My neighbor is a beekeeper and I often wonder, “How does he keep track of all of those bees?” Such is life in a multi-parish youth ministry setting! How do we keep track of all those parishes and all those youth?
After spending 10 years in single parish youth ministry, I was excited to take on the challenge of accepting a 4 parish youth ministry effort in my hometown. With the excitement came a healthy dose of trepidation as well. After about 18 months of being the director and youth minister of St. John Bosco Youth MInistry, this is what I have learned. When the bees are swarming around me, these three things are what keeps me sane and focused on the mission to “go and make disciples.”
1. Remembering the past is important but having a shared vision with new leadership is vital.
I was blessed to step into a role that was successfully filled for fifteen years by a handful of other youth ministers. They blessed the ministry while they were here but it was time for a new vision- new outreach, new growth, new ways of reaching youth and new ways of bringing them into the life of the Church. Collaborating with parents, teens and parish leadership is vital if you want your ship of youth ministry to sail and stay upright through the storms. Always acknowledge the past while being open to new ways of doing ministry. Do not be afraid!
2. Get out there!
My office is in a building separate from the parishes we serve. We are a people called to evangelize the youth of our Church. Outreach must come first in the world of multi-parish youth ministry. Getting to know the parish staffs, pastors, parish councils, school leaders and parents was the first need experienced in this role. Building that foundation, that connection and those relationships was essential to being able to serve the youth. We have leaders in our communities and parishes who are ready and willing to rally behind and support our youth, to encourage them to attend youth events, attend Mass and be a Christian witness in the world once they are ASKED and INVITED.
3. Embrace your inner Mary.
The tizzy of youth ministry can so easily take over. The parish council meetings, staff meetings, community collaborations, professional development efforts, youth ministry meetings, bulletin deadlines, event and ministry planning, community events, parish events, diocesan events, fundraising…the list goes on and unless we stop and love Jesus for ourselves, our fire for MINISTRY- the building of Christian relationships, the heart of what we desire to do as youth ministers- will fade. But what did Mary do? While Martha was running around, she recognized the importance of sitting at the feet of Jesus. She could do nothing if she was not first filled with Him. He was her fire. Jesus was her inspiration. He was the motivation she needed. She needed Him first. We need Him first. Daily, plan time to sit at the feet of Jesus. Build it into your schedule if you have to because it is part of our ministry and responsibility as disciples.
It is my prayer that for all youth ministers, whether or not you minister to one parish or twelve, we are able to taste the sweet honey of our efforts. To see a young person feel the love of Christ and know we had a small part of facilitating that encounter should bring us to our knees and thank the Lord for using us when He doesn’t even need to. May we all be the clay in the Potter’s hands and be willing to see our mission as His mission within us.
St. John Bosco Youth Ministry is collaborative effort of Holy Family, Precious Blood, Saint Joseph parishes in Jasper, IN and St. Mary parish in Ireland, IN. They provide opportunities for youth to get to know God, grow in their Catholic faith and serve the community with a spirit of Christian service.