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Thursday, June 08, 2006


Youth When the Church Was Young
The Church Fathers had a distinctive approach to youth ministry.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions. I haven’t uncovered any evidence that St. Ambrose led teens on ski trips in the nearby Alps. Nor is there anything to suggest that St. Basil sponsored junior-high dances in Pontus. (There’s not even a hint of a pizza party.) In fact, if you check all the documentary evidence from all the ancient patriarchates of the East and the West, you won’t find a single bulletin announcement for a single parish youth group.

Yet the Fathers had enormous success in youth and young-adult ministry. Many of the early martyrs were teens, as were many of the Christians who took to the desert for the solitary life. There’s ample evidence that a disproportionate number of conversions, too, came from the young and youngish age groups.

How did the Fathers do it?

They made wild promises.

They promised young people great things, like persecution, lower social status, public ridicule, severely limited employment opportunities, frequent fasting, a high risk of jail and torture, and maybe, just maybe, an early, violent death at the hands of their pagan rulers.

The Fathers looked young people in the eye and called them to live purely in the midst of a pornographic culture. They looked at some young men and women and boldly told them they had a calling to virginity. And it worked. Even the pagans noticed how well it worked.

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