3 Things Every Youth Worker Should Learn from Chris Pratt

When Chris Pratt isn’t saving the world from rampaging dinosaurs or Malthusean supervillains, he’s handing down some serious wisdom.

Last night, Chris Pratt received the MTV Generation Award, which is basically a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Rather than simply offering a few jokes, Pratt “accepted his responsibility as an elder” and offered the next generation 9 rules to live by.

Perhaps most surprising to many, Pratt’s remarks were deeply and faithfully Christian. 

I’ve heard a lot of sermons directed to young people. Many fall flat. Pratt’s sermon (if I may call it that) landed in a way many other messages to youth and young adults don’t. 

Why?

Here are three things any good youth worker (or minister, generally) can learn from Chris Pratt’s remarks. 

1. Be Yourself

As with many people, I first saw Chris Pratt on the hit comedy Parks & Recreation. He played Andy Dwyer, a silly yet earnest and good natured man that was a consistent highlight of the show

Even though he’s gone on to become a Hollywood leading man, starring in movie franchises like Jurassic Park and Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt retains the charm and humor that made his portrayal of Andy Dwyer so memorable. 

So, when he rose to accept the MTV Generation Award, Pratt didn’t affect a stiff or overly-formal persona. The man who spoke is the man his fans have seen for years. 

He made ridiculous poop jokes that, while sublimely silly, had a certain brute logic to them (I intend to heed his advice the next time I’m at a party). 

Because no Chris Pratt speech would compete without some potty humor. 

Yet several of the rules on his list touched on the transformative beauty of living a Christian life, something that’s also near and dear to Pratt’s heart

He opened his list with a reminder to breathe: because, “if you don’t, you’ll suffocate.” Pratt then shifted gears and went in an unexpected direction: he reminded us that we each have a soul, and that we should “be careful with it.”

And so it went, a list that was both incredibly funny and genuinely wise.

I would have had difficulty imagining a Christian sermon in the middle of an MTV awards show. Yet Chris Pratt did the unexpected. And it has the whole world talking.

What does that mean for you?

When you’re communicating to young people, whether one-on-one or time a group, do likewise. Play to your strengths. Don’t try to play a role: simply offer the talents and gifts that God has offered you. 

You may worry about capturing the attention of young people who aren’t particularly interested in the Gospel. But you’re not called to simply pass on facts, or make obsolete ideas somehow relevant.

You’re called to be a witness

God has placed you, a unique and unrepeatable person with unique and grace-filled talents, into a particular time and particular place. You don’t need to play a role or try to be someone you’re not. 

You simply need to be the person that God has made you and called you to be

2. Clarify Your Message (And Stick to It)

In my experience, most sermons fail because they try to do too much. Rather than pick a single and compelling idea (and end when that point has been conveyed), many preachers turn their message into a mess by adding, again and again, “one more thing.”

Pratt clearly had simple point he was trying to convey: that God is real, that He loves us, and that this truth matters deeply in our lives

He wasn’t diving deep into subtle theology. He wasn’t trying to make nuanced credal points. He had a clear and compelling idea, and he didn’t let his words get in the way of that message. 

Pratt offered 9 simple rules. Some of them were simply jokes. Others were truths cloaked in a silly premise. Others were transparently and unashamedly grounded in the Gospel.

Taken together, the message was clear: do good for others because “it’s good for your soul,” avoid “being a turd” because it’s bad for your soul, live in the knowledge that “God is real, God loves you, and God wants the best for you.”

It was a clear message. It was a consistent message. And it has resonated with millions. 

What does that mean for you?

If you’re giving a sermon, decide upon the key idea you want to preach. If you’re leading a class or retreat, be clear about the one thing you want participants to receive. 

Your job is to focus, not on quantity, but on quality.

You don’t help people if you burden them with too many facts and figures to remember. It’s better to give a person one thing that is life-giving than ten things that fail to bear fruit.

Be crystal clear about what you mean to communicate, and your audience will be crystal clear about what they’re receiving from you.

3. Push Your Audience, But Do it Wisely

Pratt’s 9 rules started with what appeared to be a joke: remember to breathe. 

