A wise professor once told us, "Never preach when you are mad... never have a church meeting on Saturday." This year at Annual Conference there will be a discussion about e-mail and facebook reading on Sunday mornings, because Pastors are preaching while angry after receiving hateful mail and postings on Sunday mornings.
Yesterday, I broke this rule. I preached at the 11:00am service while angry. For that I am sorry. I am not sorry for the content of the sermon, although it was not well thought out, and done on the spot!
I was approached yesterday and asked "When will we get some discipline?" "Discipline?" I answered... I thought of spiritual disciplines, those things that bring us closer to God; prayer, fasting, Bible Study, communion, worship, acts of kindness, charity.... I thought of "The Discipline," the United Methodist book of polity. This is the book that tells us about our beliefs, our understanding of what it means to be a church and how our church is to be organized. "Discipline" we have lots, for we are United Methodist... we are methodical and disciplined people.
"Yes, those kids in the back of the church make too much noise." you should discipline them! came the answer.
At that very moment I was told that the youth were not allowed to sit together for this service, something they have done as a group for years! They were deemed too rowdy.
Then a complaint about the scouts... and how they act on Monday nights while in the church.
All this in the last minutes before worship!
This was what set me off.
So I preached angry.... sorry. The content of that sermon is on line. It is not my best, in my opinion, but I do love our youth and children and firmly believe that they are not the church of the future but the church of today! I believe they should take leadership in the church, and I believe we should teach them that God loves them.
They should be disciplined, yes! We have had discussions with junior and senior highs about how they should treat one another and how they should treat adults. We talk to them about how they should act in worship, but sometimes they make mistakes.
Discipline I believe, starts at home. It is not the job of the schools or the church to teach children how to act, that starts at home and is confirmed and complimented at church and school.
At church the main thing they need to know is that God loves them... no matter what. Not that they have to sit still, and be silent and never ever text someone!
So we work with the parents of our youth and children, correcting and shaping (if you don't believe this, ask a parent if we have had a talk with them about their child... we probably have) This also happens in scouting!
Over the past eleven years, our church has grown. And while it has grown in numbers, it has also grown younger. the average age of the worshiping church is lower than it was ten years ago. More young people and more young families come each week, and their children share in our ministries. This is a celebration. But times have changed. They do not adhere to our rules, or assumptions of what rules there are! Some have never been in worship at all! But they come, and they are accepted for who they are and shown the love of God!
If we are to continue to reach the new generations, we must continually adapt, not to be slick and catchy, but to speak to a generation in their language, in their context. This will mean that we will be continually changing. And that is hard.
Many churches wish they had even one child, or one youth. Some churches are filled with young people and youth and children. Choices had had to be made along the way in either church. These are not easy choices.
I think my choice has always been to seek and support youth, children and young adults. I want them to experience the love of God while they live in a complex world of bitterness and hate. Many of our youth come from broken homes, and have experienced great tragedies in their lives. Even my own son has had to deal with issues of racism and betrayal at times levels for which he was not yet ready. But he knows that no matter what, God loves him, his parents love him, and the church will welcome him.... I hope....