I’ve been stressing lately over how we deal with the behavior of the youth in Sunday morning worship. Sometimes they get a little rowdy. It is not at all unusual for some of them to sleep through other’s rowdiness.
I occasionally am asked to “do something about” their attrocious behavior in worship. More often than not this admonition or suggestion comes from the “this is God’s house, so you so act right” part of the brain of the adult who is telling me about the problem.
Here’s my problem with their problem.
We serve 200+ youth between ages 12 and 18 all of whom are labeled, for various reasons, “at-risk.” It is impossible to fairly stereotype them. Our congregation each Sunday morning is a collection of mixed races and ethnicities, spans the socio-economic spectrum, and varies as widely as the general population in their past level and type of church involvement. (In other words, United Methodists, this does NOT look like your church!)
Sometimes adults have been known to throw in the “R” word in this context, meaning “reverence.” We want to teach the youth to be reverent, so the thought goes. This, of course, turns out to be the middle to upper-middle class Anglo version of “reverence,” which roughly translates to “sit down and shut up.”
Sure, I want the youth to pay attention to me when I am preaching, and, in fact, to the whole of the worship service we offer. I want them to want to be there and want to listen and sing and participate appropriately.
I also want world peace. And I want everyone else to want world peace, too.
I tend to think that telling them to behave “reverently” because “this is God’s house” tends to miss the point with these young people. I think it tends to be one more way we adults who have established ourselves as in control of them and ourselves, hold “god” over their heads to try and get them to behave the way we want them to.
It works to our disadvantage, I believe, to set worship apart from every other activity in their lives in terms of behavior. It is almost as if we are telling them, “It doesn’t matter how you act anywhere else, this place (referring to the chapel or sanctuary) is where we worship God, so here we behave.”
I think it more appropriate, and perhaps more effective, if we teach them that there are sets of behaviors that fits different times and spaces of our lives. It is appropriate to act differently in PE class than in math class. It is appropriate to act differently at a basketball game than at a graduation. It is the social circumstances, rather than the expectation (or lack thereof) of God being there and recognized that I believe ought to set our expectations for how we behave when.
I appreciate your thoughts on this.