How Fathers and Families Can Save Youth Ministry from Itself

June 4, 2015

Man is formed by two main things: family and Church. God made the family at creation and made the Church at the re-creation through Christ. One we inherit at birth and the other we inherit at our second birth (baptism).

What has happened in recent decades, however, is the unprecedented breakdown in both of those institutions, family and Church. They’re divine institutions, so they’re not going anywhere, but they’re populated by men, so it can get messy.

And I want to point out the findings of Mary Eberstadt in her book How the West Really Lost God to perhaps shift your thoughts on which of those two things decline first, or rather, which decline has a great effect on the other’s decline.

Most of us think it does like this: stupid, lame, and lethargic teaching hurts faith – bad preaching, wonky catechesis, etc.. Without faith, then, families begin to loosen at the seams and decline. Families suffer when faith suffers.

Eberstadt looks at the evidence and finds that the opposite is often true. While poor catechesis and soft morality do perpetuate the problem, it is the decline in the family that usually precedes the decline in faith. No, it’s not an “either/or” issue, but we at least need to understand that the health of the family and the health of faith are inseparable. Like a DNA strand, “family and faith are the invisible double helix of society – two spirals that when linked to one another can effectively reproduce, but whose strength and momentum depend on one another” (Eberstadt).

Family life itself predisposes us and even prepares us for a life of faith. As St. John Paul famously said, the family is the “school of love”. Loving fathers reveal the face of the Father; tender mothers teach us the value of mercy; siblings teach us fraternal love; and all of the pains and trials teach us of sin and redemption. I’m pretty sure changing diapers prepares you for purgatory. And, of course I’ll mention this, the most important factor for faith is the father. The stronger his faith the stronger the chance that the rest of the family will be lifelong disciples.  So, faith suffers when families suffer.

From Whence Cometh Youth Ministry?

Youth ministry is a symptom of unhealthy families. Why? Because most youth ministry programs are targeting young people for initial evangelization – often they’re trying to convince them that God is real, sent His Son, and loves them, and that the Catholic Church is the true Church. In short, they’re trying to make them Christians. But few are asking – why do so many youth ministry folks presume (rightly) those kids are not well-formed Christians to start with? We’ll get to that…

But the problem arises when most youth ministry programs see young people in isolation from their family. They are not considering the whole ecosystem, and by doing that they are limiting their effectiveness.

I Googled “Catholic youth ministry mission statement”, and here’s one from the top:

“The purpose of the Youth Ministry Program is to create an environment which leads high school teenagers into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and His Church. This is the command of Jesus to his first disciples: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.’ Everything we do at St. [Example Popular Youth Program] is directed toward the evangelization of our young people, leading them to know and love Christ and His Church!”

That’s a big burden for that ministry to carry. From evangelization to sending them out to evangelize? – it’s the entire Christian formation placed upon one team. It follows the world’s model of dividing and conquering; put babies in daycare, old folks in homes, those in the middle in “productivity”, and once every age is divided and cared for, we’ll be ok.

Let me defend youth ministry real quick if you’re one of those “I hated all them guitars anyhow” folks. Youth ministry is mostly sustained by people who love Christ that have recognized that young people are leaving the Church. So, propelled by authentic zeal and prayer they have essentially been doing the jobs of parents and pastors while parents and pastors live in aloof delusions that everything is ok. It’s not. But yes, we do need fewer guitars.

But now let’s take a hard look at youth ministry attitudes that might be perpetuating the problem their trying to fix.

The YM Industrial Complex

As the war-based industry of the military during World War II gave way to what Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial-complex”, a military-based system of power, youth ministry can become an autonomous body that creates systems that perpetuate and grow its existence when it might not even be needed or not dealing with the real problems.   Let me give you an example.

I was once at a meeting with youth ministry leaders from around the country, along with some parish leaders with big and growing youth programs. We had just finished discussing the mantra that the family is the primary catechist, yada yada, and then moved on to describe our hip new discipleship based small groups, which is the language that is newer than the tired explanations of “relational ministry”. One Youth Director mentioned how he had hired more people to help lead these groups. He was up to four staff members.

“Aren’t there any parents that could lead them?” I asked. We were just talking parents after all.

“No,” he answered.

We moved on, but I was sitting there astounded. I felt like I was part of a machine plowing through human nature with the best of intentions. Why are we pretending that we believe parents really matter? We may say they are the primary educators, but we really believe that we are. If they did matter to us, we’d be talking parents.

“Wait!” There was an awkward pause, “Can we back up? You don’t have any adults in your parish capable of leading a small group of youth, that can teach them the faith they are commanded by God to teach them?” This was a famously old youth ministry program, stretching decades, setting standards for the whole country. “Did none of those young people grow up and stick around?”

“No,” he answered. “I mean… I have a masters in theology and my staff went to [insert famously vibrant Catholic college].”

This guy worked at one of the biggest parishes around. I continued to press that fact. He was telling me that in a Catholic parish of thousands of families not one adult could lead a discussion on the Catholic Faith. But I realized then this analogy of the military-industrial-complex. This thing called youth ministry, invented to focus on declining faith of young people, has grown to focus so much on youth that it doesn’t consider them in the context of the family. Because of that we have to work harder, hire more people, buy more curriculums, coordinate more events, and try our best to out-activity the world’s activities. I thought of this moment when Pope Francis said recently:

“If family education regains its prominence, many things will change for the better. It’s time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile – they have exiled themselves from educating their children – and slowly reassume their educative role.”

Most people applied that to public schools, but I thought of the world of “professional” ministry. I’m with the Pope. I think our youth need many things, but they need parents more than they need professionals.

Often its only the youth ministry at a parish that has its own website and mission statement (every other ministry is just on the plain old parish site) – that’s just one sign among many that its too isolated from family and parish life. Oh, and all those Sunday night meetings? If there was one time and day that young people should be with their family, its then. But when you see your program as the primary means of evangelization and formation, you happily take that timeslot. It’s self-perpetuating without question. We’re planting seeds but not realizing that the ground, the environment itself, is rocky and hard.   Our programs are more expensive, require more staff, but if we really look hard at the numbers, they’re not that effective.

We like to look at big youth conferences and gatherings and think we’re doing big things. And let me be clear: they are good (mostly). But the big shows of youth ministry efforts can mislead us into thinking that “youth ministry” is an effective answer to the problem of poorly formed young people. If you’re interested in the evidence, and you think these conferences are signs of a growing youth movement, I suggest Christian Smith’s book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Smith opens a special chapter on Catholics (and we get a chapter not for our good track record) with a note about showy signs of youth ministry:

“What I observed at this conference might suggest that Catholic teenagers in the United States are doing quite well religiously, that Catholic youth are generally committed, enthusiastic, and serious about their faith and Church. But such a conclusion would be mistaken. (Emphasis added)”

And after pages and pages of objective data and anecdotal evidence Smith comes to this conclusion after asking what happened to Catholic kids:

“Most American teens turn out religiously to look a lot like their parents – not always, but very often… It does not appear to be the case that most U.S. Catholic parents of teenagers are struggling to live out vibrant lives of Catholic faith and yet find teenagers to be religiously apathetic and resistant. Rather, it appears that the relative religious laxity of most U.S. Catholic teenagers significantly reflects the relative religious laxity of their parents.”

In other words, youth are not the problem. Parents are the problem. So if we want to fix a problem why are we focusing so much on youth?

One problem we have, however, is that many young adults in youth ministry simply don’t trust their parent’s generation to pass on the Faith. Why? Because they had a conversion late in life through someone else, and they often harbor an understandable and justifiable anger towards their parents and parish for not giving them the Gospel younger, which would have saved them from heartache and sin. I feel this way. Thanks for the extra purgatory folks!   But the answer is not to throw out human nature and family life – don’t throw grandpa out with the bathwater. In this situation we need healing and the rebuilding of trust. I don’t have an easy answer, but I hope bringing it up helps.

