Key Components of Our Local Youth Ministry Strategy
Many young people have come to appreciate silence and closeness to God. Groups that gather to adore the Blessed Sacrament or to pray with the word of God have also increased. We should never underestimate the ability of young people to be open to contemplative prayer. We need only find the right ways and means to help them embark on this precious experience.(CV,224)
It is vital to remember through our relationships with young people that the aim is not for you to have a great relationship with the young person but for them to encounter the person of Jesus Christ through you. At some point you will be required to offer them opportunities for encounter with our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. Within the LifeTeen relational model, encounter should occur prior to ‘challenge’. DO NOT BE AFRAID. Often we can end up watering down the traditions of our faith because we are scared – have courage and be authentic. Gathering young people around Jesus, allowing them to sit ‘Face to Face’ with him can be the most powerful tool we have as youth ministers. Do not feel you need high tech, all singing all dancing set ups for this. You just need Him. You may wish to explore LifeTeen XLT evenings for examples of encounter evenings.
The gentle turning of the tide that occurred as a result of the Synod in 2018, was the message to simply BE with young people and resist our desire (and the old model) to DO something for them.
‘Young people need to have their freedom respected, yet they also need to be accompanied’. (CV, 242)
Journeying with young people as a fellow disciple on the road can be a perilous place. They will rarely stick to the path you feel God has laid out for them. They will dabble with lifestyles you will not agree with and they will reject some of the values you hold dear – still you must not leave them.
As you accompany them through their highs and lows, you must always remain faithful to God’s call in your life, equipping them with the tools to face the challenges life throws at them and not be dragged away from Him yourself. However, you must balance this with a constant availability to the young person. Your own prayer life and spiritual well-being is essential to successful accompaniment. If you are empty, what are you going to feed our young people?
Music is particularly important, representing as it does a real environment in which the young are constantly immersed, as well as a culture and a language capable of arousing emotion and shaping identity. The language of music also represents a pastoral resource with a particular bearing on the liturgy and its renewal. (CV, 226)
Music is relevant to the lives of young people and can lead them into a place of encounter. Setting a prayerful atmosphere is important but to engage young people in powerful moments of praise, a strong, high quality worship leader should be sought.
Pope Francis encourages parishes to create a home for young people – a space they can drop into and simply BE. Provided a safe, comfortable space where relationships can be built within our Churches is an essential part of the strategy. Young people have very little security and constant’s in their lives – the family unit can break up, they will experience as many as five careers in their lifetime, friendships come and go… nothing is forever. Providing a safe space for them to be with you, with each other and (most importantly) with God is a blessing which willstay with them for life.
This is the heartbeat of our suggested strategy. It is not what you do that will lead young people into deeper relationship Jesus but who YOU are. Recognise the steps of a relational model and follow them. Pay attention to individual young people, noticing their needs and desires. Remember the things that are important to them and meet them where they are. Go to visit them in their environment; sports games, music concerts, school plays etc. You can read more about the LifeTeen relational model in our How To… Local Youth Ministry document.
We strongly suggest that you resist the temptation to start a youth group/formation group/ justice and peace group/ sports group as a first option for young people. Youth groups tend to come and go and rely heavily on one or two committed people to organise, plan and deliver the youth program. Although this model can work in the short term, it is probably not going to help young people on their path to sainthood. Organised gatherings for young people (if required) should form part of your relational strategy, for example: to engage with a large number of young people at the initial contact stage. The danger is that the youth group becomes the ministry and our aim of walking with young people to an encounter with Jesus becomes a distant past.
Young people are not really interested in what we do, they are interested in who we are. Are we who we say we are? Naturally, much of the press and publicity they read and hear of our Church is of the most extreme times when we have not been who we proclaim we should be. Let’s be clear, we are all sinners – none of us is perfect. What young people ask of us, is that we acknowledge those times we are sinful or we make errors of judgement and that we authentically try to make amends. They know we are not yet Saints but they want us to keep trying…with them!
Throughout the Synod ‘young people described to us the qualities they hope to find in a mentor, and they expressed this with much clarity. “The qualities of such a mentor include: being a faithful Christian who engages with the Church and the world; someone who constantly seeks holiness; someone who is a confidant without judging. Similarly, someone who actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; someone deeply loving and self-aware; someone who recognizes his or her limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey. An especially important quality in mentors is the acknowledgement of their own humanity – the fact that they are human beings who make mistakes: not perfect people but forgiven sinners. Sometimes mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, it may have a devastating impact on young people’s ability to continue to engage with the Church. Mentors should not lead young people as passive followers, but walk alongside them, allowing them to be active participants in the journey. They should respect the freedom that comes with a young person’s process of discernment and equip them with tools to do so well. A mentor should believe wholeheartedly in a young person’s ability to participate in the life of the Church. A mentor should therefore nurture the seeds of faith in young people, without expecting to immediately see the fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit. This role is not and cannot be limited to priests and consecrated life, but the laity should also be empowered to take on such a role. All such mentors should benefit from being well-formed, and engage in ongoing formation” , (CV, 246)