Over at Bad Catholic, Marc recently wrote about “The Problem With Youth Ministry.” His basic argument is true: a part-time underpaid gimmicky youth minister can’t replace the authority of parents forming their kids. Bravo, bravo!
However, I think he makes 3 key errors. He forgets the real relationship youth ministry should have with parents. He makes anything gimmicky bad and extends gimmicky beyond where I think it’s appropriate. Finally, he forgets another key factor: religious life.
He forgets (or downplays) two key things:
- Many parents are not formed so can’t form.
- Youth ministry or good parents is not either-or but both-and. In fact, most teens I’ve seen show up to youth ministry events have good parents and these parents want them to have an experience of Christ with other teens and other adults not just themselves.
He rightly points out at the beginning that “The home is the first school of Christian life,” (CCC 1657) but it usually isn’t best if it’s not the only school. (This is not against homeschooling except in its most extreme form where kids never leave their parents’ watchful eye: never play team sports, never spend an afternoon with a friend, and never attend a youth group. Even home-schoolers use these “schools” to teach their kids.) I think youth ministry is an effective way to help parents raise their kids by giving them a different environment that shares the same values.
His issue doesn’t just go to memory, he starts attacking anything gimmicky to attract kids. I think he goes way too far. His example of being too gimmicky is my post on how to use twitter in Catholic youth ministry. (I like Bad Catholic but I don’t read every post: I admit I found out about this blog post because I saw it in my list of “referrers” tab on my site stats and that’s why my response is a month late.) Now maybe for older people, social media seems like a gimmick but teens are digital natives so just using social media to communicate doesn’t mean gimmick. I’m a little older but a bit of a computer nerd so I am too. I don’t see tweeting any different than posting something on the bulletin board or talking to a group. I do not go to modern mediums to be hip, in with teens, gimmicky, or any such thing; I go to communicate the same message the Church has communicated for 2000 years. The medium does not determine the message.
Marc may not realize it but I think the collapse of vocations is a large factor in the authority issue in youth ministry. Until recently, what is now done by the youth minister was done by religious who dedicated their lives to God and helping teens. These religious were imperfect people like you and I but the very fact of their religious consecration gave them authority. They could teach us about prayer. They could lead us to God. Now very few youth ministers last, even less dedicate their lives to it and almost all lack that religious consecration (yes, I’m the odd man out).
In the end, I do think Marc’s criticism does ring home with how youth ministry is often done. Such youth ministry is designed to substitute (not assist) parents; it is all gimmicks and no substance; it has no real authority. This obviously needs to be fixed. Most of the serious youth ministers agree; as proof my friend Edmund Mitchell (free plug for his blog) who is generally of my mindset regarding youth ministry commented “Agreed” on a similar post of Marc’s. One of the goals of this blog is to give that substance over gimmicks.
When I worked in administration, the priest taking care of our finances said “money is not the problem, money is the solution.” Likewise I say, “Youth ministry is not the problem but the solution.”