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 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.
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.
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.
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?
1. St. Demetrios in Merrick, NY.
3. Cleveland BeeTreat; April 2016.
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.