The Problem With Youth Ministry

Youth ministry is not the Church’s primary method of ministering to youth (and by “youth,” I mean nothing more than people who, relative to adults, lack some experience). It is a method, sure, and perhaps even a necessary one, but it is not the method. “The home is the first school of Christian life,” (CCC 1657) sayeth the Catechism, and it is the home that serves as the fundamental, original source of catechesis and evangelization, and if we could understand that, we might have a chance at becoming Catholics.

What, after all, are we trying to fill our undersized humans’ heart-space and cranial fluid with? The Gospel. But what is the Gospel? The Gospel is the “good news.” But what is news? News is the communication of an event from one who has seen to one who has not — hence it is “new” to the one who receives it. What, then, is required to believe in the veracity, authenticity and relevance of a piece of news?

First of all, it is not that the event communicated seems overwhelmingly true. When I was told by my father, on September 11th, that the twin towers were attacked, I did not believe the event to be true because it made sense, nor because I had any empirical evidence of its happening. No, news is believed as the result of my relation to the messenger. The fundamental issue is whether or not he is an authority – whether or not he is one in whom I believe.

I perceived September 11th as an event that self-evidently did not fit with my world, and event so bizarre that could not be made a part of my life. And yet I believed, based on the relationship between myself and my father, for however unbelievable the event, the authority of my father and his relation to me was firm.

As with news, so with the Good News (that mankind longs for God, and that within a small, occupied tribe of human beings called Jews, around 33 A.D., that same God became man to reunite us to Him by his life, death and resurrection, and thereby fulfill our longing beyond every expectation.) This Gospel is not grasped by a complete understanding of the Gospel — who among us would dare claim complete comprehension? Neither is the Gospel believed on the basis of the brilliance or the creativity of the one who expresses it — for such “belief” amounts to a consent to an advertisement. This Gospel is the proclamation of an event, from those who know to those who don’t, and so it has been since the eyewitnesses of the event itself (John 19:35). It is a piece of news. As such, it is believed on the basis of the authority of the one who proclaims it. This dependence of faith on other people is expressed in the Catechism:

You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers.

Now belief in and assent to authority is not the end of reason, but is rather reason’s genesis. “Faith seeks understanding,” (CCC 158) and the act of faith, by which we believe because of the authority of the news-bearer, immediately thirsts after reason as a necessary consequence of belief. When my father told me of the events of September 11th, I believed, and because I believed, I wanted to understand. Only because I first believed my teachers did I ever understand what they taught. Faith enables reason. As Augustine says “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.”

But if the Gospel is first grasped through authority, the person made parent becomes an apostle. For the loving relation of parent and child includes a radical belief in the parent. The child points and asks what a certain slippery, animate rock is. His mother says “frog” and the child believes. Language is not developed by the child. Language is given through the authority of the parent, and received by the belief, by the faith of the child that his parents do not lead him astray when they point to things and tell him their name. If language is the very framework by which we know the world, we may say in earnest that the parent gives the world to their children through a relationship of authority and belief. Children are given the content and the meaning of the universe through authority.

The family consists in a natural authority, and as such, is a fundamental space in which to proclaim the Gospel. Antitheists complain that this form of evangelization — catechesis — is an indoctrination, an imposition and a brainwashing that refuses to let the child choose for himself.

I agree, but would point to a larger evil of which the terrors of religious education are but a part — parenting itself. Because of the relationship between the parent and the child — that of one who knows and one who does not, that relationship in which news is possible — all parenting is informative, that is, all parenting inwardly forms the child. All parenting is indoctrination. Everything is news to a newborn, and thus the validation of everything and anything depends, at first, on the child’s faith in an authority. The world is first known by belief in authoritative statements — “this is a ball,” “it’s bad to hit,” — what we might call doctrines or dogmas. Whether language, manners, culture, ethics, values, scientific fact, or history, as long as the child looks to the parent with eyes of faith — which seems to me the naturally established parent-child relation — then the parent’s voice is a voice of authority, and authority and the Disney ethos of kids-choose-for-themselves are incompatible. When antitheists sneer with the same potency of condescension at the mother teaching her child to read and share as they do the mother teaching her child that there lives God who loves sinners, then, inspired by their miraculous display of consistency, I’ll laugh less.

But let’s get to the point. The problem with youth ministry — and I speak of the American model of a hired youth minister who is paid to hold classes, lead retreats and otherwise proclaim the Gospels — is that there is no necessary relationship of authority between the ministered and the ministered-to. The fundamental relation necessary for the communication of the Good News does not necessarily exist.

When a person does not or cannot speak with authority, and thereby communicate a piece of news, they must convince their listeners of the veracity of the event. Had my relationship with my father consisted in anything but authority and faith, I would have demanded empirical evidence, proof, a second opinion — in short, I would have demanded convincing. This is the good work of youth ministry, that in its catechesis and evangelical efforts, it seeks to convince those who will not or cannot believe in faith, in order that they might grow in faith.

But this is also why youth ministry is particularly susceptible to the temptation of gimmickery, a word which should exist. When convincing is the name of the game, we often go about it in the way we are taught by our capitalistic culture — find what your “market” likes and sell it to them. We are tempted to piggyback the faith onto already-liked objects — like pop music, t-shirts, and hashtags — and thereby close the gap left by our lack of authority by disguising the faith as an already accepted authority — the authority of the culture. Thus:

The voice of authority is never desperate, but the voice of persuasion and advertisement too often is.

But this is just a temptation, and one that can be avoided. There is a deeper issue. Youth ministry as a primary catechetical and evangelical tool only exists as a necessity if the family has failed. Of course, this makes youth ministry necessary, in that families do fail, all the time. Catholics are largely uncatechized. Parents have the voice of authority but lack an understanding of the event which they are bound to communicate in that same, strong voice. Families miss the time of authority-faith relation and only begin catechesis when their’s is the work of convincing, and convincing teenagers. And more than this lack of catechesis, there is a lack of parents being authority figures at all, whether through absence or vice. Again, the system of youth ministry deserves applause for seeking to fill this gap. But this clearly establishes youth ministry as an emergency measure, not a norm.

If our modern youth ministry is truly Catholic, it will work towards its own demise. It must not become “the way in which children are catechized,” or “the way kids encounter the Gospel,” for the Gospel is given through authority, and while a fantastic youth minister, through the power of God, can certainly establish a relationship of authority-faith between himself and those he ministers to, this relationship is not inherent to him. On the other hand, so inherent is the authoritative catechetical role in the parent that the Catechism refers to the family as Ecclesia domestica – the domestic Church — a microcosm of Mother Church, the single manifestation of divine authority in the world today. My worry is that youth ministry — if it does not soon see itself as filling the gap left by the failure of the family — will become a self-perpetuating system, establishing itself as the modus operandi of each and every parish, to the point that the domestic Church is all but obliterated because parents can “just send their kids to The Edge and LifeTeen,” and do not need to exercise their beautiful, humbling, evangelical authority.

