Entries with tag youth ministry .

Questions, Questions, Questions

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47)

According to this statement Gospel of Luke, the twelve-year-old Jesus asked a lot of questions.

Lately, I’ve been asking clergy to list the questions that the young people they know ask them. The responses have been all over the map, from theology to ethics, to personal matters. “Is there a God?” “Why does the Church do this or that?” Lots of questions about sex and morality. As one priest said, “They ask about everything.”

Questions are normal. Adolescents are reaching new levels of intellectual and cognitive development. As a result they are able to wrestle with many topics. They also want to think for themselves. Of course, they have a long way to go, but they are trying to make their way in the world, thinking independently of their families, as they begin to take charge of their life and take their first steps into adulthood.

The critical tasks of the adults in their lives, parents, priests, youth advisors, camp counselors, and Sunday Church school teachers are to walk with them as they ask their questions. Walking in a group, sometimes we will lead, sometimes we will push, sometimes we will be in the middle of the group.

How can we begin to deal with this?

First, rejoice. Be grateful that the young people you know are coming to you with their questions. That indicates that you have created a trustworthy environment for discussion about the weightier matters (see Matthew 23:23).

Second, listen attentively. Don’t listen only long enough to formulate your response, but listen to the entire thought. If need be, take notes.

Third, avoid “you need to know” statements. The religious educator John Westerhoff once wrote, “Few, if any, learn what someone else wants them to know, care about or do. It is somewhat like my reaction to those who come to me and say, ‘You need to know,…’ to which I have typically responded, ‘No, you are wrong. I do not need to know. You apparently need to tell me.’”

Fourth, when you do respond, respond with stories from your life, your own experience. We’re hardwired to remember stories. Share the wisdom from your life, the lessons learned.

Fifth, open the sources of our Faith for them. Knowledge is important. The Bible, our Liturgy and Sacraments, the writings of the Fathers can offer insights and guidance. These sources should be studied, questioned, and brought into a conversation with our present understanding of an issue and the implications that the sources have on our lives. Let them share their questions with you. You can then create your lessons and conversations around their questions, using the many resources that are available.

Sixth, let them figure it out. The most frequent “teaching method” of Jesus was the parable. Those who heard the story were allowed to figure it out for themselves and once they did, they were probably more convinced than if they had merely been told. Of course, if there’s danger involved, you need to step in. You are the adult.

Sixth, accept the fact that they will fail and fall. Our natural temptation is to prevent failing and falling. But we learn from our mistakes. The important dimension is communicating that we care about this person no matter what mistakes he or she makes and we will accept him or her, faults and all.

“They ask about everything.” They will ask about everything. Let them ask. Be ready!

What Domino's Pizza Taught Me About Church Leadership

A few years ago, the CEO of Domino's did something incredible: he admitted that their pizza was awful.

Let's back up a bit. The mission of Domino's is simple: to provide people with pizza. The problem was that no one wanted to eat it.

Over time, their pizza developed the reputation of being bland, unappetizing, even disgusting: because that's exactly what it was. Domino's one job was to make good pizza, and they were failing at that miserably.

When new CEO Patrick Doyle took office in 2010, he had a choice. He could decide to sidestep the problem with spin: maybe Domino's needed a new advertising campaign, to spend more dollars on media, to invest in a new website, or to come up with some new gimmicky sales strategy to cover up the terrible pizza. 

But he didn't. 

Instead, he admitted there was a problem. And he took steps to solve it.

Doyle did something remarkably brave and bold. He was at center of a daring advertising campaign which admitted that Domino's pizza, their flagship product, was a disaster

Doyle and his team didn't hide from an unpleasant reality. They met it head on.

This was no mere publicity stunt. And this was not a simple rebranding or repackaging of a failed product. Domino's admitted their failure, not because it would draw attention and new sales, but because they heard people’s complaints.

And they believed they were capable of more. Doyle and his team believed that they could offer a tasty pizza that people actually enjoyed. 

This was, in a sense, an act of repentance. They accepted the criticism, acknowledged the disaster, and unveiled a new recipe.

This courageous move paid off. Domino's new pizza was, in fact, much better than their old recipe. Sales immediately skyrocketed, and Doyle was named the CNBC Street Signs "CEO of the Year" in 2011

When Doyle took over as CEO in 2010, Domino's stock was trading at about $9 per share. Today, it's pushing $200.