In retrospect, that rule may not have been about simply breathing so as not to suffocate. It may have actually been about learning to be still and finding the key to prayer

He then advised people to remember that they have souls, and to avoid being nasty. As the list progressed, his rules developed a bit more weight, and even challenge for his audience. 

With his 4th rule, Pratt advised people to give dogs medicine by masking it in a piece of hamburger: “they won’t even know they’re eating medicine.” In its own way, the entire list followed this principle.

Pratt included some light hearted jokes as the occasional break. And he started small, beginning non-controversial rules like “don’t be a turd” before he got to deeper rules like “God is real.”

That can be a difficult thing for some people to hear, so he immediately followed his confession of God’s existence with a palate-cleansing poop joke. 

Rules 8 and 9 were the most challenging of all. He advised the audience to “learn to pray,” to actually dedicate their time to connecting with God. 

And he conclude with the most difficult rule of all: to remember that “nobody is perfect.” In our Age of Authenticity, when we each become the arbiters of our own truth, this can be a difficult thing to accept. Yet Pratt dove in, telling the audience that, “If you’re willing to accept [your imperfection], you will have grace.” 

As he concluded his list, Pratt said something deeply Christian: that this grace was paid for by someone’s blood. Though he didn’t mention Jesus by name, he didn’t have to. The Lord loomed large in Pratt’s sermon.

And today, the internet is lit up with articles and blogs exploring the Christian call at the core of Pratt’s 9 rules. 

What does that mean for you?

In a world that questions the existence of sin, concepts like repentance can be completely foreign. While John the Baptist boldly preached this conversion of the heart, his call would fall on many deaf ears today.

Before you say a word, try to understand who you are speaking to. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the world as they see it. Look for points of commonality you can built upon rather than strike directly at points of difference. 

What you say is often just as important as how you say it. Your goal isn’t to alienate but to challenge. It’s to inspire rather than estrange. 

Choose your words wisely. Speak with kindness and gentleness. 

Speak the truth in love.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

***

Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available soon. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.

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The Principle of Non-refoulement in the Context of Migration

                                                             

Imagine your country, the place you’ve lived your entire life, has been so effected by climate-driven disasters, such as extreme floods resulting in dangerous landslides, that not only is infrastructure ruined but it has become impossible to yield crops. Your livelihood has been destroyed and you have no way to provide food for your family.

Imagine years of civil war in your country has brought despair, poverty, and famine. Bombings and artillery strikes have made your neighborhood unrecognizable. During the most recent government blockade your family had to survive off plants found in the streets – several of your family members have already died.[1]

Your only chance to live is to leave, so you flee. You leave everything behind, seeking refuge somewhere safe. Perhaps your journey consists of an insufferable desert crossing or a perilous journey across the sea. You find yourself working in a sweatshop to save enough money to pay traffickers to smuggle you across borders. When you finally reach your destination, you kiss the ground and dance with joy having reached somewhere safe – only to find out that your new home is planning to expel you. Reality hits; you are a stranger in a strange land, and you are unwanted. You now face the possibility of being sent back to your home country – even if it is unsafe.

This concept of the expulsion of an individual, whom under international law has the right to be recognized as a refugee, is called refoulement. In order to protect such individuals from expulsion to places in which their fundamental rights are in danger, United Nation Member States developed the principle of non-refoulement. This law protects an individual from being returned (or expelled, transferred, extradited), against their will, from one country to another when there is evidence that their lives or freedom will be threatened or subject to persecution.

As the current population of people on the move continues to grow, there has been an increase of mixed-migration between refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and internally displaced persons. Due to mixed-migration, it has become increasingly hard to determine who is who. As the line between migrants and refugees blurs, certain populations have fallen between the cracks and face the reality of being unprotected, despite international law. During the Global Compact negotiations, the principle of non-refoulement has been a hot topic. While many Member States support non-refoulement, others do not - some have even argued that the principle does not belong in the Global Compact. Therefore, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is advocating for the protection of all migrants, regardless of their status, from refoulement, and arbitrary or collective expulsions. To ensure such protection, the Archdiocese is asking for an explicit reference to the principle of non-refoulement within the Global Compact.

