We kicked off our Confirmation Ministry last week and had our first class time this week. Leading up to and even during the week of starting the classes, I had some conversations with parents and families about their child’s schedule and how it was going to be hard to “fit” everything in.
These conversations were everything from face to face meetings with a mom who is also a small group leader trying to figure out how her son could engage, even though the first month he would need to miss because of soccer. She came to me wondering if she could get the lessons, to teach them at home!
The other “conversation” was via and email statement from a mom. She said her son would be alternating between soccer practices one week and Confirmation class the following week. There was really no discussion about it, that was what their family had decided to do.
I have found that usually there are two responses to these conversations…
1) I lock down on the requirements of the program and point out that they are making a statement by giving their child the “option” to miss class/retreats/service nights and choosing sports over their faith. Or I make the family feel guilty for “giving into” the societal pressure and “rage against the sports” and the lack of the “holy days” of the past.
2) Or I respond with empathy and work with the family to make it work. I also name the beauty of the community in which their child finds belonging, whether it is a sports team, a community group, or musical group.
What are the messages we send in the options above? What are the messages to the families? And possibly more importantly what are the messages to the youth?
When I first started in ministry, I would get frustrated with those who choose to do sports over our weekly meeting. I would use phrases such as “for the integrity of our program” and “they can choose to give all this time to their sports, but not their faith…” I certainly responded with the first choice above.
I think this response helped me find my worth in the ministry. If people were going to ditch out on something I was doing, well at least I was going to keep my internal beliefs about why faith is so important and verbalize to those families or youth, why I thought this way. It gave me a sense of worth for what I was doing…(yeah, I’m reflecting back…but in hindsight there was a reason for the response, and this is where I’ve landed…)
Back to our messages…I think when we respond to families with the firm, hard line response, we shut doors and we can easily shut down the conversations before they are even able to start. This can damage the relationship between the church and family, but more importantly it can indirectly state to the youth, that what is important to you is not important to the church. Your team, your talent, your outside of the church commitments do not matter. (Again, this can be an indirect result, but it is a result nonetheless and one that is hurting the Church.) Why would a youth want to come back to a church when the church didn’t care about their desires and talents, unless they were usable within the church…?
The second response, opens the door for more conversation. It lets the family know we are willing to listen and we are open to explore what this experience means to your family. It is a response which gives the family the option to engage in the ministry to their best ability and at a level they are comfortable committing to. To me, that is a win. We are giving the family the options, we are supporting them in the waters and waves of every day life, as they try to navigate life with their pre-teen or teenager.
In some aspects, these responses can be categorized in the words of Law or Gospel. I realize the need for both, but when it comes to something like Confirmation, a ministry that has little to do with salvation, is there a way we are able to express both the hope and need for the Law, as well as the grace and love of the Gospel?
I believe there is a way forward where both the “integrity of the program” and “the reality of a family’s life” are brought together and not pitted against each other with our responses.