The students I work with are busy. They are debaters, soccer players, and high achievers in the classroom. So when they have a game the same Saturday as a youth retreat, they miss the retreat, and if Monday morning’s homework isn’t finished by Sunday at 7:00, they’re not coming to youth group either.
I’m over being annoyed at this. For a long time I carried a kind of chip on my shoulder about playing second fiddle to all of my students’ more important commitments. I’m convinced now that a youth leader who begrudges kids the things that take them away from church is doing nothing to help them grow.
Most of the commitments my students take on are zero sum operations when it comes to student’s participation; water polo expects 100% of your effort and loyalty, just like theater does, and just like–lurking in the background–teachers do. My students are conscientious and driven, and I can see them striving to give what’s expected of them. And heaven help them when a game conflicts with a performance or a test, because none of the adult leaders–not the coach, not the director, not the teacher–are backing down from their demand for 100%. The student will be penalized by whatever she misses.
Maybe my students need church to be the thing that backs down and that expects whatever percentage of themselves they’re able to give–today. Maybe we should celebrate the community that God has gathered today, this weekend, or this work trip, without regard for how it compares to the group we had last week or last year.
My student communities are all appreciably different every time they gather, because their responsibilities and extra-curricular opportunities shape a shifting landscape that barely any of them can manage. Almost none of them prioritize church over everything else. I’m okay with that. Because they’re here today.
Rather than 100% of their effort and loyalty throughout a season or production, maybe church youth groups and events should make more of the asset we actually have when students gather, something more durable than loyalty and more valuable than their fear of getting cut: the 100% they are offering of their desire to be here now.
And when they’re there, let’s give them 100% of our attention and connection without expecting future participation in return.