One of my biggest frustrations with the way that youth ministry is done in the Church today is how it approaches the parents of the youth in the ministry. All too often, the language used focuses on getting parents involved in what we are doing rather than us helping the parents with what they are doing. I wrote a little about this in Stop Helping Youth and Start Helping Parents.
One of the most emphasized aspects of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is that instead of having one youth minister in the parish, the goal is to have one person who forms many youth ministers in the parish. I do not mean that we form several adults to do whatever the youth minister tells them to do, but instead to form, equip, and inspire parents and other adults in the parish who have the heart, vision, and passion of a youth minister to become youth ministers. We want parents and adults in the parish to believe it can be done and that they have what it takes to do it.
The reason this is hard is because for the last 40 years in the Church, we have not done this very well. When a youth minister is hired, it typically takes the pressure off of the parents and places it on the parish youth ministry program. We subsequently fail to form other adults to be youth ministers, limiting our capacity to reach more youth.
In his book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin writes about how people often attribute success to talent and believe that the average person doesn’t stand a chance at being good or great at something. The book proves by giving example after example of people like Mozart and Tiger Woods, whose success most would attribute to a God-given talent at birth, that in reality these people had practiced and had been given the opportunity to grow in their skills at an unusually early point in their life. He does not argue that talent in nothing, but that it is overrated.
Most people involved in youth ministry are good at it because they have been involved in and practiced at it for some time. Good youth ministry was modeled for them, and they simply learned the ropes from others. Though so many have themselves learned it through practice, they struggle to believe that others in the parish can become skilled at it that way as well.
I believe that in order for us to increase our effectiveness in youth ministry, we have to begin to provide opportunities for adults in the parish to practice being youth ministers. In Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin writes about “deliberate practice”. Deliberate practice is how people like Mozart and Tiger Woods achieved such great heights in the utilization of their skills. I believe that we can begin to help adults in the Church become great not just in youth ministry but in discipleship and evangelization as a whole if we can set them up for success- just like the people involved in Mozart and Tiger Woods’ lives did for them.
Here are the four things that must be done for practice to be deliberate (as laid out by Colvins) and how I see them working in Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry.
Designed Specifically to Improve Performance
We must have a system in place that provides room for adults to practice and grow in being the youth minister. This means not only giving them a role in the ministry, but putting them in positions to practice actually doing what a youth minister does. The role of the parish is to be a place of formation where adults improve in their ability to evangelize. Rather than giving them simple tasks to complete, we must set them up to do things they never thought they could do but with deliberate practice can excel in.
Highly Demanding Mentally
We take the mental stress of youth ministry away from not only the parents but the other adults when we establish a program and pay an “expert” to come up with solutions. The customized approach of discipleship requires that the adults get to know youth and to learn how to form them based upon what they have learned. This is extremely mentally demanding for adults, again because it has not been asked of them for a long time.
It Can Be Repeated A Lot
The mentorship of a parish coordinator who is helping an adult become a youth minister can provide ongoing oversight and support for that adult to grow over time. Like a coach running a drill several times on the practice field, the adults should be given the space to try things over and over again until they get more comfortable with it.
Feedback on Results is Continually Available
This is where a parish coordinator or the involvement of the pastor is necessary. Adults who are striving to grow in youth ministry need feedback and support to continue growing. So while we want the adults to have the freedom to do ministry in the way they think is best, they also need feedback both to progress and to provide them with the support they need.
It is time for us stop doing youth ministry and teach others to do it instead. Let’s take the years that we have been learning to do youth ministry in the Church and turn from being “experts” to being coaches.