Think back to last summer. I know for some of us ministers this might be impossible, but humor me for a moment. Yes, since then there have been countless events, meetings, and distractions. But think back to those first few months of planning for this ministry year. Scheduling topics for particular nights, looking through your curriculum, or even deciding which curriculum you are going to use… If you are anything like me, this took you hours of careful planning and looking into final details as you made sure everything was ready to go for the year ahead.

In whatever form or fashion, we all do this kind of planning. As God’s ministers, we should be deliberate and intentional about how we determine what our year of ministry will look like. I can’t stress how important it is to make sure that we are forming the youth according to the teachings of the Church; it’s practically our whole job!

However, in our desire to educate, I think we youth leaders trip ourselves up sometimes. We all want so badly for our youth to have an excellent faith formation. We don’t want them to miss out on any part of catechesis or to have gaps in their formation. With good intentions, we follow a strict curriculum guideline. This is, of course, the only way that we can make sure that the youth are receiving all of that head knowledge about the faith. The only problem is, this will never be enough.

The answer is not more head knowledge.
The answer is an encounter with the living Jesus Christ.

Why will it never be enough? This doesn’t make disciples. There is no way the youth can become followers of Christ without them encountering Jesus within their hearts. The first goal in the USCCB’s document, Renewing the Vision, is “to empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world today.” These are also the last words that Jesus gave us “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” in Matthew 28:19. The Bishops continue to say, “Growth in discipleship is not about offering a particular program.” The answer is not more head knowledge. The answer is an encounter with the living Jesus Christ.

Ask most youth ministers what their main goal is within ministry, and the answer is riddled with words like teachings, formation, education, and curriculum. This means we are missing the point. We need to bring about a point of conversion in those to whom we minister and this can only happen through evangelization and relational ministry. We must show them how to live out a relationship with Jesus. If we want to form disciples among our youth, we have to meet them where they’re at. That’s how we catch them. That’s how we become fishers of men among our youth.

For some, this might be a foreign concept. Most of us grew up in the 80% of parishes without discipleship based youth ministry. So we are unfamiliar with the concept of discipleship, much less evangelization. Here are three quick tips to diving into relational ministry within your parish:

It’s important as youth ministers, catechists, volunteers, teachers, and core team members that we know our faith and that we have guidelines for teaching it. But if we are really and truly concerned about passing on the faith, then it has to be through discipleship, to meeting a person individually where they are. We need to be treating youth ministry as a mission field. Hold fast to the mentality that a disciple is not taught but caught. Are you going to spread the need for discipleship in your faith formation program?

– written by Jeremy Stavinoha