I consider myself fortunate to have found a career in youth ministry. While I currently do not work in a diocesan or parish youth ministry office, the Center for Ministry Development keeps me involved through teaching the National Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies, by speaking to various parishes and dioceses on ministry, and by program directing summer mission trips and youth leadership trainings. At CMD, we feel blessed to be able to travel around to different dioceses and listen to "what's happening" in youth ministry around the country.
I was first hired in youth ministry over twenty years ago, with no prior youth ministry experience other than being raised Catholic. I did however, have some work experience with adolescents as a program director for the YWCA. Basically, I was a practicing Catholic who liked youth so I was hired at the parish. Sound familiar? Little did I know at the time that this would be the career path to capture my heart.
It's easy for me now, twenty plus years later, to look back and think "I wish I knew then what I know now." I guess everybody ponders that occasionally, which is the point of this blog. Knowing what I know now, what advice would I give myself if I could magically travel back in time and be that new youth minister again?
- Take the time to learn every young person's name and something unique about them.
- Reach out to the youth on the "fringe" – the ones who don't show up on Sunday.
- Minister to not only to the youth but also to their parents.
- Empower young people by teaching leadership skills and then invite (and keep inviting) them into leadership roles.
- Create Catholic memories. Take young people on mission trips, pilgrimages, camping trips, retreats, conferences, go anywhere that a young person will look back fondly on and remember their time in youth ministry.
- Inspire youth to discover a passion for social justice and outlets to make change.
- Provide a variety of gathered prayer experiences that engage all the senses – touch, site, sound, and smell. Also, introduce young people to experience the presence of God through the quiet and stillness of contemplative and mediation prayers.
- Ask the big questions and then listen to what young people have to say.
- Don't get caught up in the disease of cynicism. Cynics never change the world nor the church for that matter.
- Find a healthy balance between your personal life and your ministry. Yes! Youth ministry can be considered a lifestyle but it's difficult to minister to others if you don't take care of yourself first.
This short list is a good place to begin. What advice would you give to yourself as a new youth minister? Share your ideas.