Catholic Youth Ministry: Stopping the “Turn-Over Trend”

by gary-foote on June 5, 2010

Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken with many priests at various parishes throughout the country who all share the same frustration: the high turnover rate of youth ministers at their parishes. These priests commented on the many challenges that parishes face due to inconsistency as youth ministers come and go. As I listened intently to the dissatisfaction of the priests time and time again, I asked the priests one question, “Father, what are YOU doing to ensure the success of the youth minister?” Often times, the response was silence.

Youth Ministry is a difficult job. Youth ministers are expected to be experts in many different fields. They are given the responsibilities of developing the spirituality of adolescents, planning retreats, coordinating social events, balancing a budget, fundraising, organizing mission trips, promoting diocesan events, continually forming adult volunteers, providing a safe environment, attending parish meetings, studying youth culture, arranging liturgies, visiting schools, keeping constant communication, and connecting with youth and their families in appropriate ways.

Although all of the tasks are given to youth ministers to complete, too many times resources are not made available to ensure that the tasks will be completed successfully. Generally, Catholic Youth Ministers in the United States are severely underpaid, overworked, lack consistent training, and support.

Understanding is the key to solving the problem of the high turnover rate of youth ministers. Pastors need to be mindful of the following:

1) What are the needs of their particular parish?  Once the needs are known, the proper youth minister can be hired based on his or her gifts and talents aligning with the needs of their parish.

2) Youth ministers are ultimately an extension of the pastor. A youth minister can never replace a pastor, nor should he or she be expected to. Youth have a need for their pastor to be present in their spiritual life, even if it is just for a few minutes a week to say hello.

3) Youth ministers often resign from parishes because they cannot afford to stay. Many youth ministers will take on additional jobs waiting tables or working at coffee shops in order to make ends meet. Youth ministers stay longer in parishes when they can afford to.

4) Priests are “obliged to make spiritual retreats (Code of Canon Law Canon 276).” Youth ministers also need to be encouraged to make retreats in order to develop their personal spiritual life so that they can be models of holiness for youth similar to priests.

5) Pastors must also understand the full scope of the responsibilities that are required by their youth ministers. In being fully informed, pastors can monitor youth ministers’ schedules and ensure that they are not in charge of too many tasks at one time.

Pastors are not the only part of the equation that needs to seek to understand. Youth ministers also need to understand some important dynamics for successful ministry:

1) As an extension of the pastor, the youth minister must understand the vision of the pastor for his parish, including his vision for the youth ministry program. Youth ministers need to be experts on the subject of youth but also need to realize that the pastor is ultimately responsible for the spiritual well being of his parishioners.

2) Youth ministers need to set concrete boundaries and let their pastor know what those boundaries are. For example, if a youth minister works on Sunday to provide a youth based liturgy followed by a youth night then Monday should be taken as a day-off in place of Sunday. Clear communication regarding boundaries is a necessity so that pastors know what their youth ministers are doing for the youth and what they are doing for themselves to live a balanced life.

3) Youth ministers need to realize that most pastors are supportive of them. It can be very difficult to feel supported when a pastor does not spend a lot of time with the youth or youth minister. However, the very fact that the pastor hires a youth minister shows that he is in support of the youth. Like youth ministers, pastors have incredible amounts of demand for their time. Youth ministers need to let their pastors know in advance specifically how and when their presence is needed. Youth ministers also need to realize that a pastor may not always be available but that doesn’t mean he is not be supportive.

4) Parishes are faith communities composed of many types of members with various needs. As a youth minister, how do you support the overall vision and direction of the pastor for his parish? How does the youth ministry program you offer “fit in” to the goals of the parish as a whole? Remember, you are not the pastor with your own congregation. Youth ministers are extensions of the pastor trying to lighten his load as his representative, not his replacement.

Working together, youth ministers and pastors can realize that they share a lot in common in the ministerial responsibilities. With a little understanding, pastors and youth ministers can become great allies and supports for one another. Remember that communication and understanding are paramount in making a youth ministry program work well. Don’t forget to pray together. Keep in mind that we are all imperfect Catholics seeking to live out our lives as best as we can in response to our universal call to holiness. Together with God’s grace, pastors and youth ministers can bring stability, peace, learning, spiritual fruit, and even fun to their parish and end the “Turn-Over Trend.”

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