Pizza is a particularly interesting image for us in the Church because it uses food to illustrate ministry. As Jesus said in John 21:17, "Feed my sheep."

And, just as Domino's was struggling to reach their customers, the numbers suggest that the Church has been struggling to feed the flock.

As the Barna group recently explained in You Lost Me, 60% of young Christians disengage from the church as they transition from youth to young adulthood.

The Orthodox Church is not immune. Though data specific to the Church is lacking, the following figures are provocative. 

In 2010, a study commissioned by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops found that there were 799,400 Orthodox Christians in the United States. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Christian Herald newspaper used to commission similar studies. Their last such census, in 1947, found that there were 702,273 Orthodox Christians in the United States.

That translates to 14% growth over 63 years.

That might seem respectable until you remember that waves of immigrants from traditionally Orthodox countries entered the US during those six decades. And that a majority of Orthodox Christians now mary non-Orthodox, potentially growing the Church with every marriage. Yet even despite all that, our growth measured only 14% over 63 years.

Over the same period, the population of the United States more than doubled.

This indicates, at least for the Orthodox Church, that our ministry problem may run a lot deeper than the contemporary rise of the "nones." We may be looking at a sustained track record of missteps that stretches back multiple decades and multiple generations.

When Father Jason Roll (Director of what was then called the Youth Department of the Archdiocese) brought me on to join the team four years ago, we had a choice to make. We could look back at some of the old resources and initiatives of the past and try to rebrand them. We could devise new strategies to double down on what the Church had, for decades, been using to feed young Orthodox Christians.

But, under his brave and visionary leadership, we didn't. We decided that we needed to be honest. We decided that we needed to admit the mistakes of the past.

And, putting our trust in Christ, we were motivated by the confidence that we could do better.

So we rechristened the Youth Department as Y2AM, with a new ministry vision grounded in Christ and oriented towards His Kingdom. And we began this new adventure with a new project: a risky and untested video series known as Be the Bee.

As one fourth grader described in a letter, an episode of Be the Bee “made me reach my goal and made me achieve to pray every night because of you. So every night when I pray, I also pray for you because you taught me to pray.”

As a high school student recently wrote, “Your ministry has led my girlfriend and me to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Faith!” 

As another high schooler wrote, our YouTube channel “was probably the biggest thing that got me to go from being an atheist to an Orthodox Christian inquirer.”

As a young adult who is reengaging with the Church shared, “My wife converted to the Orthodox Church and your words and lessons have helped our journey to Christ.” 

As a mother recently explained to us, she sends our videos to her two children before dinner, “and discussing them at dinner has added so much to our family dinner conversations. My husband and I have learned right alongside them, what a blessing!”

Throwing out a recipe, especially after decades of use, can be a very scary thing. But, as Doyle would suggest, "playing it safe is the riskiest course of all."

So we all have to ask ourselves: are we going to stick with the terrible pizza we know, or offer the amazing pizza we know we’re capable of making? 

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe 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.

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The Incredible Impact of "Be the Bee"

On June 15, we will release the final episode of “Be the Bee.” What began as a risky project in September 2013, an attempt to bring Christ and His Gospel to young people in a clear and exciting way, turned into a much greater success than we could have ever imagined. 

We got our first indication that we were onto something in November of our first year. A sixty-year-old grandmother from Oklahoma sent us our first ever piece of fan mail, a sweet email expressing deep thanks for the series. Over the next few months a flood of comments and messages and emails began pouring in. 

A mother in New York expressed wonder that her eight-year-old daughter would turn on YouTube and attentively watch “Be the Bee” for hours at a time and then confidently talk about what she had learned. A high schooler from Texas thanked “Be the Bee” for offering comfort and inspiration during difficult times at school. A presbytera from Pennsylvania spoke about how she’d show her young children “Be the Bee” on their way to Liturgy every Sunday morning as a way to prepare for an encounter with God.

