Milestones. Kids’ lives are filled with them: first smile, first tooth, first word, first step, first day of school, first time behind the wheel. . . . Doting parents record these important milestones in baby books and flood the inboxes of family and friends with emails and Facebook updates.
But there are other milestones as well—the ones we celebrate in the church with brothers and sisters throughout a lifetime of faith nurture: baptism, church school, participating in the Lord’s Supper, profession of faith, becoming an elder or deacon. . . .
Strengthening profession of faith is one important way to engage children and young people, help them mature in their faith, and draw them closer within the body of Christ. Until fairly recently, profession of faith was a gateway to participation in the Lord’s Supper, but that is no longer the case. In many congregations, young members have become used to participating in communion long before they formally profess their faith.
To help churches deal with these changes, the denomination’s Faith Formation Committee has gathered practical suggestions from churches across the CRC about how to strengthen this important faith milestone. Not every one of these ideas will fit the context of every congregation, nor is this list exhaustive. But hopefully the ideas that follow will spark creative thinking about ways to strengthen the current practice of profession of faith within your own congregation.
Proactive encouragement. Develop a strategy to encourage young people to profess their faith. Some church leaders and parents have a tendency to sit back and wait for young members to take the initiative. Instead, actively encourage young people to think about taking this important step.
Time frame. Consider the best time frame for encouraging youth to make profession of faith—perhaps around age 15 or 16. By then most young people have the capacity for in-depth understanding and personal reflection; yet this time frame also builds in a year or two before high school graduation—a time to practice the learning and growth that have led to a young person’s profession of faith.
Training. Historically, preparing for profession of faith has included—and continues to emphasize—systematic biblical study as well as a study of church history and the creeds and confessions of the Christian Reformed Church. How well does your church do in providing the relevant training in these areas? Training for making profession of faith also includes instruction in spiritual disciplines and encourages lifelong habits of prayer, Bible reading, and worship. Such training need not be limited to Sunday school settings. If possible, invite young people to a weekend retreat or camp setting to spend time developing these habits of Christian discipleship together.
Family involvement. Kids spend much more time at home with their families than they do at church. So when it comes to faith nurture, parents have a huge role to play. Churches can support parents in becoming active participants in their children’s training and preparation for the faith milestone of profession of faith. One way to do this is by providing “take-home assignments” that require young people to partner with a parent or family member. Using an intergenerational curriculum or asking a parent to follow along with their son or daughter’s reading or study materials goes a long way toward strengthening not only the student’s faith but the faith of the whole family!
Mentoring. Matching teens with mature Christian adults who pray for them and come alongside them during their preparation for professing their faith (and beyond!) can be a life-changing experience for both the mentor and the young person. You’ll want to choose mentors carefully, making sure they’re willing to commit to partnering with someone for a significant length of time.
Church leaders. Before young people make their formal profession of faith, they should meet with the pastor and elders to give their testimony and to respond to questions that touch on (but are not limited to) the significance of their baptisms, understanding the basic teachings of the Christian faith, committing to Christian obedience, assenting to the creeds and confessions of the Christian Reformed Church, and desiring to contribute to the life and work of the congregation.
Celebrate! You’ll want to celebrate profession of faith in a worship service as a significant and meaningful part of the liturgy. There are many examples of liturgies congregations have developed for use in Reformed churches. (Check out crcna.org/pages/ffc_front.cfm for some of these.) To mark this significant milestone in the lives of young people, some congregations present them with a handmade memento or even a scrapbook or portfolio detailing their faith journeys to that point.
Lifelong discipleship. Profession of faith isn’t “graduation” from learning about and deepening our faith and commitment to Christ’s church. So you’ll want to develop a plan to encourage young people to keep growing in faith after this milestone moment. In addition to ongoing church education, provide opportunities for intergenerational learning and discipleship. Invite young people to participate in your church’s mission trips or other service projects.
Consider inviting young people to participate in a year or two of internship with an adult mentor after professing their faith. This provides time and space for young people to reflect on their gifts and identify particular ways to serve the congregation, such as helping to plan and lead worship, participating in drama, music, dance, or visual arts, or teaching younger children. And both mentor and mentee can encourage one another as each grows in faith.
Follow-up and adult membership. We suggest that the elders or the pastor engage those who make profession of faith in a follow-up conversation approximately a year later. This is a great opportunity to communicate to professing members the church’s ongoing commitment to walk with them as they grow in faith. Included in this conversation could be a discussion of the congregation’s guidelines for adult membership—for example, at what age they can hold office and vote in congregational meetings.
Ultimately, profession of faith is so much more than a one-time ceremony! As congregations look for ways to deepen their practice of profession of faith, we pray that they may continue to seek new ways to encourage members of all ages to profess their faith regularly throughout their lives and to provide liturgical opportunities for members to regularly affirm their baptisms and profess their faith in Christ.
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For more resources, ideas, and suggestions from churches across North America, check out the Faith Formation Committee website.
Wherever We Are . . .
Although we’ve talked about the importance of teaching young people about creeds and confessions as well as the habits of faithful discipleship, profession of faith is not primarily about head knowledge. An adult in our church who has autism made profession of faith about a decade ago while he was in his forties. Because of his autism he is not able to initiate conversation, but several members of the church and the pastor found ways to help him make the step of profession of faith.
The member who shared this story with me said how moving it was to see this person profess his faith in a simple but profound way. That particular profession of faith reminded her that although the gospel can be studied for a lifetime and still not be fully understood, the good news meets us wherever we are.