Entries with tag ministry ideas .

Three Critical Steps to Shape Real Ministry

If you're like most people across the country, you've probably asked what steps we, as the Church, can take to improve the ministry work we do for youth and young adults.  

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.  Identifying what is necessary for good, honest, Christ-centered ministry is more art than science.  Yet we can at least offer three basic principles that can help us spot (and shape) real ministry for youth and young adults; three principles we can wrestle with and use to shape ministry in our communities. 
 
First and foremost, we need to know what we're aiming for.
 
1. Identify the Goal
 
As we (and many others) have said before, summer camp is consistently the best ministry the Church offers to youth and young adults.  And it's not because of the activities or the games.  It's not because of swimming pools and basketball courts. 

It's because summer camp is so consistently centered on Jesus Christ.
 
One of the most dangerous things we can do in ministry is buy into the false divide between sacred and secular.  God is present everywhere and filling all things, and our challenge as Christians is to truly see and experience Him anywhere and everywhere. 
 
Summer camp is consistently a great example of this.  Every day begins with prayer, and ends with prayer.  Every meal begins and ends with a blessing and thanksgiving.  And even when participants aren't doing anything obviously "churchy" like praying or learning during educational sessions, they approach every activity with simplicity and Christ-centered love.

It’s not that we’re adding Jesus to summer camp to make it better; it’s that camp is what it is precisely because Jesus is always there, always with us, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.
 
Because, when we truly live as Christians, there are no "churchy" activities and "non-churchy" activities.  There is simply life in Christ. 
 
Church isn't a place we go; it's who we're called to be.
 
However, we need to be careful about how we go about implementing this.
 
2. Keep Christ at the Center, Not the Edges
 
In last week's piece, I warned about the activities that we sometimes present as ministry: cultural events, athletic competitions, etc.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with Greek dance or basketball tournaments.  Communities need activities that bring people together to laugh, develop friendships, and simply have fun. 

And as we can see from summer camp, even apparently ordinary activities are filled with the light of Christ if we approach them properly.  

Yet we sometimes take athletic or cultural activities and shoehorn them into a religious form; we make the mistake of insisting that youth and young adult activities have a "religious element."  We insist that athletic programs include a Bible Study, or that cultural programs include a sermon. 
 
This comes from a natural anxiety, a fear that young people are leaving the Church and that we need to give them a religious message whenever we can.  Yet perhaps it’s better to let a basketball tournament be just that, a basketball tournament, dedicated entirely to Christ through a spirit of fellowship, sportsmanship, and loving support.  Perhaps it’s better that the entire day be spent living the Gospel rather than just a few out of place moments be spent preaching it.  
 
We add these religious elements to glorify God, yet the unintended consequence is that we turn Him into an afterthought, largely absent from our lives.  When we insist on adding "religious parts" to a day or event, we reinforce that what's really important is the sports, or the dancing, or the food.
 
We cram in Christ and “churchy things” because we're "supposed to.”  
 
Yet, perhaps we can make a more conscious effort to “preach the Gospel at all times, and use words when necessary.”  That way, if our lives are already full of a Christian spirit, centered on our Lord and Savior, we won't feel the same anxiety about making sure things are "churchy" enough.

 
Because everything about us and our lives will, ultimately, be a grounded in the Church.
 
3. Be the Church, Don't Simply Go to Church
 
Traditional youth ministry is usually carefully roped off from wider Church life: youth ministry has its own time and place apart from the adults, Sunday School students have their own place to sit during services, etc.  It echoes the way Church is itself roped off from our wider lives, reduced to a particular building and a particular hour on Sunday morning. 
 
Yet the Church is not simply a building; it is us.  And it is not limited to a once a week service; it is our participation in God's eternal Kingdom.

When we limit the Church to a fraction of our lives, we send a clear message: the Church is not really important.  And when we limit youth and young adults to a fraction of the life of the Church, we send them a clear message: the Church is not relevant to you. 

It may not be the message we intend, but it’s the message that has led to more and more youth and young adults falling away from the Church as they get older.
 
As we develop a confident, authentically Christian spirit, we'll see that there's time for games and festivals, just as there's time for vespers and Bible Study.  Though each of these is different and unique, each can be united as part of our larger life in Christ, the constant leading of a liturgical life that continues even after the Liturgy has been celebrated. 
 
