I began my time as a youth minister seeing it as a springboard to something much bigger – paid public speaking. The correlation seemed obvious; at every event, conference, or major Catholic retreat I attended the speakers were all former youth ministers who “made it big.” And, after playing in a band for eight years that “almost made it,” I knew how the rise to stardom worked:
- Be awesome at something. In this case, being a Catholic speaker.
- Market yourself. Make sure people know how awesome you are at speaking.
- Get discovered by someone important. That’s right, the Pope heard that talk you gave about the Incarnation and he’s called you up to the big leagues. Get ready.
- Speak at giant Catholic conferences in front of thousands of people, write a book, and sit back enjoying your newfound financial security and Catholic stardom.
I mean, of course it’s not about the money or being a Catholic celebrity, uh, that’s just carry over from my, you know, band days. Nobody in the Catholic world feels that way now, I’m sure.
Now that I’ve been in the trenches of youth ministry I’ve realized that I’m not alone in my dream – a lot of youth ministers are looking to get on the speaker circuit. Here are a couple general descriptions you may see in a parish youth minister’s Twitter profile:
“Son. Brother. Youth Minister. Catholic Speaker.”
Or, “I love Jesus, my husband, two kids, and speaking about the Gospel to teenagers.”
These subtle hints let you know they are on step two, waiting on step three. I’ll admit, the dream is alluring. Seeing a great Catholic speaker is inspiring – they preach God’s word, fly all over the world, are adored by thousands of people, and they must make lots of money – right?
Well, sort of. I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of people who do a lot of speaking, and sometimes that travel takes them away from their families and it gets hard, financially things are still difficult (it is ministry, people), and they aren’t adored by everyone – they still get angry e-mails that stink to read. Knowing these men and women have helped me see the “dream” of Catholic speaking for what it really is – ministry. It is hard, and there are days where those speakers struggle, and times when they get down. Just like a parish youth minister.
So here is what I realized: We need great Catholic speakers, but we need great youth ministers, because those speakers aren’t coming home on the bus – you are. Those speakers won’t be at your local high school – you need to be. And ten years from now, a teen may remember a great talk, but they aren’t going to invite that speaker to their wedding – they are going to invite you.
So I want to challenge all of you in a way I was challenged years ago:
If you are a parish youth minister, give that all you have not because you want to be “discovered,” but because God has called you to it. Don’t use it as a “stepping stone” to Catholic stardom because such a thing doesn’t exist. And if you don’t speak outside of your Life Nights, please take “Catholic speaker” out of your Twitter profile. If God is calling you to preach to large crowds it’s going to happen, but right now, He doesn’t need you there. He needs you in the lunch room, at the Life Night, in your office, and at a football game preaching the Gospel and a making a bigger difference than we may ever know.
Question: What do you think is the most important quality in a youth minister? (Share below)