Asking the right questions helps young people become disciples of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is the first step in our life as Orthodox Christians.
The pastoral challenge working with youth is this. Like their parents, like most of us, young people have grown up in a culture of moral relativism. This is one of the central points Dean makes in Almost Christian.
Moral relativism isn’t just a matter of saying there are no moral absolutes. In American culture, it’s about accepting some moral values and ignoring others.
What does this look like in practice?
Haidt argues that “liberals” (his word) have a morality based on care and fairness. I shouldn’t hurt others and I should treat everybody the same.
The problem is that liberals hold to care and fairness at the expense of other moral values. These neglected values are loyalty, authority, holiness and liberty.
Care and fairness are also important to “conservatives” (again, his word). But they think the other moral values are also important for how human beings should live.
What does this mean for us?
Well, it means we’re called by God to work with young people who have a very limited moral sense. So if I say that pre-martial sex is a sin, young people will think (and sometimes say) I’m not loving (not caring). Or I’ll hear that I’m not a good Christian because I’m “judging people.” Say not everyone goes to heaven and I’ll hear that’s “not fair!”
You get the idea.
Young people react this way because they don’t see the whole moral picture. They only have a small window on human life (care and fairness).
This also means they have only a partial sense of what it means to be a Christian. As Dean points out this means “Be Nice!” and “Don’t judge others!”
But the Gospel is more than this. Being an Orthodox Christian is, or should be, life transforming. If we don’t present it this way, we make the Church boring! For many young people being a Christian doesn’t mean being transformed, or really much at all beyond being nice.
But there are lots of nice people in the world who aren’t Christian. If being nice or being a good person is the goal, how is Christianity different from other religions? Or from being an atheist?
Young people inherit their views about from their parents and other adults. Many, possibly even most, adult Orthodox Christians have the same narrow view of the Christian life that we’ve sketched out here.
What does this mean for?
Well, we’ve got to work with young people and parents!
Make no mistake, working with both is challenging! It requires a great deal of creativity, patience, and prayer. But this is the ministry to which God has called us! So yes, we have a big challenge in front of us but God’s grace is always available to us.
The article we’ll look at this week (3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church) outlines the characteristics of kids who stay in the church as adults. It was written by, and for, Evangelical Christians. So, we might want to ask, as Orthodox Christians what changes (if any) do we need to make? Or maybe, how would you put the article into practice with your youth group? (Look at the comments at the end of the article. These can help you see what does, and doesn’t, work for the article’s Evangelical readers.)
I’ve also uploaded a pdf of the article for those who want to print it off: 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church.