This past weekend's events at Annunciation Church were an amazing time of learning and insight into youth ministries, church school formation and the Orthodox Church. Fr. Michael Anderson led a 4 hour workshop that for about 40 of the various OCA church school teachers and youth workers.
The first point Fr. Michael made was that youth education is important, not because youth are "our future," but more importantly because they are the "now!" Orthodox soteriology clearly shows that ALL human beings, regardless of their age, can become full members of the Body of Christ. When an infant gets baptized and chrismated, they are just as much a member of the Body as the 90-year old babushkas. When we make youth education and ministry a priority in our churches, we are actively proclaiming that our youth need that crucial support as members of the Body.
Fr. Michael outlined the four major aspects of all youth ministry:
Every youth event (retreat, camp, school, etc) needs to have all four of these elements in it to properly transmit the Faith. These are the basic elements of the Christian life itself, and so when we base our youth ministries on this model we setting the groundwork for the whole Christian experience.
One of the biggest challenges for youth ministries is making *relationships* more important than "doing things" or "building programs" or teaching "true doctrine"....how hard this is for our American, post-technological, western minds to comprehend!
We need to pray for our youth, we need to spend time with them outside of "church" sponsored events...As Fr. Michael pointed out, when you spend time with the kids outside of church it isn't you that is coming to them: it is the Church!
Fr. Michael kept coming back to one central point that he felt was absolutely critical: Our own neglected spiritual life is the main reason why we are not keeping our teens and young adults in the Church. Youth ministries really starts with us, the teachers and workers. If we are not living the sacramental, ascetic life, why should our kids care what we say about Jesus or the Church?