There is no command in the Bible to have a youth ministry program. Every mention of “reaching young people” is directed to families, especially fathers.   Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes a great point that the very calling to covenant is rooted in parental dynamics:

“All [of the developments of monogamy and family life] led to the home and the family becoming the central setting of the life of faith. In the only verse in the Hebrew Bible to explain why God chose Abraham, God says: ‘I have known him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just’ (Gen. 18:19). Abraham was chosen … simply to be a parent. In one of the most famous lines in Judaism, which we say every day and night, Moses commanded, ‘You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house or when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up’ (Deut. 6:7, 11:19). Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child.”

The most influential person in a young persons life is their father. And for boys that extends especially to the father figures around them – coaches, mentors, etc. Why then is there no interaction between the world of youth ministry and men’s ministry? If those people out there that have an amazing ability to approach and talk to young people taught men to talk to and approach young people, what an effect they would have! And really, “professional” ministry people are good at evangelizing. I just think they need to teach parents to do it instead of taking on the world alone.

“But I ask for adult volunteers all the time,” youth ministers respond. I think part of the problem is youth ministers want parents to be involved in what they’re doing, they don’t want to hand over the challenge to the adults themselves. Hey bud, I’ve got young kids, can you stop asking for me to come to committee meetings at dinner and bed-time?

The attitude is, “Come volunteer and help us with our program to reach your kids.” I think we’ll have a revolution when the world of youth ministry shifts its thinking: “How can we equip and serve you in your duty to pass on the Faith as fathers and mothers? It’s your job, not mine.” In Fraternus we’ve had a huge success in going into men’s groups and simply explaining their vocation to be life-giving fathers, to pass on the faith. Our attitude is: “Here’s how we can help, but it’s your job. We’re leaving now…” From there we exhaust ourselves in support and the offering of resources, but our constant reminder is that we serve them in their role as fathers in the community.

Imagine if the clergy or well-formed staff at a parish sat down weekly and challenged every father in the parish to greater prayer and devotion, and gave them the tools to be better husbands, fathers and teachers.   That “program” would be cheap, simple, and resoundingly effective. It wouldn’t even need a fancy logo and tagline. Not even a facebook page (GASP!). And if you’ve been as frustrated as I have with draconian policies, bureaucratic hold-ups, and political struggles behind chancellery doors at the parish and diocesan level, reaching out to parents is easy and effective – they can take their kids skiing without turning in a single form to you or having two adults present always or keeping all kids sleeping in a room without any adults! That last one proves that lawsuits are to be avoided more than hell.

I was once at a Byzantine Catholic parish and the priest, during his sermon, told the parents that if they had in any way neglected their duty to educate their children in the Faith that they need to come see him before they receive communion. Wow. I had never heard such a thing, but it turns out this was an attitude quite natural and normal before the professionalization of ministry. Just listen to the quiet gentle Cure of Ars warn his flock:

“Go on, shameless fathers and mothers, go on into Hell, where the fury of God awaits you, you and all the good actions you have done letting your children run such risks. Go on, they will not be long in joining you, for you have outlined the road plainly for them.”

To my youth ministry colleagues: It’s time for a paradigm shift. We have to conduct our apostolic efforts in a way that recognizes, respects, and assists families in their primary role as educators. I don’t think this always means to stop having programs, though sometimes it might, but I mean that persons must be viewed and understood as members of a family, and the roles that pertain to membership in that family must be respected. Mothers and fathers have responsibility to teach their children the faith. If you rightly see that they are failing at that job, your job is to help them succeed! Do not swoop in like an over-zealous social worker and usurp the role of parents, but assist and augment them in that role. You owe this to the parents in justice. You will get less praise for your efforts and programming (because hopefully they’ll get credit for doing what they are called to do), but your apostolate will be more fruitful. Why? Because you may be equipped for ministry by training and education, but they are by vocation. The best use of your training and educating is to teach others to teach, starting with parents.

And parents? Step in. Yeah, you’ll hear all sorts of things about kids needing their space from parents and how they need peer this and that. Step in. This is your realm, your responsibility and calling. Let your kids go to pizza parties, I guess, but make sure that you’re not leaving their education in the hands of “youth ministry”. If youth ministry is a thing it might better be labeled “parenting”.

Jason Craig is the Executive Director of Fraternus, which trains and equips men to mentor the boys into virtuous, Catholic men. Jason holds a Masters in Theology from the Augustine Institute and writes for The Catholic Gentleman from his homestead in Western NC, where he milks cows and tends to a variety of plants and animals with his wife Katie and four kids (and counting).

Jason Craig


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Reader Interactions


  1. Brian says

    I really enjoyed this article. I am a full time youth minister at a parish in Texas and I’m just about to start my third year here. I totally agree with your assessment that our teens need a strong family life. Even if we have programs for an hour and a half a week during the school year, summer conferences and whatnot how much face time are we actually getting with the teens a year? Maybe like a 100 hours if the teen is dedicated. They have so much more face time with their home environment and their school environment. I am fully aware that I can’t have a program where parents can drop them off and assume that it will automatically make their teens Catholic. To be fair though, how many parents have the same mentality about sending them to a Catholic School? They won’t participate in anything in the Parish life because they feel like they get everything they need at a Catholic school. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that – but that’s a different topic.

    One thing that we are making a bigger focus this year is parent and family ministries, because it is so crucial to integrate the families and for those parents to be a part of building community in the church.

    BUT I think a HUGE aspect that you’re neglecting in this article is the aspect of community. I work in the Bible Belt where the Catholic population in this area is tiny compared to that of our Protestant brethren. Most of these kids grow up here feeling very isolated in their faith because they don’t really know any other Catholics their age and their Protestant friends can be pretty aggressive in their Anti-Catholic sentiment. Do some of them have strong Catholic families? Yes, but again, how many hours during the year do they spend around their classmates and peers? The role of peers is also huge in their formation as a person. One of the reasons I left the Catholic Church when I got to college was because I encountered, young vibrant Christian men my age who invited me to a sports Bible study. That brotherhood and community was more than I ever had growing up in the Catholic Church where I felt isolated when I was at school or in the sports locker room. The reason I became a youth minister was because I saw the impact youth ministries were having at the church I was volunteering at and I knew what a difference they could have made for me as a teen. When my teens go to something like Steubenville South or World Youth day it’s a re-affirming message for them that yes, there are actually lots of other young people their age who love Christ and his church.

    I understand what you’re saying, and I think most youth ministers should find some wonderful wisdom in this article, but don’t ignore the value of the peer relationships that are happening as a result of youth ministers in their parish (many of which are underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated)

    • Jason Craig says

      Brian – thanks for the input. I guess you can’t put everything in one article, but I’m glad that your comments are not here for those that want to consider your experience and perspective as well. I’m consider this a both/and moment – not either/or.

    • Matthew Mangiaracina says

      To be fair Brian, this article simply covers the fact that youth ministry has problems in that family relations are broken. the whole aspect of community is for a different article, but even so, family comes before community, and communities only exist and thrive insofar as family units exist and thrive.

    • John Bertotti says


      I think you miss the point, and I don’t think the article goes nearly far enough. Youth groups are “needed” because of Religious Ed programs. The parish usurps the role of the parent starting in preschool, and then wonders why it has a problem when the kids get into high school. the Church is running a welfare state. We steal the parents’ ability to do their God-given work (raising their children) by telling them, ” It’s OK you poor ignoramuses. We’ll teach your kids the faith. Just try to get to Church when you can fit it into your busy schedules.” Then we blame them for not doing their job!

      As the saying goes, “Ifyou’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

      The problem is…the people who think they are solving the problem are really the ones creating it. Until we start to expect parents to do their job in raising their children, and stop jumping into save them, we will continue in our long slow slide to obscurity.

  2. Dave says

    I completely agree. You can apply this same logic to education. It is why you see the crumbling of the family while teachers are struggling to control kids (and grasping for more control of and time with kids). Like you said, educators and youth ministers need to remember that it’s not their job to be parents, but it is their job to inspire parents to live out their vocation fully. Great article!!

