Conversation with some youth directors about sermon notes today. Hey, look, one said, we had only a few youth attending church, but then i required sermon notes for Confirmation and we regularly see most in worship! Yay!
Now I get to articulate a little “beef” i have…
Do our churches settle for membership by attendance? Membership by identification (“you are on our member lists”) will get us what we got here. So I could have young people attending, filling space, taking notes – required, and what got them there will need to be what keeps them there – mandates and requirements for being included. Follow me, what’s the alternative?
What do I expect if i require x-number of sermon notes a year? Do i really believe that by requiring notes, that somewhere in those x-number of note-taking experiences a teenager is going to be sitting there and a light bulb goes off and she says, “whoa i just discovered i love this! I love passively sitting here watching people in the front do all the heavy lifting. I like standing up and sitting down for no apparent reason. I like singing songs in keys that no human being on the radio sings in anymore. I like that the only songs with rhythm are from Africa – that’s not racist, right? I like seeing people dressed up like they are from the middle ages, with no explanation as to why… I like how in 60+ years we have never moved one piece of furniture! I like all the symbolism that is never explained… I like that it’s always the same people up front every week. It’s always polished and seems like no one misses a step. Look how it’s the same meal every week – same little crumb, same drop of juice – and they say this is a holy meal that should sustain us! I’m not full, but okay… I love that nothing else is asked of me, just to make sure that i’m here on time, occupying space and being that young face so the elders can think we’re healthy and growing… So even if i didn’t have to take these notes, i’d definitely keep coming!”
I’m should be sorry for the sarcasm, but until we force a conversation in our churches that membership by mere association is killing us – that’s a game and a facade, and move to a worship life that is membership by ownership (i hate consumeristic language but that’s the best word i can find) we’re gonna be in this same boat. [For my church, it’s acolyte participation requirement that acts like the sermon notes in this illustration… We are proud of the fact that we don’t require sermon notes. But unless you’re subbing in for someone, you’re probably only scheduled to acolyte a few times a year.]
I’m skipping the part entirely that wants to include how much our offerings would increase if we’d just require kids to be there taking notes so that by default the passing of the plate would increase “generosity” from their family…
The youth are not the only ones, look around – it’s the 90% who watch the 10% who do all the heavy lifting. Look at your worship space, are you always facting the back of the person in front of you? Even as we watch the cross walk in and out, i noticed yesterday, all i ever see is the back of the person’s head this whole service, except the passing of the peace which always just seems awkward. (Seriously, i get the intention behind it but it’s so wooden and forced since most people ditch out and leave without ever being peaceful after that thru real relationships).
Even as we receive communion – i face someone’s back in a line on the way up there. It’s just nice that it moves a little faster than the line at the grocery store. What does this say about our beliefs of community? I wonder if our youth aren’t picking up a subtle competing cue from all of this – we want them there, to what end? Is that forming faith? Are we going to restructure our worship times so everyone actually has a part, and everyone participates and owns part of the experience? Can we give up enough control so it might look sloppy if a 12 year old led this part of the service? Do you really have to be ordained in our denomination to give a 15 minute sermon? And that’s just one hour on a Sunday morning. It’s not to mention all the other hours in the week that our ministry is missing lifeblood because we won’t make true space for youth to own it. Could we have services seven days a week led by all sorts of people so that people can come when it’s more accessible to their schedule? Nights/ days? Or do we have to look “full” to have church?
So yep we see those youth leave when they’re done taking notes or whatever the requirements are. They aren’t going to become disciples by osmosis. It does not work that way. Just because you walk into a kitchen, doesn’t automatically make you a chef, and it certainly doesn’t make you a salad.