I was at a good meeting this morning with the pastors of our persuasion. They have breakfast together every three months or so and talk about things. This time they were talking about a youth retreat that kind of blew up in their face.
It was probably partly my fault. I tell the youth at our church that if they want to do stuff to go ahead and plan and do stuff, what do they need me for? My job as the only person functioning as pastor is not to put on special programs for the youth and I told them from the beginning I wasn’t interested in programs of any sort. Not even Sunday school. We do what is required of us in Scripture and that is more than enough to keep two pastors busy, let alone one who isn’t even a pastor. That probably sent ripples out that had something to do with what transpired.
The youth got themselves organized. They came out with this thing about the church neglecting them and planned a full-scale youth retreat over a weekend–only they got people from other churches, invited a questionable guy to speak, fortunately got him replaced but not before making problems for the other pastors, and finally carried it off.
They meant, by the thing about being neglected, that they grew up expecting youth groups, youth camps and youth retreats and were being given none because the pastors are focusing on other things–such as what God requires of them. As if they are without this valuable means of grace: the youth-retreat.
At one point one of the pastors did say: “It’s almost like it’s a means of grace.” I pounced on that one. They believe these things are necessary for their spiritual growth, that they won’t develop properly as Christians without them. At least, that’t how they talk about it to get what they really want. Which was excellent for making the point these pastors were all starting to see: Scripture is sufficient. If we are doing what Scripture says we are giving them what they need, the Word and sacraments.
I told them the real problem was they’d created expectations of other things and were reaping the consequences. They teach the kids from Sunday School on to come to church to receive age-appropriate entertainment; they come to expect it at every stage, get sulky if they don’t. Not a key to success if you plan to hew to the regulative principle.
You know, it was received very positively, which surprised me very much. I think our own church is one of the least reformed in that aspect of all the churches here. I’m not out to change things because I’m not here to stay and I try not to stray into things that will cause problems I’m not going to be here to clean up. But there is the confession at work: they know about the sufficiency of Scripture, they know about the regulative principle–these pastors. They don’t have all the implications clear, but they have an idea what some of them are and appear to be able to recognize one when it is demonstrated. Most of the churches have no real youth thing because if they do something for the youth it is to bring them in and teach them doctrine, not activities and games. It is another church service on an undesignated day. In the church I’m at and two others closely associated, however, they have the expectation because they had a missionary trained in that kind of thing that put on camps, retreats, youth-groups, VBSs and all that. Now he’s gone. Our youth had come to expect it, but since I don’t do that and it wasn’t getting done: they missed the means of gratification.
No big deal for the churches who don’t really do anything but whose youth were invited because they have friends in other places. The solution they came up with? If the youth want to plan social things, fine, get together and do stuff but in the future don’t mix in worship. If they want to worship or have more teaching, see the pastors and do it with the local church.
It did give me an opportunity to mention Sunday school, and also this unexamined practice of having retreats with other allures. Well received too.
Talking with a young chap later today, one who escaped to us from fundamentalism and didn’t go to the retreat–he thinks youth camps are bogus–he wondered how reformed people could get that way. The truth is we’re still evangelicals of a sort of reformed persuasion, but with a lot of unexamined baggage. Ecclesia semper reformanda est, right? They have that motto too. The positive response gives me hope I dared not entertain before. The use of the confession as a guide and ordering principle seems a great, great strength. One lesson from today is make sure they get the point of having a confession. It gives expression to things you wouldn’t have thought about in a way you wouldn’t have said.
It may be because my expectations are set so low that I’m pleased. To have people actually listen and agree (or think they agree), you must admit, is unusual.
For those of you who haven’t seen this gem, here’s, in my opinion, the ultimate commentary on the whole mixture of worship and entertainment in the most compelling form ever: