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3Jan, 2011

The Makeover

While I was at NCCYM last month, a long-time and trusted reader asked if I was ok, questioning my mood regarding what was recently on the blog…  This is always challenging. I attempt to place a far amount of postings in a queue to maintain a daily presence. For example, I’m writing this post around noon on the second day of my Christmas vacation, December 18th.  Further, I do post a lot of content that refers to other folks’ thoughts (which I endorse enough to re-post, re-purpose.)  If I sounded a little negative, I was sharing other voices that were calling for change.

Hydrating-cucumber-maskThat being all said, be advised that I share Adam McLane’s call for a new identity for youth ministry.

Perhaps we are trying to confirm to what we think kids think about who we are. And that excuses us being “Disorganized. Uncommitted. Unreliable. Unprepared. Unprofessional. Immature. Hot-headed. Last in, first out. One-dimensional. Sloppy.” These are not the characteristics of a linchpin; Adam is right that if we are perceived that way, then we are most certainly disposable.

We need a make-over!

(By the way, there is a lot of discussion occurring about this stuff. Randy Raus recently struck up the same theme, encouraging community involvement, focusing on relationships, and constant passion while Chris Folmsbee discusses and identifies elements of the “enduring renovation” and Paul Martin suggests some divergent paths. AND UPDATED: Greg Stier had these predictions for the new year, while Marko is talking future of youth ministry here and here.)

Adam, however, hopes that we “aspire to a new level of sophistication,” shedding “our whiney exterior and instead identify ourselves as faithful, creative, passionate servants willing to do whatever it takes to reach this generation with the Good News of Jesus Christ.” In the comments to his post, I added that I fear that UNTIL we (who are paid “professional” youth workers) actually envision our ministry as one with ADULTS, and, therefore, demanding that we live up to standards set by adults and not kids; empowering adults to minister on behalf of THEIR own baptismal call and THEIR church to work with THEIR young people (who were never OURS in the first place) we will remain marginalized anyway (and not in a heroic on behalf of God sort of way…)

That’s not meant to be negative, I’m actually feeling quite positive (to reference the 2010 top ten list) that, yes, The Pizza Party is SO Over… that, yes, as a irrationally hopeful breed… you bet that we need to fully focus our efforts and Hack Youth Ministry to avoid The Pigeon Hole Effect and risk disposability.  If we remain static over the next decade, we are dead and deserve to be dead. (If that’s a little moody, sorry, just keeping it real.)  If we grow and change youth ministry, we will be nothing less than transformative in the Church. That’s a lot of thought, what are you thinking…?



  1. Two great articles making an important point. As a young’un who’s finally transitioning from day-to-day survival to “whoah, this is my career, now what?” I think this is a conversation that needs to continue. It takes more than an iPhone and a corporate card to be professional, but we do have an unusual niche.

    Comment by Alison — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  2. Thanks for continuing on the discussion. I’m looking forward to how we, as youth workers, can reform ourselves from the inside out.

    Comment by adam mclane — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Adam- Thanks for such a thoughtful post…
    Alison- Damn, I need an iPhone!

    Comment by Scott — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  4. Thanks, Scott, for continuing to nudge this vital conversation forward. Your blog has become a safe place in the Catholic youth ministry world to do some much-needed soul searching. Thanks for that gift. Here’s a bit more food for thought:

    In “The Spirit & Culture of Youth Ministry,” (http://lifelongfaith.mybigcommerce.com/products/The-Spirit-and-Culture-of-Youth-Ministry.html) Roberto, Black and Martinson map out four key, interlocking arenas of youth ministry effort: the youth ministry program; parents/families; the congregation/faith community; and the leaders (most importantly the pastor, but also the youth ministry leader/s). “Successful” youth ministry relies on a synergistic relationship between these four arenas.

    Now most youth ministers think their (one and only) job is the youth program. We need youth ministry leaders who really get it in their bones, in their imaginations, in their habits and in their calendars that their responsibility includes all four arenas. Of course we’ve been preaching that gospel for many years now, haven’t we: you in Baltimore, we in Cincinnati, the CMD all over the country? So why haven’t we gotten more traction with that message?

