When The Church Should Not Be The Thing That Backs Down

Yesterday’s post generated a constructive conversation both in the comments and on Facebook about what churches expect from members, including youth, and what those expectations convey about the importance of what we’re doing. One commentator observed, ” I have never yet heard anyone complain that working on something they were truly passionate about made them too busy.”

Let’s add some nuance to the claim that “Church Should Be The Thing That Backs Down.” Because not everything the church does is the same. Backing down on worship attendance and youth group participation in favor of all the other things people are committed to is a move toward health. I’ve never once felt the need to coerce worship attendance over soccer, or even the “personal retreats” everybody needs now and again. 

But churches also commit to serving the poor and doing valuable work in the world, and backing down on those commitments is less healthy. That doesn’t help anyone. 

I had a student years ago who was prone to pulling out of commitments in the 11th hour. I finally had to hold the line with her and say, “No. You have to do this now. You committed to it and people are counting on you.” She honored the commitment and she thrived. I think that approach served the student’s long-term growth. 

Compare that to the way I failed at this when three students cancelled on last summer’s youth work trip just a few weeks beforehand. I didn’t hold their feet to the fire. Mostly, that’s because I was painfully aware of how poorly I had prepared students to go on the trip; precious little community had been built among participants, and students (and their parents) knew far too little about what we would actually be doing. It was a date on their calendar not difficult to swap for something else. That was on me. 

We have to pick the spots where we don’t back down. That means we have to do our work in advance, so that quitting is the last thing people want to do. 

And always grace and mercy abound.