By: Erin Kinsella
So I just came back this week from Orlando, Florida! Nice vacation from the Winnipeg weather J. Why was I in Florida, you ask? Well, it was because the biennial National Catholic Conference on Youth Ministry was being held there. Just a perk that it happened to be hosted at Disneyworld!
Anyways, I wanted to share about something I found really interesting …
Youth ministry is defining itself more, and really is a collection of information/theory/best practices/wisdom about how to help young people to encounter Christ. It’s not fluffy.
Sometimes it’s hard to move forward in youth ministry, because often our pastors / bosses / parishioners / other bystanders / volunteers / teens / us see youth ministry as something that is merely a social gathering/a way to keep young people occupied/an extension of catechism/a way to get young people to Mass/a vehicle for service and justice/other narrowly focused thing that is ill-defined and unspecialized (YM is ALL of these things, and more, not just ONE of these things by itself).
Sometimes, the job of youth minister/campus minister/youth coordinator/person responsible for all evangelistic efforts to all young people from birth to 40 goes to the only person who is unable to flat-out refuse the role/the excited young guitar-playing college student who doesn’t have any experience but is really cool/willing to do it for free or for a salary that is unjust and/or literally criminal/ already doing a million other jobs in the parish and should now “take care of the youth”/the person who used to do “youth stuff” but might not be aware of how much theory around ministry to youth has changed/any other person who loves young people with that as the only qualification.
If we can help people to shift their focus and see that ministry to young people requires a whole skill set with specialized competencies and knowledge just like any other job, then we can help our young people to have access to those who both
a) Love Jesus and want to help them to be consumed by the love of God in such a way that it spills out of them into the world around them, and;
b) Have some training in how to go about this effectively
I’m not for a minute suggesting that those who don’t have formal training or education in youth ministry can’t be called to it and be very good at it (I’m a great example…I started professionally in YM with only a few years of experience and an unrelated university degree as a qualification, have taken part in lots of training stuff and gained more experience, and am now moving into more education to supplement that experience…but I started off as mostly a person who loves Jesus and teenagers and wanted to see them paired up). What I AM suggesting is that YM has grown a lot since it first began as socials and athletics for young people, and there is now a huge body of knowledge and theory and experience that we NEED to tap into when we minister to young people.
Whether you are a volunteer or are paid, you DESERVE to have a frame of reference to minister in. It’s awful to feel like you have no idea how to even start doing what you’re expected to do, which is often a whole lot, and this can lead to ineffective youth ministry, unhappy pastors and young people, and people who end up hurt or used as a result of their service in youth ministry. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s not necessarily uncommon either, and is this not something we would like to avoid? Think about it this way: it would be kind of like asking someone to be an accountant without them having an accounting degree, and then expecting them to balance the books because they are a nice person with good intentions. Sounds harsh, but it’s not fair to them, to the firm, or to the people who rely on their service.
In Canada, we are moving more and more towards this understanding, I think. We’re getting better at helping people to understand the concrete-ness and huge-ness of youth ministry, at equipping people to do it effectively, at discipling people who disciple youth, and more. It’s also likely that by the time we see these things coming more into their own, youth ministry will have morphed into new theories/practices/expressions that will require us to do it all over again.
Anyways, these are some thoughts that came out of the conference, especially because young people are SOOOOOOO worth it. They are worth knowing how to do our jobs well (whether we are volunteer or paid). They are worth taking care of ourselves for and making sure that our ministry doesn’t lead to burn-out or being frozen in discouragement. They are worth our own continuing growth and understanding of the richness found in our Catholic faith and teachings so that we can help them to do the same. And they are certainly worth us entering more and more deeply into a relationship with Christ so that we can enter into relationships with them and help them to encounter Him too.