My vision and mission when it comes to student ministry can be summed up in three simple words: REACH. FEED. SEND. This model of ministry reflects that of Christ Himself, most clearly demonstrated in the story of the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32):
Jesus meets up with two of His disciples who fail to recognize Him. Rather than declaring His identity, He simply walks with them and listens to them as they talk about Christ’s death and resurrection. He listens to their stories and journeys with them before breaking open the Scriptures for them. And then, after sitting down with them for a meal, reveals Himself to them.
What a great model of ministry this story provides. Jesus meets the people where they are. He journeys with them, shares life, stories and food with them. He builds a relationship before breaking open the Word. He REACHES them.
He doesn’t shy away from sharing the truth with them, but He reaches them first, discovers what they’re looking for, and then (and only then) speaks relevant truth into their lives. He knows they’re hungry, He understands their hunger, and He FEEDS them.
When His disciples recognize Him, when they have an encounter with Christ, they return immediately to Jerusalem to share their experience with their community. That experience sets their hearts on fire–so much so that they cannot contain it. As Peter explained, “It is impossible for us to not speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Their faith empowers them to go out and share the Gospel. Their faith SENDS them out to reach other people.
We see this reactionary desire to tell people about Jesus throughout Scripture: Philip, Andrew, the Samaritan woman, Peter, etc. They encounter Jesus, and they can’t help but immediately tell people about Him. If teens are really encountering Christ through our ministry (as we hope they are), they should have the same reaction.
Understanding Our Audiences
Before His Ascension, Jesus challenges His disciples to proclaim the good news to “Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He was calling them to preach the Gospel in their home town (Jerusalem), in the surrounding areas (Judea and Samaria), and to the “ends of the earth”. Our REACH. FEED. SEND. mission is embracing this same challenge.
The students who are already actively involved in the parish are our “Jerusalem”. They’re the people who have had that encounter with Christ, and we should be developing programs to deepen their faith, build them up as leaders, and SEND them out to proclaim the Gospel. This is our target audience for our student leadership team. This audience is also the reason we work hard to create programs for teens who want to go above and beyond, who want to dive deeper into their faith, who want to learn what it means to truly live out their faith.
JUDEA AND SAMARIA
Those students who regularly attend church but are not regularly active in our ministry are our “Judea and Samaria”. They’re the teens that maybe have not had that conversion experience but are at least coming to church. These are teens that are hungry for Christ (even if they don’t know it). We try to create several programs to FEED those students: small groups, retreats, bible studies, and anything else we can come up with to help these students to get fed.
ENDS OF THE EARTH
When Jesus challenged his disciples to preach “to the ends of the earth”, He gave them a pretty large and diverse target. The students our ministry is designed to REACH is also quite large and very diverse. Our “ends of the earth” includes students of our parish who don’t attend Mass regularly, students who rarely (if ever) set foot in a youth program/event, but also the students of our community who never go to church (regardless of what church their family “belongs” to, if any). Our REACH events and programs are designed to do just that: reach students who are not being reached. Our REACH programs give us the opportunity to pull in teens who wouldn’t normally come to a “church” event. It’s not about recruiting, it’s about loving these teens as Christ would, reaching out to them, and connecting them with other students and adult leaders. It’s only after connecting and building a relationship with a young person that you can really share the Gospel with them.
“With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.” (1 Thes 2:8)
Our REACH programs are as diverse as the group of young people we are trying to reach. Everything from football game tailgate parties in the parking lot to filling the parish hall with large inflatables. From free pizza and video games after Mass to opening the youth center during the week after school. Not only do these REACH events bring in new teens and build community, but they also empower teens to evangelize and bring their friends: it’s a lot easier for a teen to invite a friend to a crazy game night or a ski trip than a night of worship.
REACH events are not intended to be a watered-down version of church, but rather an opportunity for young people to”check out” church in a non-intimidating, welcoming, and familiar environment. REACH events on their own are not ministry, but rather an opportunity to draw teens in and provide them with opportunities to encounter Christ.
What about you, what’s the vision and mission of your ministry?