A few weeks ago my diocese hosted a new youth minister orientation. As I prepared for the day, it brought back a number of memories of my first years in parish life. There was a certainly a steep learning curve that first year and, honestly, in subsequent years as well.
When I started my first job, I wanted to talk to teens about Jesus and the Catholic Church. I had no idea that there were so many other aspects to youth ministry. No one told me the bishop was going to ask me what we were going to do for Confirmation when he came to my parish. No one told me I would have to do a budget each year. No one told me that I would need to talk with parents so often. No one told me I would be calling bus companies, T-shirt companies, or trying to put together a website.
These days, there is more training offered for those who want to be youth ministers, so I think there are probably less surprises for new youth ministers. Nevertheless, here are a few ideas about how to navigate through what may be some of the more unexpected tasks of a youth minister.
We all know that our parishes and the parents of our teens do not have an endless money supply to send teens on trips, redecorate the youth room, or pay for pizza each week. Whether you walk into a parish that has a budget or whether you have to create one, take some time to talk with your parish bookkeeper. Learn how they do the budget for the parish. Find out what part of your budget is given by the parish and what part you have raise through fundraising. Learn the process of how to turn in money and learn how to request checks. Ask them how to build a budget. It is worth taking the time to do this because you will need to revisit your budget and its line items month after month.
I can recall how intimidating running parent meetings was in my early twenties. I was more comfortable talking to a group of teens than their parents. We have to cast that fear aside because we must interact with the parents of our teens. We need to put the effort into building good relationships with the parents. What we do is supposed to supplement what they are doing as the primary catechists. We need to keep them in the loop about our ministry. This can be done through weekly emails, sessions for parents, and interacting with parents at their teen’s events. If we already know them and they already know us, it becomes easier to work together when, for instance, we need to call them about a behavior problem.
It is hard to prepare for crisis because they are unexpected and never identical. Types of crisis come in all shapes and sizes–from the teen who thinks she may be pregnant to the teen who is dying. We need to remember our role throughout these situations. More often, I have found that it is simply about being present and listening. We may be the bridge between the teen and parent and/or pointing them in the direction to get the real help they need. It can be helpful to know what resources are in the area, such as counselors, support groups, etc. Other times the situation is under control and we simply get to minister. Be present, pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and pray with and for these teens and their families.
Whether it is writing a budget, talking with parents, walking through crisis, or whatever other surprise we may encounter in youth ministry, do not be afraid to ask questions and seek help when encountering something new. We did not get hired because we know all the answers and can accomplish everything perfectly–that is God’s role. Trust and know that the Lord is present through whatever great adventures are ahead.