“Collaboration” is such an overused buzzword that it has virtually lost all meaning. But now, when ministries are being cut at worst and restructured at best, it would really help us all to reach out and find ways to help each other. Collaboration among leadership teams, priests, parish staff, other parish ministries, pastoral councils and diocesan offices can go far beyond telling each other what we’re doing. Our survival as youth ministries hinges on developing a model of successful leadership in which we can all participate.
Betsy is a high school senior with a voice from heaven. She sings in two separate choirs at her church, plays the lead in her high school musicals, and was the lead vocalist on the church contemporary band’s new CD. Her youth minister recently shared with me her frustration that Betsy wasn’t coming to her youth group activities. What was my response?
Move along, youth minister, for your job is complete! Betsy may not be actively involved in your church ministry, but she is very involved in church ministry. Isn’t the goal of youth ministry to lead teens to Christ?
We all seek to build a better youth ministry program. But our ultimate goal as youth ministers shouldn’t look much different than the goals of the music director, the Director of Religious Ed, or the Pastor’s: to build a better Church. Obviously our constituency is different (and so are our strategies), but the end goal should be the same. Our destination is not a full youth group meeting; it is the Kingdom of God!
In Luke 24 we know that Christ joined two men on the road to Emmaus. In your ministry, how do you define Emmaus? All too often for me, it was a successful youth conference or retreat, or a good Youth Council meeting. The walk was my tedious, time-consuming, detailed preparation for those gatherings.
When I arrived at those places, I was prepared for the meal. But then, looking back, my heart was burning at the realization that Christ was just as present in the journey as He was at the destination.
To ignore that journey is to ignore what we are about as ministers of Christ’s mission. If the ultimate goal is the Kingdom, then our ministry is a shared walk with those around us: teens and adult youth leaders, and everyone outside of youth ministry, too. Collaboration—working together to accomplish something great—shouldn’t be a tool, but rather a goal in and of itself.
Let’s be honest: collaboration is too often defined as “what can you do for me?” But if collaboration is about relationships, then everyone involved in a relationship may have his or her own goals. What unites us? Is collaboration a skill we use to accomplish ministry? Or is ministry what we do to achieve collaboration?
Betsy’s youth minister didn’t realize that Betsy was already walking the path to Emmaus. It shouldn’t matter to the youth minister that she did not show Betsy the way to the path, only that she got there. For Betsy’s youth minister, redefining her goal means redefining “success.” Success isn’t Betsy at youth group. Success is that everyone at youth group joins Betsy and everyone else, young and old, at that great banquet.
Further, if we have teens actively involved in our youth programs, we owe it to them to connect them with other ministries, other programs, and other perspectives in our parish community. In doing so, our teens will be exposed to a more complete experience of Eucharist—a larger Body of Christ—and those they walk the journey alongside will benefit, as well.
I shudder at the thought of a teen tossing his cap into the air, going off to college, only to be frustrated that his church doesn’t offer him one good group like he had in high school.
For adult youth leaders, collaborating with other adult parish leaders is difficult, because they all too often do not understand what we do, how we do it, and they certainly don’t understand those wonderfully strange creatures we eat pizza with on Sunday nights. But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably don’t understand a lot about what makes the liturgist tick, either.
The Life Teen Core Team model works. I’ll write that again italicized for emphasis: the Life Teen Core Team model works! But it’s not enough. We must stretch that model beyond youth ministry. Let’s not hog all this infectious Spirit to ourselves. Consider having Core Team members on other parish leadership bodies. Adapt Life Teen themes, ideas, resources, etc. to fit other ministries.
For the teens themselves, belonging is everything. Let’s do everything we can to help them belong to something bigger than just the youth program. Ministries are not islands, but rather peninsulas: connected to someplace much larger.
I am honored to walk alongside you on our journey together to that ultimate destination.