About a year ago I wrote a post here called, “The Church Should Be The Thing That Backs Down” in which I argued that, in the stampede of activities and demands on teenagers time, church activities should make the fewest demands. The post generated more conversation than any other post I’ve written. One blogger even wrote a post of her own to discuss it.
Another year of school and church activities has passed, so I want to revisit the post.
I still think it’s a mistake to coerce participation. Making kids feel guilty is just as bad as promising them some reward if they come, which is just as bad as threatening to bar them from future participation, and all of those are tactics I’ve seen school and extra-curricular activities employ against teenagers. I don’t ever want to do any of those things.
And yet the thing that I see now that I didn’t a year ago is that, for some of the youth I work with, there’s no need for the church to back down. Some collectives of teenagers need the church to step up, not back down, to match their level of energy for the things they’re passionate about. Sometimes that’s hanging out with one another in a welcoming space, and sometimes its’ leading a community service project.
These youth don’t need multiple text reminders for meetings. They’re calling you on their lunch break at school to make sure youth group is still on. And when you cancel they let you have it.
On bad days I even wish some of these kids would back down.
The difference between groups like this and groups that need coercing to keep meeting together is that the former exist outside the church as well as inside; they don’t depend on congregational activities as a means of being together. The church gives them time and space, and the church accompanies them in a unique way in activities that they initiate and lead, but they were a community before they met the church. We’re helping them to be a better one.
And they’ll never ask us to back down from doing that.