    Maybe the terms “youth ministry” and “youth minister” are so stuck, so cemented into our collective memory and conventional church language that they’re no longer useful, since ithey conjure up images of youth groups rather than images of vibrant faith communities, engaged pastors, parents and families modeling faith, etc.

    I wonder what language would open the lens of our imaginations to admit the breadth of vision that’s necessary for fruitful, long-term youth discipleship in the Catholic faith tradition? Scott, how about a national contest to rename/rebrand youth ministry, and youth ministers? With a fresh identity maybe we can finally turn the corner into a more fruitful minstry with youth and young adults.

    By the way, here in Cincinnati we’re gathering youth ministers, pastors, high school campus ministers, catechetical leaders, etc. in small groups from January thru March, providing them with a packet containing some of the best available research, and facilitating conversations with them about the future of youth ministry here in the Archdiocese. Who knows – we may happen upon this new identity somewhere along the way?

    Thanks for listening, and let’s keep the conversation going…

    Comment by Sean Reynolds — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  5. Scott, I think you hit the bullseye when you talk about the importance of how we envision our ministry. This provides the foundation that determines both the tasks we choose to perform in our ministries and the ways we go about performing them. The more narrowly we envision our ministry, the easier it is to allow ourselves to drift into the stereotype that Adam describes. If we “just” minister with young people, we forget that we have responsibilities to the entire community – adults, children AND youth – as well as the other ministries that serve the community.

    When youth ministry is seen as a “job”, a narrow vision might seem sufficient, because by its nature any particular job is fairly specific and limited in scope. As we continue to work toward developing and advocating for the professionalism of our ministry, our vision must continue to expand. Unlike a job, a profession is broadly conceived, recognizing and responding to the “big picture” even though an individual might have a particular area of specialization. It places greater demands on us to be adequately prepared and engage in ongoing development. Professions are forward-thinking, anticipating and even influencing the future while still responding to the present and evaluating past efforts.

    Our profession certainly still has work to do in developing our identity. I’m encouraged by the many forums in which I’m hearing these conversations taking place. Thanks for continuing to stir the conversation here.

    Comment by Katie Zeigler — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

  6. Agree with the need for transformation – and I believe that my efforts at transformation are well underway. After reading “Spirit & Culture” and “Almost Christian” as well as several others, I see the need for discipleship, mentoring, parent involvement, focus on families, etc.

    I’m getting a little long-in-the-tooth to announce big transformations tho. Hate seeing the “it’s another new initiative” eyes-glaze-over look from staff members and parishioners alike. I would rather BE transformative with my teams and bring them along with the latest research than create a new program.

    Still – you’ve got me really thinking and that’s the most important thing (and wow, first day after vacation, not bad!)

    Comment by Barb Legere — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  7. Wow, Scott…way to kick start 2011!

    I’m sure I have a longer, deeper reaction to this post. But, several themes stand out the most for me:

    – We need to have a greater sense of urgency in “making ourselves over”. The time is now!
    – This make-over is not an overhaul of youth ministry programming per say, but rather a call for youth minister to reconnect with holiness, and holiness leads to trust, trust which leads to obedience, and obedience which leads to love, the incarnation of discipleship.
    – Perhaps this era could be described as Catholic Chrisitans BEING youth ministers, not DOING youth ministry.

    it seems as though there is like-mindedness in the refocusing of youth ministry beyond the boundary of 12-18 year olds. But, if discerned through the eyes and the heart of the Holy Spirit, we youth ministers can be a spark plug of transformation for the whole Church. And a transformed, renewed Church will lead to a transformed and renewed youth ministry.

    Comment by Pat Villa — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

  8. I like the direction of the conversation. My makeover has included:
    -creative diocesan leadership development with intentional academic conversation and youth led efficient committee work. Give title and challenge and youth respond.

