The young people from my congregation are having a good experience at confirmation camp. They're singing songs, playing games, making friends, studying the Bible, and all the other things you should do at a summer camp in the Rocky Mountains. It might not seem like it sometimes (you know how middle-schoolers can be), but I believe their faith is growing. I believe the Spirit is leading them into a deeper relationship with the Divine.
The faith they are growing into is immature. These students are just beginning to think abstractly, so they can't think about faith in ways that are complex, nuanced and in-depth. For 11- to 14-year-old people, immature faith seems pretty appropriate.
However, it seems like this is where faith stops maturing for most people. What seems to be typical is that we learn about our faith in Sunday school when we're young. Then in middle school, we spend some time in more intense study, after which we are confirmed.
Beginning in high school (and having been confirmed), we are given the choice about whether to continue to participate in the life of our community of faith. Many of us choose to not do so. And many of us don't ever return to church. Some of us come back when we begin having children. We want our kids to have a church and faith foundation, and so we return to the community of faith. However, we find that we rely more than we ought to on the church institution to pass on the faith, since many of us are stuck with a faith that hasn't matured beyond middle school.
This is a failing on the part of parents, though to a small degree. It is a much bigger failing on the part of the church. We seem reluctant to challenge people, reluctant to wrestle with the difficult aspects of our tradition, reluctant to point out elements of our life together that aren't biblical. I wonder if we as church leaders are scared to challenge people too much for fear they'll make the choice to stop attending worship, or to join a different congregation, or to stop giving money — any of which would lead to congregational budgetary problems. Or maybe challenging people just makes us uncomfortable.
We need a church that people want to be part of. Many people recognize this. Unfortunately, most people deal with it by turning to marketing- and presentation-oriented solutions. Advertise better, or make the worship and programming flashier, and people will be attracted. And it seems to work, at least to a certain degree. People will come, but when they do they'll expect to be entertained instead of challenged.
We need to challenge each other and support one another as we struggle together. When the faiths of individuals and congregations are mature, it's obvious — lives and communities are changed for the better. And people are attracted to change.
At camp, young people find themselves spiritually vulnerable — the good camps take advantage of that vulnerability for the benefit of the campers' faith. If the church doesn't do the same, doesn't challenge people beyond their comfort zones into places of faithful vulnerability, we won't mature, and the church will become nothing but a self-serving club concerned only with its existence.
Read the original version of this reflection at Matthew E. Bolz-Weber's blog.
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