“Pastor’s Wall of Shame.”
Yeah, that’s what he called it.
As I scrambled around a few weeks ago to get everything organized for Confirmation Sunday, I grabbed the camera and made my way to the sanctuary to take the yearly “Confirmation Photo.” Like many churches, my congregation has a wall that has some 30+ years of Confirmation Sunday pictures. Row upon row of proud smiling pastors and their newly confirmed catechumens.
“Get your Confirmation picture pastor, but maybe don’t hang it up. After all, this is like your wall of failure and shame. I mean, how many kids from these pictures go to church anymore? How many are even Christians still?”
I’ll be honest, every week when I go to teach my confirmation classes, I pass that wall. I see the pictures, the smiling faces, the previous pastors, and myself. I recall the names and the faces of those I’ve confirmed. I think of the hours spent teaching, instructing, and answering questions. Grading papers, reading sermon reports, and assisting with the various projects and assignments that go along with a robust 4 years of Catechesis. Seeing that wall, as I walk into the classroom to teach the new cadre of catechumens keeps me humble. It also makes me acutely aware of the importance of teaching the faith rightly, and understandably, as I walk side by side with these young people who will one day confess their faith before God and their congregation.
Every baptized, catechized, and confirmed Lutheran has confessed their faith using the same formula of words. And every individual who has joined the congregation that I serve, has reaffirmed them.
Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?
Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?
Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
To each question the response is: I do, by the grace of God.
Confirmation Sunday presents the opportunity for the congregation to hear this bold profession of faith from the young people of the church. It is an exciting time in the life of the congregation. It is an exciting time for pastors! I know that I am excited each year for Confirmation Sunday! It is a joy to see the young men and women who I have instructed for the past several years, stand up before the Congregation and before God, to boldly declare their faith.
Some years I look at a class with high degrees of optimism, knowing that most of them will absolutely continue steadfast in their faith. Sometimes, there are years when I am a bit apprehensive and worry whether the confirmed will actually continue steadfast in this confession and their faith. Those years I wonder if there was more that I could have done.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that the most faithful confirmands are never faithful just because of me. I know that when it comes to pastoral ministry, it’s never because of me, it’s always the Word of God at work among His through His Word preached and taught and His Sacraments rightly administered.
When a confirmand continues steadfast in their faith and confession, I am only a small piece of the puzzle. While I may have taught them the Scriptures and given them a foundation in the Christian faith, it has ultimately been the work of their parents modeling the faith, valuing the faith, and making the effort to show their children that the things of the faith are of utmost importance. That’s what makes all the difference! Parents and their support and involvement make the pastoral task of teaching the faith a bit easier, because parents engaged in the life of faith in their children, is a blessed partnership.
Parents still have the greatest impact on the faith formation of their children! Moms and Dads model and lay the foundations of faith on the solid rock of Jesus Christ! In Sunday School and Confirmation Classes, that foundation is built upon by pastors and teachers as they deepen their knowledge and language of this Christian faith and freedom that we have in Jesus!
It is a tremendous responsibility and a joyous duty. It can be a daunting task! Sadly, at times, the return on that investment of time and attention can seem a bit stark.
Yes, I have a wall, but it’s not a wall of shame. When I look at it, I find myself filled with a profound sorrow as I look at class after class of smiling Confirmands and realize how many have fallen away from the promises they once declared. Despite the hours spent teaching, modeling, and encouraging in the faith, how many starving souls; how many precious ones for whom Jesus shed His blood, are missing?
Now the same can be said for church pictorial directories too. Page after page of smiling faces, members of Christ’s body who were at one time, fed and nourished at the Lord’s Table, a part of the fellowship. Many, who their pastor prayed with, visited, cared for, and took the time to deliver God’s precious gifts too. Some now rest from their labors, others have left the faith, others have fallen away for one reason or another.
Young or old, when one departs the faith or falls away from their confession of the faith, it can leave many unanswered questions. But the one that rings loudest is this: “what could have been done?”
The writer of Hebrews offers this encouragement and instruction to us, he writes, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:23-25).
“Encourage one another.” In the original Greek, you could translate that word to be “irritate, incite, or annoy,” and perhaps that is how it sometimes feels when we encourage one another along in the faith. But encouraging each other along the way, may be just what we each need as we live day by day.
If your congregation recently confirmed catechumens recently, encourage them to continue growing in their faith and receiving our Lord’s gifts. If you are part of a fellowship of believers, BE your brother and sister’s keeper! Encourage one another to be faithful to the words once promised to be gathered by the Holy Spirit to receive our Lord’s precious gifts.
Consider how you boldly declared that you would suffer all things, even death, rather than fall away from this saving faith which we have received, which God nourishes week in and week out with His Holy Word and precious Sacrament. Consider how you may continue to be faithful and how you can strengthen and encourage others to do the same!
Yes, I have a wall, covered in pictures of my congregation’s Confirmands. Some of the names I know because I instructed them. Some are unknown because they were instructed by the pastors who came before me and were gone long before I arrived. Some I’ve married, others I’ve buried. But at some point, each stood before the congregation and declared that they would suffer all things, even death, rather than fall away from this Christian faith.
Year by year, I’ll keep hanging up that Confirmation picture because that wall is not a wall of shame. It serves as a constant reminder of the magnitude of the task of teaching and handing down the faith. That wall of “shame” reminds the congregation of those who have confessed the faith and may need encouragement in their faith. They are the people the church should be praying for.
The labor is never in vain, so take that picture, frame it, and hang it up!
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58