    -Justice awareness and cultural immersion. A celebration of our Native American communities and a re-inculturation of native traditions in our Catholic tradition.

    -Better freaking Catholic worship music and better exposure to excellent Christian musicianship. Where are all the good writers? Cmon’ Church!

    -Gather, gather, gather. Online, rural, suburban, urban. Comprehensive gathering opportunities where the Holy Spirit can be the youth minister and we can humbly coordinate the effort.

    Comment by Doug Tooke — Monday, January 3, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

  9. In the profession of counseling, there is a common mission, a goal for the profession, and a sense of professional identity. I believe the same is true in Youth Ministry. However there is a distinction (well many distinctions), but a common difference is the use of “theory”. Theory, developed by practicing counselors, creates a language of practice, a method of documentation of practice, and the ability for practitioners of counseling to understand the practice of their colleagues. Sean Reynolds reference to “Spirit & Culture”, that research would be foundational for professionals in the field of youth ministry to develop different models (theories) of youth ministry. Hopefully, in time, like the counseling profession, the profession of youth ministry will have our own models (theories) from theorists in the field of youth ministry.

    Comment by Joe Mele — Tuesday, January 4, 2011 @ 12:05 am

  10. […] The Makeover […]

    Pingback by Catholic Youth Ministry Blog » A Relevant Direction — Tuesday, January 4, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

  11. Scott, I have read your blogs many times but never commented. Thought I would for this one.

    As a youth minister still fairly early in my career but expecting to be in this for a long time from now, I couldn’t agree with your post more. In order for Youth Ministers to be seen as important members of our parishes we must begin taking a better look at ourselves as professionals. I was once in a workshop when someone mentioned for a job title it is better to have the title of “coordinator” instead of “director.” As director, you’re in charge. As coordinator, you work with others.

    I look at my program, and I judge the success not by how the programs and events are going today, but I ask myself if I were in a car accident tonight, or if God called me to another ministry, would the youth ministry program as it currently is collapse, or would it be able to continue on just as strong and the only change is the youth lost one of their many mentors. To me, this is what a successful YM program will and should look like: it can’t rely on the shoulders of only one person.

    On top of all this, we as individuals need to challenge ourselves. Starting with our own education. DREs are expected to have some degree/background in theology or religious studies, why are YMs not? When I speak to other Youth Ministers I am shocked at how few have actually read “Renewing the Vision.” I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m even more shocked at how few Priests even know of its existence.

    If Youth Ministry is to go in this new direction (which I agree it does), then we need to make sure first we all know and accept “Comprehensive Youth Ministry” as the definition of Youth Ministry. I think we then need to share this and teach it to the rest of our parish staffs. The Liturgist, DRE, Secretaries, Business Manager, Priests all need to join in and recognize their roles. From there I think we can move out to the rest of the parish and the parents. That is then how the youth will most benefit. The problem I have had is how do we teach and help these other ministers to understand and accept that Youth Ministry is a portion of their responsibility too.

    Thanks for the post!

    Comment by Joe Weyers — Wednesday, January 5, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  12. It happened yesterday morning at our pastoral team meeting. The group includes a “formation” piece after prayer. Just finished a great book and now they have agreed to focus on youth ministry. Usually we read aloud with reflection. Since the Renewing the Vision booklets would have to be ordered, cost, shipping from USCCB, I offered up an option of using Youth Ministry Access from Center for Ministry Development, their Leadership component – start with Tom East’s article Crossroads – Church and Youth? not sure of title and then to use the Youth Ministry Today article which is a great synthesis of RTV and current input. It was a holy time together.

    Comment by LInda Jarvi — Thursday, January 6, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  13. […] but of a generation that we believe can and should do better than us. >> We must MAKEOVER the ministry to one with adults empowering them to minister on behalf of their own baptismal call […]

    Pingback by Catholic Youth Ministry Blog » Scrutinizing the Signs — Monday, March 7, 2011 @ 8:14 am

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