Our Very Own Oikos
We were at a crossroads as far as a youth group goes. My team and I had been at the church for a few months and in that time we had seen a mass exodus of seniors leaving our ministry. What remained were a few eighth- and ninth-grade boys who were hungry for caring role models in their lives.
We attempted to do what I thought was “youth group as normal”—by my preparing a three-point message every week to preach at our boys. I thought that this was what I was supposed to do. But after months of preaching and going nowhere, we came to the conclusion that the message and lessons we were trying to teach our students needed to be communicated in a different way.
We were at the crossroads of Text and Context. We had an incredible Word for them to hear but we weren’t teaching our students with our actions. We needed to put the Word into practice.
Our church has been putting great focus on what discipleship and mission mean in our everyday lives. One of the points we’ve been emphasizing is the idea of oikos. That’s the Greek word from the New Testament that means “extended family.”
How can we as the church create and sustain the notion of extended family? How can we form oikos? We realized that our youth ministry was more about the words than it was about living out those words.
We knew that we wanted to teach our students that the Christian life is not a solitary journey, that God not only loves you but he loves the church collectively, as a group, as a family. God not only grants us new life with him in heaven, he gives us new meaning as members of the body of Christ. He saves us into the kingdom, into the family.
We decided that we were not skilled or gifted enough to teach our students everything about everything, but we could teach them a few things really well. Our focus became teaching our students what true fellowship looks like.
We began to create oikos. We spent less time talking about the Christian life in the setting of a formal worship gathering and instead invested in what we thought was the greatest depiction of family life—we ate a meal together. This is not a new concept. Churches have been eating meals together for a very long time. But we do it very intentionally. We are trying to create a place where lessons and conversations about the Christian life occur naturally. We are building disciples one plate of food at a time.
It’s important to understand that Bible study has not gone away, we still do that intentionally through our discipleship ministry. But the change came when we began to balance discipleship and mission.
We’ve become family. We’ve created an oikos in which we care for one another, genuinely love one another, and celebrate one another.
Nick Olson is the youth minister at Ebenezer Lutheran Brethren Church in Minneapolis, MN.