I had a "come to Jesus" meeting with Shepherd King's youth group last Sunday. The previous Sunday, when I was gone, our youth had made a plea for financial support for their trip to New Orleans at the beginning of worship. Then several of them sat off by themselves and proceeded talk all through the service and pay so little attention to what was going on around them that they did not stand up for the gospel or the creed or anything else. Adult members found their behavior inappropriate and disrespectful. By the time I was back in the office last Tuesday, the complaints were pouring in.
So we had a come to Jesus meeting. I told them they'd shot themselves in the foot - asking for support and then acting up all through worship. With their parents standing by listening, I talked to the youth about showing respect - to their parents, to the worshipping community, to me, and most of all, to God. We went over a list spelling out guidelines for good behavior in worship - take off your hat in church, stand up for the Gospel reading, open your bulletin and your hymnal and participate, keep your hands to yourself. Being part of the church, I said, is a two-way street. The congregation provides you with a cool youth room, supports the trips you take, teaches you Sunday school, hires you a youth director. In return, you need to come to worship, behave properly, and be courteous to others. We posted a copy of these guidelines on the door of the Youth room.
We have great kids here at Shepherd King. Each is a fine person with sensitivity and kindness, loyalty, good humor, faith in God, and willingness to help others. But often they come to Sunday school and then do not attend worship, staying in the youth room or going outside instead. That has irked me for some time, but it was only this past Sunday that I talked to them about it. Which makes me wonder - why have I hesitated to make it clear to the youth what I expect from them? Why haven't I addressed them like this before?
I believe the youth - their wellbeing, their behavior, their faith development - is the responsibility of the whole congregation. But I, like most members of our congregation, have left discipline to their parents. "If those kids are not in worship," I've reasoned to myself, "their parents need to do something about it!" Yet, truthfully, I don't believe that. The parents/guardians of these kids work hard to get their kids to worship; they've told their children how to behave in church. Why should they be the only ones who say to our youth "put that cell phone away, please" or "come on, it's time for worship and you guys need to be there"?
People grow and become their best selves when held to a high standard. Low standards do not make for friendliness, only sloppiness. Yet I think, in the church, we have been afraid of offending other people if we make our expectations clear. Do we expect those in our community of faith to come to worship every Sunday (or only on occasion)? Do we expect each other to speak up at meetings and participate in the ministry we undertake? Do we expect ourselves and one another to represent Jesus in our daily living?
God does not hesitate to let us know what is expected of us as baptized people. We hear these words in the rite of Affirmation of Baptism - "you have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God's faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?" Our response (should we accept this mission) is "I do, and I ask God to help and guide me."
God has high expectations of us. God expects us to worship together regularly - hearing the Word, sharing the supper. God expects our lives to reflect the good news of Jesus. God expects us to work for peace and justice in all the earth. These are high expectations!
"From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected." That applies to us. We have received so much from God - life, health, safety, work, family, abilities, the love of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection. Now God lovingly expects us to achieve much, to give much, to strive to love one another as Jesus Christ has loved us.
Maybe we should post this section of the Affirmation of Baptism on our church doors so that we all will remember - God expects a lot from us. May God uphold us and enable us as we worship with full hearts, serve alongside each other, and promote peace and justice in all the world.
Pastor Kris Franke Hill, stm.