Fr. Kosmas Kallis, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, suggests that the "Come and See" model of Orthodox ministry lacks the call to action to move outside the walls of the Church. Listen to how ministry is reshaped by engaging youth and young adults in the work of the Gospel both in and outside the walls of the Church - receiving through the act of giving!
Fr. Kosmas Kallis will be expanding on Engaging Emerging Leaders at this year's 5th Annual National Orthodox Leadership Conference at St. Vladimir's Seminary, September 17-19, 2021.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. My guest today is Fr. Kosmas Kallis. Fr. Kosmas serves as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. He'll also be presenting at this year's National Orthodox Leadership Conference September 17 through 19, as the conference theme is Generously Investing in Emerging Leaders. Welcome Fr. Kosmas! So happy to be speaking with you today.
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 0:39
Thank you so much, Hollie. Happy to be here. And hello, everyone listening.
Hollie Benton 0:42
So you suggested that we looked at Proverbs 27 as the seed for this discussion today. "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. Whoever keeps the fig tree will eat its fruit. So he who waits on his master will be honored." Father, why did you choose this passage?
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 1:02
You know what, Hollie, I would say there are many parts of Scripture that jump out to me, jump out to all of us. You know, what jumps out to me in this passage, and specifically for thinking about youth and young adult ministry, you know, as someone who focuses on youth and young adult ministry, that's where my head is always at, you know, if I'm reading scripture, or the fathers or the mothers of the church, or really, if I'm reading things, just in our modern day culture, a lot of times things jump out and say, Hey, like how does that apply to this ancient church in this modern context, and how it relates to the youngest generations? Specifically, how does our church relate to the youngest generations, in a world where the rate of change is accelerating at a very rapid rate. And so when I read this passage, you know, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend," I think about how my experience of the church as a young person was that we would go to church or to youth group, or to altar boy retreats, or to camp, we would go and participate in things and we would go and receive something, we would go and something would be given to us, right, a lesson, a sermon, an activity, what have you. And I think what jumps out to me about this passage is that, we also, I think, as youth workers, young adult workers, any ministry workers, even adult ministry, whatever it may be, however it's nuanced, we have to think of it more as a conversation more as a, what does this young person, even if they're very young, have to give, versus only have to receive? How is this person in the image and likeness of Christ, a piece of iron that can sharpen me and I sharpen them. In other words, I think of the mutual relationship that is important within the context of ministry, here and now. I think, younger and younger generations do need to grow and to receive lessons and learning and all those things that make them bonafide adults. But I think they also need to have the space to give, to offer, to sharpen, you know, and I always tell the young people I work with whether it's at camp or our young adults, as I am slowly feeling less of a peer to them and more of a senior advisor to them, that they keep me young, they helped me understand what their reality is like. And I think that's really important. I think that's what jumps out to me. We have to be mutual in our attitude toward ministry, in my opinion. This small proverb, I think, emphasizes that. You know, that we have to sharpen one another. That the young people, especially even young adults we work with aren't young little people that are going to receive something from us, but they are friends. Christ called his disciples, his friends, even if they were similar age, you know, his stature as the Word of God incarnate is certainly much higher than a human being. But we are friends, we are one and we sharpen one another. So I think, ultimately, it's a long way to say, it reminds me at least, that I have to enter into any ministry setting, especially with youth, young adults, wondering, what will I learn from them, not just what will they learn from me? And I think that's not my experience as a young person growing up. I think it was more of a, you're going to come and learn something as a youth or young adult versus offer something.
Hollie Benton 4:40
I'm thinking even in our own church, we engage young people in the work and ministry of the church quite regularly. We have young people pronouncing the prokeimenon and reading the epistle. And what an experience that is to have a young voice speak the Word of God to your ear. You recognize how it is being in the same body of Christ. And they play that role that function in preaching and proclaiming the Word of God to you. And we have young people chanting, we have young people working, attending the church school classes, like teenagers will come and help teach the younger children, and giving them that space to be engaged in that ministry is really important to their own formation. And because they're preaching that same Word of God to the congregation, to the adults in the room, to the children in the room, it's important. God provides the bread, the life, the daily bread, whether it's a child proclaiming it, or you know, a seasoned Bishop, it's still the Word of God as manna from heaven.
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 5:50
Absolutely. That reminds me of a time recently, I served. Because I'm the director of youth and young adult ministries in our metropolis. I'm not attached to any one parish, so I have the opportunity to fill in a lot, many parishes, when clergy are on vacation, or otherwise. And I remember I visited a parish that had a beautiful choir of young women - like they were all definitely in high school or younger. And they all knew together how to chant the Byzantine style, which is quite unique to have young people knowing how to chant really well, in that style. Obviously, they're not learning Byzantine notation at their day schools. So I remember that female choir started chanting at the beginning of the liturgy, and I didn't realize it. I didn't know they were there, I assumed the chanter from the matins would still be chanting during the liturgy. And I started crying. And I felt exactly that. I thought, I felt so filled up. So often, we say that the youth are the future of the church. And that's a true statement. However, they're also the present of the church. If I'm a young person, and I'm told you're the future of the church, it kind of feels like, Okay, I guess I'll wait. It's not quite as inspiring.
