Having served under two youth ministers and as a middle school catechist, I have observed that youth ministry in the Catholic Chuch varies widely. Youth ministry suffers for three reasons: 1. over-reliance on outdated methods and 2. failure to focus on all aspects of ministry.
Over-reliance on outdated methods
I find that in certain parishes; there still is a tendency to rely on old-school CCD methods of catechism. This is especially true of middle school age youth. Textbook catchism is problematic. First, it doesn’t help people fall in love with Jesus. Second, it creates students of religion rather than disciples. Disciples are people, who follow the example of a teacher. When Jesus formed the 12 disciples, he did not demand they learn about his life, but rather he invited them into a relationship. Third, it encourages memorization rather than practically doing. For my 7th-grade catechism class, the textbook had self-assessments and vocab words. For me personally, I’d rather my students know and be encouraged to pray than know the proper definition of the magisterium. Fourth, youth spend so much time in the classroom already that they don’t want to spend time in another. Fifth, youth especially males have so much energy; and I found it is easier to have them focus on an activity. Lastly, there is a disconnect between what is being learned and what is relevant to them and what is relevant in the Mass. In my 7th grade class, one kid had a peer, who had committed suicide; another kid whose parents were not religious, and a group of kids, who were debating whether to protest school shootings. My textbook was woefully tone-deaf. Also, it is disconnected from what they experience at Mass.
Failure to focus on all aspects of ministry
Edmund Mitchell, in his blog post, AN EVANGELISTIC MODEL FOR YOUTH MINISTRY, describes 4 aspects of youth ministry. These 4 aspects include relational, KERYGMA, discipleship, and mission. Let’s unpack each one. Relational has to do with meeting kids where they are at and inviting them to form a trusting relationship with you. These may entail going to sporting events, high schools, and anything else the teen was involved in. The second is KERYGMA or proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ; this might be achieved at a life night. The third is discipleship, which describes the desired response such as growing deeper in prayer or attending a bible study. Lastly, mission entails equipping the individual to go out and spread the good news.
Most parishes in Hampton roads run a ministry known as Lifeteen. Lifeteen is a company that creates catechetical lesson plans to be used by a youth minister and a team of volunteers to help create a series of talks called life nights. These life nights form the basic catechetical component. Sadly for reasons I will get into in my next post, most parishes do not run it properly. Life nights by themselves are not meant to incorporate all 4 aspects of youth ministry; however, if you use all the resources Lifeteen can incorporate most. Here’s what a subscription includes:
Life nights Designed to evangelize and catechize the youth; these nights have a theme that centers around what teens need to know
Summit discipleship resource-Weekly bible study resource around the Sunday readings
Unleashed Missionary Disciple resource- Takes teenagers deeper into aspects of faith and prepares them for leadership
Now I am not here to sell lifeteen nor do I think it is completely necessary, but I do think that a well-run youth ministry needs to encompass all 4 aspects. In my next blog post, I will talk about how a lack of volunteers, a lack of financial support, and a lack of engagement with the wider parish hinders the lifeteen model.