In April of 2018, Sparkhouse invited the Rev. Daniel Davis of Westminster United Presbyterian Church in Minden, Nebraska, to share his thoughts about Keeping Teens Engaged in Confirmation.
Westminster, like many smaller congregation, often struggles to have confirmation on a consistent basis. But the Rev. Davis has found that Sparkhouse’s Colaborate Presbyterian Confirmation offers some key features that help him to keep his teens engaged. What follows are some excerpts from our conversation with the Rev. Davis. The on-demand webinar and some great conversation with participants can be found here.
Q: Dan, what has your experience been like in leading confirmation classes?
It’s always a big thing for me to find a curriculum that’s not only engaging for the kids, but also for myself. Take Colaborate for instance. I evaluated it over a couple of years at Sparkhouse’s booth at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. I looked at the videos, read the materials, and took the fliers.
But the reason why I reviewed it so thoroughly is that I had just finished a confirmation class and wasn’t real happy. It was mostly just Dan talking to the kids. I was craving something that could inspire two-way conversations. I was tired of just using pizza to keep their attention.
Westminster doesn’t have enough kids to do confirmation every year, so this period of time from one class to the next was about two-and-a-half years. I was really able to reflect back and take a good look at Colaborate. I came to realize that it engaged me! I felt that I could confidently take it, use it, and have success with it because my engagement would engage kids as well.
Q: What are some of your goals for your students as a result of their experience with confirmation?
Here’s a few things that are givens for me. I want my kids in confirmation to engage in a couple of ways:
- I want them to start to engage the Bible a little bit more at the next level. If they have been in Sunday school, the Bible has generally been presented to them piecemeal. I want them to look at the Bible as more than a collection of stories. Rather, I want them to start looking at the Bible as a cohesive book and how it all works together.
- I want them to engage with the Presbyterian Church, its history and theology. I want to present these ideas in ways that invite them to start thinking about this entity with a sense of ownership, reflecting, and how they might participate in some way with the church here and now!
Colaborate Presbyterian Confirmation features thirty Bible lessons and fifteen Presbyterian History and Doctrine lessons that have helped me do exactly that.
Q: What are some of the ways you’ve been able to engage your students in their Presbyterian confirmation experience?
I love using humor and lighthearted approach. Colaborate really supports me in this, especially the videos. They are on the kids’ level. But when we watch a video, we’re going to surface a point that I want to make. Sure the videos are highlighting absurdities—they make sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth graders roll their eyes—but that’s OK, when that happens you know you’re on to something. When the video is over, it’s made them think. And they are recognizing themselves in the videos and realizing that moving past the absurd part is what really gets us to the heart of the session.
Engaging kids in a real way—that’s what it’s about. The original version of the “Presbyterian Handbook” had a cover cartoon drawing of John Calvin peering over his sunglasses, honestly that’s what drew me to that book. It drew me to go inside and discover that the information that it presents is dead serious, but still in a lighthearted way. That’s engaging because it causes you to laugh as much as to go “hmmm.” Colaborate Presbyterian Confirmation has that same kind of effect.
Q: What’s the biggest difference you see in teaching teens today compared to five years ago? How do you adapt to these changes?
Things have really changed over the course of my ministry—how we interact, the new technology and new ideas, the changing world around us. It seems like every few years there are major shifts that we need to react to. Over the past 20 years, those changes have come so fast that it seems as if it’s not even a generational thing anymore. Now there are dizzying subsets as kids move from middle school into high school. Every three to four years there are things that they have to react to and respond to in our society.
I believe kids have always been really perceptive about what goes on around them. We used to have television, radio, and print. Now we’ve added in all of the social media that we use to engage with the world around us. Consequently we’ve increased the need to react to the speed at which this information travels and is disseminated. And now it’s not always factual news! It’s completely different, the level of rapid discernment and critical thinking that all this demands.
Bringing a half-dozen young people together is challenging. Shared ideas and a Book that’s been around for thousands of years is not on their radar. Working with the same Bible and making it something that gets their attention is a challenge. Colaborate’s problem-based approach gives kids real-world access to divine wisdom. I try to present what is foundational about their beliefs and get them to think about the Bible and their church in much more than just a transitory way. I want them to think and reflect and understand these things as foundational to life!
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