I recently had the opportunity to speak to a Youth Ministry class at Benedictine College.  I was ask to share about things to consider when beginning your ministry.   Here are the 12 things I came up with.  Many of them could also be considered for Religious Education.

1. Know the pastor’s vision and hopes for the youth program

  • Are there certain programs he wants you to continue, change, create?
  • What does he want to see more of and what does he want to see less of?
  • Make sure he knows what your vision is and what are some ideas that you would like to implement in your first year.

2. Introduce yourself to the whole parish

  • As you begin your ministry it is vital to introduce yourself whether at each of the Mass on a given weekend or a small biography in the parish bulletin or both.
  • Ministry of presence begins with the whole parish.

3. Know what other ministries are doing

  • If RCIA meets at the same time you do and they are in the room right next store then this could cause problems.
  • If you are scheduling an event and need a room on Friday evening and the Catholic School is hosting a book fair on Saturday and planned on setting up on Friday night there could be a scheduling conflict.
  • Be aware of how people in the parish are involved and who the “doers” are and who the “impact leaders” are in those ministries.

4. Plan Ahead (6 to 12 Months)

  • Plan a semester or two at a time so you will be able to know where you are going and how you want to get there.
  • If your program meets weekly or bi-weekly, plan what the theme for the semester is and what the tentative topics for each session will be.
  • This also helps with scheduling, budgeting and preparations (materials, guest speakers, publicity, etc.)

5. Befriend the parish secretary and the maintenance/custodial person

  • Almost no one knows the parish like the parish secretary.  You can rise or fall based on what she is messaging to parishioners.
  • The maintenance/custodial person can help you out of many pinches or potential conflicts at the parish.

6. Become aware of the history of youth ministry at your new parish.

  • If your parish dropped LIFE TEEN a year ago for specific reasons it is wise to discover what they are (especially if you would like to consider bringing it back).
  • If the former Youth Minister who left ___ months ago spent most of his/her time taking youth to professional sports games or to the movies and parishioners kept asking for more faith oriented activities then it is important to be aware of what parishioners have responded well to and what they have not responded well to.
  • Also, what has happened in the past can help you know what has and has not worked in your parish.

7. Don’t try to please everyone

  • Some parents want the youth program to be a glorified babysitting program and others want it to be a continual retreat or monastic environment.
  • Sometimes one staff person or a group of “elders” in the parish don’t think money needs to be spent on youth ministry activities or they want this kind of focus over another.  It’s important to discern these concerns from parishioners and/or staff members as well as communicate your vision and why you approach your ministry the way you do.

8. Develop your program incrementally (in stages)

  • Try to start slowly or incrementally (step by step).  Beginning too many new things in the first year could result in one of many consequences (burnout, frustration at lack of involvement, unbalanced priorities, and a false sense of momentum to name a few).
  • Improvement, tweaking and consistency are all positive steps at the beginning of your ministry.

9. Collaborate with the DRE and the Parish School (if there is one)

  • Often the DRE works with 6-8 graders. If you are in charge of the Junior High or Middle school also then it’s important to have good lines of communication with the DRE.
  • Even if you do not lead the junior high youth ministry the religious education program feeds into the youth ministry program.  Creating bridges and healthy transitions is often key for youth being involved in your high school youth ministry.

10. Set Boundaries

  • Office Hours
  • Times when you don’t answer your cell phone (maybe between 10:00 PM and 9:00 AM)  Let your teens know that you are unavailable except for emergencies (What time are we meeting at the church tomorrow? is not an emergency nor is Do I need to go to Confession if I stole money from my brother)
  • Avoid situations where you are the only adult around with a teen or teens.

11. Meet with other Youth Ministers in your area

  • Meet with fellow Catholic Youth Ministers who can help share what they are doing to draw students into discipleship and life in the Church.  Non-Catholic youth ministers can also be a blessing because you are all a part of the local community.
  • Often dioceses organize monthly or bi-monthly youth ministry meetings where they get together to discuss future events, pray together, reflect on future ministry possibilities.

12. Prayer

  • First and foremost your ministry is not the same as your spiritual life.  You must constantly work on your personal spiritual life (personal prayer time, Mass, spiritual reading).

a.       Martha did great things but Mary chose the better part.

b.      Jesus didn’t say count my sheep He said feed by sheep.

  • Find a person who will pray for you regularly in your ministry.  If you are able to have a team or group of people (parishioners, parents) who gather regularly to pray for you, your core team and the youth in the parish it will be invaluable to your ministry.

What would you add to this list?  It would be great to hear from you.