Catholic Youth Ministry: Is It Worth It?

by gary-foote on February 5, 2011

Although it was over 11 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was working with an organization named, N.E.T. Ministries, as a Catholic evangelizer. Yes, I meant to put Catholic and evangelizer in the same sentence. N.E.T.’s purpose is, “Challenging Young Catholics to Love Christ and Embrace the Life of the Church.” At times, I felt like I was in Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, as I lived out my life traveling to a different city almost everyday. As Dickens’ said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I loved the ministry and working with all of the wonderful people that I came into contact with on a daily basis, but it was very challenging to live in a van with 11 other people with nothing more than a backpack, pillow, one suitcase, and my guitar. I often refer to that time of my life as my “Catholic hippy year.”

Remember, this was 11 years ago so we didn’t have GPS, wireless internet, or even cell phones available to us. I would typically go a minimum of two weeks without speaking to any of my family because we traveled so much and I often didn’t have access to a phone at a time where my family may have been home. There were days when I had to wear dirty clothes (wearing already worn socks was my least favorite), eat pizza for three meals of the day, and sleep on a floor somewhere. The majority of my work with N.E.T. involved retreat ministry to junior high and high school students. While on retreat, it was the greatest life ever! But, when the retreat was over, I would begin to question everything that I was experiencing and whether or not the sacrifices were really something that I wanted to do.

N.E.T. provides excellent training to succeed at the mission of evangelization, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of “life on the road.” During one of our training sessions, Christopher Kraker, the Associate Director of N.E.T., posed an incredibly important question to all 100 of us missionaries who were present. Christopher has worked for N.E.T. for over 15 years. As he walked up to the front of the room that night, he began to well up with tears. On a side note, something you need to know about Christopher is that you would never expect to see the man cry based on his appearance. He’s about 6’1 or so, in pretty good shape, and shaves his head. He is lovingly referred to as, “Krock the Rock.” There was a hush that came across the room as everyone realized that this strong man of God was about to cry.

Kristopher began to share with us all about the sacrifices that he has had to make as he and his family have worked in ministry over the years. In particular, he shared about how he has had to spend much time away from his family. He express that he hated the amount of time he was away from his family. He shared about how he would much rather be with his family as they celebrated birthdays, sports games, and other important events that overlapped with the same time as our training. At this point, I felt really bad for him and wanted to yell through the crowd, “Go home! We will be okay.” The next part of what Christopher shared though is what has stuck with me for the past 11 years. He said that when all is said and done he asks one question, “Is It Worth It?” This particular time for Christopher it was worth it to be away from his family to help the 100 of us in our training. Although he would have rather had been with his family, he and his wife had discerned that it was worth it for the sacrifice of him to be away for the training. As I looked at all I was giving up to serve with N.E.T., I was able to see that at that point and time it was worth it for me to sacrifice all of those things for the sake of the ministry.

I routinely ask the question now, “Is It Worth It,” when I discern things by myself or with my wife. I think that it is a necessary question. The challenge comes in following through with the appropriate action as the question is answered. Every time I’m invited to be a speaker, lead a retreat, consult, or give a seminar I ask the question, “Is It Worth It?” There are times where it is, and times where it is not. My wife and I work as a team in ministry. When I have to fly somewhere and be gone for a number of days we have both come to the conclusion that it is worth it for our mission of “Spreading the Gospel.” But, there are times where I have to lovingly turn down an invitation. For example, I was invited to lead a parish mission the same weekend as my son’s first birthday. As I discerned and asked, “Is it worth it,” I had discerned with my wife that no, I needed to be at home with my family to celebrate this important day.  On the other hand, for the past four years, I’ve had ministry opportunities come up on Valentine’s Day where we discerned that it was worth it for me to go and I’ve been out of state on Valentine’s Day four consecutive years.

Working in ministry has to be a give and take relationship. As ministers, we cannot say “YES,” to every opportunity that comes our way or we will end up burning out. Even worse, if we say yes to everything, we could end up putting our vocations as spouse and parent on the back burner, become physically ill, have a very unhealthy lifestyle, or even loose our faith but not investing in our self. Remember, even Jesus took time for Himself in prayer, reflection, and rest, and He is God! Please heed the words of “Krock the Rock,” and ask yourself continually, “Is it worth it?” and follow through appropriately. This is the way that we can be holy, healthy, and effective in youth ministry and our day-to-day lives.

In Christ,

Gary Foote

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