I was beginning my second full year as a youth minister at my parish. I was excited, having finally shaken off the shadow of my well respected predecessor I was ready to make my mark. All summer I had dreamed up different series and topics that we could do. Finally I had it – a series on the Culture of Death and the need for “heroes” of the faith to save our fallen culture from its demise.
My dreams for this series were big. We would build a set to look like New York City in ruins. We bought a fog machine and were going to do a dramatic skit on the destruction of humanity by this deadly culture. By the third night the Hero would rise. It was fabulous in my eyes and it was what the teens needed and no one was going to stop me, I thought.
We were less than a week away from kicking it off when I woke up to my roommate yelling that something horrible had happened. We turned on the TV to see that New York City actually was in ruins. It was September 11, 2001, the planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center and the first tower was about to fall. The rest of the story is written in all of our hearts.
I spent the next few days doing my best to serve the parish, teens, and local Catholic High School in the midst of this crisis. Then on Friday of that week it hit me, we couldn’t possibly begin our series this Sunday. We needed to pray. Our teens needed to process. Most of all they didn’t need us telling them that our culture was in ruins – that much was obvious. They needed to know that there was hope. They needed to be allowed to share their worries, anger, fear, and sadness.
As trivial as it sounds, it was difficult to let go of my hard work. I had to lay down my desires for that semester and realize that our job was not that of programming – though that comes with it. Our job was to minister and pastor youth. If we were really going to love teens to Christ we had to respond swiftly. We had to pray and discern the needs of our youth and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us.
We need to take time to realize that above the many line items in our job description there are two words–YOUTH MINISTER (or some variation that means the same thing). We are above all things ministers to youth. It is our role to pastor and minister to teens wherever they are. In order to do this effectively we must be willing to let go of our agendas and calendars and allow the Spirit to guide us. Sometimes that just means taking a whole night to listen to your teens and sometimes it means planning your semester on something that is pressing in the teens lives at that moment.
Here are some practical tips to consider in making sure your ministry is responsive:
Be in prayer each day that you would be open to hearing how God is calling you to serve your youth. If there is a need, God will reveal it to an open heart.
When a crisis does happen in your community or something more major on a national or international level ask teens their thoughts and how it is affecting them. And most importantly make time somewhere in your ministry to pray about these events.
Listen to your teens and parents for cues that there are things that need to be dealt with. Example: If you are hearing lots of teens complain about money ask if money is an issue for their family right now.
In your Core meetings take time to discuss things that are going on in the teens lives, school, the news, etc. (without straying into gossip). Pray for those situations and in your prayer ask how you ought to respond.
Be willing to adapt part or all of a Life Night or other programming to respond to these situations.
One last thought…
The benefit of a responsive ministry is that it is an open door, an opportunity for evangelization. Do not take those opportunities for granted. Our teens need to know Christ’s love in times of crisis and it is our job to lead them to Him.