communicate the total message of a special celebration in the life of the church than on Christmas Eve.  Trinity UMC is truly blessed to have a very talented group of musicians and instrumentalist and this needs to be highlighted at this service.  The highlighting of special music also gives members a great opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to attend something special.

     It is also very important that the sermon on Christmas Eve be a clear proclamation of the Gospel that is engaging and only as long as it needs to be to communicate the love of God demonstrated in the incarnation.  It is not that the sermon needs to be short, as much as it needs to be memorable and compelling to any guests who happen to be in attendance.  This sermon always needs to be prepared with visitors in mind.

     Every piece of information from the church office and website must clearly state that at the conclusion of the service folks will get to sing Silent Night and light a candle.  As simple as it might seem folks wait all year for this experience.  If there is nothing else throughout the year that moves them, this is one thing they know that will.

     It is also a good idea for a church to give a modest gift to all Christmas Eve visitors, such as a Christmas ornament, cookies, or any item which will remind them of their visit.  It also has to be remembered that since most folks attending the Christmas Eve service will come as a family that it is important to have special elements prepared for small children.

     Many churches have a fear of collecting an offering on Christmas Eve in fear of it being intimidating to non-churched folks.  Statistics show that non-churched folks eagerly will give to something which they know helps others.  So this is a great time to do a mission offering where a well known need is receiving a boost during this season a giving.  Folks love to see a church reach beyond itself to help others and are glad to be a part of this.

     This will conclude my ramblings on church growth and making Trinity UMC dynamic.  It is now time to begin putting some of these elements into practice.  My future blogs will be reduced to one weekly blog, with a either a report of what is going on, or upcoming, to which you are asked to be a part, or a Biblical message.  It is time to move forward….

Special Day Worship

Trinity Pentecost Picture

     It is common knowledge that most United Methodist Churches will experience their largest yearly attendance on Easter and Christmas Eve.  So it goes without saying that the greatest opportunities churches have occurs during these services.  We spend the rest of year in committee meetings trying to figure out what we can do to reach neighbors and friends and get them to participate in the life of the church.  The Lewis Center administered a survey and found that on Easter Sunday attendance is 180 percent of the previous year’s average attendance.  The survey also found that of the churches which had Christmas Eve services the average attendance was 150 percent above the previous year’s average attendance.

     This survey seems to suggest that many members and visitors will attend worship on Easter and Christmas Eve – even if they do not darken the door the rest of the year.  It almost then goes without saying that we must be involved in planning to meet these special times in order to reach current members and to connect with new people.  These special times need to be viewed as starting points for building attendance and for reaching others in the periods which follow these two special days.

     On Easter Sunday 2018 Trinity UMC had a combined total of both services of 274 folks worshiping with us.  The 2017 average attendance at worship at both services was 170.  These figures clearly show that these special services bring more folks to worship.  The worship number for this past Easter was accomplished primarily without any major effort at promotion.  It would certainly be wise to set a yearly goal to exceed the past years special service attendance   and to make a more concerted effort at promotion.

     This promotion can be something as simple as reminding folks of the importance of worship on this the most holy time of the year.  Think about it, something is just not right if folks are not in worship during Holy Week and on Easter.  We can easily promote special worship without shaming them.  All we have to do is to talk about what people have experienced in Holy Week, Easter, and Christmas Eve services throughout the years and what it has meant to their spiritual development.

     Another possible to increase special worship services is through the use of special music, (soloist, and different choirs, instrumentalist).  It is almost a given that the more folks that are involved in worship the more folks there will be that attend the service.  Perhaps the best example of this is to look at the number of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that attend any time children are involved.  The church must beware that the rule of anything that is done in worship must be done the best that it can be done is not violated.

     It is also very important that when planning the Easter service to assume that the church is going to have more folks in worship than has ever attended and plan for that to happen.  This means that all Easter planning must assume the largest crowd ever and prepare for it.  This means every aspect of church on that Sunday.  Thus more bulletins will be printed, the building will be cleaner, the music will be spectacular, the sermon will be the best of the year, etc.

     It is imperative that the church make special worship days spectacular.  It is even very wise to use these special services as a time to announce other upcoming special services, cantatas, sermon series, children’s programs, etc.  This perhaps will be the only opportunity we have to woo new folks to return and become part of the Trinity UMC family.

     Join me next time as we will talk about what we offer on Christmas Eve 2018…

 

Understanding Where We Are In Our Current Worship

Who Is Missing Image

     As I have stated previously, it is never a good idea to change worship just to be changing it.  There must be either good theological reasons or there must be good local reasons based on staff leading worship or congregants participating in the service.  So before planning worship for the future, it is a good idea to take a close look at the current state of our worship, especially as it is experienced by our congregation.

     Before planning worship we need to take a look at what we are currently doing with worship.  There are a few basic questions we can answer to get this basic understanding of our current worship.

