Youth Ministry: Questions and Answers
By Fr. Michael Anderson
There is much interest in Youth Ministry in our Church. I have been involved with our Church's Youth Ministry for the past five years and have traveled across North America, meeting hundreds of Orthodox youth and youth ministers. Everywhere I go people have questions about what Youth Ministry is and ways to do it. Here are their most frequently asked questions - with answers!
Q - We have a teen class in our Church School. Isn't that Youth Ministry?
A - Youth Ministry must not only give young people facts about their faith, but must challenge them to use that knowledge.
Many people equate youth ministry with church school. They argue that our teenagers need to know the facts about our faith. This is true. Passing down Christ's commandments and the history of salvation is an essential part of all Christian ministry. But factual knowledge is only good if it is used in everyday life. Therefore, while giving teenagers basic information is an essential part of youth ministry, it must be augmented with opportunities for youth to put their knowledge into action. St. James couldn't have said it more clearly when he said, "faith without works is dead."
Q - Youth Ministry is about getting young people to help others, right?
A - Youth Ministry must offer opportunities for young people to help others in the context of Christ's servant-hood.
Many people, including teens themselves, believe that teens need to be more responsible in and to their community. They hold that youth ministry should get young people together and make them "do their part." While this idea is grounded in Christ's commandment to love each other, often we neglect to explain this to youth. When people involved in youth ministry organize opportunities for junior and senior high students to visit a nursing home, help out at a homeless shelter, or cook a spaghetti dinner, it is critical that they tell them they are fulfilling Christ's command to visit the sick, feed the poor, cloth the naked, and do unto others as one would have them do.
Q - Isn't Youth Ministry just getting young people together so that they will make friends and stay in the Church?
A - Fellowship is an essential part of Youth Ministry, when youth gather as Christians in a Christian environment
People see declining numbers in our churches and see youth ministry as a venue to help the Church survive. This attitude understands youth ministry's profound ability to affect the future, but neglects the fact that our young people are full members of the Body of Christ, the Church, right now! As members of the Body, they have needs that must be addressed. St. Paul says when one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. For this reason young people need to feel connected to the other people in the Church. They must build relationships with older and younger people as well as their own peers. Therefore, they need times to just be together as Christians, doing things the way Christians do them. It doesn't matter whether they are bowling, rollerskating, skiing, or watching a football game, so long as they begin and end as Christians do, with prayer, and fill the time in between as an Orthodox Christian.
Q - Is Youth Ministry to youth or by youth?
A - Youth Ministry is to, for, by and with youth.
Youth Ministry is to youth because it needs guidance and direction from adults. Youth Ministry is for youth because it meets the needs of youth. Youth Ministry is by youth because it offers youth opportunities to practice their ministry in the Church. Youth Ministry is with youth because it is accomplished when youth understand themselves to be a part of the entire body of the Church and seek opportunities to be part of its ministry with people older and younger than themselves.
Q - Right now we don't have anything going on in our parish with our youth. Where do we start?
A - Youth Ministry takes place when someone wants to spend time with young people and show them Christ's love.
It seems so complex sometimes, and yet it is really so simple. We think we need numerous programs or retreats, and wonder how we can get it all together. Actually, it's really as simple as looking at what Jesus did. He didn't save the world by having programs and events. He entered into people's lives and developed a relationship with them. In the same way, all we are really called to do, is be the Christian we are called to be, and share our lives and faith with young people. All our educational programs, service projects, and fellowship events ar there for the sole purpose of building these Christ-like relationships. Get to know them. Talk with them. Show them how you live your life as a Christian. Be a role model. It's as simple as loving them so much that you want to bring Christ into their lives. More accurately, it's wanting them to bring their lives to Christ.
Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries