Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I’m not your cruise director

I have the distinct pleasure of serving on a special board for our local newspaper. The board is known as the Faith and Values Advisory Board, and six or so Christian members of the greater city community gather each month to discuss trends and topics that might be developed as feature stories in our local newspaper’s Faith and Values Section with runs each Saturday. As part of this board I have the added pleasure of publishing a regular column on average of once every two months. Yesterday’s discussion centered around the question of why millennials are leaving the Church. In fact, even within the Orthodox Church this topic has been at the forefront of many conversations throughout the country, so I was interested to hear what others in the room had to say. The conversation was quite eye-opening.

It started with the standard excuses why millennials complain about “church” being boring, and how we as pastors don’t “speak their language”, and how we must be willing to come down to their level if we desire to reach them. One even suggested that if our Churches were not willing to install large flat screens and display the Scripture text as we preach, we will ‘never’ reach the young people. Others spoke of music styles, and still others focused on Church life outside the Sunday service.

So there I was, the only Orthodox member of the board in a room of men and women, white and black, young and old. I don’t want to get into too much detail of the conversation since most was arguing back and forth about whose approach was better etc. If those of us in the room hadn’t already been casual friends, one might have thought we were about to start throwing fists.

There was a common thread among the others – we must be willing to cater to the desires, styles, and priorities of the young people to get them in Church. Sure the Lutheran had a different version of catering than the United Methodist or Pentecostal, but each was fighting for their version of how to best cater to millennials. So I asked, “What then? What happens when their desires, styles and priorities change? What will you do then to KEEP them in Church?” Not surprisingly they would keep changing. And thus continues the patter of the ever-changing Church which reinvents itself every seven to ten years leaving last year’s millennials back on the outside.

As Orthodox Christians our worship reinforces our theology and our commitment to love God with all our heart, mind, body and soul MORE than anything else. Our worship reinforces the invitation to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. Our worship directs (or at least it should) ALL our attention on God. This is beautifully expressed even in the point the clergy face God with the people rather than face the people. Our worship is about being in communion with God. But it doesn’t end with our worship.
Our very way of life as Orthodox Christians is meant to bring our entire being into communion with God. Our life of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, reading the Holy Scriptures, modeling our life after the Saints, attending the Divine Services (not just Liturgy) of the Church, etc are all meant to encourage us to become Holy.

Whether it is our Sunday worship, or Wednesday evening Paraklesis and Bible Study, our Orthodox Christian way of life is about being holy, it isn’t about flat screens and light shows. It is about focusing our attention on God, not ourselves. It isn’t about sponsoring the most exciting dance featuring the most popular rock-n-roll band, although we do enjoy dancing together. It is about being in the safety and comfort of the Ark of Salvation, not a holiday cruise ship. And that is why I am a Greek Orthodox Priest, and I am not a cruise director.

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