I work in a midsized Methodist church. I guess. Small/midsized/huge varies based on your context, I suppose.
But it’s midsized from where I stand. Being that size allows pretty direct one-on-one interaction with kids and families. Once instance where we try with great dedication to get things on that level are conversations with our kids that are in our confirmation process. My senior pastor and I divide up the kids based on some criteria–some years it’s based on how well we know them; other years it comes down to who we know has already made a profession of faith and who hasn’t.
I used to hate those conversations.
Not because I didn’t like talking about God. Obviously not because I didn’t like to see kids accepting God’s grace in their lives. I hated it because I felt like a salesman at a crummy buy here/pay here used car lot, trying to cajole some poor kid into buying the one bad year model of Nissan Altimas. There was just no way to have a kid sit down in my office and not have it feel like he was in trouble or that she was going to be asked questions she doesn’t want to answer.
So I thought I’d offer 3 tips for making those conversations feel more genuine from word go.
1. Don’t have the conversations in your office.
There’s nothing wrong with your office; you love your office. Everything is right where you know it is and it’s the perfect blend of sincerity, light-heartedness, and organized-without-being-anal-about-it that you were going for. And kids hang out in your office all the time–why wouldn’t you go there? Because it’s an office, dummy. The office is where you go when you get in trouble. The moment you close the door (provided it has a window, per Safe Sanctuaries paragraph E, subsection iii) you’ve set this conversation aside as different. And different is uncomfortable. If it must happen at the church, find a different room. Even the sanctuary is probably more comfortable than your office. If you can, do it at their house with their parents close by. At least then they’re on their home turf.
2. Don’t let it be the first meaningful conversation you’ve had with the kid.
Most churches do confirmation at a young age. Arguably too young, in many cases. A side result of their lack of spiritual bark is that you don’t know them as well. Unless you’re also the children’s minister, you are often meeting kids for the first time in confirmation. Get to know them individually at least a little before you ask them point blank to verbalize their core beliefs. They’re going to choke up if you don’t.
3. Don’t answer your own questions.
It’s possible that the painful silence following your question, “What do you think about grace?” is caused by them thinking and not by them hoping you’ll move on. Give them time. The answers to the big questions of faith can be hard to put words to at any age. Don’t rattle off a series of followup questions that a) tells them what you think about grace/whatever and b) gives them an answer to spit back at you to keep things moving. Wait. The way that they talk about grace in their life is going to be far more important to them down the road than the way you talk about it in yours is.
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways. How do you handle those vulnerable moments in ministry?