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From the Director: Our Orthodox Movement

On the set of “Bee-the-Bee” at Archdiocese headquarters.

When I graduated seminary in 2013, and began working for the Archdiocese, I was excited to be entering the difficult and exhausting field of youth and young adult ministry.

Though it’s an area we often reserve for the least experienced Church workers, it’s one that is both incredibly complex and unbelievably difficult.

Young people in particular bear within them the tensions and challenges that permeate our contemporary culture. They are shaped by the unspoken assumptions we all take for granted, by the values and longings and questions that shape our secular age.

Our fear, as adults and parents and ministry leaders, is often that our kids will be corrupted by a decadent culture, hostile to the teachings of the Church.

So we scramble to cram their head with Orthodox perspective and ideas, lessons to lead them through temptation. We scramble to give our youth people spiritual medicine to inoculate them against the sex and drugs they’ll find in college, and the atheism that threatens to pull them from our parishes.

Unfortunately, this medicine misdiagnoses the problem.

Our secular age is not one of hostility to spirituality. Rather, it is one of ambivalence and doubt; in an age when we can choose to believe anything and everything, we are all caught in the crosspressure between faith and doubt.

(How we got here is an interesting story, though one too long for this short article. If you’re interested in learning more about this, please search for the video “Making Ministry Better and More Christ-Centered.” It’s available on our YouTube channel: youtube.com/y2am.)

Though we, as Orthodox Christians in particular, may believe the same things as our predecessors a hundred, even a thousand years ago, we do not believe those things in the same way. We are all heirs to a disenchanted culture, a world where the source of meaning is now the self. We watch movies about demons with no fear of possession, because we are safely buffered from the transcendent. We convert former churches into nightclubs without a shred of apprehension because, when we decide what is and isn’t sacred, sacrilege becomes impossible.

This is our secular age. And it has sunk into our bones more than we may want to admit.

On the surface, this may seem to make the task of ministry even more overwhelming. If we are all the arbiters of truth, if we are all on a quest for selfdiscovery and authenticity, then how can the Church even begin speaking to contemporary people?

How can we preach the truth when people don’t even believe that truth exists?

Perhaps, in God’s providence, this greatest of challenges is also the greatest of opportunities.

Because, if we are true to the Gospel, we preach more than theological principles and religious systems. Truth isn’t a something. It’s not at it at all.

Truth is a someone

And in our mercy and patience and compassion, in the ways we act for the life of the world, people can come to know the living Person of Christ before they begin to grapple with whether He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In our relics and myrrh-gushing icons they can see a world that is very much enchanted, imbued with the very presence of the living Lord. In our fasts and prostrations and services they can see that the body is intimately connected with the soul, and that our normally buffered selves and pierced by compunction and repentance.

In our secular age, where truth has been replaced by authenticity, it has never been harder to convince people of some abstract, objective the truth. Which is why we are fortunate that we preach a personal Truth, a Truth Who took on flesh and became one of us so we could walk with Him in eternity.

The world is ready for Christ. Are we ready to reveal Christ to the world?


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Church Offers Many Ways for Youth to Connect

Participants in the recent BeeTreat held at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis.

When I was a kid, I was a ministry All-Star. I was attended youth group and played basketball at the parish. Not only did I attend Sunday school, I started teaching in high school. I did everything the Church expected from me as a young person.

At least on paper.

On a deeper level, I struggled. Physically, I was present at activities and in the pews. Mentally, I was wracked by doubts.

Spiritually, I was consumed by temptations and a building sense of isolation.

And I wasn’t the only one.

As a 34-year-old, I often think about all the kids I grew up with: my Sunday school classmates and basketball teammates and friends from youth group. As adults, regretfully, many have little connection to Christ and His Church.

This is unfortunate. The Barna Group, for example, recently concluded that 60 percent of young American Christians (across all traditions) fall away from their church during and after their teenage years.

This is especially surprising given the sheer volume of ministry stuff available today. From books and retreats to podcasts and curricula, it seems that Church workers have no end of materials from which to choose. Yet, even as we have more and more ministry stuff to use, we seem to see less and less fruits from our ministry efforts.

Contemporary research is showing more and more of our young people are slipping further and further from the Church.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” you’ll remember the character of Brooks Hatlen. Brooks was an elderly inmate, who spent decades behind bars at Shawshank State Prison. When he was granted parole, rather than celebrate, Brooks pulled a knife on a close friend and threatened to kill him. When considering why Brooks would respond to good news in such a surprising way Red, a wise inmate, offered a simple answer: Brooks was institutionalized. Brooks had spent so many decades in prison that he could no longer imagine life outside the penitentiary’s walls.

After all, what’s a prisoner without a prison?

In a similar way, we must be careful that our ministry programs and activities do not leave our youth without creating a deeper connection with Christ and His Church. In this manner, our young people will avoid falling away from the Church despite years of active participation in their youth group.

We, as members of Christ’s body, are not here to raise a new generation of Goyans. We’re not here to create a new generation of so-called “active” youth group participants. Instead, we seek to unite our youth with Christ.

And Christians are not simply born; they are made. Christians cannot simply be informed; rather, they must be formed.

A new generation of Christians cannot simply be lectured into faith, nor will weekly participation in activities necessarily translate into a connection with Christ. As teachers and Church workers and parents, we must raise a generation of Christians with the eyes to see Christ at work in their lives and with hearts calibrated to seek the Lord’s Kingdom and His righteousness.

To do that, we cannot simply rely on a resource or program to magically organize our kids into saints. If we want our young people to love Christ, we must first love Him ourselves as teachers, parents, youth workers, and faithful. Because we cannot give something if we do not have it ourselves.