A Vision on Youth Ministry

As a manifestation of the Church’s mission youth ministry has many characteristics in common with other ministries of the Church. However, youth ministry has its own particular history and process, its own “story’’ which guides those who exercise this ministry. A Gospel account that especially captures the dynamics of youth ministry is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24: 13-35).

When Jesus first met these disciples on the road after His death and resurrection, He asked them what it was thdt they were so deeply involved in discussing. He listened carefully to their reply as they told Him of the events in Jerusalem that had troubled and confused them. When they tinished, He responded by beginning to interpret the meaning of the events they had witnessed. Their sharing continued until they reached Emmaus, where the disciples persuaded Jesus to join them for supper. Their encounter culminated in the breaking of bread, in which the disciples recognized their friend as Jesus.

In the same way, youth ministry begins with a presence to the young which engenders the confidence and the hope to ask questions. Attentive listening to the concerns of the young person enables the youth minister to understand more deeply the youth’s needs and stage of growth. At that point, the youth minister is able to respond, sharing with the young person the help, insights, or values that are the fruit of a life rooted in faith. By drawing out of the youth reflections on the action of God in the events of his or her own life, this sharing enables the young person to begin formulating answers in the light of witnessed tradition and Gospel values. The bond created in this relationship is celebrated in the community, most fully in the Eucharistic celebration of the Orthodox community.

If we follow the Emmaus model, youth ministry is the Church’s mission of reaching into the daily lives of modern young people and showing them the presence of God. It is a return to the way Jesus taught, putting ministry before teaching and people over institutions. In this ministry, religious content is a way of life for the person ministering and the young person touched, through a sequential development of faith, dependent on the readiness and need of the adolescent.
The Emmaus story is not the only model for youth ministry that is provided by the Scripture narratives. Regardless of the specific Gospel story used, however, what is most important is that the vision of youth ministry be understood and carried out in a manner that is grounded in Scripture and Gospel values and oriented to persons as fundamentally Jesus’ ministry was.

Dimension of Youth Ministry.

Youth Ministry it To, With, By, and For Youth.

Youth ministry is the response of the Christian community to the needs of young people, and the sharing of the unique gifts of youth with the larger community.

Youth ministry is TO youth when the Christian community exercises its pastoral role in meeting young people’s needs. Ministry to youth draws on the resources and gifts of the adult community to provide opportunities for growth that young people need but cannot always attain on their own.

Youth ministry is WITH youth because young people share with adults a common responsibility to carry out the Church’s mission. When youth have the opportunity to exercise their responsibility jointly with adults, recognition is given to the particular gifts and insights which these young people bring to their parish, family, or neighborhood. Ministry with youth occurs when they participate in some way in the life of the community.

Youth ministry is BY youth when young people exercise their own ministry to others, especially to their peers. The operating of peer counseling programs for drug abuse and alcoholism, for example, are all a part of ministry by youth. Youth also minister to others when they serve as team members for youth retreats, teacher’s aids in Church School programs, and leaders of various youth activities.

Youth ministry is FOR youth in that adult youth ministers attempt to interpret the needs of youth and act as advocates in articulating youth’s legitimate concerns to the wider community. The adult involved in youth ministry has special access to the views of youth, and ordinarily has a degree of credibility, influence, and resources unavailable to young people. This places a responsibility on the adult to speak for the youth and to sensitize and motivate other adults where youth needs are concerned. Ministers for youth might alert parish or diocesan councils to a desire for youth programs such as retreats, conferences, discussion groups, and social activities.

Goals of Youth Ministry.

Youth ministry is a multi-dimeñtional reality, but all its varied facetsare brought into focus by a common dedication to the following goals:

I. Youth ministry works to foster the total personal and spiritual growth of each young person.
II. Youth ministry seeks to draw voting peuple to responcible participation in the life, mission, and work 01 the faith community.

the Church in ministry with youth is committed to the fullest personal development of young people, particularly those who face the greatest barriers in achieving this goal ihy reason of material poverty, lonliness, racial discrimination, social injustice, or physical or mental handicaps. This personal developnient encompasses relationship to sell, others, and God, particularly within the context of supportive community. Many youth experiance themselfs as alienated from or out of place within the life and work of the cvhole parish community. Youth ministry seels to draw young people into the supportive ience of Christian community, and to assist the parish community to welcome the young and share its ministry with them. In these respects, youth ministry is both a ministry within the Church, ministering to believers, and a ministry of the Church that reaches out to serve others with the love and humility of Christ.

