Different ministries partner together all the time. You partner with the parish down the street, multiple large ministries partner to make conferences happen, and sometimes ministries even work on long term projects together. This is as true for the parish as it is for national ministries like Life Teen, NET, and the Steubenville Conferences. Last week these three ministries announced a large partnership that has the potential to be a true game changer. According to the National Catholic Register, theses three powerful ministries were partnering “in order to leverage each other’s strengths and promote all three ministries.”
After fielding questions from a number of youth workers about our thoughts on the issue, we decided to open the conversation up a little by inviting three youth workers to comment on how this announcement might impact youth ministry.
David O’Neill, Kim McMillan, and D.Scott Miller were each given 600 words to reflect on what this type of partnership could mean for Catholic youth ministry and were encouraged to be both honest and charitable. Here’s what they had to say…
Leading Teens Closer to Christ. Academically Excellent, Passionately Catholic. Challenging Young Catholics to Love Christ and Embrace the Life of the Church.
These are the mission statements of three of the biggest names in evangelization and catechesis in the Catholic Church – Life Teen, Franciscan University of Steubenville, & NET Ministries. Looking at those statements, they encompass what Blessed John Paul II stated about the definitive aim of catechesis in Catechesi Tradendae. “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” (CT #5)
In a recent article in the National Catholic Register, these three powerhouses of youth ministry have agreed to partner, in order to “leverage each other’s strengths and promote all three ministries.” I am excited for what this could potentially do for youth ministry throughout the USA and beyond. Already, NET Ministries ministers in USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and Uganda and brings young missionaries from all over the world to help spread the Good News. Life Teen resources over 1500 parishes all over the world. Franciscan University (or ‘Steubie’, as it’s more affectionately known) coordinates 20 summer conferences designed to evangelize and provide a profound encounter with Christ through talks, praise & worship, and prayer experiences.
The possibility of strengthening, supporting, and/or starting youth ministry in parishes across the US is exciting. I have had the privilege of going to Steubenville Conferences, utilizing Life Teen, and working with NET Ministries, and I can confidently say that this partnership will benefit how our Church proclaims the Good News to young people, draws them into a deep relationship with Christ, and connects them to the Church Universal.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Isn’t this just a big ploy to get more parishes using Life Teen, more students for Steubie, and more retreat bookings for NET?” I would vehemently cry, “NO!” Life Teen is not a program, but a successful model of ministry. Their websites, lifeteen.com and catholicyouthministry.com, are a digital effort to evangelize, train, and resource in youth ministry. NET Ministries is an evangelization tool, designed to have the Good News “persuasively proclaimed…, so that [youth] can concretely experience the power of the Gospel.” (Verbum Domini, 96) And Steubie? Well, Steubie is an awesome college that produces great graduates, has a guy who wears bow-ties and plays an accordion, and Scott Hahn, among other things. So, yeah, I think they’re in it for more than just pushing products and making money.
All in all, I’m just looking forward to what this new partnership can do in sharing the Gospel, giving ideas on developing/creating sustainable parish youth ministry, and providing mountain-top experiences where young people can encounter Christ in life-changing ways. Life Teen + Steubie + NET? Two Thumbs Up!
Change inevitably ignites a sense of uncertainty of thought. What outcome will the change create? Will it force me to change the way I do things? How will I have to behave differently? Will it affect me? Uncertainty is not a comfortable feeling.
As I read the article in the National Catholic Register about the collaborative direction Net Ministries, Steubenville and Life Teen are embarking on, I had many of those thoughts myself.
Since the beginning of time groups have formed over similarities of thought. We naturally gravitate toward those who understand us best and offer affirmation of our methods. That’s not a bad thing unless; our groupings become exclusive over who can participate or if we are overly confident in our methods being the “only” way to accomplish a goal.
We are all familiar with what kind of damage can be done when our young people form cliques.
A discussion that has been taking place a lot for me lately, is about communities of practice collaborating, to improve outreach and effectiveness. Unique ideas and resources increase, when we collaborate with others. As a parish youth minister, I know firsthand of how much more successful ministry is when the combined gifts of the community were engaged. I see this merging of organizations as communities of practice uniting to support and improve effectiveness. I think it is imperative that we, as a community who minister to young people, keep this in mind as we navigate this change in the field of ministry.
It’s not that I don’t think their partnering will matter, I do.
I think anytime three influential groups combine to create a unified stance, they will be influential. But, uncertainty of thought over change shouldn’t keep us from having an open mind to the positive effects this collaboration could have on youth ministry. There are many young people that haven’t been reached by God’s message of love and grace. Hopefully, with this new collaboration and their combined resources, more young people will be transformed.
I will pray for their faithful effectiveness at reaching young people and igniting their desire to have a relationship with Christ and with their Church. I will pray that they remain vigilant and truthful about WHO motivates their desire to work in collaboration. I will pray that we always remember that it isn’t about US or THEM but about OUR collective relationships with Christ in Love. In fact, I will pray those prayers… for ALL of us.
D. Scott Miller:
OK, let’s get all my disclaimers out of the way… Just last week, I drafted a letter for our Archbishop inviting NET Ministries to serve for another five years in our diocese. Next week, I’m headed out to substitute teach a youth ministry class at Franciscan University at Steubenville. As a blogger, I have had my own share of posts published on the Life Teen websites. Yet, upon hearing the news of this partnership, I had some concerns. And like a bad boyfriend attempting to explain where the relationship is going wrong, it’s not about them but about us.
There is a continuing binder-ication of Catholic youth ministry. While these three organizations are “partnering, in order to leverage each other’s strengths and promote all three ministries,” I wonder about the overall impact on our field. Is the role of youth ministers morphing into becoming discerning customers of programming, retreats, and conferences? I hope we don’t evolve into field away from being creators of the same themselves. Before these organizations gained national and international reputations, there were as much of a local effort in which you or I might be presently involved.
Collaborations like this can be a double-edged sword. It reminds me of an old Scrubbing Bubbles commercial – We work hard so that you don’t have to. That’s great when it comes to cleaning my shower. But, in a vocation, I do want to sweat, build muscle, grow stronger… and that only comes in making the effort myself.
In the New Evangelization, the call is for initiatives that express newness in ardor, methods, and expressions. You can’t buy that. And it won’t always be found in a product or event designed for a general audience. Because of your relationships with young people, their families, and your local faith community, you suspect you know what works in the local setting. You might try something and it might be a huge flop, but it was original and new.
Your local efforts can speak to the multitudes or just inspire one young person to share some loaves and fishes. Your own inventiveness might share the Good News through a shared example or a parable that speaks to the experiences of your place, your time.
My home parish is the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland…. You may have heard of this parish, They/We are the Rebuilt folks. Many, many, many are coming to this parish trying to figure out how it all works, but the parish staff is always quick to respond “We can tell you how we did it here, but you are the expert in your own setting and will need to figure out what will work there.”
The test of our ministries as well as this partnership will be found in how we respond to making real Pope’s Francis’ “dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” In what ways will we modify “business models” to address mission? In Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father called for “The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.”
May this partnership serve as a model in encouraging one another and the whole field into the sweaty task of renewing structures in how we serve the Lord and the Church in our ministry with the next generation.
So how about you? When you think about three of the largest Catholic Youth Ministry resources in the world partnering what excites you about it and what questions do you have about it? Drop us a comment below and let us know your perspective on this.