True youth ministry will work to establish points of authority, to help build families who — because they live in that natural relation of love which makes the communication of the Gospel possible — do not need modern youth ministry. The Gospel is news, and news requires authority. If youth ministry wishes to preach and spread the Gospel, it will work to continuously reduce the need for hired convincing, to instead build up in number and strength those two institutions which exist in their very nature as sources of authority — the family and the apostolic priesthood.

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  • Erin

    What about the evangelization of those who do not have faithful parents? I agree that parents should be the primary tool in which children learn about God, but our parents generation was not well catechized. Many parents do not have strong faith, or any. And so youth group becomes a place where they have role models to look up to.

    • Angela Sealana

      Exactly my thoughts.

    • Andrew O’Brien

      I thought the same thing, initially, but then I thought about the people I know who became Catholic (or, Christian, I guess) and very few of them did so in any real way because of a local youth ministry program. Most of the ones who became serious Catholics (or Christians in some cases) did so because they had friends with faith filled families and were able to see what a faith filled family looked like.
      So to answer your question, the answer is still to have them be around faith filled parents, even if they aren’t their own.

    • Carol

      I think that’s the point this post is trying to make — “If our modern youth ministry is truly Catholic, it will work towards its own demise.”

      Hopefully the next generation of parents will come to realize that they need to be the primary teachers of their children, whether by being told or by being aware of the mistakes of their own parents. This way, youth ministry becomes a place to meet other faithful, well-catechized, young Catholics – a place for fun and growth and not just a “boring religion class”. And what Andrew also replied to your comment is spot-on!

      • kkollwitz

        I would suppose that next generation of parents will include the kids currently in “youth group.” BTW my catechetical experience with middle-schoolers is that the more the kids already know, the less chance anything in class will be boring.

  • Andrew O’Brien

    Tree of Life was one beautiful, albeit very abstract, flick.

  • Ella M

    You make several valid points. “Temptation of gimmickery” is the reason I won’t allow my kids to make “felt” religious banners, or cupcake rosaries. Some things are set aside to be blessed and sacred. Let the children realize early on that it is not a toy and they will treasure it more than their favorite object, which changes from week to week. I feel for the people trying to teach First Communion classes. They have a battle if the Faith is not prominent at home.

    • gradchica

      Agreed. YM is an assist, not a replacement, to parental teaching, and really should be a minor part of faith life for the youngest ones. I can see many parents feeling out of their depth by teenagers’ tough questions and wanting some backup, or parents wanting a place for their children to find godly friendships, but that’s not really as applicable to the preschoool-elementary level. I am put off by my parish’s program for 3-5 year olds that takes place during Mass. This is taking them away from their families at the exact time when they should be experiencing the culmination of their week of “natural” learning about the faith that happens at home, in the family.My 3 year old gets to see–and often asks about, quietly–the consecration, the embodiment of what we’ve talked & read about numerous times during the week. He is part of the parish, the entire Body, and we can instill & nurture in him a desire for the Eucharist, a desire to serve at the altar, a desire to see and talk to Jesus in the Eucharist, in a natural, unforced way. He is already asking to see Jesus in the tabernacle and in the “sunburst”, aka monstrance, and is starting to develop his own relationship with Him. We are trying to encourage the idea that Mass is both something he can and should be engaged with to the best of his abilities and something to strive to understand and aspire to more fully participate in–ie, it’s not directed at him as a kid, like most things he’s engaged with are at this stage, but is directed above his head, is a “grownup” thing that he is allowed to participate in and can look forward to joining in more fully as he attains both age and understanding. YM for kids that makes it “all about them” and pitches it to a kiddie level worries me a bit. We try to explain things simply, but we don’t shy away from the big words and the big concepts–he knows about the fall of Lucifer, why Jesus had to die, about transubstantiation, etc. How much he understands, well…we have quite a few more years to work on that :)

    • Momofsix

      Gosh, I like the cupcake rosary idea

  • Holgrave

    Marc, I agree with your general assessment of youth ministry as something which ought to see itself as (at most) supplementing the role of parents in young Christians’ lives. The more a young person’s mother and father are doing their job, the more superfluous “youth ministry” will be.

    I wonder whether the primary reason churches have youth ministries is not catechesis or evangelization of young people, which Christian families tend to do best, but rather to provide a benign social context for young people who really have nothing worthwhile to do.

    I haven’t been a teenager for a few years, but I remember, even growing up in a large and busy family, feeling useless. Too young to do anything besides slinging burgers (I didn’t) and without much social or intellectual stimulation outside of my family and theology message boards on the Internet. I was an outsider in my church youth group, but at least it was a safe social environment (for me, anyway).

    Modernity hasn’t been kind to the young. I’m glad I didn’t hang out with my pot-smoking peers, but their plight just illustrates the problem of boredom, which I think you have discussed elsewhere.

    • badcatholic

      I think there is a valid distinction between a youth group, as in, a place for Catholic youth to be together and grow together and escape the banal culture (i.e. Karol Wojtyla taking his youth hiking) and youth ministry, as the primary mode by which kids are catechized and “lead to encounter Christ.” The former, I dig. The latter, I worry over.

      • Monica Pope

        ‘the primary mode by which kids are catechized and “lead to encounter Christ.” The former, I dig. The latter, I worry over.’

        if any particular parish youth ministry functions according to the vision set out by the USCCB for youth ministry, all the while aware of the possibility that some of its members may experience their first-ever encounter with Christ, and then, some of its members do, in fact, experience Christ for the first time, where is the worry in that?

        your premise has been that youth ministry should seek to make itself unnecessary. readers have commented that, because of the failure of Catholic parents, youth ministry has a long life ahead.

        my assertion is much more positive: many good Catholic parents value good Catholic youth groups for making significant positive impact in the lives of their well-catechized teens. we do not see them as merely making up ground lost by bad parenting.

        • Nate C

          I think protestant youth leaders will be thanking you for all their new converts, but hey that’s just me.

          • Monica Pope

            i wonder on what basis would you make such a flippant, though maledictive remark about the spiritual well-being of souls nate, but hey, that’s just me.

        • kkollwitz

          Yes- our parish youthgroup is most vigorously supported by the parents whose faith is most fully formed.

        • jeff

          Youth ministry will not have a long life ahead of it for those reasons. If parents aren’t doing their job then the Church will DIE. Youth groups won’t keep any statistical number of kids from minimally religious families going to Church as adults. This isn’t a theoretical “Oh, Catholic parents SHOULD be teaching the faith to their kids otherwise youth groups will have to take up the slack.”

          No, if parents don’t do their job there won’t be any slack to take up. It will be game over.

  • Dean Dickens

    This blog almost makes me want to be Catholic. Marc, may I email you? I have some questions, and I want to talk to someone who is informed.

    • badcatholic

      Go for it. My email’s on the sidebar.

