(Excerpt from the journal article by the same title provided in Youth Ministry Access)
In October 2018, the Church will gather as a synod of bishops to consider young people, faith and discernment. The outcome of this gathering is a process of transforming the way that the Church engages with young people so that youth and young adults are more guided as they hear and respond to God's call and join with us in sharing the Good News.
"…the Church has decided to examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love, and to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today." (Preparation Document, Page 1)
Some in youth ministry might think that this is just another theme to acknowledge or that the Synod is just another meeting of Church leaders. I don't think so. I think this is a radical challenge to take a step back and really look at our stance and everything we do in ministry with youth. This is how I summarize the preparatory document:
God has begun a conversation with young people; our job is to pay attention to what God is doing and walk with youth as they grow in discipleship. We are called to accompany them as they discern their response to God's plan for their life.
How is this different? It's all about stance. A typical story of youth ministry goes something like this: l have an experience of faith which leads me to become a youth minister. I work to create programs where young people can experience faith and I try to get youth to join in those programs. This process relies upon the personality of the ministry leader and the convergence between young people's interests and the programs that are created. In this model, we have to initiate a relationship with a young person, help them trust us, and sell them on joining a program. We lose a lot of youth in the process, not necessarily because youth aren't interested in faith or God, but maybe they don't relate to our faith journey and the programs we have created.
The process suggested in the synod document is different. It is telling us that accompaniment is our model for ministry with youth and their families which means we need to start by paying attention to the conversation that God initiated with a young person.
It all starts with listening. Because we love young people and we long for them to experience the embrace of Christ as disciples, we focus our attention on helping youth listen to God with their "inner self." We help them notice what God is doing and notice their choices to see the possibilities for their life and for their life in Christ.
"…understanding that the vocational experience is a gradual process of inner discernment and growth in the faith, which leads to discovering the fullness of the joy of life and love, making a gift of oneself and participating in the proclamation of the Good News."[i]
As a church, we also pay attention: we want to listen to young people. In November, Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre gave an address today at the USCCB that is a preview for the upcoming Synod on Youth and Vocation: We are called to listen. "We have been describing young people and their relationship to the Church. If we are to help young people discern God's plan for their lives, we might ask: what are they looking for? They are looking to be heard. Earlier I mentioned the idea of accompaniment, which implies going to them and being with them. To this, we add listening to them. Listening is an important element of discernment. Pope Francis said: 'I think that in the pastoral ministry of the Church many beautiful things are being done, many beautiful things... But there is one thing that we must do more, even the priests, even the lay people, but above all the priests must do more: the apostolate of listening: to listen!' (lncontro del Santo Padre con i partecipanti a/ convegno per persone disabili,11 giugno 2016)"[ii]
Listening is the starting point for all ministry. What does it mean to really listen to young people? We need to pause in our quest of sharing with them all the things that they need to know and take some time to really hear their story. Where do they see God?How do they experience our parish? What is their experience of youth ministry? Let the conversation go where it will. As you discern and plan for your ministry time with youth in this new year take some time to truly listen to youth and their families; I believe that if we do, we will see our ministries with youth transformed.
[i] Page 4, Preparation Document for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.
[ii] Address by Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre to the USCCB General Assembly, November 2016.