Youth Ministry: it takes an entire Church
“Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.”
— Pope Francis, July 27, 2013 Youth Prayer Vigil at Rio
The Catholic bishops of the United States defined Catholic youth ministry in the 1997 document Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry (RTV). This document, published in English and Spanish, provides a structure for the ministry as well as a language, theology, and pastoral approach for responding to the personal and spiritual needs of today’s adolescents.
“What is needed today is a church which knows how to respond to the expectations of young people. Jesus wants to enter into dialogue with them and, through his body, which is the Church, to propose the possibility of a choice, which will require a commitment of their lives. As Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus, so the Church must become the traveling companion of young people.”
— Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 1995, Philippines
The church must become the traveling companion of young people—and that’s what we mean by youth ministry. If indeed “it takes an entire village to raise a child,” it certainly takes an entire church to journey with young people as they grapple with the Good News and respond in discipleship.
In their 1997 document Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry (RTV), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identified three goals and eight components that provide direction for this ministry. Youth ministry, at its best, is characterized by the following five hallmarks:
- giftedness and growth
- entire church (parish) involvement
The Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office of the Diocese of Knoxville has identified three goals of an effective ministry to young people. These goals follow the guidelines established by USCCB’s Renewing the Vision.
Goal 1—Youth ministry: it’s about discipleship
The first goal of youth ministry is “to empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world today” (RTV, No. 9). Young people are “searching for a noble adventure,” a compelling and challenging vision of life, and a cause worth their commitment. They hunger to hear the Good News, to which they respond in discipleship. The Church, their companion on this spiritual journey, can fulfill this first goal of youth ministry by
- proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to young people through witness and word
- enabling young people to live as disciples through involvement in service, ministry, and leadership opportunities
- providing young people the faith skills for discipleship.
Goal 2—Youth ministry: it’s about connection
The second goal is “to draw young people to responsible participation in the life, mission, and work of the Catholic faith community” (RTV, No. 11). Young people have a hunger for connection, to be in relationship, and to belong. Family, peers, school, youth organizations, and church are primary connections for young people. The Church can fulfill this second goal of youth ministry by
- being a “youth friendly” community that welcomes young people, values their participation, and calls forth their gifts
- integrating young people into the liturgical, pastoral, and ministerial life of the parish
- creating opportunities for young people to enter into healthy relationships of trust and respect with peers and adults
- promoting Catholic identity and religious literacy through programs of adolescent catechesis.
Goal 3—Youth ministry: it’s about gifts and growth
The third goal of youth ministry is “to foster the total personal and spiritual growth of each young person” (RTV, No. 15). Adolescence is an important time for mental, spiritual, social, and physical growth. Adolescents’ experiences and relationships greatly influence their healthy and positive development.
The Church strives to surround young people with the best possible external scaffolds—networks of caring relationships with family, school, peers, and adults—while they develop their psychological and spiritual backbone: values, life skills, commitments, and moral compass. The Church can fulfill this third goal of youth ministry by
- enabling young people to develop a personal relationship with Jesus
- actively supporting positive youth development and fostering healthy values and life skills
- supporting families by providing resources, programs, and services
- providing opportunities to experience and express caring, service, and compassion for others.
Youth ministry happens comprehensively
Youth ministry is more than programs and events. It 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” (A Vision of Youth Ministry, p. 6, quoted in RTV, No. 1).
To be most effective, this ministry to, with, by, and for young people must involve families, the parish, and the larger community. At the heart of ministry with young people is the presence of caring, supportive relationships in which youth experience the Good News in the flesh.
Components of youth ministry
A comprehensive approach to youth ministry employs the eight components identified in Renewing the Vision as a framework: advocacy, catechesis, community life, evangelization, justice and service, leadership development, pastoral care, and prayer and worship.
These components guide our efforts in proclaiming the Good News, connecting young people with the faith community, and calling them to the challenge of discipleship.
Ministry of prayer and worship
- Promotes authentic participation in the liturgy in ways appropriate to the rites
- Provides opportunities for young people to be trained as liturgical ministers
- Schedule periodic youth liturgies
- Attends to the diversity of cultures and ages in the assembly
Ministry of catechesis
- Recognizes that faith development is lifelong and provides appropriate content and processes related to key themes
- Teaches the core content of the Catholic faith in order to provide a solid foundation for growth
- Utilizes the life experience of adolescents, fostering a shared dialogue between the life of the adolescent—with its joys, struggles, questions, concerns, and hopes—and the wisdom of the Catholic faith
- Provides for real-life application of learning by helping adolescents apply their learning by living more faithfully
Ministry of community life
- Creates an environment that nurtures meaningful relationships among young people and between adolescents and adults
- Develops friendship-making and friendship-maintaining skills
- Provides avenues for young people to participate as members of the faith community and opportunities for the faith community to acknowledge, celebrate, and value its teens
Ministry of pastoral care
- Develops adolescents’ life skills, such as relationship building, assertiveness, nonviolent conflict resolution, planning, and decision making
- Guides young people in making important life decisions, such as career and college choices, and discerning their vocation
- Fosters the spiritual development of young people and the healthy interaction of their sexuality and spirituality
Ministry of justice and service
- Engages young people in discovering the call to justice and service in the Scriptures, in the life of Jesus, and in Catholic social teaching
- Develops young people’s assets, skills, and faith by promoting Gospel values in their lifestyle choices; increasing their discovery of their gifts and talents; and helping them realize they can make a difference in the world
- Incorporates doing the right thing, with a focus on why and how we do what we do
Ministry of evangelization
- Proclaims Jesus Christ and the Good News so young people will come to see Jesus and his message
- Witnesses to our faith in Jesus Christ in all aspects of our life
- Invites young people personally into the life and mission of the Catholic community
- Challenges young people to follow Jesus in a life of discipleship
- Calls young people to be evangelizers of other young people, their families, and their community
Ministry of advocacy
- Affirming and protecting the sanctity of human life as a gift from God and building societal respect for those who most need protection and support
- Standing with and speaking on behalf of young people and their families on public issues that affect their families
- Empowering young people, giving them a voice, and calling them to responsibility
- Developing partnerships and initiatives for building a healthy community
Ministry of leadership development
- Utilizes adult and adolescent leaders in a variety of leadership roles necessary for comprehensive ministry: program leaders planning teams, coordinating teams, etc.
- Develops a leadership system that invites, trains, supports and nourishes adult and adolescent leaders
- Empowers young people for leadership and ministry with peers
- Develops and nurtures adult leaders with relational and ministry skills to their roles with adolescents
For more information on establishing a comprehensive youth ministry in your parish, contact
Al Forsythe, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
865-584-3307, extension 5754
Donna Jones, coordinator for Chattanooga Deanery
Deacon Dan Hosford, coordinator for the Smoky Mountain and Cumberland Mountain Deaneries
Deacon Jim Fage, coordinator of Five Rivers Deanery
Karen Byrne, administrative assistant
865-584-3307, extension 5739