    • John

      The problem with most Catholics is that they don’t want to be “Catholic”. They don’t want to bother to pass on the faith. I agree whole-heartedly with the article. When we usurp the parents role, and take over responsibility without having the God-given authority to do so, we shouldn’t be surprised when the results are so disastrous–as they have been in the past 50 years. When will the parishes stop staking over the role of the parents and start helping them as the Vatican 2 documents state they should?

      • Proteios

        No argument. But what about the parents who drop their kids off for mass or confirmation, or bible school. And can’t be bothered to attend, participate or volunteer. I think these issues are self fulfilling. Some churches have adopted the big government model of “we will do it for you, don’t bother yourself.”

        • ChevalierdeJohnstone

          Making the choice to drop your kids off for mass or bible school is participation. Whether it is “enough” is between the parents, their priest, and God. That you do not think it sufficient is your own problem. There’s no time-card to punch on the road to salvation.

      • ChevalierdeJohnstone

        Most statements of the form, “the problem with most ____” can be completed by filling in the blank with “people”. We’re all flawed and imperfect. My experience is that it is predominantly non-Catholics and agnostics who accuse others of not wanting to be a “real” Christian, or not being a “good” Christian, or the sort. It reaffirms my faith that the Church, which affirms the dignity of every human person no matter how sinful, is the only true church. BTW a “parish” is a territorial unit encompassing everything within it, including the parents. You probably mean “parish priest” or maybe “parish church”. And if the problem is that parish churches are “taking over the role of the parents”, this is the first I have heard of parish priests going to people’s homes and picking up their children in the parish church minivan, but sure, I believe you. In my observation, however, it’s generally the parents who make the choice to drive their kids to church, so FYI you live in a strange neighborhood.

  • Paul Fahey

    Have you read the USCCB’s document on YM titled “Renewing the Vision”? ( Some key points:

    1. YM must assist parents and families in their primary role of teachers.

    2. YM should not ever be confined to the YM “program.” Comprehensive YM is parish YM. It is the integration of youth into the life of the parish and universal Church.

    3. YM must be relational. Building real and genuine relationships with and among youth is central.

    I believe that there is a place in the Church for YM if it’s primary goal is to aid parents (whole will always need aid) and integrate youth into the life of the Church.

    • Monica Pope

      paul, i was typing essentially the same post, describing the USCCB’s vision for youth ministry.

      because of their vision and because of personal experience, i believe that youth ministry should not seek to put itself out of business. youth ministry should seek to put parents in touch with their kids’ faith lives and it should seek to put teens firmly into discipleship of Christ and the ministerial life of the parish and Church.

      perhaps my parish is mostly unique, but our youth minister has a keenest eye on the Bishops’ objectives. She has conducted her ministry thus for years. furthermore she never– that’s NEVER– mixes gimmickry with authentic catechesis of the Christian Faith. do the teens have fun? yes– sometimes it would seem ridiculous amounts of fun. but when it comes to catechesis, it’s rock solid. and all this without a designated ‘teen Mass’ or other (community fragmenting) teen style worship.

      i’m well acquainted with the success of our parish program because my well-catechized teens have been attending for years and i know the amount of outreach and expectation that is directed toward parental involvement. i also experience it from a different perspective– as a catechist. i have presented catechesis on the Trinity to our youth group straight out of the Catechism and Scripture– never once being asked to demonstrate an ‘analogy’ with H20/ eggs/ cotton balls or any other of the erroneous stuff that often passes for ‘faith formation’ under the title ‘youth ministry.’

      but my parental AND ministerial involvement brings me to my final point: the utter value of community validation. Marc, had your dad told you about 9-11 and you believed, yet NEVER experienced anyone outside of your relationship even mention it, you might have soon suspected your dad was mistaken– or nuts. how can something SO IMPORTANT as a massive terrorist attack be a topic of silence amongst the rest of the world? your dad told you. you believed. the rest of the world validated your dad’s account of the horrors and you believed even more.

      so it is with parish programs and youth groups. on a best day, a well-catechised kid will walk into a youth group teaching authentic catechesis and the kid will think, “so. well. this validates what my dad has been telling me all along.”

      THAT is immensely valuable to both the teen AND the parent who is struggling to catechize a goodwill teen in an ill-will world.

      finally a story: one of my sons spent several years actively discerning the priesthood. his grandfather (not catholic– a marginal evangelical, actually) tried to jokingly blame us, the boy’s parents for indoctrinating him. he said to my son, “so your mom and dad finally got to you with all that religion, eh? is that why you think you might want to be a priest?”

      to which my son replied, “No actually, it was all my years in youth group.”

      • Monica Pope

        by the way, Marc. neither am i offended in the least. but if i’m reading you right, i say your premise is faulty.

    • Guest

      It’s an explicit goal of my 6th-grade catechesis that the kids will grow up to be evangelically-disposed Catholics who will effectively catechize their own kids.

  • Richard Morin

    Hey Marc,

    I posted this as a comment on your Facebook, but I want to cross-post it here.

    you’ve left out is the that an argument can be made that it isn’t that
    families are failing to minister the faith to their kids as a result of
    youth ministry, but rather the existence of youth ministry is because
    they are being failed by others. If families and parishes did what they
    should, I wouldn’t have spent every Sunday for ten years volunteering
    to do youth ministry. But the reality, especially after the sexual
    revolution and the like, is that kids today are not being exposed to the
    Faith at home or schools – and in some cases not even in their
    parishes. Kids come from broken homes, abusive homes. In so many
    cases, I see kids coming from damaged backgrounds. They need formation,
    they need faith, they need *fellowship*, which is more than just a
    sub-title for the first LOTR film.

    then run in a couple of directions. One is the evangilization and
    formation of parents and teachers. The second is the formation and
    evangilzation of youth, the future. Both are vital, and I posit are
    essential. There kids and young adults coming out to our program who
    were in my position, they need someone. A paternal figure, a brother, a
    sister, and a group of friends their age who they can roll with while
    they go through grade school, high school, and post-secondary school. I
    used to take on a fraternal role, now I take on a *paternal* role – I
    act as a father figure towards the youth and young adults in the

    ten years I’ve been doing this. Six to ten hours, every Sunday. Used
    to travel two hours to get there, two hours to get back. During those
    ten years I was homeless, moved a few times, unemployed thrice, finally
    met a good woman, got engaged, got married, bought a house, had a son.
    Now I still do this, and I do so while working full time with a son,
    while my wife and I both have medical problems. Some would say I should
    stop. I probably could. Any day, really.

    Today though, it ain’t going to be that day. And tomorrow isn’t going to be that day either.

