Fall is an active time around most of our parishes, and it’s a time full of incredible hope for another year of catechetics. I’ve been blessed with almost a decade of working in youth ministry and witnessing the incredible ways that the Lord can work in the lives of high school teens.
As many lives I have seen touched by God, we have a serious problem in the Church. In the USA alone, 80% of youth that go through our Catholic programs are no longer practicing Catholics by the age of 23. This is a terrifying statistic.
The source of this issue is complex and has existed for a few generations now, and I have heard a lot of people that don’t work in youth ministry share their opinion. There’s lots of great points to consider when reviewing youth ministry. With the risk of over-simplifying a solution, here are some points I have learned over the past few years. Many came after painful failures.
7 Lessons I have Learned Serving in Youth Ministry
- The bar must be set higher than getting teens to attend and at least seem like they’re paying attention. Our mission can’t be less than making disciples (Matthew 28:19)
- Catechesis will not be effective on un-evangelized teens. Teens must know the love of Christ to truly have faith or even care about what the Church has to say.
- Programs often underestimate the capacity and desire of teens for the fullness of Truth from Mother Church. Young people go after sin because they are seeking His Truth and love but don’t know how to fill the void.
- The how’s and why’s of the faith cannot be skipped or understated. You can’t teach them everything, but you can teach them how to think and find the Truth in Him.
- “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” – Pope Paul VI
- There is no use in avoiding or ignoring the difficult topics. Teens have questions, and we need to answer them with Truth instead of the lies of the world.
- We have to speak of the person of Jesus as much as the teachings of the Church. Teaching teens how to pray and walk with God is the most important task of a catechist.
The stakes are high and real lives are involved, but one of the most liberating truths of serving in youth ministry is that it’s not all up to us. Only God’s grace is capable of converting hearts and He will always generously provide what we need to do His work. If you have been on the fence about serving in your parish youth ministry, consider it again.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” – Luke 10:2
Interview with Students of Youth Ministry
At the end of this summer, I sat down with some former students to discuss youth ministry as they exited and leave for the next chapter in their lives. I am going to try and schedule an interview more students in the future, but here is the first one.
While I was sitting in adoration with students at a recent retreat, I was reminded about how much Jesus minister to me through them. I serve teens because I want them to know Jesus like I know Him, and in turn it makes me want to love Him like they love Him.
“Let us ask the Lord that we may all be men and women who keep the memory of God alive in ourselves, and are able to awaken it in the hearts of others.”
-Pope Francis to Catechist