What is the goal of youth ministry in your parish? Often the ultimate purpose of ministry to our 12- to 18-year-olds gets tangled up with other pursuits – numerical growth, ensuring a future congregation or to be more attractive to those searching for a church. While these may be by-products of a faithful and fruitful ministry, they cannot be the sole motivating factors for ministry to youth. Rather, our goal should be to continue to carry out Jesus’ command to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
I want to focus on three aspects of discipleship for youth – relationships, education, and formation.
The value and importance of building safe, healthy, and trusted relationships with our youth in the discipleship process cannot be overstated. It is often the area I spend the most time on; it is also the area most questioned by those not engaged in the process. Relationship-building can be playing games at a youth retreat, eating a simple meal together, talking over hot chocolate or spending a summer day at Canada’s Wonderland. This can be perceived as being a waste of time or unnecessary, but it is neither. This is the time when we get to know one another.
Another key component of discipleship is education, as we seek to teach this generation about God, the Bible and the Christian faith. Education may look like a Bible study group, a confirmation class, a Sunday school lesson, or listening to and later discussing or debating a sermon. This part of the process is often the most engaged and valued by parishes, but it is only one part and must be combined with the others in a wholesome approach to making disciples.
The final component is spiritual formation. This can include activities such as serving others (raking the neighbour’s leaves, working at the foodbank or serving as an acolyte or greeter), engaging youth in spiritual practices (prayer, meditation, silence, fasting), including youth in the rituals of the church (many found in services during Advent and Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter), and regular participation in the sacraments of the church. Formational activities look vastly different from educational ones in that they do not employ a schooling model and are not oriented toward knowledge acquisition. The purpose is to allow transformation, a work of the Holy Spirit, to occur. While we cannot produce transformation, we can provide a conducive environment.
As part of the Archbishop’s Youth Ministry Committee, where it is our goal to support and nurture youth ministry in the diocese, it is my prayer and hope that we will continue to make disciples of Christ in this generation and in future ones. Our next event, Recharge Retreat, is on Jan. 29-31 at Muskoka Bible Camp, where we will focus on the above aspects of discipleship while emphasizing engaging youth in spiritual practices.