Questions

In light of these three principles, take a moment to reflect on the ministries in your community.  How can they be adjusted to keep Christ at the center?  How you help encourage yourself (and others in your parish) to see yourself, not simply as a Sunday morning Christian, but as a member of the Church, a member of Christ's Body, anywhere and everywhere you go?

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Image credits:

1. St. Demetrios in Merrick, NY.

2. Bullseye.

3. Cleveland BeeTreat; April 2016.

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Steve is the Director of Y2AM.  Perhaps best known as the host of "Be the Bee," he's a graduate of Yale University, Fordham University School of Law, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.  You can follow him on Twitter here.  

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Seeing God

It’s easy to see the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on Feb. 2, as a lovely scene of domestic bliss. Joseph and Mary bring the newborn Jesus, now 40-days-old to the Temple. Our attention is on the family. Because the Orthodox Christian practice of the 40-day blessing of a newborn is rooted in the Feast, it’s very easy for us to make this connection. When a newborn is presented in our parishes today, all our attention is on the “beautiful baby” making his or her official first entrance into the church.

The Feast also is a significant reminder that the incarnation of the Lord, celebrated at Christmas, overturns the nature of our relationship with God Himself. At the Feast of the Presentation, we remember Simeon, who was promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the Savior of Israel.

Many figures in the Old Testament prophets asked to see God.  Look up the following passages (or have your students look them up):

Genesis 3 – Adam and Eve could only hear God’s presence as He moved about in the Garden.

Exodus 33:18-23.  Moses, the Great Moses, was denied his request to see God. The Lord said to him, “man shall not see me and live.” But God allowed Moses to see his back as He passed by.

1 Kings 19:9-13 – Elijah experiences God in the “still small voice.”

Isaiah 6:1-7 – Isaiah has a vision of God on His throne and realizes that he is a sinful man.

In the Incarnation, at the Nativity and now in the Feast of Presentation, Wise Men, Shepherds and now Simeon and Anna see the Lord face to face. And Simeon holds God incarnate in his arms.  What a reversal! What a paradox!

From this moment on, it is possible to say we have seen God "face to face." --- in the icons, in the Scriptures, in the kiss of peace in the Liturgy, in Holy Communion, and as Christ Himself would eventually teach us, in our neighbor, in the "least of our brothers and sisters" (Matthew 25:40).

After Graduation

After the Graduation Party

As a little tangent from our Lenten reflections, I'd like to pass along an idea that was shared with me recently (thanks to Kay Nicolakis of Peabody, MA for this one! She posed the question and we thought about it together over coffee).

Over the next month or so, seniors will be graduating from high school. By now, many have already selected their next steps: college, a year off to do community service, training into a trade, the military, or other options. They may already know if they are staying home or moving away. All of these transitions can cause excitement and anxiety. What can they expect there? What will living away from home be like? What will all this independence mean for me?  Also, young people will begin serious reflections on the directions that their lives may take, far more serious than at younger ages. Issues of career and vocation; lifestyles, dating, courtship, and marriage and sex; what is my future place in society? and how can I live out my faith away from home, away from parental influence, and become an "Adult Orthodox Christian"?

Might the Church have something to offer at this moment to share?

Gather up the high school graduates. Meet for three or four times as a group. Equip them for the transition.
Discuss the questions.  Put a few books and resources into their hands - a Bible, an intro to Orthodox Christianity, links to good sources, apps and the like.
Provide the names of local OCFs, local parishes, military chaplains, all with contact information easily obtained online. 
Put this information into the hands of someone on the other side, to the local OCFs and parishes, saying "Jim X will be moving to your area to attend Y College." Please have someone look him up.

Let these young people know that even though they may be away from home, moving into new roles, they are still part of the Church and the Church still cares about them.

Other than a few instances, we are probably talking about no more than half a dozen young people per parish. Shouldn't be too hard or too costly.

Then.... while they are away....  Plan for their return. At Thanksgiving. At Christmas. Most are home, wanting to reconnect with friends. Create an event.   Network these young people into and through the parish for summer jobs and summer internships. 

Don't just send them off, hoping for their continued involvement or return.

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