As our very first piece of fan mail indicated, “Be the Bee” was never just a program for children. A Protestant pastor in Alabama told us that he quoted from an episode during a homily. Several Orthodox clergy wrote to tell us how instrumental “Be the Bee” was in helping them prepare Sunday sermons. A theology professor at a Christian school said he uses episodes of “Be the Bee” to teach his college students about the Holy Trinity

Yet, somehow, none of these messages truly connected with my heart until I experienced this thanks in person. After a BeeTreat in Chicago last February, a man approached me. Though he looked somewhat gruff and strong, he collapsed into tears as he embraced me. He told me about how he stumbled across “Be the Bee” during a difficult time in his life, and was eventually chrismated. His eyes lit up as he confessed that finding the Church was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him.

This man isn’t the only person to somehow come to Christ through the series. From disenchanted young adults who grew up in the Church and had fallen away, to former Protestant pastors who longed for the fullness of the Church, to curious teenagers whose hearts burned with love for Jesus Christ, we’ve received uplifting messages of thanks from more converts than we can count

I share these stories because I’m a young adult who grew up in the Church and have witnessed the overwhelming majority of my friends and peers fall away. Because, from the very beginning, the Church is at her best when we focus on the person of Christ and the presence of His Kingdom. Because it’s incredible that a simple message could have such a profound effect in the lives of so many, by the grace of God alone, and as we come to the end of this particular journey, I am grateful to God that I have been able to be a part of it.

Because God is good, and He is working wonders right before our eyes.

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Two Reminders about Youth Safety Training

If you’ve ever been a camp counselor, you know the pains of some of the youth ministry training process. Of course, I don’t mean the time you took classes on learning icebreakers or how to be a good listener or how to best speak about our faith. I mean the online training, learning all of the things you shouldn’t do and having to learn the ins and outs of the Youth Protection Manual.

 

(By the way, the Archdiocese is preparing new Policies for the Safety of Youth and Children.  So these basic youth safety principles will soon apply to all youth work.  Stay tuned!)

 

Now, I’m sure you know that all of this is important. But when you’re an experienced counselor, it’s easy for this to feel like just another task you have to check off your to-do list. It’s easy to lose sight of what it’s all really about.

 

Those in youth ministry have an incredibly important role in the spiritual lives of the youth with whom they work. Though you may only be with these young people for a retreat or for a week-long camp session, your impression matters, and the parents trust that their children are in safe hands with you.

 

So what are two things that everyone can keep in mind, as a background for all of the rules and regulations? What I’ve found helpful is to remember that boundaries matter, and that we as leaders in the Church serve as icons of God.

 

1. Boundaries matter

 

Boundaries are at the core of many youth safety regulations. We talk so much about how far apart to be from the youth, about how much physical contact is culturally appropriate, about contact online and on the phone. But common to all of these rules is the concept that our boundaries and the boundaries of our youth truly matter.

 

One common mistake that youth workers can make is to not properly set up boundaries for themselves. They want to be open and helpful, they want to be always available to lend a helpful hand or a listening ear. Youth workers want to be there for their youth, but sometimes that Johnny-on-the-spot availability can be at the detriment of their own physical and spiritual health. We can’t give what we don’t have.

 

While our boundaries matter, so too do the boundaries of our youth. There is the obvious need for physical boundaries to be respected. But there’s also the need to have clear emotional boundaries with those we serve. I remember early on in my youth work a time when I found myself getting too emotionally worked up about a young person’s struggles. I wanted to be able to help him, to make sure he was alright. But I had to see that I was trying to fix him instead of letting God do the work. I had to stop seeing him as a problem to be solved, and instead as a person to be loved and prayed for. I needed to commit him to God, and to trust that Christ could work in his life.

 

2. Religious leaders are icons of God

 

Whether we like it or not, we who work in ministry are – in a very real and particular way – icons of God for those we serve. How we act and live our lives reflects Christ whose ministry we share. How we speak to young people guides and molds how they perceive and understand God.

 

This may be a rather heavy realization to have, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Though we know that we are imperfect people ourselves – and perhaps because of an awareness of our imperfections we are personally aware of the power and grace of God – we must remember that our youth do not expect us to be quite so imperfect. How we show love, how we demonstrate the grace of God by how we show grace to young people we serve, all impacts how they are able to relate to and encounter the Holy Trinity.