  3. Joe Rodriguez says

    Wow, this kind of hit home for me. You see, shamefully I was a father who put more emphasis on teaching and providing worldly things to my children than the word of God. I incorrectly thought that they would learn the Faith just by watching and passively participating in mass. Unfortunately, I believe many Catholic parents fall into the false sense of thinking. Within the last year or so I was struck with the realization that I had spiritually failed my children. It hurt my soul to know that I had not protected them from the temptations of sin and immorality, but more importantly I have failed to communicate to them the love that Our Father has for us. Since this revelation I had tried to make up for lost time. By God’s grace I have four beautiful and intelligent daughters who embraced me as their father and understand that it is my duty to teach and live the Faith with them. With the help of the Holy Spirit I will hopefully succeed in leaving an everlasting imprint upon the hearts of my children so they too can teach their children what it is to be a devoted Catholic, a follower of God.

  4. Joe says

    I rarely leave online comments, but wanted to say thanks for the interesting article. As a Youth Minister in NC, I deeply agree with the overall analysis, though I’d make a couple of qualifications:

    1) Too patro-centric. I was taught my faith – not just the propositional tenets of Catholicism but faith itself – by my mother. My dad considers himself agnostic. So instead of claiming that “the most important factor for faith is the father,” I would suggest that “loving [mothers] reveal the face of the [Mother].” But perhaps the author just intends this as a corrective; in other words, maybe fathers are just dropping the ball more than mothers?

    2) More to the point of the article, I would consider it a blessing indeed if better household evangelization made my job obsolete. But the problem for youth ministers – at least to my mind – is that most of what the author is talking about needs to happen well before teenage years. We’re getting mostly formed persons at a point in their development where maybe, if we do our jobs well and God so ordains, kids might grow into adults that stick with the church and even love it. They’re formative years, sure, but kids should be learning the language and symbols of the church alongside grammar and syntax (which, as the author alludes to, also need to come as much from parents as schools). So maybe I’m a bit more of a realist than idealist, but I think the job of the youth minister is to meet the kids AND THEIR FAMILIES where they are and not where we want them to be. This means that yes, sometimes I do usurp the Sunday evenings that might have been spent on family picnics, strolls through the park, or collective bible readings but, if we’re being honest, would more likely than not have looked something like everyone in a separate room tuned into separate channel or game or personal electronic device. My job isn’t to fix families now. It’s to hope to God that the little I do might contribute to a fuller family life – that is to say the Kingdom – yet to come.

    3) I agree with the comment above about community and will leave it at that to avoid redundancy.

    Thanks again for taking the time to put your thoughts to words, the bravery to publish, and the interesting insights into the dangers of a do-it-yourself Youth Ministry!

    • Matthew Mangiaracina says

      Joe I have to comment on your second point because it can be a subtle poison to communities of faith. This whole idea of “meet them where there at” can be interpreted poorly and becomes a philosophy of excuses to fall short. For example, there’s a youth version of the Catechism that makes it easier for young kids to read the passages of the catechism, a sort of “meet them where they’re at” form an intellectual development point of view. But when I become a father, I’m not going to buy my kids a youth Cathechism (“youcat”…really?) I’m going to get them a catechism when they’re old enough and read through things with them, help them understand.

      A better way to think of it is how we treat general education. When I first read Romeo and Juliet I had no idea what they were saying, but by reading Romeo and Juliet I learned and became a much better reader, and am better for it. I didn’t read an easy translated modern version. The point here is that it’s supposed to be a challenge.

  5. heymracosta says

    Jason, this is an important and provocative essay. I have to agree with most of what you said. In my observations of the youth ministry program in our parish over the years, it has been a largely female led and the peer leaders and male teen participants have seemed to be mostly effeminate males. I like the idea of mentoring young males by mature Catholic men.

    Getting men to volunteer in our post-priest/abuster times requires them to endure fingerprinting and other child protection protocols.

    Who does World Youth Day fit into your assessment of youth ministry?

  6. AthenaC says

    As someone who was raised Catholic in a two-parent nuclear family, I can’t tell you how important my youth ministry experiences were as a teen. My experience of the Faith with my family was miserable – it was stodgy, sterile, rules-based, and completely lacking in compassion, joy, and just plain LIFE. The only thing my parents did right in my religious formation was outsource it. Without my experiences in youth ministry I would never have come back to the Church; youth ministry taught me that the Faith didn’t have to be miserable, ugly, and torturous. Mass could be emotional, people could be friendly, prayer could be heartfelt, music was a legitimate way to pray, people could be EXCITED to go to Confession … without that experience of all the ways Catholicism could be AWESOME I would have walked away for good a long time ago.

