Randy Raus wrote an excellent blog recently entitled “The ‘Come To Us’ Model and Why it is Not Cutting it in Catholic Youth Ministry!” In it, he reminds us of the need to be relational ministers first, because teens simply aren’t coming to youth ministry activities because they are listed in the parish bulletin.
Honestly, if you go back to the blog and replace the word “teens” with “Catholics” I think the premise still holds up. Ask any priest and he’ll tell you it’s not just teens that aren’t showing up for youth ministry. Catholics of all ages aren’t filling pews like they used to. We have to remember that youth ministry has the power to chart a course for the direction of the parish! If we’re going to turn the corner and get Catholics back to Sunday Eucharist, we have to use the gifts we have been given: namely an enthusiastic, impressionable and idealistic audience that truly believes they can transform the world (see: The Upper Room).
I have been saying for some time that Youth Ministry in 2010 is lived “out there” first, and “in here” second. One of the most referenced articles of Vatican II documents comes from Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), which beautifully details how Eucharist is both the source and summit of our Catholic faith. To put that in practical terms, our Sunday Mass experience is the source of inspiration for our Monday-Saturday lives, and we bring our Monday-Saturday “real world” experience (for better of worse) back to the summit of Sunday Mass. We seek balance between source and summit.
However for many years, youth ministers have been operating out of a primarily “source-first” model. We work hard to make our youth programs as sharp as they can be. We practice skits, buy lots of markers and poster board, train our Core Teams, and keep our local Papa John’s in business. We seek to inspire them at our events and send them out two by two (Mark 6:7) to evangelize and transform the world (Matthew 28: 19).
Meanwhile our teens live in that Monday-Saturday world wrought with sin, temptation, and, well, ick. The truth is youth ministry in 2010 must be lived first “out there.” Randy wrote that we must go to the teens out there, and I agree. While we still seek a source and summit balance, we must consider strategies that allow us to adopt a “summit-first” approach to ministry.
Teens are swimming in “ick,” and we believe in a healing Christ who gives the Church the Sacraments that will allow them to become clean and whole. That healing Presence is “in here,” but we need to convince them that we have the very thing that they’re missing “out there.”
A summit-first approach to youth ministry is to follow Luke’s account of the parable of the fisherman (Luke 5: 1-11). In that Gospel, they bring the great catch back to the shore. Christ was “out there” with them, the nets were filled, but they didn’t catch and release! They brought the fish back to the shore.
When we’re out there at football games, malls, plays, coffee shops, on Facebook and cell phones, we have to be the face of Christ for the teens we serve. We must seek to bring them back to our shore to continue to walk with them along their journey with Christ. At our shore we have what they’re missing out there in their turbulent seas.