 

Another temptation, intertwined with the importance of boundaries, is sharing too much of our own story too soon and in the wrong context. We may want to show that we can truly empathize with the challenges our youth face – because, let’s be honest, we have oftentimes been in the same boat they’re in now. But we have to remember that we represent the straight and narrow path; we represent Christ. When we share with teens, for example, that we faced a challenge they are now facing, we need to favor being vague over specific. Because not only could a discussion of specifics end up crossing a boundary, it can also send the wrong message and lead to temptation rather than a helpful lesson. How specific we become, and the examples we share, can only be properly discerned over a period of time as we build as relationship with the person before us. And when it comes to youth, we need to be extra careful in what we say.

 

We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to work not to scandalize those in our care (1 Corinthians 8:13).

 

Icons made of wood or plaster bring us to an encounter with the one depicted. Through created matter, we come to know Jesus Christ, His mother, and the other saints. And in us – those who work with youth – others come to see living icons of our Lord. Imperfect though we may be, young people encounter Jesus Christ in and through us.

 

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When Youth Safety is seen as a task to accomplish, or as a set of rules to follow, we forget that we are preparing to serve the Body of Christ. Youth ministry is Christ’s ministry and we are His hands and His feet serving His people. But we need to rediscover the importance of keeping proper boundaries, both for our sake and for the sake of the youth. And we should keep in mind that ultimately we represent our Lord to those we serve.

 

How have you struggled with boundaries in youth ministry? Have you ever encountered a time when you felt a young person placed you on too high of a pedestal?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Christ Comes First

Last week, we at Y2AM hosted the 2017 Youth and Camper Workers Conference in Austin, Texas. Well, to be honest, it was more like all my co-workers who pulled it off; I seriously had the chance simply to show up and participate. They poured tons of work into the conference, and it showed.

The theme of the conference was “The Seamless Garment of Christ.” Steve chose this theme because in practice, we often pursue what he calls an “ice cube tray model” of ministry. The idea is that we separate our ministries into individual segments of work: GOYA, Young Adults, Women, Men, etc. Usually these ice cubes are kept separate and don’t interact with each other much. Our idea at Y2AM, however, is that if we are going to function properly as the Body of Christ, then we need to understand that these ministries, while distinct, should never be separated.

Our keynote speaker, Fr. Stephen Freeman, the author of the excellent blog, Glory to God for All Things, started us off by perfectly introducing the topic. He suggested that everything in the Church – the icons, the sacraments, the music – existed for one purpose: Christ. They exist to unite us to Christ; for in Christ are all things complete and contained. He even capped this thought perfectly by saying, “When we speak of anything, we speak of everything, because we speak of the One Thing: Christ.”

As the conference progressed and various speakers contributed, I noticed that I heard the name of Jesus spoken more than I’ve ever heard Him spoken at any other Orthodox event I’ve ever attended. We love to speak of “Orthodoxy” or “the Faith” or even the “Ancient Faith,” but hearing each speaker offer a meditation of which Christ was the Center struck me as somehow sadly unusual.

But as I’ve thought more about this, I find that the reality is simple: our ministries can never be united unless they are united in Christ because they are actually His Ministry. There is one priesthood: Christ’s. There is one Church: Christ’s. And unless we keep Him at the forefront our meditation, at the forefront of our work, then we will never achieve the unity that we seek.

All of our ministry must be oriented toward Christ and His Kingdom; if we focus on anything else, then we are doomed from the start. His presence must infiltrate our entire lives. We must be His and His alone, seeing that all things are given to us by Him and that all things exist for Him and that all things are only fulfilled in Him.

Our ministries cannot oversimplify the Gospel, offering moralistic platitudes and feel-goodery with humanistic undertones. If we do this, if we pull our punches when it comes to Christ and water down the depth of the gospel, then we actually inoculate people against Christ, giving them just enough of the faith not to turn them off to Christ, but not enough to open the compelling reality of Life in Him. Christ simply becomes boring, something people “already know about,” rather than Someone people are invited to encounter and follow.

We boldly need to reclaim the scandal that is the Person of Jesus Christ, the God who became Man, who dwelt among us and ascended the Cross in the flesh, calling all people who wish to follow Him to take up their cross also and to follow Him to their own deaths.

Christian ministry must primarily be about Christ, and if it is not, then it is not Ministry. It is simply a philosophy that guides how we interact with others. Indeed, if we don’t have Christ as the Center of all our ministry, of all our preaching, of all our life, then we are only wasting our time.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Check out Fr. Stephen Freeman's Keynote address below:

 
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