  • Scotty Mastel

    All very good points. I would also argue that in many parishes, the “youth ministry” brand of catechesis tends toward the balkanization of the faith community. The tactics used to attract a segment of the parish make it more likely for them to fall away once they no longer identify with that demographic. The same goes for the so-called multi-cultural parishes whose offer Mass in a different vernacular every hour. Would that we return to liturgical Latin (in the Roman rite) and the reordering of the Sacraments of initiation right quick. :)

  • summrstorm

    I protest: nuns are called to catechesis (the institution of Catholic schools) and so are many lay men and women. Getting paid is a necessity, and many times they are taking a huge cut from what they could be making. $30k per year for a family of four is negative money. Moreover, your model presents the problem of isolating women’s impact on faith formation only to their roles as mothers. More to say here but I’m typing on my phone…

    • Alexander S Anderson

      Yeah… it’s pretty easy for me to forget the role of consecrated religious women in pedagogy because well… I never saw any around as a kid. Of course, I went to public school, but there weren’t any women religious at the Catholic school, either. I’d imagine Marc, being of my generation, had a similar experience. (Another problem is that women religious used to speak with the authority of the Church, but that chain of authority was so thoroughly deconstructed in the years after V2 as to be unrecognizable to most Catholics today.)

    • Craig

      But where are the traditional women religious? And correct, the father (and hopefully many siblings) are part of it.

  • Anonymous

    As a priest, I know that one of the issues is that parents will say they do not know enough to help their children adequately. And then some will not care enough about faith to do very much for their children and their children’s faith. Certainly your Artie speaks to the ideal and to one possible circumstance. And a goal.

    • Momofsix

      I agree with you Father, but I think there happens to also be a usurping of that role within Catholic schools and youth ministry. And it is very inadequate, at least in our area.

    • kkollwitz

      Yes. I start every year of 6th-grade catechesis assuming the kids know virtually nothing. It’s a challenge, but by no means impossible, to get them all near the same level by year’s end without boring the knowledgeable or alienating the virtually unchurched.

  • Jwabz

    I’m love that you used a shot from Tree of Life. Great movie.

  • Guest

    Paul said he became all things to all people in order that he might win at least some to Christ. Question: should our Church be involved in large gatherings for youth which include “Christian rock”, choreographed dances and outdoor Masses where the possibility of irreverence is high? Should we give names to religious events such as “Night Fever” which include the Sacrament of Penance, Holy Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in hopes of drawing more young people in?

  • Henrytheeighth

    Tell us your vocation story, Marc!

  • Jose A.

    Hi, I read the article and found it quite interesting as an example of why we Catholics are unequipped to deal with post-modern culture. Advocating for authority as a means of transmitting the faith and diminishing youth ministry by depicting it as gimmicky religious marketing that conforms with society’s trends is the clear example of the lack of cultural relevance of the average catholic thinker nowadays.
    If only we would read the Magisterium we would understand that the call to a New Evangelisation starts through the First Announcement of the person of Christ not by catechesis and therefore the heart of the problem is Faith, not authority. If we lack Faith we won’t transmit it. In order to have it we need a personal encounter with Christ that leads us to the Church. As Cantalamessa put it: we learn to love the Church through the word of Jesus and not vice versa. Evangelization is the announcement of a person and therefore comes before any catechesis.

    Speaking of this encounter in terms of authority is a clear example of a modernist cosmovision that embraces a paradigm that’s utterly incomprehensible to the post-mordern young folk. They need a post-modern way of hearing about Jesus.

    Youth Ministry as a method in order to contextualize the announcement of the Gospel to the present culture is a must, and of course on the condition that it has to have the right contents. You can be 100% orthodox and 100% relevant to the culture, that’s what Jesus did.

    But in order to do that you have to understand the culture you are in, instead of trying to operate on modern categories that are already history, hoping that the present culture will get it if they obey authority.

    • Monica Pope

      i agree with your assessment of the necessity of youth ministry to be relevant in methodology so that young people can see eternal relvance in the content.

      but as for you distinctions between evangelization and catechesis– you seem to be presenting the distinctions so sharply as to suggest a complete separation of the two.

      this is what Pope John Paul II said about evangelization and catechesis in Catechesi Tradendae:

      “… the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness.

      Let us first of all recall that there is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization. Nor can the two be simply identified with each other. Instead, they have close links whereby they integrate and complement each other.

      … the aim of bringing the Good News to the whole of humanity, so that all may live by it – is a rich, complex and dynamic reality, made up of elements, or one could say moments, that are essential and different from each other, and that must all be kept in view simultaneously. Catechesis is one of these moments – a very remarkable one – in the whole process of evangelization.

      … The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion – bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.(49)

      But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ;…”

      • Monica Pope
      • Jose A

        Hi Monica, you are 100% right and I love they way you argue it by using the magisterial teachings; evangelisation and cathecesis are complementary. I overemphasized evangelisation because historically it has been neglected. As a result people forget where the process of faith starts (by knowing the person of Jesus) and jump to the Creed and other contents of faith. This leads to a type of catechesis that tends to be an exercise of teaching rather than a ministry in which discipleship is involved. We should seek methodologies that lead to create missionary disciples (as Francis says) rather than pupils who attend catechesis class.

        • Monica Pope

          thank you for helping me to understand your initial assertions better. i agree entirely with this: ‘people forget where the process of faith starts (by knowing the person of Jesus) and jump to the Creed and other contents of faith. This leads to a type of catechesis that tends to be an exercise of teaching rather than a ministry in which discipleship is involved. We should seek methodologies that lead to create missionary disciples (as Francis says) rather than pupils who attend catechesis class.’

          this so so entirely true. and for the kerygma to be proclaimed in fullness, the following MUST be the overarching proposition:

          (CCC 51) “It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature.”

          THIS is the reason God does what HE does. Salvation is not God’s plan B. Sanctification (which includes salvation) means to be brought fully into the Divine Life of God. it had always been his plan. astonishingly, Adam and Eve’s sin didn’t alter God’s intent– in fact, it only seemed to intensify it! Now He would send His Son (the Son of God. God the Son.) to make things right! God’s intent, to glory-fy (divinize/ sanctify) humanity, remained even after the our first parents’ sin ( a sin made so much more horrible because of their intimate relationship with God– He ‘walked’ with them in the garden!)

          here is the kerygma. THIS should be the overarching message and the heart of all catechesis– that God the Son took on the human flesh to restore our relationship with the Father– the relationship we broke. We never have to try to convince God to love us. He always has.

          yikes. i’m catechizing and i can’t shut up! :/

    • jeff

      Jose you’re dead wrong. Human nature responds to authority. Always has and always will. Children are hugely influenced by their (i) fathers and (ii) other adult male role models, (iii) peers (iv) popular culture. These are all authority based and you won’t change it because it is hard wired into our nature, no matter what some AIDS-ridden, Ayatollah-Praising, degenerate psuedo-intellectual from France might have said.

      If on the other hand you mean that kids need to make their own decision to follow Jesus at some stage in their adolescence, then: Why didn’t you say so!!