Hollie Benton 7:07
Just to mention your presentation that's upcoming at the conference. You critique that parish ministries really have relied on that "come and see" model, placing the onus on the ones who are being ministered to, rather than on those doing the ministry. And I understand you're going to be challenging emerging adults and veteran ministry leaders alike in the urgent need to minister as Christ did, sharing the Word of God and caring for his sheep, proclaiming the Word of God. Rather than being only receivers of ministry, kind of like consumers of ministry, you're suggesting that it's so important to participate as agents and doers of ministry. So say a little bit more about that, Father?
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 7:48
Yeah, thank you. And I must say, I'm very humbled and honored to speak at the conference, and very excited to do so as well. I hope to see some of these listeners there. Yeah, I think that we definitely, and I think I mentioned it a little bit before in this conversation that "come and see" has been the model. I think, really, for all of our ministries, I just happen to focus on youth and young adult ministries. And of course, that is an aspect that is part of our experience of the church, right. I mean, we do need to come and see to receive Communion, obviously, we do come and receive. And we also have to go out and find the lost sheep, I think as ministers especially, ordained or not, those who do work in the church, have just been normalized with the model that people are going to come to the church, to receive whatever ministry and leave like a consumer, you said it so appropriately. What I have found in my limited time, you know, I've worked in the church probably now for six or seven years. I'm still learning myself. But what I found so far is that that model is about as dingy as a lot of the offices in most of our churches throughout the country. It's getting a little old, it needs to be a part of our church, but the impact of going out to find the lost sheep has so much potential and such a bigger runway, that it's also got to be an aspect of our ministry, for ordained and non-ordained. The best imagery I could give to try to articulate this is imagine the Eastern European or even Western European village that is got deep roots with Christianity. Imagine that village and what do you see at the center of all of those villages and towns, but a church or a chapel? Right? The center of life in a lot of ways in antiquity and even recent centuries is the church or the chapel, right? And life kind of stemmed from that chapel. Well today, in a lot of ways that is no longer the center of our cities and towns in the United States, right. I mean, I know this, in my experience, when the people I know are thinking about where they're going to move, and if they have young people, the first thing they're wondering is how good is the school system? Not necessarily where's the closest Orthodox church or other church? In so many ways, the school has become the center of the village in America, the cities and towns, right?
Hollie Benton 10:15
Yeah, people move according to school districts.
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 10:17
Yeah, that's a huge change. And I think we're still operating as if the church is the center of life. And I hope it is for our people. And that is our calling to make it the center of life. But it's not the center of life like it used to be. And so this concept of going and finding the lost sheep is acknowledging that the context has shifted pretty dramatically, and that the school has become the center of a lot of our people's, especially our young people's lives. And so going out to find the lost sheep communicates to those who are doing ministry with, that your life outside of the four walls of the church matters to those within the four walls of the church, in my experience, at least, the impact of going to graduation ceremonies, graduation parties for graduating 12th graders, going to the baseball game of our middle schoolers when they're having their first game that they're starting. The impact of doing ministry, quote, unquote, I'm quoting my fingers here, for those of you listening, doing ministry, at a park, or even to take our young adults to the side room of a restaurant bar and having a conversation there. The impact of also, not exclusively, but also leaving the four walls of the church is huge. And it communicates just by virtue of being in those settings, especially ordained or not, but as a leader in the church, it communicates that we are willing to come to you and your life outside of the church is part of your life inside of the church. That it's one life, right? And so we invite our people in the church to connect with the church, inside and outside of the church, right? The Church of the home, to pray in your car, to pray wherever you may go, well, then we have to do the same. We also have to bring the church by virtue of our presence, and Christ, who dwells within us, to them as well. And I think this is what going out to find the lost sheep can look like whether it's a coffee at a coffee shop, a graduation party, whatever it may be, it communicates such a big statement, that we're willing to be a part of your whole life, right not to compartmentalize your life.
Hollie Benton 12:35
As you were talking, especially that "come and see" model, I was thinking the Great Commission doesn't say, Come and see everyone! It's, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations preaching, and baptizing and teaching them to do all that I commanded. It's really this call to action, not for those outside, but for those inside the church to go out and preach and teach.
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 13:02
Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah. If you think about it, you know, who was asked to come and see? Those who became the disciples, right? And then like, we just said, Yeah, they were charged go out. Yeah, I think it's an important point. And I want to just re-emphasize one more time, I'm not suggesting that come and see is out. I'm just saying that it can't be the only aspect of our ministry, I think life is becoming more and more multifaceted. And we have to respond in a multifaceted way with how we engage all of our people.
Hollie Benton 13:34
Yeah, I think there's something important too as recognizing in yourself, through repentance, your own lostness, your own fallenness, your own need, as a lost sheep, and not straying too far so that you can hear the shepherd's voice. People outside the church, we assume are the lost sheep. But I think there's something important to seeing within yourself that you're lost, and that you need the shepherd to keep you in the flock. So those two different perspectives - what's the risk of assuming that everybody outside are lost and not acknowledging that need for repentance in yourself?
