Many of us probably have job titles along the lines of “Youth Minister,” “Director of Youth Ministry,” or “Pastoral Associate for Youth Ministry.” We get hired, and we jump right in, getting a Core team, planning and running Sunday Life Nights, starting prayer groups, planning trips to Life Teen Camp or Steubenville Conferences. We might start out thinking we know what we’re doing, but after a while we realize that none of us really knows what the job is supposed to look like. We go from being the youth minister to the beggar, pleading with the teens in our parishes to come to events that we put on.
Yet I don’t remember our job titles saying things like “Youth Mass and Program and Summer Trip Coordinator.” We get distracted by all the things we think youth ministers should do. We get obsessed and distracted with activities. We see all the programs that the “good” and the “big” or “active” youth groups do. But by focusing on these programs, events and activities, we run the risk of losing what we’re really supposed to be doing.
That word ministry sticks out to me. What is ministry? Reflect on that for a moment. In scripture, this word comes from the same Greek word diakonia that refers to service (service at table – Eucharist, and service to the needy). In Jesus’ teachings, ministry and service went hand in hand. Ministry itself is a service. So if ministry is in our job title, then we are inherently called to serve. If we are “youth ministers” then it is our job to minister to the youth of our parish. More than that, we believe that we were given this calling by God to serve the youth of the parish. This calling by God, or vocation, is something that needs constant discernment, otherwise we are likely to end up just running programs.
It is important to remember that ministry is not about the minister, it is about the people who are being served. We honor our priests and sisters because they have given up their lives to serve the Church, and in turn, us. As I sit and examine the programs and events (hopefully the ministry) that I am the director of, I have to wonder, whom exactly am I serving? Am I serving myself? Am I trying to keep busy and get lots of kids so that the finance committee and the Parish Council will be justified in paying my salary?
Or am I honestly and truly serving the teens of my parish? Have I spent time with them (and their parents) and tried to learn what really aches inside of them? Have I spent time in prayer for the teens (not the programs and events)? Do we, at Core meetings, discuss more than just which teen drive us nuts? Do we discuss which teens are hurting and need someone to reach out to them?
We claim that we are serving teens in youth ministry, and Life Teen’s goal is to lead teens closer to Christ. Are we a vehicle for leading teens to Christ? Or are we slaves to our own programs and events and expensive summer trips? I would guess that all youth ministers start their jobs with hopes and dreams of leading teens to Christ, but we get bogged down in the details, in the programs, and in the desires of parish leadership reports. We want to have big retreats, World Youth Day trips, things that will get the attention of the entire parish. Those events are great when they are kept in the greater context of diakonia. Continually turning to prayer will help to keep our focus on what our job truly is: a service to the young Church within our parish and town.