Monday, December 19, 2016

When Youth Ministry is Disposable

Editor's Note: Today's piece is brought to you from all the way up in Canada by Jane Korvemaker! You need to check her out at her website and on Twitter right now!

I’ve been in parishes that have had dynamic, exciting, and growing youth ministry (and forming some amazing disciples). I have also been in parishes where the opposite is true – where parishes are nearly advertising that youth are not welcome. My observation comes from listening to Coordinators of Youth Ministry (CYMs) and seeing the reality in a variety of different settings, and it’s a surprising and unfortunate reality that I see in many parishes. 
Contrary to what is taught to those who take the Youth Ministry certificate course, there are many people in supervisory positions (priests/deacons/lay ecclesial ministers) who state through their actions that youth ministry is disposable. I will even go so far as to describe the relationship some parishes have with youth ministry as promiscuous. A daring word to use, no? If it didn’t seem to fit so rightly I’d prefer to not use it. Promiscuity is indiscriminate. It is casual, without meaning or commitment. I have seen many parishes whose relationship with the office of youth ministry is indiscriminate, casual, without meaning or commitment. It is extremely hurtful to the parish when it cannot choose commitment and fidelity to the youth of the parish. The result is often a broken relationship with youth and their families. Parents might be turning to other places that do this ministry well or scouring the internet, or their children are seeking that guidance from others (not necessarily Christian, either) because there is a deep spiritual need that children have (even from as young an age as 2-3!) that is not being met at the parish. 
Some of the ways this disposability is evidenced in parishes: 
  • no long-term vision of youth ministry in the parish and how it relates to the parish’s mission 
  • no goals or desires to work towards the vision
  • hiring those with little to no credentials , or not willing to provide a living wage to those who have credentials
  • high parish turnover rate for CYMs
  • micromanaging the ministry
  • not even acknowledging the ministry
  • no leeway for coordinators to minister in the way that they are gifted and called by God in the ministry
  • one-size-fits-all idea of how youth ministry needs to look
  • refuses to acknowledge the support and directives that leadership in youth ministry (through the Center for Ministry Development, LifeTeen, and other sources) has provided and doesn’t believe these institutes know anything
I feel that we can all find other examples of how a parish manifests this promiscuity. I feel greatly saddened by it and feel the need to acknowledge it as an elephant in the parish, especially when statistically many coordinators are young and often do not have the support of mentors in ministry.
The values that come from a long-term positive relationship with youth ministry are many. The result of a promiscuous relationship can lead a new coordinator into a position that becomes labelled – often parishioners are skeptical, unsupportive, and don’t see the benefit or value of the ministry. While this can be overcome, it takes on a new dimension of work – that of major repair and healing – that needs to take place simultaneously with all the duties already associated with the office. 
Things we can do (as parishioners) in parishes that present symptoms of promiscuity: 
  1. Ask questions.
    • Make an appointment with the priest or faith formation director (or whatever your diocese calls the person in charge of faith formation) and ask them about the direction of youth ministry. Where is it going? What does the end goal look like? How will it get there?
    • Does parish council have a role in the direction of youth ministry? Ask them about the vision and how they are supporting it
  2. If you have a CYM, make an appointment to see what their vision is, if there is no parish vision. How do they see it unfolding? What areas need help? 
  3. If you’re a long-time parishioner and know people in the parish, help connect the CYM with people who have skills, time, and/or passion. Often if the CYM is not from the parish, one of the biggest challenges is getting to know people who have gifts in the areas that need help. General calls to the parish typically lead to dead ends – invitations to help need to be personal by people who are connected if there is to be moderate success. 
  4. Talk with other parents who have children in the age range of youth ministry – what are their needs? Both spiritual and basic. Remember – Christ often literally fed people before preaching; there is only so much listening we can do when we are physically starving. What are the needs? What are your own needs?
  5. If you can help in some way, shape, or form, offer it. I would highly recommend setting definitions and boundaries for how you can help (to offset burnout), but offer help in an area that you find joy and see the potential for some results (think parable of the talents). Youth ministry can take many different forms – it is not just a one-size-fits-all program, so your gifts can be used somewhere. 
Promiscuity between parishes and youth ministry does not have to exist, and we can help our parishes take that step to fidelity. As parishioners we can help contribute to the long-term benefits of a strong relationship here, and it starts with commitment ourselves. Maybe youth ministry needs some work in the parish – the first step is always learning more. Learn more about the history the church has with YM and where this CYM is coming from. Listen to other parents around you and see if there is a common need or struggle. If you have the time, read Renewing the Vision, written by the USCCB about youth ministry (most parishes or CYMs should have a copy somewhere, or you can read it online). 
If you know your CYM is struggling, there is a great new resource for connecting and providing support and mentorship for them called Thrive. I haven’t explored this much, but from what I’ve read and knowing the people involved in the ministry, it looks like a stellar resource. 

We can work to make our parishes better. Promiscuity should never be associated with parishes and ministry. Let’s take steps today to facilitate the growth of disciples. And pray that we can all respond to the Spirit’s call. 

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