As we absorb the complexities of the concepts discussed above, I leave you with encouragement from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and Archbishop Ieronymos from their Joint Declaration at the Mòria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece: “[we] demonstrate our profound concern for the tragic situation of the numerous refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who have come to Europe fleeing from situations of conflict and, in many cases, daily threats to their survival…. a broader international consensus and an assistance programme are urgently needed to uphold the rule of law [and] to defend fundamental human rights in this unsustainable situation...”. Recalling “the Lord’s words, on which we will one day be judged”, how will we respond to the stranger who knocks on our door (Mathew 25:35-43).

 

Elaina Karayannis is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

 

[1] The situations mentioned above are only two of the many reasons a person choses to leave their home, to read more testimonies from refugees and migrants visit: https://iamamigrant.org

 

Childlike vs. Childish

Childlike vs. Childish

In the Gospel of St. Mark, Jesus states:

“’Let the children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will never enter it.’ And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”

What is it about children that Jesus wants us to emulate? Before we investigate this question too seriously, I want to recommend a little book entitled Children’s Letters to God, which is a compilation of brief letters written by children to God. Listen to some of these gems in order to put us in the right spirit for our topic:

Dear God: Thank you for the baby brother, but what I really wanted was a puppy.

Dear God: My grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?

Dear God: I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.

We must make a distinction between the terms childlike and childish. Those of you who have children or grandchildren know that childish behavior includes conduct that is self-centered and disobedient. Those with childlike qualities, on the other hand, reveal basic Christian characteristics. For example:

*Children recognize their dependence on others and look for help from others as a matter of course.

*Children are not impressed with rank or title. They tend to be less prejudiced than adults can be.

*Children are honest with their feelings. They hold nothing back in expressing themselves to others.

*Children are inquisitive. They are sponge-like, constantly learning and growing and excited about new experiences.

*Children find it easier to trust others more than adults do. Place a child on a table and tell them to jump in your arms and they will do it without hesitation, such is their trust.

*Children are naturally joyful and playful. My daughter races to the window with excitement whenever she sees a bird outside, as if she is seeing one for the first time.

*Children bear no grudges. They are uninhibited, eager to please, pure of heart, and have numerous other traits that we could list.

Although we can never be children again, Jesus is calling us to cultivate childlike qualities in our relationship with God. Think for a moment about how you relate with God. As you reflect on your connection with God, in what ways are you still trusting, honest with your feelings, inquisitive, joyful, and pure of heart?

There are two other letters in this book that give us great insight into how adults can rekindle the gift of being childlike in our relationship with God. The first letter states:

Dear God: I think about you sometimes even when I’m not praying.

The second follows:

Dear God: I don’t ever feel alone since I found out about you.

Both these brief yet profound letters underscore that true faith is about a personal and daily relationship with God. These two children experience the presence of God as a natural part of their lives. Sometimes as adults, we intellectualize our faith. Children, on the other hand, have the ability to perceive without understanding, to feel without analyzing.

During the Divine Liturgy we are exhorted to “taste and see how good is the Lord.” We are being invited to first experience the Lord so that we may then come to understand Him also.

It is ironic that adults are expected to be role models for children. The reality is that adults have quite a lot to learn from children. May we imitate their enthusiasm so that each of us may breathe a true faith that is centered on a personal and daily relationship with God.

Adult Education in Practice: The Case of Emerging Adults

Let’s consider a concrete example of what’s been written so far about adult education. To summarize, the earlier posts discussed that there are different ways of organizing content in adult religious education, from basic to more advanced. Second, I presented that adult education must meet the developmental – intellectual, emotional, spiritual, religious, and physical needs – of adulthood across the adult lifespan.

What does this mean in practice? To offer a concrete example, I want to share some ideas about working with one age group of adults. It’s one you may not be familiar with: emerging adults.