    • Jason Craig says

      AthenaC – your experience was my experience as well. Do you see the problem? Why are parents communicating that faith is miserable, ugly, and torturous? And I agree, as does the research – that is what they are doing.

  7. Zach says

    As a youth ministry “professional” I am happy to find someone that I authentically agree with in regards to youth ministry. Especially concerning its role and purpose. Though truthfully it is difficult to fully resign to the fact I am an unnecessary commodity in a parish namely because I like my job and believe I should be payed for what I do. I truly agree with what you are saying, my only interjection is that I don’t believe it’s as easy or simple as you make it out to be. My goal in ministry is to try to make myself obsolete. My mission is simply to give up whatever knowledge I have of how to mentor/disciple/train/lead etc. teens to parents and other potential leaders in the parish so that “youth ministry” happens naturally within a community of faith. And I could speak at length of the many fears and issues adults have in aiding young people in developing a relationship with their Creator, this still does not solve the problem.
    It does not answer the hard question. How do we engage parents? Not just some parents, all parents. How do we reach those in the fringes. Those that are non-catholic. How do we create an environment of faith that extends to all that is truly Catholic (universal).
    For me youth ministry is unnecessary for those with well developed teens. My in-laws are a perfect example of teens who have no real need of youth ministry. My justification for youth ministry is for the fringes. For the teens who are beginning to think abstractly and question the existence of God because their parents are agnostic/atheist or otherwise completely disinterested in faith. These are the teens that need the role models that you speak of.
    Though I agree whole heartedly with your article I challenge you to help in the creation of that minister/resource/program or whatever you desire to call it. There is a great need in the church for this and we don’t really have the answer. And unless we can do justice to all of those groups and help to make it a available to every parish we cannot and will not see the paradigm shift that is greatly needed. Let’s start tackling the hard questions and maybe just maybe together we can all come to an answer.

  8. justin Lantz says

    JESUS WAS A YOUTH MINISTER. Jesus’ twelve disciples (Apostles) were probably young, almost all under the age of eighteen and some as young as 15. For those bright (or wealthy) enough, higher education consisted of studying under a local rabbi. If they didn’t find a rabbi that accepted them as a student (much like a college entrance application), then they entered the workforce by their mid teens. In most cases, they apprenticed under their fathers and worked for the prosperity of the family. Most of the disciples were already apprenticing at their trades as in the case of disciples, James and John.

    My point is that we need to follow Jesus’ footsteps in discipling teens. Yes, parents play the most important role but the ministry we call “Youth Ministry” is much needed. Don’t give up on Youth Ministry and anybody out there who wants to tear down what happens on a Sunday night. We know Jesus himself spent many a long night with his disciples, even pulling them away from their Family business to come and follow Him. Mary lost Jesus as a boy. Where was He? In the Temple, learning and debating with other Rabbi’s.

    As a Youth Minister I do believe that parents can and are stepping in to lead their children in the faith and they are the primary source for that. Should the role of father be strengthened? Sure. However, Youth Ministry must work hand in hand with parents. Youth Ministry has an important role in discipleship and balancing opportunities for Family to come together.

    Notice that in Jesus’ day many fathers spent time with their teens teaching them their trade. How much of that do we see? One thing I have done is bring dad’s and teens together to build things (like our annual Church Mud Run). Come to find out it’s the first time the teen has held a hammer. Sheesh. Anyways, those moments that we create is invaluable but just as valuable as the discipleship that happens on a Sunday night.

  9. Maura Sweeney says

    I enjoyed the article. As a DRE I am constantly trying to connect parents and children as they grow together in faith from a younger age thru their teenage years. As I read I wondered how you would suggest we support our students coming from broken homes. In the community where I work almost 30% of the students are coming from homes torn apart by divorce and substance abuse. 7% of my students are being raise by grandparents or aunts because the parents aren’t healthy enough to take care of their child. Yes I agree that when the family suffers the faith suffers but if we are called to be a hospital for the sick we can not turn families away and tell them to come back when they are perfect. We have to help them find Christ’s healing and move forward from where they are.

