I found myself a bit frustrated in a meeting not long ago. Not because of anything anyone said, but because I began to realize how limited my vision of youth ministry really was. I served as a parish youth minister for seven years, and my work at the diocesan level has been basically supporting the work of those hired and volunteer adults who are labeled the “youth ministers” in their parishes. It was only at this meeting that my eyes were opened more fully to the way God has been doing youth ministry.
This post is going to be another one of those “youth ministry is more than just a program” posts, but I want to take it a little further. I think what I realized in this meeting was that even I had limited “youth ministry” to being the programs for which I am responsible. After all, I am the diocesan youth guy.
I’ve known this to some extent. It hit me about four years ago when I had a parish youth leader say that they didn’t promote a certain program in our diocese because they couldn’t attend it themselves. As the youth leader responded to my questioning, I realized this was actually more of a defensive response stemming from the fear that “if they attend other programs, then my programs may not be as successful.” While this was tough to hear, it helped me to understand how easily our efforts in youth ministry can become disordered. After all, this person is probably getting pressure from the pastor to make the parish programs successful as well. Who’s to blame? ALL OF US!!!
I think the solution is to begin acknowledging that we are not doing youth ministry alone. God doesn’t need us (or maybe isn’t even asking us) to create huge, successful programs with large numbers. He doesn’t ask us to save all of the youth; I’ve thought about this for some time and desired to understand this more deeply. Through this process, I’ve come to realize so many other ways that God evangelizes our young people. Here are a few of them:
While parents often get a bad rap in youth ministry, I would argue that in most cases, the only reason youth are even in or around our programs or the Church is because parents have been involved in some way. Thank you parents for gifting us and evangelizing us through your children!
I know many parishes where small group efforts or youth group are really struggling, but if you walk into the sacristy before/after Mass, you will find community, fellowship, and a true Christian joy!
I get the opportunity to interview college-age young adults to do missionary work in our diocese, and you would be surprised at the number of youth who mention a high school coach or teacher who had more influence on their faith than any youth minister or catechist.
One thing that has surprised me several times over the past few years has been when a youth has credited their strong faith to the involvement of a priest in their life. Priests also often get a bad rap for not being involved in youth ministry. It’s just not talked about as much and not as public of a ministry.
So many youth remain committed to the Church because they have found a home in helping with music for Mass. This is not just an extra-curricular way to be involved. In many parishes, it truly can be an effective form of youth ministry.
Fr. Mike Schmitz
I had to put his name down just as an example (and to catch your attention). Believe it or not, Fr. Mike may be doing better youth ministry than you or me! We should never underestimate the great value of online blogs, videos, etc. In fact, why not donate the money for your next conference to the poor and stay home and watch Steubenville Conference talks at home? (I’m joking…sort of.)
These are truly just a handful of very general examples that have come to mind. As my eyes have been opened, I can now come up with a list 10-20 people in my parish who are doing youth ministry but are not involved in any program in the parish.
Please know that youth ministry does not depend solely on you. Please know that when a youth doesn’t sign up for a trip or conference because they have something else going on, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are “slipping away” or that you have failed. God has a plan. Please….pastors and youth leaders, take down your defenses. Surrender your programs and “success” to the Lord, and let Him guide youth ministry in your parish. Be satisfied with the small role that He has invited you into, and be open to receive the greatness of His plan by focusing more on the wholeness of the plan that He has. I have a feeling that if we begin to do this…youth ministry would look much different than it does now. We would learn to “be” rather than simply “do.”
I’ll end with a quote from St. Francis De Sales:
“Imitate little children who with one hand hold fast to their father while with the other they gather strawberries or blackberries from the hedges….watch that you never let go of his hand and his protection, thinking that in this way you can gather more.”