Mandatory? What’s That?

Somebody said that certain elements of my church’s Confirmation program used to be mandatory, and without even thinking I answered, “Mandatory? What’s that?” It was a bald admission of an operating assumption: students will participate because they want to or because their parents want them to, but not because I want them to. Certainly not because I say they have to.

I want this assumption challenged, so I will unpack a couple of particulars. First, I can’t make things mandatory in Confirmation because I don’t have a realistic consequence for noncompliance. What, would I tell a student she can’t make the profession of faith she wants to make because she missed an event? To do so would equate the authenticity of the profession with the student’s willingness to prioritize church programs above her many other commitments. Would we make such a demands of an adult? Would we tell the 48 year old mortgage broker that he can’t profess faith and join the church unless he comes on a weekend retreat?

Students choose church invitations over soccer and dance. They do. They just don’t make a show of having made that choice. I learned on our last Confirmation retreat because I asked, “What would you be doing if you weren’t here” that one of my students skipped an entire soccer tournament in favor of church. I’m convinced the value of that choice is greater because it was his (or his parents’), not mine.

This assumption admits a willingness to sacrifice participation from those who need a requirement to justify attendance in favor of the participation of those who want to come. It places a lesser value on compliance in attendance than it does on desire. The former might admit more members to the church, but the latter probably will admit more disciples.

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