We ‘ve seen that teenagers, and indeed child much younger, will use the tools they’re given to understand themselves and their situation (here).
On a positive note, this means that what we take as rebellion or resistance isn’t necessarily a rejection of the Gospel. It is rather the young person’s attempt to understand, to make their own, the tradition they’ve been given.
This, however, assumes that they have been given the faith.
As we also saw, for most young people—even those raised in a religious family—they spend the majority of their time in an environment that is theologically neutral (at best). While sometimes they may encounter overt hostility to the Gospel, it is usually just the absence of a religious context that causes them to drift away from the faith (here).
In other words, it isn’t (for example) learning about evolution that causes young people to leave but learning about evolution in a context where adults never discuss Creation.
All this suggests that youth ministry needs to have a broader focus than simply someone in the parish working with young people. One of the great advantages churches have is that they are one of the few social institutions that aren’t rigidly segregated by age. This gives young people the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide range of people from different backgrounds and of different ages. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance in young people’s lives of adults who are mature, committed, thoughtful Orthodox Christians. The whole parish has a role to play in the spiritual formation of young people as they make the journey to an adult faith.
The other social institution, and our immediate concern in this post, that isn’t segregated by age is the family. What can the family teach us about forming young people so they grow to be emotionally mature, spiritually committed, Orthodox Christian adults?
As a college chaplain, parents often ask me how they can keep their children in the Church. This is a good and important question. The questions that really interests me though are the ones parents never ask.
“Father, how do I keep my children as part of my family? How do I get them to come home for Christmas? How do make sure, when the time comes, they’ll invite me to their wedding? And someday in the future, how will I be part of my grandchildren’s lives?”
Nobody ever asks me these questions. Why? Because they don’t need to ask them.
Except in the most unhappy and pathological of families (and even then, sometimes!), children want a lifelong relationship with their parents and siblings. These relationships might not be easy or everything they want the, to be but the relationships exist.
And again, except for the most broken of families, people work at creating and fostering those relationships over the whole life cycle and even after death. Rarely do we “excommunicate” our family or sever our relationship with parents or siblings.
In other words, what the Church is struggling to do, even broken, unhappy families manage on a regular basis.
The article I’ve asked you to read this week (Family Traditions Help Kids Make Sense of Life) makes suggests about what families can do to build strong ties among themselves. What ideas does it give you either for working with families or for helping youth ministry become a concern for the whole parish?