Tag Archives: St Sophia Seminary

Not Just Kids, But Families Too

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?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

Seeing the Whole Picture

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.

 

Finding the Right Questions

Though from different perspectives, both Fr Alexander Schmemann in Liturgy and Life: Development through Liturgical Experience and Kendra Creasy Dean in Almost Christian: What the faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church make the case that we need to provide young people with solid theological content. While there are other reasons we’ll consider latter, one reasons Orthodox young people they fall away from Christ and the Church after they graduate high school and move out into the world, is because they only have a vague understanding of what the Church teaches and so what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.

Developmentally, however, simply telling young people what the Church teaches isn’t likely to help them connect with Christ and the Church. Helping young people remain Orthodox as adults requires that we help them understand themselves and their lives in light of the Gospel. In other words, a central concern of youth ministry is helping young people form a personal identity and a living sense of their own personal vocation as Orthodox Christians.

This is a big job and one will come back to throughout the semester. For now, though, I’d like to suggest a starting point. We need to help young people learn to ask the right questions. Why is this important? Because if I ask the wrong question, say how much is 2+2? even if I get the right answer (4) it won’t help me grow in my relationship with Christ and the Church.

With that said, here’s your first reading assignment: “Living the Questions.” Feel free to ask your own questions and discuss the article here. (You can also email me privately, but I think engaging each other in this forum will help everyone reflect on the topic.)

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory