Throughout the years I’ve been involved in youth ministry I’ve seen various approaches in reaching out to the youth of the Church. Some of them work, and some do not. Nate and I have some tips for those who are involved in Youth Ministry
It is possible we’ve all seen these different tactics; from being their best friend to speaking of fire and brimstones. Although we may or may not realize it, each method is based on some foundational vision of the young people and their capabilities. If you find yourself in youth ministry, it would be wise to pause for a moment and understand where you stand and more importantly how it falls in line with the Church and what it expects of the youth.
Though this post is not meant to focus on a thorough vision of young people I should at least outline some foundational aspects of our view of young people in our Church:
First, like all of humanity, young people are destined for Heaven, with God as their creator, and Jesus as their Savior. We need Jesus as our Savior because of the fall of our first parents and thus our nature we inherit from that first sin.
Second, the youth hunger and seek for happiness.
Third, young people desire truth and beauty to its fullest.
Fourth, the young of our Church need models of excellence.
I promise to flesh these thoughts out more in a future post. However, in this post, based on these statements I’d like to share some tips or lessons learned from the cumulative experience in Youth Ministry between Nate and myself.
Include a Sacramental Life
Without the Sacraments, we run the risk of being a social activist group or some social club. Neither of these things is terrible; however, if this is a Catholic youth group, include Catholic things. When we speak of a “Sacramental Life,” we’re talking about the attendance of Holy Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, frequenting the Sacrament of Confession. Bonus points if you can attend a mass during the week in addition to your Sunday obligation. If we can teach the young people of our Church one thing, it’s a good and devout Sacramental life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1324) tells us that the “Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Christian life.” This is important for the youth who attend but most especially for those who are in charge. If there’s one way to guarantee Ministry Burn Out, it’s by not having a stable and foundational Sacramental life.
Engage them Emotionally AND Intellectually
When I first started Youth Ministry, I would gauge my success in doing a talk for a retreat by the number of people I could make cry or laugh, obviously depending on the topic. From the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve seen people try to talk to a group of teenagers about the hypostatic union of Our Lord. In youth ministry especially we face the temptation to think they won’t understand what we want to share with them. So we might dress up the message or water down the message to make it more palatable. I would argue that we should meet them where they are at while not compromising the beauty and truths of our faith.
A great example of this is the idea of a “Youth Mass” employed by many parishes today. A Catholic Parish describes their youth mass as follows:
“The music, more contemporary, and the liturgy a little more inviting and easy to follow help lead to a deeper participation in the mass by teens.”
I would argue that this is an example of what we want to avoid. The youth don’t need a dumbed down mass but instead, we should invite them to a Holy Mass that quenches their thirst for truth and beauty.
There is a great reflection on the youth mass that can be found here.
Create a Community
Often, you will have groups of people who will gather together once a week but throughout the week will only know each other via their social media feeds. Tertullian, an early Christian writer, shared how the pagans of Rome were at awe of Christians and exclaimed: “See how they love one another.” In the culture which prevails among the youth today, imagine how edifying it would be to see young Christians caring for one another. In our experience in Youth Ministry, this was made evident by the outings the youth would organize among themselves. Encouraged by one another, they would often go to confession and attend mass together before an evening of recreation. This behavior was not exclusive to the youth we catered to. Even among the core members and youth ministers, as a result, there is a camaraderie that echos in our friendships today. This sense of community creates among the youth models of excellence or a sharing of those models like the saints.
There are various things you can do to build and foster a sense of community. One of the best things you can do is to build upon the first tip and do it together. Outside of this, recreational days together, retreats, days of recollection, and volunteering events all can help in building a more profound and stronger sense of community.
Don’t get too comfortable
Another way to say this is to be cautious of complacency. The dangers here are many. By becoming too comfortable with the group dynamics or the individuals in the community you run the risk of failing to look outward. In this trap, a youth group can come off as elitist or exclusive. There also is the risk of being pride sneaking in. You and the group may fall into the illusion that you know everything (or at least everything you need to know). A spiritual director would always remind me, “If you are not progressing in your spiritual life, you are regressing.” Our Lord does not call us to a state of complacency but of greatness and holiness. This is achieved by always moving forward and growing in our spiritual life.
“God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way.”
You can hear about these tips and more insights on Episode 6 of Holy Smokes Podcast in the link below:
Written by Jerome P.
Jerome has been actively part of youth ministry for over 15 years and has also been in the Technology industry for 8 years. He earned his Bachelors Degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside, and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Psychology with Divine Mercy University.