Written by Keith Strohm
For the last few weeks-- in addition to preparing for a wonderful Called & Gifted Workshop over here in Bloomingdale, Illinois--I've been working on a short analysis of youth ministry. A little background:
Last year, after a lot of prayer and reflection, I joined my parish's youth ministry program--knowing that it had a number of issues and areas for improvement. After offering my own experience in youth and adult formation to help deepen and grow the program (most of which went largely unheeded--for a number of reasons, including an attachment to historical methods and a dearth of intentional discipleship), feedback and other events helped me to realize that I had possibly made some bad discernment.
I decided, ultimately, not to continue on as a youth minister this year. However, I love the teens and the folks alongside whom I ministered, and so I spent several weeks applying my experience in the Christians in Action program with my larger experience in youth and adult formation. I then wrote a reflection on youth ministry and offered concrete, practical suggestions to help the team if they wanted to take a risk and try some new things.
In doing so, I worked on identifying the necessary components of effective youth ministry, particularly in light of the goals of youth ministry--forming disciples who take personal responsibility for the Church's mission to the world. As I identified these components, I wondered if, in fact, the necessary components of youth formation are, in many ways, identical to the necessary components of adult formation. Perhaps it's not the structure or content of youth and adult formation that should be different, but rather the context.
In other words, our goals and ambitions shouldn't be lower for youth because they are young. Both teens and adults can become intentional disciples of Christ--but their journey toward that goal takes place in the context of different segments of life.
In any event, here are the elements of effective youth ministry that I identified. This is probably not an exhaustive list, but I think it hits the major points:
Effective youth ministry should provide a place where teens can come to:
· Encounter Christ (many for the first time)—as he is revealed through the Church (Scripture, Sacraments, Church Teaching), through the lives of the youth ministers who journey with the teens, and through their own lives—so as to build and deepen a personal relationship with God characterized by openness and trust.
· Clearly hear the kerygmatic dimensions of the Gospel (that Christ suffered and died for our sins so that we could be reunited with the One Who Made us for Love) in a way that allows them to relate to it, absorb it, wrestle with it, and, ultimately, make a decision about it in their own life
· Build habits of prayer, scripture study, accountability, and sacramental celebration/reception—along with support and formation in living out lives of discipleship.
· Learn about not only what the Church teaches and why, but also how to apply the richness of that Teaching to their lives and the lives of the world around them—addressing real needs in the community through acts of charity and social justice.
· Receive support and tools for a lifetime of discernment—growing steadily in an understanding of the Church’s mission and how/where they are personally called to participate in that mission
How this gets accomplished will look very different for teens and for adults, but the foundational components seem, to my eye, similar.
By the way, I am posting my detailed reflection on youth ministry in regular installments over at my blog. If you are interested, stop on by!