My previous three blog entries have dealt with understanding youth culture. This blog is about changing youth culture into a Catholic culture.
Here are 7 points to focus on if you wish to transform Youth Culture and build the Kingdom of God:
- Be Holy. When asked what the greatest problem in the Church is, Pope John Paul II responded, “We don’t have enough saints.” Teenagers are starving for truth, but they live in a false reality and they do not know what truth looks like. They need people to witness to holiness. If you become holy, the youth will naturally follow you because you will stand above the lies of their world. Someone once asked, “Why is it that spending ten minutes with Mother Teresa can change someone’s life more than spending ten years with me?” We need to be holy if we want to transform youth culture. Youth ministers need personal prayer time, sacramental grace, spiritual direction and community more than teenagers need it. We need to make sure that we are pursuing holiness if we wish to make teenagers pursue holiness.
- Develop the Intellect. Modern day marketing appeals to teenager’s emotions and passions. In today’s youth culture, teenagers are not taught to use their intellect. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a shampoo commercial that explained why the chemicals they use are better than the competitor’s? Shampoo commercials are about the shine, bounce and sex appeal of the product. Teenagers are taught to be slaves to their “feelings” rather than using their intellect to make reasonable decisions. If we form a teenager’s intellect, we have the ability to teach them to choose virtue over vice so that they do not become slaves to their ever changing feelings and emotions. Teenagers are in fact looking for reason in their daily life. What does “developing the intellect” practically mean? Teenagers crave good catechesis. Do not be afraid to stop doing just pizza socials and start doing Life Nights on Scripture and Church Teaching. You will be surprised how the teens respond if you present the material well. In order to articulate Church teaching well, you need to be well educated yourself. If you desire to pursue higher education but are too busy, I strongly recommend taking distance education courses at the Augustine Institute (www.augustineinstitue.org).
- Evangelize the Family. Studies consistently reveal that the family life is the unit that most determines how youth turn out. If you are not reaching youth in a manner that you would like, it may be time to consider a parent ministry. Parents spend a lot more time with teenagers than youth ministers do. If the home can become a place where evangelization and ministry occurs, you will multiply the hours that a teenager receives formation in the faith. A great program for parents that will go well with your Life Teen program is Parent Life.
- Create Community in the Youth Group. Teenagers will not come to youth group unless their friends are coming. The challenge is not to get a teenager to come to youth group. The challenge in youth ministry is to get entire groups of friends to come to youth group. If you can convert an entire group you will have a community of teenagers that will challenge one another, hold each other accountable and convert others in their group. One strategy that I use a lot is targeting the leader of a certain clique. I will focus my attention on making a disciple out of the leaders of particular groups. If they start coming to youth group all the time, so will all of their friends. If they start following Christ with their whole heart, so will all of their friends. ‘
- Develop a Teen’s Prayer Life. You cannot be holy if you do not pray. You cannot be a saint if you are not holy. If we are not preparing teens for sainthood, what are we doing? Teenagers spend a lot of time attached to social networking and technology and very little time in silence, developing a relationship with their Lord. As I stated above, the best way to teach teenagers how to pray is to learn to pray ourselves. We cannot take teenagers to a place we have not been ourselves. Youth ministry needs to teach teenagers to pray by encouraging and incorporating Eucharistic Adoration, meditation, Scripture reading and devotionals into youth ministry programs.
- Promote Social Justice. Mission work is appealing to the current generation. It is a strange phenomenon that a culture that is so turned in itself is so willing to be selfless when work camps or mission trips are offered. The youth culture has not lost the concept of service. This is a great opportunity for evangelization because youth desire to do service work and they learn the meaning of Christian charity when they are put in positions to serve and make an impact in someone else’s life.
- Build Relationships with Teens. I have seen youth ministers fail time and time again when they spend all their time trying to develop a program and they do not spend time hanging out with teens. Teenagers desire meaningful relationships more than they desire anything else. If you develop a mentorship approach to youth ministry, your ministry will grow and develop more than you can imagine. Randy Raus recently wrote a great blog that elaborated on this point in his blog: “The Come To Us Model and Why It Is Not Cutting It in Catholic Youth Ministry.”
Working in youth ministry is a difficult task but there is hope. Remember that the Archangel Gabriel said, “Nothing is impossible for God.” It is easy to despair when we look at the current cultural climate. But Christian culture has overcome more savage cultures than teenagers. We must continue to be faithful and God will use us as his instruments to bring change in the world of youth culture.