For about the first ten years that I was involved in youth ministry, I remember asking some of the same questions I see many asking today…

“How do I get more adult volunteers to help in my ministry?”

“How can I better engage the parents of the youth in my programs?”

“How do I train and support the leaders in my ministry to make sure they are well-equipped to work with the youth?”

“How do I know when I can trust the volunteers in my programs to take on more responsibility?”

It wasn’t until the last few years that the questions I was asking started to shift. I started really focusing on how much responsibility I should be taking on for the formation of the youth. Besides, it seemed like no matter what I was doing, it was still a gamble as to whether or not each youth involved in my programs was going to continue living their faith out after high school anyway. Recently in my own prayer, God has revealed something else to me. He reminded me who the responsibility of forming the youth really belongs to.

We have heard it said a million times that the primary people responsible for the formation of the youth are their parents. The Church doesn’t have a secondary role in their formation, as if it’s only when the parents are doing it poorly, but it shares in this responsibility. What God revealed to me in my time of prayer is that my role should be less about having parents help me, but more about how I can help parents. I am beginning to see youth ministry more as a social service for parents, coming alongside them and aiding them as they are in need, as opposed to a rescue service for youth who are in need.

Here are the questions I am asking now:

“How can I get more parents who have the wisdom to share in the formation of youth to share it with other parents who may not?”

“What am I doing to reach out to and encourage parents who are in need?”

“How do I equip families to share their experience of the faith with other families in the parish and community?”

“How can I foster a culture in our parish where families are inspired, encouraged, and welcomed into a community where their gifts can be fostered and grown in order to support one another?”

It really seems to me that the more effective way of helping families is not through any formal program or group, but really through close, personal relationships and authentic community with others who are walking the same difficult path that they are. While programs can be helpful in bringing this about, I’m afraid we too easily make the program the focal point for what we are trying to achieve. Without a personal connection to someone already in the community, many parents probably won’t respond to programs anyway. This means that we will likely have to go seek parents out and draw them in rather than waiting for them to come to us.

So, while the title states that we should stop helping youth, what I really mean is that I am realizing more and more that the only way to truly help the youth is to help their parents and the communities that they belong to.