A few months ago I took twelve of my teens to our Lenten Parish Mission to listen to a talk about the Holy Spirit and evangelization. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting in the front row at the end of the pew next to my teens. The speaker asked us to open up our Bibles to the book of Leviticus. I looked down the pew at my teenagers and they all had their Bibles with them, along with pens, highlighters and notebooks to take notes on the talk. As I looked down the row I saw that all of their Bibles had passages underlined or highlighted and their Bibles were covered in tabs and sticky notes.
I’ll never forget that moment because I remember thinking to myself, “when did my teens start reading their Bibles?” It was shocking. When I started as a youth minister at my parish I could count the number of teenagers at all of our Masses on my two hands. Questioning a teenager about the Bible or their relationship with Jesus was like asking Paris Hilton to explain the theory of relativity. Three years later, our teenagers are regularly at Daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, many of them did Total Consecration to Mary this past year, and my teens love to read Scripture.
Teaching teenagers to pray should be one of the highest priorities of youth ministry. If teens never learn to pray, they cannot learn to listen to God. If they are not listening to God, they cannot follow God. If they are not following God, they cannot become saints. If teens don’t become saints, what are we doing?
Here are a few tips on how to teach your teenagers to pray well:
- Learn to pray yourself. You cannot lead others to a place that you have never been before. If you are doing effective relational ministry, your teenagers will be inspired by the model that you set. They will naturally begin to take on your spirituality. If you are praying, so will they. Get a spiritual director, create a prayer routine, and look to dive deeper in your relationship with Christ.
- Is your ministry Sacramental? We learn to pray through Christ’s grace working within us. It is that simple. We need to be receiving God’s grace in the Sacrament and encouraging our teens to do the same.
- Love the Mass. When teenagers come to understand what is really happening at Mass, they will dive more deeply into it. Emphasize the Mass in your ministry and watch your ministry transform. When you go on overnight retreats or mission trips, make sure you can have Mass everyday. When you plan a youth event, begin or end with the celebration of the Mass. We always want to send the message to our youth that everything about our ministry flows from the worship of Christ in the Mass.
- Love the Eucharist. Eucharistic Adoration should be a staple of your ministry. Work Eucharistic Adoration into your Life Nights on a regular basis. Make Adoration the focal point your retreats. If our Eucharistic Lord is not the focal point of our ministry, what is?
- Love Reconciliation. Teenagers sin…. A LOT. Reconciliation schedules rarely consider the schedule of a teenager. Schedule a Life Teen Reconciliation service a few times a year (not just during retreats), or find a way to make Confession more available during the week. Perhaps, regularly invite a priest to your Life Nights and have him available to just sit around and hear Confessions.
- Emphasize Scripture in Your Ministry. Scripture is the language of the Church and the living Word of God. Part of the challenge in getting teenagers to regularly read the Word is to make them comfortable opening the Bible. Have a Bible at Life Teen for every teenager that comes to your Life Night. Tell your Core members that they should quote Scripture at least 3 times in their talk and have the teens open their Bibles and follow along at least once. Integrate Scripture reading into your ministry any way you can through Bible studies, Lectio Divina, and Liturgy of the Hours.
The possibilities of learning to pray are endless when you consider all of the prayer forms in the Church: Marian devotion, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Praise and Worship, Silence, the richness of the spirituality of many saints, etc. Just dive in and watch your ministry transform.