Today I am beginning the series of one-on-one meetings I have each year with confirmands during the two weeks leading up to our confirmation Sunday. I love this time with our young people, asking them big questions about faith and hearing how they respond in their own unique ways.
I’ve written before about the series of questions I ask our confirmands, and each year I tweak them a little bit based on experience and my own evolving faith. This year I’ve added two new sets of questions. The first is this:
- Have you ever felt or experienced God’s presence?
- What was that like? How would you describe it?
I added this after the question, “How do you know God exists?”—which generally gets responses about believing in God’s existence rather than knowing God’s existence—because I think this might be a better way of approaching how we experience God as a reality in our lives.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Presbyterians (and others) are too caught up in the words we use to talk about God, as important and critical as choosing appropriate words is. Our focus on discussing concepts and words can have the cumulative effect of communicating that God is found in the words we use to talk about God, not beyond those words. I’m not sure this is what we want to communicate through confirmation and youth ministry, or any aspect of church for that matter.
God is not an idea. God is not the words we use to talk about God. God is not the words the Bible uses to talk about God. Ultimately, all of the words we use to describe God are metaphors, incomplete and provisional.
Yet Christians spend a lot of time arguing about these words, as if there is a set of absolute right words we should be using. And Christian faith formation is often an cerebral matter focused on words and ideas.
So by asking our confirmands if and how they have experienced God’s presence in their lives, I’m attempting to stretch their sense of engagement with the divine beyond the words and concepts with which confirmation classes spend so much time. Based on the responses I’ve heard so far, it’s clear to me that helping our young people recognize and name ways in which we experience God—in addition to the ways in which we think about or talk about God—is something I need to incorporate into future confirmation programs and wider youth ministry goals.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about the second set of questions I added this year, questions about vocation.