      I’m going to catechise my children as they grow up. I’m not going to hold off teaching my children about God and how to pray because I haven’t yet jumped on a soap box in my living room to “announce the Person of Christ”.

  • Carol in Texas

    Marc, I think your statements about catechesis and the parent’s as primary educators is spot on. Too often our parish catechesis programs end up undermining the parents’ job–either by giving the impression that they cannot/should not/need not catechize their own children OR by forcing the parents who DO their job to make their children jump through hoops to get sacraments. I am about to spend my second year jumping through hoops just to get me already 7yo to Confession and First HOly Communion. And, frankly, I resent being treated like I can’t do my job.

    • Monica Pope

      carol, if you believe your child is prepared for first confession and first eucharist, you can ask your pastor for permission for your child to receive without the involvement of parish catechesis.

      914. ‘it is primarily the duty of the parents and those who take the
      place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that
      children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly
      and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with
      this divine food as soon as possible. It is for the pastor to
      exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of
      reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not
      approach holy communion.’

      while it may be true that your parish doesn’t believe you can sufficiently do your job to catechize your children, it’s probably more true that your pastor is merely trying to do his job, while relying on the staff he has hired to help him.

      • kkollwitz

        Yes, don’t all parishes have a homeschool option for catechesis?

        • Julie

          Nope, the Diocese of Little Rock requires homeschoolers to take 2 yrs of parish religious Ed classes. huge burden to big families and undermines sacrament of matrimony

  • Robert Penate

    Great post Marc. I think the “solution,” if we want to call it that, is a return to the what the Church calls the primary form of catechesis: Adult Catechesis. It is Adult Catechesis that will strengthen families and help families truly become domestic Churches, a place where we really do experience true Christian love.
    Youth Ministry does have a place, but I think it has had to evolve into something it was never really intended to be because of a lack of primary catechesis in family life.

    • kkollwitz

      It’s an explicit goal of my 6th-grade catechesis that the kids will grow
      up to be evangelically-disposed Catholic parents who will effectively
      catechize their own kids.

  • Sam Ford

    The fact that youth ministry is intended to support the ministry of parents to their children is actually the biggest thing I learned in my Youth Ministry 1 class here at Franciscan, Marc.

  • bender

    Authority. I don’t find you or your argument to be very authoritative.

    And it is usually not a very persuasive means of passing on information, but less instilling belief. “Because I said so” does not get very far. Even God spent thousands of years of salvation history explaining, using the Logos to appeal to people’s reason, rather than saying to them, “I’m God, that’s why.” Even Job, read in the context of the whole of scripture, gets an explanation.

    By the way, “gospel,” which is derived from “evangelization,” also is translated as glad tidings, rejoice, etc., not merely good “news.” So hinging the argument on what is news and new isn’t very authoritative.

  • Cait Callaghan

    As product of youth ministry and someone who works in youth ministry, sometimes even catechized teens need an example of living out the faith brought to them by someone besides their parents. A lot of teens at my parish know their faith very well but they don’t know how to put it into practice for themselves. They need the example of the adults at youth group but also of their fellow teens. High school is a scary place, and it is great that the teens can come share their experiences of standing up for their faith with like-minded peers.
    We were made to be Catholics in community and what better way to show that then creating a mini-community for teens in order that they can figure out their relationship with Christ in a safe environment before they go out into the world of college and careers.

    • Monica Pope

      cait, i agree wholeheartedly. in a post i made (waaay far up on this comments page) i wrote something similar:

      ‘my parental AND ministerial involvement brings me to my final point: the utter value of community validation. Marc, had your dad told you about 9-11 and you believed, yet NEVER experienced anyone outside of your relationship even mention it, you might have soon suspected your dad was mistaken– or nuts. how can something SO IMPORTANT as a massive terrorist attack be a topic of silence amongst the rest of the world? your dad told you. you believed. the rest of the world validated your dad’s account of the horrors and you believed even more.

      so it is with parish programs and youth groups. on a best day, a well-catechised kid will walk into a youth group teaching authentic catechesis and the kid will think, “so. well. this validates what my dad has been telling me all along.”

      THAT is immensely valuable to both the teen AND the parent who is struggling to catechize a goodwill teen in an ill-will world.”

    • Nate C

      I disagree. If these teens truly know their faith very well they would not be seeking out a youth group, they would be praying the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass along with their family and friends. Creating a “mini-community” is like saying that the primary reason for being Catholic is not the Eucharist but fellowship. Sorry to say, but any parent that allows or encourages their child to participate in “youth groups” likely lack true Catholic understanding of catechesis or the indirect protestantization inferred. While I know the people in charge of these “ministries” mean well, the actual activities of such groups satisfy mainly temporal needs. These youths who are desperate for a truly Catholic experience should be getting it from Mass! This is the root of the problem but it takes a lot more than a safe environment to solidify their faith as most abandon it as adults. Heaven forbid we look at the thousands of years of Church success before Vatican 2, like the Traditional Latin Mass.

      • Dan F.

        I think you make a mistake to set up the Eucharist and fellowship as a dichotomy as if both were not critical to the mission of the Church.

      • KL

        Why is this an either/or question? Why can’t teens pray at Mass with their family and friends *and* attend youth group in order to foster faith-based, positive relationships and community with their peers?

      • Cait Callaghan

        There’s a reason receiving Christ in the Eucharist is called Communion.

        • Lore Peters

          I have to speak up and I don’t often on blogs. The Eucharist is called Communion. You are in communion with Christ and you are receiving it with church family. As a parent, I fail to see how a youth group teaches my child to be a part of our parish community i.e. church community. You all mention having adult leaders to exemplify living the faith and other teens sharing their experiences. This is all fine and well, I suppose BUT if you, as a parent, are catechizing your child by example…well, then all those other adults at daily mass are modeling to your child how to live the Catholic faith. All those ministries you join at your local parish (as we are called to share our charisms) they make you and your child part of the parish community and those adults in ministry with you exemplify living the faith.
          To summarize, if you life your faith, you child is living the faith and there are plenty of other adults setting examples around you. As for the sharing among your own age group, if everyone was raising their kids this way there would be lots of teens to interact with naturally. You wouldn’t need the youth ministry to create a
          moment for those teens, they would see each other at Mass and chat afterward, or at Perpetual Adoration, or they would be Altar Servers together. I could go on and on.

      • Monica Pope

        ‘Sorry to say, but any parent that allows or encourages their child to participate in “youth groups” likely lack true Catholic understanding of catechesis or the indirect protestantization inferred.”

        i’m sorry you said it too, nate. you’re utterly, entirely wrong about this.

      • jeff

        Nate, I, too, want to see a restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass and I take my children whenever I can, but you’re dead wrong. Youth groups can be a great “top up” of what their parents teach and model to them. The example of the leaders modelling the faith is of inestimable value in forming kids into adults who love and cherish God and his gift of the Mass,

    • Angie R.

