In the story Shawshank Redemption, there is a character by the name of Brooks Hatlen. Brooks is well-known, well-liked, and has a great gig (relatively speaking) in the prison system. He has been there for so long that it has become his home. To help jog your memory, he is the one who is let out of prison part way through the movie and says, “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” Long story short, he has such a difficult time facing the world when he is released that he ends up hanging himself. The world outside of prison is more of a punishment to him than prison itself.
As youth ministry begins to shift, I am seeing more and more tension in the role of the youth minister in a parish. Whether it be the pastor, the youth minister, or even the parish itself, many people take great comfort in the life, structure, and discipline we have established in the Church today. Those who have not really thought too much about what it would be like outside of the box and have been living in it for so long struggle with the realities when change begins to hit. At the same time, we have people who have been engaging in discipleship for some time, and when they look at the walls of the common youth ministry structure in the Church (the jail), they are able to much more readily see the lack of freedom one has in them.
It is going to take a new breed of youth minister to be able to shift youth ministry in the Church today. We need to be able to get comfortable outside of the walls and experience the great joy and freedom in doing youth ministry in a way that is truly NEW in order to fully enter into the New Evangelization.
I am fortunate enough to be a part of youth ministry programs that are going outside of these walls. Here are some examples of what is working and how things are different on the “outside”:
The Days of One Youth Group are Over
The issue I found in having one large youth group is that it was nearly impossible to craft a plan that really met the needs of every youth that came. The parish youth group must become a community of communities in the parish – each community distinct and able to grow and shift as needed.
A Greater Expectation of the Laity is Key
I have heard some call youth ministry the “welfare system” of the Church. For too long, we have provided a crutch for parents and families without really having a plan for helping them get on their own feet. It is time to expect those who are able to step up and take on bigger roles in the Church. This doesn’t necessarily mean more time commitment, but definitely a greater responsibility in the formation of our youth.
Formation of Leaders is Essential
When volunteers are given a big responsibility and are truly being fed through their involvement in the Church, it will naturally draw out a deep desire to give even more. It’s time to start making the Church a place where volunteers are formed and can grow in the gifts that God has given them, feeding them in ways no one else can, instead of simply looking for people who can do things for us.
Depth Wins Over Hype
Immediately when we began small group discipleship in our parish, the walls of Catholic School vs. Public Schools were broken down. We have to believe and show that what the Church has to offer is more fulfilling than any other school commitment a youth can make. It’s not about how big or fun your programs are; it is about the depth they can reach. The reason sports and school activities are becoming so competitive is because of the depth of commitment expected from those involved. If our desire is greater results, why wouldn’t we expect a greater commitment and depth as well?
We Have to be Ok If People Don’t Like Us
For too long, our programs and ministries have been built to make everyone happy. The expectations are minimal and the teachings are vague. This doesn’t sound much like how Jesus did it at all. Jesus spoke the truth, invited people to “cast into the deep,” and did not make everyone happy. While his message is for everyone, he doesn’t force people to follow him but makes it well worth it for those who do.
A Fruit of Discipleship is Evangelization
When discipleship happens as it should, the result is a missionary heart. As youth enter into a discipleship setting where they are growing in their faith, they are willing to get out of their comfort zone and evangelize others. This is how we will reach those who are not yet engaged. It will not be through some production or fancy offering, but rather through the gentle invitation of their peers who are being changed because of their active relationship with Jesus Christ.
These are just a few examples of the life outside of the walls that I am experiencing. It is a very exciting time in the Church. May the vision of the New Evangelization guide you as you break free and trust in the life that exists outside of the walls!