The new faces of ministry in the church

March 27, 2012

The youth ministry model that I grew up with during my high school — not so many years ago, or at least it doesn’t feel like it — doesn’t work with Catholic youth these days.

Catholic teens seem different, because they are. This is credited to a major generational shift. There is more of a thirst for the sacred and a search for meaning within that sacred. Today’s Catholic teens want to know what our faith means, and they want it in a relevant structure. Thankfully, the Church is rising up to meet the need.

Teens want to know their Church and some would even say they are getting back to their “roots” by beginning to cling to the traditions of our Catholic faith. While they appreciate music and your typical youth-friendly activities, they are also craving silence and contemplative prayer.
The Church has moved from youth groups to youth ministry. Young people come to the Church from different economic and geographic backgrounds, cultures, time commitments, needs, interests and spiritualities and to think that one approach could meet those needs is no longer feasible. Good youth ministry is like a trip to Luby’s, featuring a variety of offerings to fit varying needs and schedules.
Teens desire to be in authentic and intentionally intimate communities that allow their faith to be further nurtured beyond the big youth nights or large conferences. Conferences are simply a spark. The challenge right now is trying to figure out how to fan the flame of spiritual hunger in the parish community. 

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, through the Office of Youth Ministry, has put forth the importance of a comprehensive approach to the faith formation of younger and older adolescents. This formation is centered on giving teens the needed knowledge of the Catholic faith and the traditions of the Church. Within that, young people are challenged to discern God’s vocational call in their lives. Comprehensive youth ministry programs offer some of the most profound opportunities for young people to serve the Church while growing deeper in the faith.

In 1994, responding to the need to hear the voice of youth and to be more attentive to the needs and formation of teens, a diocesan youth council was established. More specifically, it was launched in order to: represent the youth of the Archdiocese as servant leaders in various capacities and encourage the Archdiocese to attend to their needs; assist in interpreting the needs of youth and advocate for their concerns to the members of Archdiocesan leadership; promote spiritual and personal growth of their peers by facilitating active participation of youth in Archdiocesan events; raise Catholic leaders in the Archdiocese through the council’s involvement in the development of programs for youth; and draw young people to responsible participation in the life, mission, and works in the faithful community of the People of God.
Eighteen years later, on March 4, 2012, more than 100 youth representing 49 parishes and four Catholic high schools discerned the call to serve the Church of Galveston-Houston as members of the Archdiocesan Youth Council.

As is modeled on the Archdiocesan level, parish youth ministry must both draw teens into the life of the community and mobilize the entire parish community on behalf of the young people. A youth ministry leader becomes the orchestrator of gifts of the community by identifying gifts of individuals and connecting them with needs.

This is a very exciting time to be in Catholic youth ministry and I’m excited to see what God does with it. †

Brian K. Johnson is Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry.