Should We Encourage Youth Ministry?

Maybe it’s just my role in the Church as a Youth Minister and a Theologian, but it is my perception that every holy young man and woman who wants to serve the Church wants to work in the Church to do it. Whether it’s as a Youth Minister, Catholic Speaker, Theologian, or a DRE, a good portion of young people who love the Church are going to expensive Catholic Universities to persue a career working not only for the Church, but in a church.

This is great… It gives me hope that, even amid an expanding culture of death and a society that increasingly dulls the senses, our families, Catholic Educators, and Youth Ministry Programs are bearing fruit and Christ is using them to sustain the Church just as he promised.

However this can (and is) cause a problem–the “Theological Market” is inundated (so to speak) and many of these young people who, out of genuine love for God and His Church, seek their vocation in service to the Church will either fail to get a “job” in the Church or will burn out quickly. Both risk becoming cynical, disheartened, and feeling unwelcome or unappreciated by the Church.

Sure, we have “lifers” just like any industry, people who work joyfully at the same parish for 40 years. But in general, too many Youth Ministers church hop because they are unfulfilled in their ministry. For doctoral students, the ratio between candidates and available jobs is quickly increasing.

This leaves a lot of potential for many Catholics to feel at worst bitter at God and his Church, or at best who are lost and spend years of their lives attempting to re-discern God’s will for them. The same phenomenon can be seen in populations where the Priesthood is upheld as the ultimate road to Holiness. Men are in and out of the seminary for years, not happy, but still under the assumption, however unconscious, that the only acceptable way to Holiness is through Holy Orders. This is almost never explicit, but is subtly engrained in the fibers of many a Catholic who try to seriously and radically live their faith.

The main problem, and the solution, lies in how we are teaching our young people to discern, as well as implicitly glorifying or emphasizing certain vocations. We need to be teaching them to seek God’s will rather than to desire to know God’s plan. We need to once again allow ourselves to feel comfortable in discerning feelings, dreams, and desires as legitimate signs from God. Finally, we need to be emphasizing the value of choice, free will, and ASKING God for our deepest desires. Vocation is not something handed to us on a silver platter from something outside of ourselves, but is rather a slow and continuous realization that is drawn out from the depths of our hearts after much conversation with our Creator. Our Vocation is as much for us as it is for God.

Finally, we need to remind our young people, and ourselves, that there are many ways to serve the Church. We need Holy garbage men, police officers, and business people in addition to youth ministers. To serve the Church is not synonymous with working in the Church. In fact, many who work outside the Church serve it, and many who work in the Church do it a disservice.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. We need new people to work in the Church, but we need people there who have rightly discerned it as their vocation, rather than those who are there out of a false sense of duty.

I love my job, it gives me hope. But I honestly cannot see myself doing youth ministry for the rest of my life, although I do see myself serving the Church until the day I die (who knows though, God could have a lifetime of Youth Ministry planned for me). Holiness and vocations come in all forms. I hope I can adequately communicate that to the young (and older) people whom I serve.

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