As I have been thinking about transitional milestones in the church, I have begun to wonder if we might need to re-imagine one of the most significant of these milestones—Profession of Faith. Making a Public Profession of Faith seems to have lost its import, worth, or validity for this generation. I believe two recent trends, one from within the church and one from the broader culture around it, are impacting the way in which our youth and young adults are approaching Profession of Faith: from within, the movement toward having young children participate in the Lord’s Supper (which I support) and from without, the contemporary trend of “extended adolescence” or period of “prolonged emerging adulthood” (which concerns me).
Let’s start by looking at this new phenomena where “30 is the new 20.” Whether perhaps due to their over-involved parents having orchestrated every aspect of their young lives or the fact that this generation which seems to have so much choice at its fingertips that it is almost debilitated by fear of making the wrong one, today’s young adults are putting off committing to the once recognized life milestones of career, marriage, family and church to name a few. This fear of commitment has perhaps created a generation of relational and experiential nomads. Young Adults are increasingly hesitant to stand up in front of a congregation and commit to it as a community of faith in particular and its doctrines in general because they know there are other churches and doctrines out there that they have yet to explore. Further, in some CRC communities where making a PoF is often only encouraged once a young person has settled down, PoF many times correlates with an upcoming marriage or the need to baptize a baby. With the average age of marriage moving steadily towards 30, PoF is becoming a milestone that is being pushed off as a future, but maybe not necessary possibility. “Who knows where I might end up?” exclaimed a young friend of mine. PoF seems to be losing its place in the lives of our young adults. How might we begin to divest this milestone of the extra cultural weight we may have added to it?
As for changes within the church, for a number of young people with whom I have spoken, one of the unforeseen consequences of separating PoF from the the ability to partake in communion seems to be the communication that PoF is now superfluous. “I already told an elder that I love Jesus when I was 7. That hasn’t changed. Why do I need to get up in front of the whole church?” I have also had students ask to be “re-baptized” in order to give their PoF more significance. Going to a pre-profession class and answering questions at a council meeting and in front of church is just too cerebral and not tactile or experiential enough for many of this generation. How might we distinguish this PoF from that of the 7 or 8 year old and how might we mark and celebrate it in a different manner?
There are undoubtedly more reasons why PoF is perhaps being devalued by today’s young people which deserve our attention, however, one thing that these conversations are telling me is that we are being asked to re-cast this important milestone--not do away with, but discern what messages are being received concerning the important act of publicly professing one’s faith. As well, I think the Church is being challenged to help the entire congregation live out of their baptisms by facilitating a variety of opportunities to make meaningful faith statements that are congruent with all the different stages of our faith development. Maybe, just maybe, we have put too much on PoF and need to separate the publicly saying “yes” to the Lordship of Christ from saying “yes” to joining a particular congregation. Maybe, there is a need for another milestone that celebrates the end of formal catechesis...and maybe we will go back to actually doing formal, intentional catechesis. Maybe we need more opportunities to publicly share our faith stories and experiences of life with Christ. And, maybe we might need to find another way to celebrate when folks join our particular fellowship that is done for all new members whether by transfer, or graduation or conversion.
I would be interested in hearing if other congregations are thinking about this topic and how it affecting the way in which you do youth and young adult ministry. I hear inklings that the answer is yes. Rev. Kevin Adams and his congregation at Granite Springs in California have been doing some exciting reflection on how to help the congregation live into and out of their baptism. You might want to connect with them here. If you are interested in how broader cultural young adult trends are impacting other religious groups, I also recommend a book by Naomi Schaefer Riley called Got Religion: How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back (Templeton Press, 2014). It gave me another lens through which I could assess some of the ways the CRC is trying to re-engage its youth and young adults, but that is for another time.