November 4, 2014
Now just relax. Don’t freak out about the title. Here is where I am going with this…Where did the Lord Jesus Christ institute us to compartmentalize all faith formation for adolescents into an hour and a half on Wednesday or Sunday night? Where did the creator of the universe presume that power-point presentations, small group discussions and pizza would be the ultimate gateway for healthy young discipleship development? Um. Well. Um. Nowhere.
Here is my contention…associating all youth ministry in a parish with youth group is like arguing that all of the joy of scuba diving is found in scuba certification class or all of driving is encapsulated in drivers education. Most adults would gag at these presumptions, let alone youth. Let them drive. Let them dive deeper. Drive with them (I know, scary right?). Get in the water and see more with them.
Youth group is a sound idea. Gather young people in a group and pour your adolescent faith formation resources into them. Success and failure are usually measurable. Numbers served generally dictate quality control. The challenge is that most youth don’t particularly like to join groups and very rarely does the group have consistent leadership and/or healthy relational ministry encounter. Youth groups can be criticized as personality cults or wastes of time. Usually, this is due to leadership or poor communication. Ugh. Now I am depressed.
Stop it. Dream bigger. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops document Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Youth Ministry (1997) never assumed all parishes would build a youth group. A comprehensive approach to youth ministry insists on dynamic encounter, invitation and evangelization. Every Mass is a youth Mass just like every fellowship activity is a family activity. Youth ministry is not limited to groups or poorly paid lay ecclesial ministers. Youth ministry is family formation, justice and service encounter, spiritual contemplation, adolescent bible study and raucous worship.
In the Diocese of Helena I commend all the parishes that are doing youth group extremely well. My hope is that it is only one part of the youth ministry of their parish. Ask yourself these questions: Are mom and dad involved in the youth ministry of this young person? Have we as a faith community done everything we can to engage families and young people in all of our age appropriate ministries? What ministry gatherings are happening in the diocese and are we a part of them? Have I done my best to invite youth into a closer relationship with Christ by my spirituality and actions as an adult in the faith? Is youth ministry in my parish limited to Confirmation Preparation? Your answers are the foundation for a more comprehensive approach to adolescent faith formation and a future church void of compartmentalization of ministries.
I love visiting youth groups and I always tell youth there is more to youth ministry than their group. I love visiting parishes and seeing youth encountered in unique ministries that help them grow in discipleship. I love sharing dynamic gatherings of young people from all over the diocese and seeing their eyes opened to a glimpse of universal church in a way that is unique to youth ministry. I am giving up on youth group as the only thing our church has to offer its young people and so should you.
Catholic Formation Services provides direction, consultation, and support to parishes and Catholic schools of the diocese in faith formation for people of all ages. Catholic Formation Services also conducts and coordinates ministry formation for those in related pastoral and catechetical positions.