      I agree, Cait. I wish I’d had the benefit of a youth group in high school. My parents were very devout, they taught me well, took me to Mass every week and said the rosary with me every night. But when you’re a teenager you’re looking for independence from your parents and for validation from your peer group. Chances are you’ll take your cues from your friends, and if your friends aren’t trying to live the teachings of the Church, then you’ll find yourself compromising your morals, if not your faith. At least that was my own experience. I kind of resent the suggestion that if I went astray as a teen it was because my parents didn’t do a good enough job in raising me. I certainly had a role in my own decisions at that age.. and maybe I would have made better decisions if I had more like-minded friends or non-parent role models. (Is Marc speaking from his own experience? I could see how someone would think the family is sufficient if he or she had good formation and never succumbed to peer pressure as a young person… )

  • Felix

    Please view the Society of the Guardians of the Altar and the Sodality of the Guardians of Purity on Facebook, These two groups in a parish in Los Angeles are doing exactly what you’re advocating. Fiat

  • SwordOfLight

    Marc, I worked for two years at a parish in San Diego as Director of Faith Formation. I agree with much of what you had to say. When parents signed up their kids for 1-8th grade Catechism, I informed them that our program was two fold: that when their child was in class, the parent(s) would be in class with me. Each week we would take a different topic or aspect of the faith and have a lecture/discussion. I tried to empower the parents by suggesting simple ways to celebrate particular saint days and major feasts (traditional recipes, child activities, decorations, etc) even something as simple as going over the Advent wreath and explaining exactly what it was and what it symbolized and giving them a prayer to say each night… or giving them a prayer to bless their family Christmas tree, encouraging them to go to the grave of a loved one on All Souls, etc. I gave an extended tour of the Church and explained each window and nook and pillar so that they could share it with their children. The parents loved it because they finally found how to “take charge” and be empowered in passing on the faith to their kids at home. They were building family traditions and doing things together as a family, rather than blindly doing something because that’s just what they had always done.

    I once volunteered at a place where the parents dropped off their kids and went to Starbucks for an hour while waiting for class to end. No more. Oh, and consider a vocation with the Augustinians if you haven’t already :P

    • Gail Finke

      I wish so much that my parish had something like this. There is nothing for kids after they leave elementary school, nothing; and the sacramental prep is grooooooovey stuff that the kids actually seem to enjoy — I think because someone is paying attention to them, and it’s only a couple of sessions. A way to engage the family is what’s needed. Families can (and many do) do a lot themselves, but when kids become pre-teens and teens, they want to do things in groups. If there is nothing for Catholic groups, they do other group things — and learn that they don’t really need any of htat Catholic stuff, it’s optional.

      That said, it has to be a good program. There are stupid programs that just make kids roll their eyes and treat parents like idiots.

      • Monica Pope

        sword, our parish has similar expectations of parents, too. parents ARE grateful! and if they’re unwilling, they choose another parish– they shop programs.

        in my 24 years of catechetical ministry, i have found that once parents learn to trust the parish to not judge them for not knowing (they don’t suffer exactly from double ignorance– they DO have a sense to know there’s something they don’t know) they become willing to allow the parish program to give them good solid beginnings for home catechesis, good solid ways to deepen family catechesis, and finally, good solid encouragement and guidance to really become the primary catechists of their kids.

        i’ve been very impressed with parents. they are not the enemy of the good parish program. they are made in God’s image for his purpose. if the parent doesn’t already know this, it’s the parish programs job to help the parent discover his purpose and meaning according to God and the Church.

        once parents drop the defenses (– to help them do that is the FIRST JOB of the parish program) then they are willing to learn. once the parent is willing, giving parents authentic catechesis and faith practice is the parish program’s SECOND job.

        a while back, one of our parish parents said to me, “so….. getting our kids here is really just a trap to get us parents here…. right?”

        i said, “do you feel trapped?”

        he said, “no. i want to be here.”

        i said, “well then. whatever you call what we did, it worked.”

        • kkollwitz

          Re parents, they have a standing invitation to sit in on my classes. They always find it stimulating, and learn something new. And if all the parents ever do is bring their children class on time, I am happy with that.

  • Rev. Joseph Levine

    While I think the basic point is good, I also think it misses something very important. Parental authority is not a sufficient basis for faith; faith needs to rest on divine authority.

    While in some measure the “teenager” is an artificial creation of American culture it will always be the case that the years between 12 and 20, roughly speaking, are a time in which the youth learns to make things his own, so to speak. Even if he is well brought up in an exemplary family, he needs to discover a deeper reason for his heritage than “Dad (or Mom) said so.” Other adults, outside the family, are extremely important in helping the youth make this transition. Priests, who possess a supernatural authority, which is manifest in some way according as the priest lives worthily of his calling, have an especially important role in this process.

    As for faith, the process is complete in the measure that the believer believes because God said so.

    • Monica Pope

      thank you for this very fundamental point, Father Joseph. it is the pedagogy of God from which all authentic catechesis flows.

    • Jim Russell

      Interestingly, however, we baptize infants because of the profession of faith of the *parents* (and godparents).
      There is something fundamental and unique about the role of parents in the education of their children in the faith. Indeed the Church recognizes parents as the *primary* educators of their children, and the Rite of Baptism’s blessing of fathers includes the prayer that parents, as the first teachers of the faith, would be the *best* of teachers.
      This, coupled with the very concept of the “ecclesia domestica”, helps to establish, in my view, the strength and solidity of what Marc is saying in his post…

      • jeff

        if we don’t get back to the domestic church we’re very quickly going to have NO Church at all. The collapse is alarming.

  • Nathaniel

    So nice to know that even when criticizing Catholics Marc can resist a snide denunciation of strawmen Atheists.



  • Mr. Kruse

    As a high school level religious educator, I must say Marc is very much right. This is why I push to advance the curriculum of Catholic Theology in our schools. There are too many parents that are incapable of teaching their children as they are woefully ignorant of Church Teaching. I believe better educated parents will feel more comfortable teaching their children and can do so more effectively. Perhaps then, teenagers in my classes will stop reiterating a hodgepodge of the morally bankrupt Americanism taught by society and the philosophically bankrupt Protestantism taught by their “Catholic” parents. Did you know most Catholic teenagers come to class believing that faith is blind and opposed to reason? OUCH! Teenagers!! Catholic teenagers!!! We need to stop this madness and LifeTeen is not the answer.

  • M

    I agree with Marc to some degree but also with the Rev.Joseph who commented below. As a high school student , raised by Catholic parents and a member of a youth group, I think youth ministry can serve a purpose alongside good catholic parenting. I have found that in the midst of teenage brokenness and pressures both without and within, to have a community of other young people with whom you can openly discuss faith without fear of disdain or ridicule gives hope and has helped me to persevere. I know my parents believe. Their faith is an example to me. But the example of peers doesn’t hurt either. The Church is ever ancient and ever new. Making the Church seem “relevant” to the young doesn’t diminish the authenticity or raw beauty of Catholicism. I am just as moved ,if not more by the singing of a seminarian schola cantorum than by any song Chris Tomlin has ever sung. More shaken by the Pieta than any Catholic meme. Also ,there comes a time when faith can not simply be that “of our fathers” ,but must become our own. I must either accept or reject what was shared with me in my youth. When I was a child my parents taught me not to talk to strangers , and to not use the stove, (which to Marc’s point , was valid because of their authority ,wisdom,and genuine concern). Now that I’m older ,(to Father’s point) to not acknowledge the existence of the “stranger” with a simple “Hello” can indicate a lack of civility and to not be able to use the stove an impediment to my survival.(What?… I cook). Youth ministry creates something of an open forum , opens a dialogue between the young church and the Church herself. Gives the young adolescent bird who is soon, perhaps , to leave the coop, room to question and explore. To believe because “the one who has revealed it is Truth its self” and not solely because my mother told me so.

  • James

    Hi Thanks for the interesting article, I think it is always important to keep the role of ministry with young people in perspective. In my 15 years as a leader in ministry with young people I have never wanted to be a substitute for
    the parents primary role as catechist.I have always seen youth ministry
    as having several roles but never that.

    Unfortunately if you look at a
    good half of the young people who are involved in the Youth Ministry Programme in our community you
    will understand that they are not getting that parental cathechesis that
    is so vital. So although we can never make up for that, at least
    hopefully we can help them along the path a little.

    Secondly my personal
    experience was that at some point the wonderful job of cathechesis that
    my Mum and Dad did was overwhelmed by the clamour of the bad decisions
    my peers were making. No one was challenging them, they looked like they
    knew better than Mum and Dad and looked like they were having more fun,
    and so I started to get way off track. It was through my local Parish
    Youth /Young Adult programme that I finally found some Christian
    Leaders that would challenge me and talk through the Christian
    perspective of the things I was struggling with. I finally started to
    get my relationship with God and The Church back on track and as a
    consequence got my life sorted out too.

    So no I do not see us as any
    sort of substitute for the ideal but as an important ‘part’ of the
    response to the reality of modern life.

  • Blake Helgoth

    I did youth ministry for 8 yrs at a parish. It involved a huge time commitment, a huge amount of resources and not a huge return. Sure, we have hundreds of kids involved , but there were 3,000 families in the parish. Then, when they graduated and went to college most fell away, unless they had formation from home as well. What I think we are missing here is the allocation of resources – something parishes tend to have in finite amounts. Think about the massive resources to run a school and have a full blown youth ministry program. Is that the most effective place to spend our resources? Or, may I propose a radical ideal – spend those efforts and resources on adult evangelization and catechises. Then let those adults fulfill their role as primary evangelizers / catechists. Sure, we could have family ministry, like family retreats and and such, but mainly the focus would be on adult evangelization. Maybe then we wouldn’t need youth ministry or parochial schools. I know this is radically contrary to the normal model of our present age, but it seems to be the model of Christ and the apostles.

  • Patrick

    I rarely comment on anything that I read online but feel compelled to say something here. Incredible insights made here concerning the nature of the way the faith and doctrine are passed on. This is probably the most coherent thought on evangelization that I have read online ever. Keep up the good work my friend. I would suggest that this article be sent to every parish in the USA and that workshops be framed around it. Educating our children in the faith is #1 and thoughts like these are what will help us move forward in the fight to reclaim the minds of our future. Peace in Christ my brother!

  • Ed

    While the writer has assembled an argument for authority, it falls short of addressing the realities of relationship between parents and their children. A parent has default authority while a child lacks understanding of the relationship between authority and action. As the child grows in understanding, that child gains the ability to determine right from wrong, responsible action from irresponsible action, and whether or not their parents are walking the walk versus just talking the talk. Once the child has come to conclusions on these matters, the parent’s authority over the child becomes nothing more than the measure of the parents’ hypocrisy.

    This is where Youth Ministry comes in; to fill that gap that the failings of the parent(s) have created, and all parents create such gaps. A Youth Minister will be judged for their appearance of piety to God’s Word through their words and deeds. There is default authority in any title of recognition for efforts given, whether it be a degree in learning, a job code, or a designation that a church has given to an individual that they trust with their children. The church confers their authority to the Youth Minister, and it is up to the Youth Minister to execute that authority in a responsible manner.

    In addition, children by nature, seeks peer approval and Youth Ministry is an excellent place to engage peer relationships in a responsible manner.

    I believe Christian children should all have the opportunity to participate in Youth Ministry. One reality that this writer has ignored is the fact that parents, down through the ages, have only so much time to give over to the direct, one-on-one activity of teaching and mentoring their children into a healthy adulthood. Ideologies aside, parents need all of the assistance they can receive from the church.

  • Paul Morisi

    This is an interesting take on the state of Youth Ministry in America Today. I agree, youth ministry should porint to a larger family ministry. However effective youth ministry is something that cannot only strengthen the faith of the young person in a parish, but also strengthen the parish itself. Youth Ministry (not youth group) is a way for the young people of the Church to meet Christ and develop friendship with Him. A “youth night with videogames and pizza” is something we as a Church need to move away from. We need to provide our young people with more effective ministry.

  • David

    Great post, sir. You’re thinking very clearly on this topic and I applaud you for having the courage to speak the truth.

  • Craig

    Very true. Get the Baltimore and traditional children catechisms (see FSSP web US store and Angelus Press) and start early!

    May the Holy Family protect us. Ora pro nobis!

  • Anon Priest

    Marc, Great article. As someone who has worked in campus ministry at the university level for many years, I can tell you that the fruits of youth ministry are paltry. We have come to the conclusion that if a student attended a Catholic high school and was involved in their youth ministry program that included a “teen Mass,” there is a 98% chance that student will NOT practice their faith in college. The other glaring gap in youth ministry is the lack of the presence of the pastor, the spiritual father of the community. Instead of being involved, he hires a youth minister to take care of the youth while he spends most of his time taking care of the elderly. Spiritual children need the presence of their spiritual father. Of course others should be involved, but today’s youth ministry is more like Big Brothers and Big Sisters than authentic communion with the Church. A good father wouldn’t say, “What do you mean I don’t love you? I hired someone to spend time with you, to educate you, to show that I care about you.” Yet that is precisely the message we give to youth. We say, “You are important to us and a part of our parish community. So, I’m hiring someone to take care of you and segregating you to your own separate Mass.”

    • kkollwitz

      Teen Mass: oh dear.

