During my time as a youth minister, I learned a great deal about myself, teenagers today, evangelization, and faith in general. I walked away from my experience (I’m now a full-time high school theology teacher) with a deeper appreciation for how difficult it is to live a life of faith in our world today. The kinds of everyday experiences that my youth group kids had to deal with were vastly different from my own high school experience. For this I am grateful, but I also feel a great responsibility to reach out to the young people I encounter. I’ve narrowed down my experience to five truths.
1.Teens are hungry for faith
No matter what they say, no matter what their exterior demeanor suggests, no matter how many times they roll their eyes or fall asleep: they want more from this life, they just don’t know where to find it. All they really want to know is that they are loved; that “it is good that they are here.” The obvious place to look for that love is in the Church, yet, for whatever reason, it tends to be the last. Letting them know they are loved wets their appetite, leading them wanting more. Showing them the faith, in all its splendor, satisfies that hunger. Feed them.
2. Parents need to be evangelized too
Parents are the primary educators. They transfer the faith to their children. If they don’t know the faith they can’t pass it down. Youth ministry is no longer about evangelizing the young alone, the family must be catechized as well. This is difficult, but necessary.
3. Discipleship is about being real
Teenagers can smell bulls@$t from a mile away. They know when adults are lying or being insincere. Witnesses are real. A true witness to Christ is genuine, he can’t help but be real, because he knows himself fully “as he is fully known.” Teens recognize this authenticity and they respond well to it, just as they respond poorly to disingenuous people. Your identity must be grounded in Christ for them to see Him in you.
4. Get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do work
The most “successful” retreats, talks, activities, whatever, that I have facilitated were the ones where I got out of the way, shut my mouth, and let the Spirit do it’s thing. There is nothing that I could say that would be more effective than simply allowing the Holy Spirit to move among them. This is humbling and often difficult to discern when exactly to step back, but absolutely necessary.
5. Encounter is everything
At the end of the day, the role of any youth minister, teacher, catechist, etc. is to provide an environment in which young people can encounter Christ. Nothing. Else. Matters. They need prayer. They need community. They need the Eucharist. Give it to them. If you are doing this, you are doing your job.