Principles of Youth Ministry

The living dynamics of youth ministry, through which these goals are achieved, may best he articulated in several key principles of ministry. These character arid underlie its effectiveness.

I. Youth is a unique time during personal growth.

the teenage years represent the critical period of transit from childhood to adulthood, during which physical, psychological and social growth is more concentrated than at any comparable time span in life. Since the development
of faith is tied to the interpretation of meaning in one’s life and experiences -
the teenage years are an important juncture for the individual’s spiritual development. the youth begins to forge a personal sense of meaning and set of values, and becomes capable of a deeper personal relationship with Christ and responsible Christian action. To help young people as they struggle with this effort, youth ministry must involve the understanding of parents, the guidance and example of peers and significant adults, and the ongoing maturing of the faith community which accepts the responsibility to share in the youth’s search for meaning and a language of faith.

II. Youth ministry is concerned with the total person.

Youth ministers should take seriously their responsibility to help young people grow as total persons, socially, spiritually, culturally, etc. The total young person has many important concerns which must be understood in the context of daily living, including family situations, relationships with peers, academic and extra-curricular involvement, response to religion, and moral value questions. In the life of each young person, different needs express them-
Themselves at various times during the process of maturing, and one of the hallmarks of youth ministry should be sensitivity to the young persons readiness for new steps.

III. Youth ministry is rooted in relationships.

Youth ministry involves first and foremost, not programs, but relationships. Within accepting relationships, young people are enabled to face and accept themselves and others, to clarify their goals and values, and to dare to become the persons they are called to be. Relationships that form youth ministry are those that form community and mediate the grace of Christ, challenging young people to greater growth and openness to God. The relationship of persons in a ministerial situation involves a mutual openness to change and willingness to grow. Both youth and adults are enriched by this bond, in such a way that the faith community is vitalized arid the risen Christ witnessed to.

IV. Youth ministry is a call to community.

God calls youth and adults alike to be members of His people, the Church, to join in pilgrimage to the Father and share insights into the meaning and value of life. As the Body of Christ, the community brings to youth the life-giving presence of Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Absolutely essential to effective youth ministry is the support and lived example of the surrounding faith community, particularly the parish. Without this, youth ministry exists iii a vacuum that cuts short fuller growth arid maturity in faith. Because the young person is involved most fully in the local communities of family, parish and school, youth ministry is most eflectivenly carried out in these settings. Youth ministry serves to support and enhance the basic faith committment of youth in each of these community contexts. Youth ministry also exerts a force for healing and reconciliation in those communities which suffer from the strain of youth’s need to reject and then re-integrate their roots.

V. Youth ministry proceeds as an affirmation of gifts.

The recognition and development of individual gifts and the building of a positive sense of personal worth and ability are an important aspect of the process of youth ministry. To effectively call the young person toward maturity, affirmation must be united to genuine trust of the young person’s integrity and ability. By awakening a young person’s potential and accepting his or her gifts, the community enriches its life and its own ability to minister to others.

VI. True youth ministry duplicates itself.

It is essential that youth ministry evoke in each person the willingness to offer ministry to others. Youth ministry should call youth not only to join programs, but also to join with others in living out tile Church’s mission to share the good news, live in community, and serve others in love and justice.
The interrelated principles out med above serve as a foundation for the concept ot youth mini stry, hut this listing is not necessarily exhaustive. With the maturity of ministry, others will be able to identify additional principles to complement those described here.

Youth ministr~’ today presents us with the challenge to help reveal the Christ of the Gospel and to exhibit our faith in community and personal relationships. This is a time of hope and building for the future than ever, it is evident today that youth hunger for the good news of Jesus Christ and that faith communities are equipped to share it with them if their vision is broad and creative. Many youth ministers have already accepted this challenge in other branches of the Christian faith. They are examining traditional structures and programs to determine how the objectives of youth ministry are being fulfilled in an attempt to forge a ministry that will meet the real heeds of youth today. Now is the time for each person involved with youth to accept the same challenge. The situation is reminiscent of the scene in the Acts of the Apostles as the apostles gazed up into the heavens when Jesus returned to His Father. For a few moments the apostles were lost in bewilderment and felt like orphans, not knowing what to do. Only the two mysterious men that appeared brought them back to reality by asking, “Men of Galilee why do you stand here looking tip at the skies? This Jesus who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw Him go up into the heavens’’ ‘Acts 1:10:11). for us, as for he apostles es, now is the time for action. The vision has been presented. possibilities. it remains to be made a living reality.

Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries