Since this blog is representative of the work of the entire Southern California Deanery, I figured it might be a good idea to include different featured writers, both pastors and youth directors, from various parishes. This is the first entry that will take such a shape.
Recently, I asked the youth director at St. Peter in Pomona to write a brief statement on his view of youth ministry. Below is the result of my request. Enjoy!
On Youth Ministries by Austin Halsell
If I might be so cliché and presumptuous as to start this little blurb with a scripture, allow me this one: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Many of us sing this every Sunday as we receive the Eucharist, and, if you are like me, you do it rather absent mindedly. If you are exactly like me, often you have more of an appreciation for the melody than for the meaning of the words, and this is a tragedy, for these words tell us of a simple and powerful truth. When we have love for each and every person, we truly reveal ourselves to have the light of Christ in us.
Now, what does this have to do with youth ministry?
Everything. In as plain of language as possible, love is the single most important thing in youth ministry. Saint Paul talks continually of love throughout his letter to the church in Corinth. “And though I bestow all my goods to the poor, and give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Having a successful, lively, and active youth group hinges on this. We must love the young adults given to our care.
More than this, we cannot allow ourselves to love them conditionally. We must accept them for who they are. When they disappoint us with some decision, we must turn away from the reprimand that is so ready to be said and, instead, meet our disappointment with love. Their quirkiness cannot merely be accepted, but it must be appreciated, loved, and nurtured. If we have this kind of love for our youth, it will lead us to the second most important thing in conducting this holy ministry: understanding. An understanding of who our teens are as individuals with identities of their own. We must understand that these teens are in a crucial stage of development, as we were at that age. They question everything, especially the faith, and are beginning to see the world in a new light with new understanding. It is not our place merely to tell them what to think or how to believe or how their faith should be acted out. Our duty is in guiding them into an understanding of Christ’s love for them, and we should be doing so through honest discussion, not through simple instruction.
I realize the last paragraph might have been a little preachy or strong, but these are the things that we as the leaders of the youth must understand. We are here to love those that God has given us because He loves them, and we must love them because of who they are – not who we think they could or should be. After all, the Lord loves them, as he loves us, in this very way, and these quickly maturing teens and pre-teens deserve to be told that.
Austin is a graduate of UCR, where he studied Creative Writing. He currently works as an aide for children with Autism and has worked with the youth at St. Peter in Pomona for the last two years.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org