Youth Are the Church of Today
Psomi’s post below is a great reminder of the hopes we all share for teens and the church. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.
Youth are the church of tomorrow!
Have you ever heard someone say something like that? Those of us in youth ministry know the truth: Youth are the church of today!
I’ve been doing youth ministry since 1978. (I’m old, but that’s okay.) I work in a large parish where we confirm more than 100 teens each year. Our confirmation class is a two-year program, so I work with about 250 teens during the year through religious education, service opportunities, and retreats. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering names, and other times I find myself overwhelmed and I wonder if there’s any way I’ll be able to meet the looming deadlines. Then I remember I’m not alone.
Jesus has gifted each of us with a church filled with talented and gifted individuals. And as the youth minister on a journey with teenagers and parents, I’m always on the lookout for other faith-filled travelers to come alongside me.
At my church, there’s a tremendous amount of peer leadership. During their first year of confirmation preparation, the ninth graders are asked to complete ten hours of service as well as participate in a retreat and religious education. They repeat this in tenth grade, and they’re confirmed at the very beginning of eleventh grade. With the exception of the religious education piece, everything is led by teens who have already been through the program.
When a group is confirmed, I invite them to become leaders. In their leadership roles, some coordinate service projects such as supporting the local food bank, feeding the hungry on the streets of the city, visiting children in the hospital, or painting and plastering the walls of a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. Others choose to lead within the church by coordinating the choir or band, ushering, teaching children’s Sunday school, or by leading at retreats. Other teens organize the pancake breakfast that raises money to help the youth travel for their summer service trip, and others plan the senior dinner dance where the youth host local senior citizens and their friends. Just about everything we do is led or coordinated by high school juniors and seniors.
I suspect some teenagers initially participate in these leadership opportunities because they want something to put on their college applications—but despite their motivation, nearly all of these teens experience Christ in ways they never expected. Several of our young people who led as retreat leaders ended up studying theology in college. Many of our teens who led service projects either chose to prepare for a career in service or took a year off before college in order to serve others. All of our students are impacted by their leadership opportunities in our church
When teens lead teens, the younger students hear better, see more clearly, and follow Christ a bit more willingly. The older students are more likely to own their faith, because they have to talk about it and act on it. My job is to nurture teen leaders; to pay attention to younger teens; and to make room for parents to be present, to support their teens, to chaperone events, and to lead as well. When I approach this crazy thing we call youth ministry that way, it’s no longer overwhelming, because everyone has a very important part to play.
Mary Anne “Psomi” Psomas-Jackoski has served at the Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Parish in Chatham New Jersey for 25 years.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.