Today’s guest post comes from Shereen Marcus, a proud member of St. Timothy and St. Athanasius in Arlington, VA. Shereen has been volunteering with youth ministry for many years. She’s married with two boys of her own. She’s also written many guest posts for Fr. Anthony Messeh’s blog (see links to my favorites below)!
Do your kids like Church? Why not?
“Sunday School is AWFUL”
“They don’t have enough committed volunteers”
“The priest doesn’t care about kids”
And so on.
How many of you have heard (or said) these things? My hand is raised (on both accounts)… In fact, it was those exact sentiments that pushed me into a passion for Youth Ministry.
I’ve been involved in Youth Ministry for a long time now and if I’m honest – most of my efforts have been focused on “dreaming up” new programs, activities, or curriculum designed to be fun, engaging, and effective. After all – isn’t the goal of Youth Ministry to “raise up” the kids to have their own spiritual connection to the Church and our living God?
Well… it is and it isn’t.
The problem is Jesus promised to build His church; He never promised the Church would raise other people’s children. See Matthew 16:18.
In fact, the earliest church in the Bible is the Tabernacle, a moving temple used by Moses and the Israelites in the desert. We find a telling commandment from Moses in the book of Deuteronomy:
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (emphasis added)
I promise you, no matter how many times you read Moses’ commandment to the people, nowhere will you see “The Church will now take responsibility of raising your children.”
If you’re a parent, I’m sure you won’t really disagree that your role in your child’s spiritual development is critical. The data is all there – parents who take an active role in their child’s spiritual development, tend to have a good relationship with their kids, open communication, and ultimately kids who stay in the faith as adults. [See, e.g., Fr. Joseph Purpora, “Moral and Ethical Issues” at 48].
For some reason, though, we all seem to look to or otherwise “blame” the Church when our kids leave or don’t seem to develop a connection with God. In turn, the Church – instead of focusing in on the families – turns the attention and efforts to Youth Ministry.
I am not in any way suggesting that Youth Ministry need not exist or need not be of good quality! What I am suggesting is that we, as a church, are neglecting the most important – the most crucial piece of the puzzle: the parents.
The familial system is responsible for forming beliefs, values, and actions. The Church may be with a student one day a week (if we’re lucky) – who do you think those kids are with the rest of the time? That’s right – their family.
Youth ministry that excludes parents is about as effective as a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage.
Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry at 251.
Instead of Youth Ministry using all its efforts dreaming up new activities, programs, curriculum, or groups, what if the Church found ways to partner with and support parents? What if parents had opportunities to learn from each other- to realize they’re not alone in their journey or struggles? Parenting is indeed a challenging job, and the Church too often shows “little empathy.” [Sophie Koulomzin, “Our Church and Our Children”].
The Church and the Family is a critical, but neglected partnership and my hope is we find ways to bridge that gap. After all – within the Orthodox experience of Christian life – we are not alone under God – we are all one body in Christ.
QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION:
What do you think we can do to better partner the Church with families?