The National Catholic Youth Organization Federation (predecessor of the NFCYM) published the results of a symposium held in 1980 that was entitled Hope for the Decade: A Look at the Issues Facing Catholic Youth Ministry. As this was the year that I entered parish youth ministry and I have now recently returned to the same AND I found an old copy as I took full ownership over my new office and cleaned the bookshelves… This is the last post in a webposium series of articles looking at the issues then (with a pull-quote from the book) as well as now. Please add your own perspective on what we are facing in the present and future and how much or little we have actually grown as a field.
THEN: In general, the entire approach to contemporary youth ministry contains inherent difficulties when it is implemented in an institutional setting, because youth and other pastoral ministries depend heavily on a process that requires relationship-building and decision-making through consensus. As an administrative style, this approach is time-consuming Leaders must understand and accept a certain loss of business efficiency for the sake of long-term group effectiveness.
NOW: As we have seen in the Juvinelization of American Christianity, the youth ministry of our adolescence in often a precursor to the church of our adulthood. Now, this has left us with some unintended consequences. Juvenilization has tended to create a self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually empty faith. In their landmark National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and his team of researchers found that the majority of American teenagers, even those who are highly involved in church activities, are inarticulate about religious matters.
Yes, we still seek relationship-building and decision-making through consensus because we imagine that this was the way of the original disciples… and, yes, this is remarkably inefficient if we are to be the center of all relationships. If professional youth ministers assume more of administrative roles. Again, I feel compelled to re-echo a call for “general manager” style of youth ministry rather than positioning the professional youth minister as a coach immersed in the messy relationships of a few rather than as the keeper of the vision for the man.
It is when all ministries within the Church view themselves as enablers / empoweres of ministry rather than doers of ministry that this will change. Unfortunately, there is the risk of loss of a perceived sense of power or employable expertise that does not encourage such a shift… and that has placed professional lay ministry as such a precipice of extinction.
Ministries must also help all catch a vision for growing up spiritually. Disciplining disciples is the future of our institutions, not much else. Churches full of people who are building each other up toward spiritual maturity are not only the best antidote to the juvenilization of American Christianity, but also a powerful countercultural witness.
Pope Francis called for young a mess… this is what it might look like.
Join the webposium! What are your thoughts on where we are at as a youth ministry field in addressing how the next generation impacts a centuries old institution?