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 14:13
Yeah, that's a good point. And I think the connotation of the lost sheep can become very much "us and them," if it's limited to the former perspective you gave. All of us, we're all lost in that sense, right? You know, obviously, the airplane facemask analogy is always a good go-to these days. Everyone loves to, you know, think about that, whether it's self care, but I think it's also true for anyone serving the church or just for all of us that we want to be our best as workers in the church. We have to start with ourselves. St. John Chrysostom said that about the clergy family, right. If your home isn't in order, you have no business as a clergy family, trying to lead the church family within the church, right. Obviously, it's critical for all of us. First and foremost, to acknowledge and confess that we are lost, right. That we are working toward being found, let's say, but also, you know, those we work with are as well. And I think, to answer your question, I guess I would say, the power of presence is huge. Being present, not only physically but completely present in the situations we find ourselves in within the walls of the church, or otherwise, is sacred. And that can be fulfilling for those quote, unquote, doing the ministry. And obviously, for those who are considered to be the lost sheep, if we want to be that minister, if we want to be someone who is shepherding those around them, again, whether we're ordained or not, we have to be walking toward our own salvation.
Hollie Benton 15:54
Yeah, thank you, father. Here's a question I'd like to commit to asking all my guests for a season here on the Doulos podcast. So we've talked about youth and young adult ministry today. I think some people think of that, as, you know, camp, ski trips, showing up at ballgames for the youth members of your parish. But then we have to consider standing before the dread and terrible judgment seat of Christ on that day when the Son of Man shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats as we hear in the Gospel of Matthew 25. So what does - youth ministry and young adult ministry - what does it have to do with the judgment seat of Christ? Feeding the hungry, serving the thirsty the stranger, the naked, and imprisoned by which we will be judged on the last day?
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 16:38
That's a big question and a good question. Because I think it frames everything we do, through the correct lens, right, that everything we do, has to do just that. Right? It has to bring ourselves and those around us toward salvation toward the right side, right as in not left, not as incorrect. And so I think this kind of connects with your previous question, our work, whether we're talking about youth and young adult ministry, ordained ministry, non ordained ministry, is a ministry that must bring the presence of Christ to everyone that we encounter. And everything we talked about today, if it's not predicated on that, it's just going to a baseball game, or just going to a graduation party. But if we working in the church, ordained or not, are constantly trying to be less so that Christ can be more in our lives. And we're trying to allow his presence by grace of the Holy Spirit, to exude from us, to come out of us, through our own life, our own example, if we're willing to do that work, and then bring that presence as best as we can within our brokenness, to those around us. Then we will hear, Well done good and faithful servant. All of this must connect back to us bringing the presence of Christ to all of those around us. And that can be done within the context of being a church worker, or just being a Christian. Right? And so, that's the question, how much are we willing to harness, grow the presence of God within ourselves, and then let that radiate throughout the entire world, specifically, throughout all of those who we've been given the blessing to work alongside? That is our charge, in my opinion, we must make the presence of God, something that's continually growing in our example. And it's something that is not quantifiable on paper, but something that is obvious to those around us.
Hollie Benton 18:57
I'm also thinking too of your strategy of engaging youth and young adults in the ministry. It's remarkable what happens when you invite young people into the service of feeding the hungry and caring for the stranger, the naked, the imprisoned. So many times I hear youth and young adults talk about, I thought I was feeding the hungry, but I feel like I was fed by participating in this ministry.
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 19:27
Oh, my goodness, I would almost say that's the norm. I've tried my best to make as much of the, quote unquote, work that needs to be done, whether it's leadership at camp, whether it's our young adult board, to give as much, let's say delegate out as much of the things that need to happen for those ministries, to our young adults in our youth, so they can have an opportunity to take the lead. And we actually just had a summer camp wrap up dinner last week, and that was the sentiment that we were exhausted. We were tired of the food. We were tired of having to deal with one another sometimes. And we now reflectively look back and say, that was one of the most amazing five weeks of my life and so fulfilling. Yeah, no question. Giving those whom we work with the opportunity to receive through the act of giving is hugely impactful.
Hollie Benton 20:24
Receive through the act of giving. I love that! That's a great phrase, Father. Thank you so much for this conversation today. I really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you in September, God willing. Any last thoughts or words?
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 20:38
I would say this, oftentimes we define who is a youth worker, which kind of implies who's not, who's a church worker, which kind of implies who's not. The greatest, quote unquote, youth director or youth worker in the life of the young people is you, listening. You are the greatest youth worker in the life of the young people that you know best, whether it's your children, or whoever's in that closest circle, because you are a mentor in their life. So if you're wondering, oh, how does everything we just talked about apply? Remember that you here and now are the most impactful youth worker with the young people that you know best, and so go and be the presence of Christ.
Hollie Benton 21:25
Thank you so much, Fr. Kosmas. I really appreciate the time today.
Fr. Kosmas Kallis 21:29
Thank you, Hollie. Be well.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai