I live and work in the frozen tundra that is the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Some people call Northern Wisconsin God’s country…but anyone who is from here will tell you that first and foremost, it’s Packer Country. The Green Bay Packers pervade every aspect of our lives…including our faith. When we have our parish calendar meeting in the summer, we hang up a copy of the Packer schedule alongside the calendar of holy days. Packer games have trumped Confirmation classes, retreats, prayer services and meetings of all kinds.
This year (you may have heard) the Green Bay Packers are headed to the Super Bowl. I’ve lived and breathed Green and Gold for the past few months, and I’ve realized that the Packer culture has a lot to teach us about how we can be church…and how I can do more effective ministry to teens.
1. We Inspire Pride
Packer fans will tell you that their pride in the team is about a shared history and loyalty that has little to do with the final score. We bleed green and gold – not just because we so desperately want them to win, but also because the team inspires pride with its well-known history and honored players. We remember the difficult seasons, and we celebrate the glory years as people who are proud to be part of Packer legend.
Our youth ministry needs to inspire pride. I need to share the rich history and legacy of the Catholic Church with the teens. Sharing the times of great holiness and Spirit-filled movement can be a source of Catholic pride for teens, and sharing the times when we’ve overcome great obstacles can inspire loyalty and love for our Church. I need to be using the stories of the Saints and Doctors of the Church regularly in my teachings because those personal stories make that history come alive.
2. We Are Family
Watching a Packer game is not a solo activity; I have a family of Packer backers to commiserate with when they’re losing and celebrate with when they’re winning. This family is scattered across the country, but we Facebook and Tweet like crazy during games because we want to share the experience fellow Packer Backers. Sometimes the game is awful, and sometimes we lose…but always we are strengthened as a whole because we shared the experience together.
Our youth ministry needs to expand its definition of family. I’ve always felt like our Core Team is a family – we support each other, we encourage each other, we cheer for each other, and we pray for each other, but we don’t often include others in our tight-knit circle. I need to connect my Core Team with other youth ministers and youth ministry volunteers…and I need to start across town. We need to be attending diocesan events and collaborating with other youth ministry programs in our area because we want to connect with other members of our Catholic family who are passionate about teens. Sometimes the events don’t fit our personal spirituality, sometimes the other parishes have a different philosophy, sometimes we disagree with a priest’s theology, but we will always be strengthened as a whole when we take time to share in ministry together.
3. We Bring Unity
When I was in high school, my mom and I fought like cats and dogs. We’d spend the week screaming at each other about curfews, homework, and chores…but come Sunday we’d sport our green and gold and forge a truce as we cheered on The Pack together. During the game, the only screaming that happened was on the heels of an awesome interception or sack. During the game, we stopped being “you” and “me” and became “we” – belonging to the we that encompasses the front offices, players, coaches, assistants, and fans of the Green Bay Packers. On those days we were all on the same team, and we let our love for the Packers bring out our love for each other.
Our youth ministry needs to bring unity within families. I need to encourage parental involvement in our ministry, and I need to stop viewing every frustrated parent as my enemy. I need to start thinking of every parent, sibling, parish staff member, pastor, and parishioner as part of the “we” that makes ministry to teens possible. I need to encourage teens to bring their parents to Mass without bad-mouthing their parents’ commitment to the faith. I need to encourage parents to bring their teens to Mass without guilt trips – reminding them that Sundays can be a time to put aside all the stress of the week and let God’s love for them bring out their love for each other.
4. We Reach For A Common Goal
It may have been 13 years since our last Super Bowl run, but at the beginning of every season every Packer Fan’s mind is set on the end game – the Big Game. Pre-season discussions revolve around “what our chances are,” and we are totally unified in our desire for the ultimate prize – winning the Super Bowl and bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Vince Lombardi’s home stadium. Packer fans aren’t satisfied with the NFC Championship because it’s just a stepping stone on the path to the ultimate goal.
Our youth ministry needs to keep the ultimate goal in sight. I need to remember that God does not judge my ministry by attendance numbers, collection plate totals, Facebook friends, or by how much fun a teen had on Sunday night. He judges my ministry based on whether or not I am leading teenagers closer to Him. I need to share this vision and our plan for how to achieve it with every member of our youth ministry family – from parents and teens to parish staff and finance councils. We need to be united in our goal of leading teenagers closer to Christ through His Church. I need to make bringing teens to the sacraments, bringing them to adoration, and bringing them to prayer the focus of every activity we do and every teaching we give. I can’t be satisfied with high attendance numbers or praise about how fun a Life Night was because those things are just stepping stones on the path to the ultimate goal – a relationship with Christ for each and every teenager.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be decked out in green and gold on Sunday February 6. I’m going to be screaming and yelling and cheering on the Packers in their quest for the Lombardi trophy…but first, I’m going to go to Mass with the teens of our parish – because despite being a die-hard Packer fan, first I’m a Catholic youth minister who wants to do a better job of leading teens closer to Christ. See you in the Eucharist!