In the last twenty years, psychologists have been discussing a new developmental category of adulthood: emerging adult.  An emerging adult is no longer a teenager but is not yet a young adult. Emerging adults tend be between eighteen and thirty years old. Because of lengthy educations, delaying marriage, job insecurities, there is an unsettled quality in this developmental phase. When researches asked men and women in this age group the about these and other issues, the most common answers were “yes and no.” Yes, I want to be married, but no I am not married, nor have I found the person yet. Yes, I want to find my career, but no I keep changing jobs. A young adult, in this understanding has answered the questions but is merely relatively at the beginning stages, for example, newly married, in a job for a relatively longer period of time. As with other elements of adult development, this stage of growth is more about changing social roles rather than changing physical or cognitive qualities.

Knowing this and more about emerging adults (I highly recommend reading about various stages of adulthood), a parish or diocesan ministry can begin to develop programs or events that meet the particular needs of this period of life.

Given the unsettled pattern in emerging adulthood, with all the “yes and no” answers to questions, a program could be created to work on issues of discernment and decision about life choices. Most emerging adults (and even many of us older adults) were told they “could be anything” in life. Certainly an empowering message, but within the message is potentially the problem of avoid “settling” or “choosing” the path or direction. With supposed unlimited possibilities, choosing can be painful. “What if I make the wrong choice?” is the nagging interior question. If so, avoid choosing; “keep the options open.” An adult education program, a retreat, could look at the choices that we make, how we make them, finding the positive dimension of the choice. An adult education program could use texts from the Bible, lives of saints, and spiritual writings as sources to study, find inspiration, and stimulate conversation. This same approach could be done with emerging adults to discuss issues of marriage, vocation, and their engagement with the world around them: Church, community, and beyond.

Naturally, while older adults certainly face decisions in life, once they have answered the emerging adult questions, resolving issues of career, marriage, etc. the questions and issues change. So, emerging adults, young adults, middle aged adults, and senior adults each have their distinct questions and concerns. Those responsible for ministering to adults in a parish, organizing adult education programs and events, should be spending time getting to know the needs of these stages in order to develop programs that meet particular needs.

In the next and final post on adult education, the focus will be on resources and organizing a program.

Is Ministry Preparing Kids for Life in the Church?

Dorothy Day was a Catholic social activist. And a Cardinal once described her as trying "to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."

This is the sort of description that should apply to every Christian’s life.

Shouldn’t it?

After all, as Saint Paul wrote, the Gospel is something that doesn’t quite make sense in light of the wisdom of our time: "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." (1 Corinthians 1:23)

Phrased even more simply: "the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

If individual Christian lives shouldn’t make sense without God, then the same should apply to Christian activities and ministries.

So, do our ministries make sense without God?

The Shape of Our Ministries

I grew up in the Church. I was an active participant in parish youth groups, athletic events, cultural activities, Sunday School, etc. 

These are the same programs that make up most youth ministry today. And these are the same programs that most of our young adults have participated in.

Yet we all know that the Church has a problem: young people are increasingly disaffected and disengaged from the life of the Church.

Young people are increasingly of the opinion that their lives "make sense" without God

Is it because the ministry that shaped them made sense without God?

Catherine’s Story

I’ve given talks to thousands of young adults across the country, and have been blessed to speak face-to-face with hundreds of them. 

When young adults share their stories, I’ve noticed a common thread. It was incredibly obvious when I met Catherine. 

Catherine is in college. I met her during a young adult event. 

We were going around the room, sharing our stories and struggles. As Catherine spoke, everyone in the room began nodding in silent agreement.

Catherine described growing up in the Church. She was active in everything: from Sunday School to the parish dance group. She played on the community’s basketball team and never missed a youth event. 

Yet, as soon as she graduated high school, her relationship with the Church dissolved. She joined several different clubs and groups. As soon as she heard that there was an Orthodox young adult event in the area, she made sure to attend.

As she described her journey, one thing was clear: Catherine was desperate to belong to something

And she never felt like she belonged to the Church.

"Institutionalized" by Ministry

But why

How can someone who was active in literally every program the Church offered feel so disconnected from the Church?

There’s a scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption that may help clarify the question.

The movie takes place in Shawshank State Prison. And Brooks Hatlen is an elderly prisoner, someone who was locked up as a young man.

Unexpectedly, Brooks learns that he’s been paroled at age 73, after over 40 years in prison.

Yet he isn’t pleased with the news. Instead, he holds a knife to another inmate’s throat and threatens to kill him.