  • Kurtis Wiedenfeld

    I like the emphasis on parental authority, on the Church’s need to reinforce the parent’s role as the faith educator of their child in a way that is paramount. I also agree with the fact that we can undermine our efforts at time by appearing desperate through catchy marketing. But religious community does not end with the family; if it was we would just stay home on Sunday and celebrate liturgy at home. Nor can Catholic Community life be reduced to simply going to Mass, as some have suggested below. A healthy celebration of the liturgy springs forth from a healthy Christian community that has been toiling together to build Christian community before they come to Mass. This work includes a life of virtue, activities of a charitable nature, prayer life, and just simply having fun together. Another important element to remember is that this stage of development for a child is one of transition; one in which identity and independence is being formed. During this stage there is a natural pushing away from the authority of the parent, a questioning of what the parents have given them. Thus, there is a need for them to ground their faith in a larger community that will help sustain them after they leave the nest. This is where the youth group should fit in.

  • Caroline M.

    As someone who did have loving Christian parents but did not have a youth group (our church was too tiny), I have to disagree. The point of “youth group” is not just learning – it’s fellowship. My friends in high school were, how shall I say, not a good influence. And no, just being around adults doesn’t cut it. Young people are bombarded with anti-Christian messages, and they need the camaraderie of other believing young people. Please also note: there are many, many lonely teens out there, and not all of them have loving Christian parents (or even siblings!)

  • Bill

    Sadly, you have not given emphasis to God’s gift but rather have stressed works! “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

  • jack bennett

    You should spend some time with the youth and their culture, because you negated the need and then supported it in your article and then refuted it in the end. Oh and by the way, the “hired” are not trying to replace parents but fill the gap and working to help the parents be better leaders of faith.

  • jeff

    Indeed, I believe the biggest problem with the pre-Vatican II church was the families outsourcing faith education and modelling of the faith. Other stuff is great. Modern youth groups can be great as a “top up” on what the parents are doing. If they are ever seen as a replacement the father’s role then we are in strife.

    [Dr Evil voice]…ok… that…already happened

  • Joel

    I am hoping for a follow-up to this blog called “A Solution to the Problem With Youth Ministry.” I think most youth ministers who are striving to help preach the Gospel to teenagers agree with everything that was said in the blog post.

    It would be great to have parents step up and be the primary catechists for their teenagers.

    If the priest was able to be in a place to exercise his priestly authority and call to teach teenagers it would not only be appropriate but lead to an increase in vocations.

    The reality that those dedicated youth minsters face – the ones who strive to move beyond the “gimmicks” and idea that their entire ministry is just some infomercial that is meaningless – is that many teenagers come from broken families with parents who have little or no desire to be involved in their faith. They come from split homes where mom goes to Church every weekend, but dad doesn’t care. They come from places where they hear poor catechesis when they ask questions, or are told by well-meaning parents that faith is just about “believing,” because they don’t know the answer.

    In an ideal world every parent wouldn’t need to be a world class theologian or catechist, but someone who was formed in their faith well. Someone who understood their role as primary catechist and disciple. Every priest would have time to interact with teenagers and teach. But that just isn’t the world we live in – but it can be an ideal.

    This blog presents that dilemma and problem well, but it never offers a practical solution. How does youth ministry begin to work toward its own demise? How do we strengthen families? What do we do for parents who need to step up – in fact, how do we reach them?

    That is the blog I would love to read.

  • Brad Utpadel

    I’m either winning or losing at the Bad Catholic Drinking Game . . . Great post either way! :-) Great discussion and I’m imagining getting together with some of the posters for a local community BCDG, could be fun, in moderation of course. Peace and Joy in the love of our Lord Jesus! In Vino Veritas!

  • John Johnson

    I agree 100% and as a youth minister, I realize that youth ministry has to be ancillary to the family and priestly evangelical office. As you say, the problem is that there are few priests and few good families today. But the kids coming out of good youth ministry programs, are trending toward starting their own good families or cultivating their own good religious vocations. So, for now, youth ministry may be what the church needs. As Pope Benedict says on the back of the YouCat, he needs this generation of youth to be more catechized than their parents. This is to say that the mode of evangelization peculiar to this generation of young people, is that the church intends for THEM to evangelize their parents. And I have seen this working first hand in many cases.

    But I have also seen the horrific consequences of ‘career’ youth ministers who reduce the entirety of the Gospel to the level of icebreaker/community worship. There are a few too many of these people with jobs in the church who are doing their flock a disservice.

    Anyway, great blog!

  • Tim

    One point that I think has been neglected even in the comments section is that an appeal to authority is in fact already a form of persuasion. It is one of the many forms of persuasion know even to the Greeks. Yes, an appeal to Divine authority is the ultimate form of persuasion, but your argument that authority is distinct from persuasion makes little sense to me. I do agree parents should be the primary cathecists, but I don’t see that as a valid anti-youth ministry argument.

  • Guest

    I do not think Youth Ministry should be thought of as filling in where the family failed, but backing up what is taught in the home, and hopefully, showing the kids that meaningful Catholic friendships can be formed and that this can help them. Now if your families are not doing their jobs, at least to some degree, it is indeed very difficult.

  • Russ Hoyt

    Joke: The next post by Marc Barnes will be “The problems with adult faith formation: Stop teaching those adults and make them teach themselves!”

    • Russ Hoyt

      “The problems with Marriage prep: Go ask your divorced Mom and Dad!”

      • Russ Hoyt

        Ok one more: The problems with homebound ministry: Get out of Bed old people and make your ungrateful kids come and help you out!

        • Russ Hoyt

          Ok I’m done trolling. Marc, I think you nailed the problem and the solution. In the mean time between the eschaton and now maybe we could take an “Et Et” approach to youth ministry. Parents properly forming their children and youth ministers providing spiritual mentorship.

  • Matthew P. Schneider, LC

    Marc, I’m not sure if I should be honoured or offended. I noticed that this blog post sent almost 100 hits to my blog so then I looked for the link. I really wonder why you put it as a picture stating it as a convincing argument for Atheism and linking to my blog on how to effectively use twitter in youth ministry. You will notice in the post and in my own tweets ( for anyone who wants to check) I am not generally gimmicky and definitely not desperate. My usual tweets are 2 line homilies or communication with others simply using modren means rather than the town square.

    I do agree that the (under)paid youth minister who rarely lasts a decade has little authority and that is not the ideal way to evangelize. In other words, I like your post. I think that something else that has radically affected this is the demise of religious communities dedicated to forming youth; I think a priest or nun can and should have authority similar to a parent because their life is dedicated to God.

    However, I don’t see how this relates to whether we use twitter or the town square to communicate.

  • Rachel

    The problem that I had with “Youth Ministers” back in the late 70s and early 80s was that so many of them were pompous and condescending twits. There was a tacit assumption that I was mentally retarded. I did not appreciate that, and no amount of arguing, discussing, screaming and yelling on my part could change that.

  • Chris

    Interesting read. I would however recommend the author research the priciples behind the “Think Orange” theory. Family Ministry (as opposed to simply student ministry, youth min, or children’s min) incorporates the family entirely into the process.

  • newenglandsun

    What?!? Angry Bird didn’t die for my sins?!?