I don't like youth ministry. Maybe its due to my non-conformist tendencies (a weakness). Maybe I'm playing a semantics game. Or maybe I'm crafting a straw man. But I don't have much written for this Tuesday, so allow me to just rant and externally process.
I think inherent in the culture of youth ministry over the past decade or two is a noble sense that our kids are lost and the Church needs to work harder to save them. Some very effective and dynamic approaches have developed and I believe they have done a lot of good.
But now a generation of home-grown youth from Lifeteen-esque programs are going to college and growing up. As youth ministers and lay evangelists in the Church, we are all struggling with this sneaking suspicion that our youth aren't staying Catholic. I don't know the statistics. I'm not critiquing Lifeteen or any method or approach per se.
But I think if I were honest with myself (a youth minister) and everyone else, I would say that I don't really like youth ministry. I don't think it should exist. At least not as a "ministry".
When most Catholics use the word "ministry" they mean a service of help provided by the Church to a particular group of people. Divorced ministry. Homeless ministry. Campus ministry. Young Adult ministry. Youth ministry. Pastoral ministry.
I've been starting to feel that our Churches don't need that much youth ministry. If youth ministry is a means by which the Church tries to evangelize and serve her youth, then it makes sense to have a youth ministry. But what happens once a teen is evangelized? Where does a teen go? Back to the youth ministry?
I don't think Churches need youth ministry. I think our Church needs youth. And therefore we don't need a youth ministry as an end to itself, we need a youthful Church.
The youth have a Church. Its their parent's Church. And its their grandparent's Church. And its your Church. Youth Ministry is what reaches outside the Church to youth, but it should be more like a bus station than a home.
Three years ago I started calling our youth ministry in Toledo the "St. Patricks Young Church Movement". Or just "St. Pat's Young Church". I moved to Texas where the youth ministry took on the same name. St. Francis Young Church. Youth Minister friends started calling asking if they could use the name too. Our goal is to lead teens closer to Christ and his Church through community, worship, and discipleship. It's all based on Acts 2. Preach the Gospel, ask youth to repent and join Jesus and His Church, and then BE Church - community (the Christian life), worship (the sacraments) and discipleship (the creed and prayer of a Christian). When youth show up to our "events" I want them to fall in love with a different way of life offered by the Church, not a ministry.
It might seem trite and like straining gnats, but for me it represented a shift in my focus, purpose, and "ministry".
The goal of "youth ministry" is not to get kids to be involved in youth ministry. The goal of youth ministry is to get kids to fall in love with Christ and become part of His Church.
No one wants to live in a hospital. No one wants to just perpetually fix themselves.
To me it seemed like I was inviting kids to come get fixed, and become a part of a group of people who are all about fixing people.
"Hey, you! You should come to my "fixing kids" night. It's every Sunday night. It's a group and community all focused on fixing kids and bringing them to Christ. Once you've found Jesus, you can then keep coming back to a group trying to get kids to find Jesus."
I started feeling like the end goal of everything was ministering to youth. But perpetually ministering is not the goal. The goal is connecting young people to the Church, not to a ministry of the Church. The goal is for the young people of our Church to BE Church.
Maybe this is why we are all struggling with the kid who graduated from high school three years ago and still only feels fed and close to God in the youth ministry. They are the lifelong core members.
The first converts to Catholicism in Acts 2 devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of bread, the community of disciples, and prayer. Is our ministry reaching out and helping youth devote themselves to our Church's life of creed, sacraments, morality, and prayer? The early Church evangelized very powerfully through their daily witness of living as Church.
Should't every Church have a ministry that is focused first on "ministering" and then on mobilizing the young people to be part of their Church? Shouldn't I as a youth minister be a little more concerned with carving out a place for youth to BE Church at our Parish? A Church does youth ministry when a kid goes to Mass. A Church does youth ministry when a kid goes to Confession. A Church does youth ministry when a kid serves as a Eucharistic minister, or altar server, or in the food pantry, or as a Lector.
Youth ministry in its current form is a bandaid because parents don't know how to evangelize their kids. Most parents don't know the faith. Most parents don't know Jesus. But parents are the primary catechists and the first heralds of the Gospel in a child's life. The more we help youth be the young Church, the more our Church will evangelize without the help of our youth "ministry". And the more our youth will grow up and do the same to their kids - connect them to Jesus and His Church.
The more we make youth "ministry" obsolete and unnecessary the more we do our job as youth ministers. The more we empower people to be Church, the more families will evangelize their kids, and the more kids will become part of the Church, and not ministry.