One of Brooks’s friends is confused by this reaction: why isn’t Brooks happy to finally be a free man?

Another inmate soberly responds: Brooks has been institutionalized. He’s spent so long in prison that he no longer knows how to live as a free man. There is nothing connecting him with the wider world.

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

And what’s a GOYAn without GOYA?

Ministry as a Garden

When I was young, my grandmother kept a beautiful garden. It was of all kinds of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes.

I noticed that, when the tomato plants were young, she would tie the plants to sticks she placed in the soil. The stick, she explained, was meant to help keep the plant from falling over while the stem was weak. 

When the plant was strong enough to stand on its own, she would remove the stick.

It seems to me that, if our ministries are the "sticks" being used to support our young people, they’re not helping our children learn to stand on their own.

People like Catherine can spend over a decade in a variety of youth programs. They spend years participating in activities, attending events, etc. And, at the end of it all, they seem completely ill-equipped to be healthy members of the Church.

They seem just as institutionalized as Brooks Hadley, completely unable to survive outside of the walls of their youth programs. 

Thus when GOYA goes away, so do the GOYAns.

Do We Need More Programs?

I know what you’re thinking: "maybe this means we need more young adult programs."

Yet a simply desire for more will not address the real problem

Young people climb the ladder from HOPE to JOY to GOYA, moving from one program to another. They spend years learning how to be good participants in these programs, and yet never develop the ability to function as Christians in the Church.

Absent a program to prop them up, our young people find the Church to be uninteresting at best, or completely foreign at worst. Without the threat of being benched during the Basketball Tournament if they don’t show up for Liturgy, they have very little buy-in.

And, because kids may jump through this hoop and show up for Liturgy while they’re in the program, we may feel that we’ve facilitated good ministry.

But have we?

Based on our perceived successes with youth programs, our knee-jerk reaction is to make more programs. Programs for college students! Programs for young professionals!Programs for old adults, and then elderly adults!

Programs from the cradle to the grave!

Investing time and effort in young adult groups may, on a surface level, appear successful in the short term. But what happens after a person ages out of this program?

All we’ve done is kick the can down the road

All we’ve done is form a generation of program participants who will never be at home in the Church itself

We don’t simply need more programs any more than tomato plants need more sticks to prop them up.

We need better programs. We need to recognize that programs are meant to be the stick that holds up seedlings, not the vine themselves. 

We need Christ-centered and Kingdom-oriented programs that shape people who, eventually, don’t need programs. 

We need a vision of ministry that forms Christians with a deep and abiding relationship with Christ in His Church, not mere participants who depend on more and more programs. 

Reimagining Ministry

For decades, we have crafted ministry programs that make perfect sense without God. Children participate in fun activities and go on exciting trips. They play sports and learn ethnic dances. 

(Nevermind that the local YMCA has better sports teams, and there are thousands of summer camps with better ropes courses and arts and crafts.)

And maybe, in order to justify calling our programs "ministry," we sprinkle a bit of "religion" on top for good measure. 

(You can hear the implicit lesson when leaders say, "Let’s pray real quick, and then we'll get back to the fun stuff.")

But we have to be honest.

The reality is that the fruit of these programs isn’t a new generation of faithful Christians who are at home in the Church. Our programs are not forming people with robust and resilient prayer lives who are cultivating meaningful relationships with both God and neighbor. 

Because our programs aren’t guiding young people into the practices of active Christian life, of ascetically struggling to know Christ in His Church. 

Instead, our programs are creating a generation of people who can’t survive without those programs.

Of people who are completely unable (or even unwilling) to live as Christians in the Church.

Perhaps the ministry we lead isn’t as Christ-centered or Kingdom-oriented as we pretend it is.

Maybe we’ve been doing ministry incorrectly.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

***

Want more from Y2AMSubscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a supporter. Your contribution can help us continue the work we’re doing.

BONUS: Y2AM is working on a brand new ministry training course, which will be available soon. In the meantime, subscribe to our newsletter to hear the latest about the course. And check out a keynote address Steve recently delivered for more of Y2AM's vision for ministry.

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Why is faith so hard for so many? Check out this week's episode of Live the Word for more:

 

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