Possibly the biggest challenge in working with young people is getting out of your comfort zone and truly entering the youth culture.
But according to professor Bob Rice, that doesn’t mean addressing your youth with a slang, “yo dawg, Jesus loves you” attempt-to-be-cool attitude.
“There are a lot of well-meaning people who jump into youth ministry because they want teens to be blessed,” said Rice at a workshop session during the 2013 St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators. “But sometimes they’ve lost the big picture: what they don’t take into account is youth culture, and what it means to reach out to young people.”
For starters, it involves not trying to be 15 years old again: “Because, a) I’m not 15, and b) they don’t need that. What they need is a big brother, a mentor, a loving adult who’s part of their parish community who can give them a new perspective and reach out to them.”
But just because teens come to a youth event doesn’t mean they’ve taken in the entire message right off the bat: youth leaders and educators need to see beyond fulfilled requirements or quotas.
“Many times we think we’re really raising up some great Christian leaders, and we’re just raising up moral therapeutic deists, who just think that we need to be good, and ‘I come to youth group because it makes me feel good, and if it stops making me feel good I stop going. We need to find ways to speak against that.’ Not in the way that we make them think they’re stupid, but that the truth is so much more.”
One of the ways to best respect the youth, and yet bring them to a greater fulfillment of the truth? Teach them appreciation for the Mass, said professor James Pauley, another theology professor at Franciscan University.
“See the liturgy as the source for your teaching. As a source for your catechesis,” he said in his own workshop during the conference. “I believe the fact that so many people are bored at Mass and with the sacramental life is the greatest crisis facing the Church today.”
When connecting the youth with the Mass, however, this doesn’t mean raising the “entertainment” level of the liturgy in order to capture their attentions.
“I went to a parish one time with a vibrant youth ministry program and they were selling frappucinos outside. As they were going in for the youth Mass they were drinking their fraps,” he said, pointing out that this is not the appropriate way to engage youth culture.
Instead, tie in the importance of the supernatural life during your catechesis, said Pauley, suggesting that the most interesting part of the liturgy really is the supernatural aspect.
And in this age of constant noise from the culture, catechists must never forget the cruciality of preparing teens’ hearts through silence.
“When we approach God, when we approach a situation where we can encounter him, it’s necessary that we quiet ourselves, focus ourselves, prepare ourselves for that encounter,” he stated. “And it’s going to be much more likely that it is a fruitful exchange when we are prepared and focused.
“There’s going to be that external dimension, but there’s also that profoundly supernatural dimension to how we participate in the liturgy,” he added.