   Who is currently participating?   Church growth experts tell us that many first time visitor’s report that there is tremendous energy from those leading worship and from the music leaders but that they do not sense the same level of energy from the congregants.  It is important that we understand what the word liturgy actually means.  The origin of the word liturgy meant “the work of the people,” not something that a few leaders did for a congregation.

     Therefore, worship is always something that involves the participation of the entire congregation.  It is always important to look around and see just how much engagement there is from those in the congregation.  This assessment is always a great tool for leaders of worship and musicians to use to remind them that their first responsibility in worship is to encourage and lead the congregation into worship participation.

     Who is leading worship?  It is always important to take a look at who is participating in leading worship.  Who does the congregation see standing before them leading worship?  Do those folks represent the vision of the church?  Do they represent those the church is seeking to reach?  It is always important to remember that people “hear what they see.”  EVERY person serving as a leader of worship MUST be able to do their assigned task efficiently.  Far too often folks who read poorly are allowed to stumble through reading Scripture.  Folks who poorly trained are allowed to perform differing functions of worship in a less than proficient manner.  When this occurs is it really surprising that the congregation is not involved in worship?

     What is the tone of our worship?  Would someone who attended for the first time say our worship is joyful and uplifting?  Do folks experience excitement and passion from our worship leaders?

     What are our attendance patterns?  What are the big days and/or seasons when more folks are in worship?  There are two times in which almost every church has much larger attendance, Christmas and Easter.  Yet many churches spend less time planning worship during these seasons due to the knowledge that attendance will be higher.  It is essential that the church be on its “A-Game” on these days.  Many folks will decided on Christmas and Easter whether they will attend any other times or simply tolerate two Sunday’s a year.

     It is also wise for worship planning teams to plan a number of special Sundays throughout the year.  As a general rule “Special Sunday’s” will increase normal worship attendance.  With this knowledge it should be common sense to add more Special Sunday’s.

     Join me next time as we will talk more about “Special Sunday’s”……

Who Are Not Present?

Who Is Missing Image

     Perhaps it would do us all good to look around during worship and take note of who are present and who are not present.  When we come together for worship who are those God has given us and who from the immediate community surrounding Trinity UMC are worshiping with us?  Who are those that are missing from our congregation?

     Folks who are most likely missing from worship in many churches are: Young adults, Singles, Racial and ethnic groups which differ from the make-up of the church majority, Youth, Children, and Men.  We must keep in mind that low numbers in any group makes it less likely that others from that group will be present.  So the good news is that if we can make even a small change in the numbers of folks from groups presently not present it becomes easier to change that make-up of the current worshipers.

     Once we have decided on the group or groups that we are seeking to reach, it then becomes imperative that we become familiar with the demographics surrounding Trinity UMC and determine if the group is present in the community and we are just not reaching them or if that group just is not present in the community.  It is vitally important that we not only track those who show up each week, but that we also track those who are not present.

    Who from our community do not attend Trinity UMC or attend any other church – folks we work with, our neighbors, our children’s classmates, etc.  Once we have identified these folks we need to answer a few questions seriously regarding them.  What are their concerns?  What do they value?  What are their questions?  It is vital that we have answers to these questions if we are to ever reach these folks.  When I was growing up on Barkley Lake we did a lot of fishing.  It was understood that you had to know something about the habits, diet, spawning, and water temperature etc. of the species you were fishing for before you would ever be successful.  We thus must also know some things about the groups we are trying to reach as a church.  Perhaps this why we were called and sent to be fishers of humanity.

     Another opportunity that many churches miss is in not getting information from those who visit our church for the first time.  Most visitors are glad to fill out a feedback survey telling the things which were good, bad, and indifferent about their experience.  With this information in the hands of the church leadership it becomes much easier to identify and correct or enhance what we are currently doing.

     Personally I feel it very important that worship planning be taken very seriously.  Worship is our primary entrance point for new folks coming into the church and thus it can never be taken for granted.  Studies across all denominations within the U.S. have consistently shown that one thing that distinguishes mainline denominational churches from other churches is that much less time is spent on the planning and preparation for worship services.  The old adage is correct that if we fail to plan we will plan to fail.

     Church growth experts teach us that growing churches:

  • Spend much time in planning for worship long term and weekly.
  • Prepare extensively for each service.
  • Regularly evaluate and revise what they are doing.

     When I first entered ministry full-time it was very common for clergy who were serving churches which were not growing to visit churches which were growing, learn what they were doing and bring this information back to their church and duplicate it.  This proved a disaster!  Our goal should never be to copy someone else’s way of worship nor should we defend our own.  Our worship needs to be unique to our setting and specific to the needs of those we hope to reach in the name of Jesus Christ.

     Join me next time as we examine specifics of worship planning…