In Protestant studies, youth ministers only last an average of 1.5 years. I’ve never found studies on the length of time the average Catholic youth minister lasts, but I suspect the time the parish is equal or less than that of Protestants. This is a serious problem! Why? First of all, because it treats the kids as objects – they’re passed from one youth minister to the next to the next one. They can’t have one youth minister through high school let alone middle school and high school combined. Second, it means that we always have inexperience youth ministers. Third, because that means that many people have an ideal of working for the church, even knowing the salary is lower. When you don’t last long enough to be effective, you’ll probably never work for the church again. Finally, youth ministry requires a long-term plan; when Josh Griffin – possibly the most successful youth minister in the Protestant word – was assigned youth minister by Rick Warren they presented a plan for a five-year growth cycle before his youth group would reach the potential they were looking for.
In this article, I want to suggest a few means that you youth minister for a staff can use to help youth ministers persevere.
The first means, is realistic goal setting. If you expected to have 200 kids from can in one year, of course You’re going to fail! This also needs to be long-term. In building sustainable youth ministry Mark DeVries says that most churches (or parishes in the Catholic experience) do what he calls youth minister Roulette. They’ll fire the old youth minister, put miraculous hopes in the new guy, and then when he doesn’t perform miracles, fire him and start over again. Realistic goals come in several different forms: first is the goals for this year – they must not be beyond what is possible with a normal human being; then a long-term vision, and not just this year; and we need to have a clear idea of how many hours to dedicate to youth ministry – this is especially true when these messages aside all responsibilities director of catechesis or webmaster.
The next thing that youth ministers need to do is to take care of themselves. One with the kids, or youth if you prefer to use that term, we do indeed a lot of unhealthy food like pizza, Coke and chips. This puts a special emphasis on eating healthy when we are own: I know many youth ministers who we eat junk food all the time. This affects their mood, their physical strength, and their attitude. Another way we need to take care of ourselves is having our own positive social relationships: we can’t just spend all our time with the kids because that is unhealthy. Each has their own relationships but each needs to balance their life as a youth minister with their life as a child, son or daughter, brother or sister, boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife, and friend. A lot of times the social relations software because the goal setting wasn’t done properly, so the youth minister feels like he has to spend more time to try and meet the unrealistic goals, and doesn’t give himself enough time to stay healthy physically and psychologically. One final thing to take of yourself – probably the most important – is to get good Spiritual Direction. Even though right now this a particular focus of my ministry; I think I got assigned more because I believe in it than I believe in it because my superiors assigned me to it. Good spiritual direction helps you grow spiritually. I’d recommend 2 things to find a good spiritual director: (1) look for someone who’s prayer life (and celebration of mass for priests) impresses you. (2) ask them whether they believe in directive or non-directive spiritual direction. The question is a trick question that good spiritual directors will catch: it’s both! Purely directive means they lead everyone down the same path, purely non-directive means you just have a spiritual chat with them and they don’t push you to growth.
The final idea I want to present here is mutual support. This takes on 2 forms: support in ministry and support outside of ministry. If we want to persevere in our ministry, we need to get people, usually called volunteers, to help us out. If we try to do everything on our own, we will be exhausted at the end of the day, and will help a few kids instead of helping as many kids with a group of adult volunteers. Outside of youth ministry we the parish need to support our youth ministers: this means that other ministries in the church help out with youth ministry, youth ministry has a realistic budget, and individual parishioners help the youth minister out in human aspects of life.
Youth ministry is a demanding profession! So often it chews up and spits people really fast. If we want to prevent that we need to have realistic goals, take care of ourselves, and get support from the parish.