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. 

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3 thoughts on “When The Church Should Not Be The Thing That Backs Down

  1. Your posts have made me think a lot. The thing that really comes through as I think of the ways that people pursue their interests/obligations, is the sense that what is missing when it comes to church commitments is that there is either a lack of a sense of any personal value added to one’s life and/or a breakdown of Christian relationships. In terms of personal value, sports, school work and such give our kids a very clear connection to personal gain. (I.e. College acceptance & scholarships, academic and physical achievements and rewards, etc.). Sports and other activities do provide a slice of community for our students and their families. Go to any school at lunch and see how students section themselves off from each other based on their shared activities and interests. Watch how parents interact during a game heir kids are playing.

    So why is the Church left out? I think it is because we were never meant to just share life around “church” gatherings. We should be present at games, we should be supporting student achievements, we should share all of life. Sadly the Church has moved toward acting like any other organization and has reaped that harvest. If our programs don’t add any kind of value or sustain any real relationships, then our programs must change. They must not be designed for the purpose of sustaining themselves as programs, they must be designed to sustain and enhance relationships…relationships with God and with each other.

    This is not a failure of youth ministry, it is a failure of the Church neglecting true fellowship. Truly, people make time for things they are passionate about. If we are passionate about the Church (the ekklasia aka assembly of believers) then we will be passionate about being in their lives outside of worship. And if people build bonds, hen maybe ey won’t want to miss out on the other gatherings of the ekklasia.

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