Looking at the US Bishops’ document on youth ministry, Renewing the Vision (hereafter RTV), you might argue that the component of Pastoral Care is the one most rooted in the secular world. Youth ministry leaders are called to respond to alcoholism, abuse, drug use, violence, a highly-charged sexual culture, immorality, death, and any number of other issues that seldom occur within the walls of our parishes. A critic might ask, “What’s that stuff gotta’ do with youth ministry?”
RTV gives us a powerful response: “The ministry of pastoral care is a compassionate presence in imitation of Jesus’ care of people, especially those who were hurting and in need.” It goes on to confirm a cornerstone of Life Teen’s youth ministry training: programs have very little impact without real relational ministry. “Pastoral care is most fundamentally a relationship—a ministry of compassionate presence.”
Of course we have an opportunity to be the presence of Christ to teens on Sundays. But a youth ministry leader knows that he or she is always “on call,” knowing that the secular world is constantly churning out challenges Monday through Sunday. Which is why RTV reminds us that Pastoral Care strategies are both reactive and proactive, reacting to issues when they arise, and providing preventive strategies that promote a holistic positive lifestyle, always with Christ at the center.
When we lead comprehensive youth ministry programs, the eight core youth ministry components of RTV are often present simultaneously. When we are providing Pastoral Care for teens in need of healing, often the other elements of comprehensive youth ministry are present as well:
- ADVOCACY- This is about giving a voice to the voiceless. Hurting youth are usually withdrawn, retreating to the margins of an otherwise functional society. When we provide care, we go to bat for him/her, and in a very real sense, we advocate for ALL hurting youth.
- CATECHESIS – Providing a pastoral response to teens in need gives us an opportunity to model and teach about Jesus as healer. Those stories are more than just miracles, they’re about salvation and transformation, messages that ring true in the ears of today’s teen.
- COMMUNITY LIFE – The challenge of providing a pastoral response to youth in need is not just the youth ministry’s job. It is a shared responsibility of the entire parish community. Also, in the same way the hurting youth seeks healing from the church, a healthier youth beings health to the greater community. All responses are communal.
- EVANGELIZATION – Making disciples of Christ is all about outreach, extending beyond our four walls into the outside world. Ask any youth minister who has experienced a tragic death in their community. At times like these, hurting teens—even those who don’t regularly show up—are in need of a place to grieve and heal. Your ministry can be that place.
- JUSTICE & SERVICE – At the core of our desire to help someone in need is a pro-life ethos: we believe in the dignity of the human person, the very foundation of Catholic social teaching.
- LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT – The challenge of bringing care to hurting youth requires well-trained leaders. Trying times present opportunities for adult leaders, but perhaps even more so for peer leaders. Good leaders also know when a situation is beyond their expertise and are able to refer as needed.
- PRAYER & WORSHIP – The advantage we have over a public school or secular organization—especially in large-scale crisis—is our ability (in fact our responsibility) to infuse prayer and a rich sacramental tradition into any situation. Eucharist should be the Source and Summit of our pastoral response (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #10). We bring it all to the table, and we leave the table as a living Tabernacle, inspired to bring healing to others.
Implementing the Ministry of Pastoral Care within the framework of a comprehensive youth ministry program like yours is never as easy as scheduling a “Pastoral Care night.” Pastoral Care is less about what we do and more about who we are, often when we least expect it.
No, most of us aren’t licensed counselors or medical professionals. But, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are equipped to bring teens to the sacred, healing presence of Christ.