  10. Terrry Carlino says

    As someone who has been involved in Youth Ministry for over a decade I have to say that while there are many good points here that the fact is that the above commentor is right. This is a problem that needs to be addressed long before Youth Ministers come into the picture. At my parish the Director of Religious Education recognized that years ago. We have to address the problem as it exists. That means our programs need to be one way today, and if we do our job right will change in the future.
    Right now what we’re facing is a mixture of teens. We have those who have receive a sound basis in Catholicism from their parents. Probably 25% at best. As long as I don’t try to actively turn these kids into heretics what I do as a youth minister really doesn’t matter. I will see most of them as practicing Catholics as adults in a few years. Then there are the 55% or so whose parents actually go to Church most Sundays, but who have almost no idea of the deposit of the faith. They are cafeteria Catholics, as are their parents and they get most of what they know of Catholicism from the media. Then their is the 20% who are only nominally Catholic or who have never been baptized. They are typically children who in the past year or so have come to live with grandma because their parents are dead or in jail or are just unfit parents. They have had no catechetical instruction at all and never darkened a church door until they arrive at grandma’s house. Now the Youth Minister needs to figure out how they are going to address all of these kids in a single program. Good luck.
    Meanwhile the DRE does have a plan. It starts with the elementary kids. For them the parents must be involved. And I mean must. There is no sending your kid off to class while you and your spouse have a post Mass breakfast. They must help in class. They get supplemental materials for use at home. And at the same time the their kids are in lessons there is adult catechisis, the only permissible reason not to be in your child’s class. Do some parents refuse to have their kids involved at all? Sure. But those kids aren’t in sacramental training either. So if gradma is going to disown you if your kid doesn’t get First Communion or Confirmation then you can be involved or be written out of the will. Being Catholic is either important or it isn’t.
    We’re just starting to get in Middle School kids who have gone through the elementary program. You can see the difference of parental involvement.
    More since people often have kids in multiple programs some of this is leaking into the Youth Ministry level too.
    And that leads to the other point. There are two things that absolutely have had an impact on or Youth Ministry program. They are: The involvement of male volunteers who do not have teens in the program. The involvement of college students, some of who are graduates of the program.
    In my opinion too many Youth Programs are exclusively run by women. Nothing wrong with that per-say. What is bad is that if no men are involved (or only involved because it is their job) teenage boys get the idea that religion is only important to girls. This is especially true if they have no strong Christian Male model at home. Having strong Christian male role models in the program, both fathers and others, is important. Consequently we have just as many teenage boys involved as teenage girls. More we have as many college age young men involved as college age young women.
    So what we are seeing is that as the youth with parent who have been encouraged to become involved have moved into the Youth Ministry classes we have moved from entry level catechesis to more advanced subjects. This past year I had a teen explain to me, during a discussion of Christian persecution, the difference between an oath and a vow, and she got it right.
    So now I might start to revise my initial mix to 35-40% who are getting a sound basis in Catholicism form their parents. We still have that bottom 20%. They typically get supplemental youth RCIA as well as Youth group. Often in the gaps I hear another youth explaining something that we have gone over in previous years to get them up to date. Other times they just astound me with their ability to deductively reason given the correct data. Case in point. We were disusing Mary how she was the Mother of Jesus, and one of these darlings blurted out, “But if Jesus is God and Mary is his mother doesn’t that mean she’s the mother of God?” To which I gently answered, “Of course, but it took the Church almost 400 years to decide that,” and we went on to discuss the Council of Ephesus, even though it was not on our lesson plan. Because sometimes God just wants you to go there.

  11. Jason Craig says

    To some of the commenters that asked for specifics on how we can apply my thoughts in this article, I warmly recommend this comment by Terry! Good work.

  12. David W. Cooney says

    This is a brilliant article. It is true that it doesn’t include all aspects of the problem, like the need for Catholic community, but that isn’t its intention, so we really shouldn’t expect that. Instead, this article hones in on what I love about this site – evangelizing to Catholic fathers about their responsibilities as Catholic fathers. The Faith is not merely something to be believed intellectually, it is something to be lived and every aspect of our lives is to be lived according to the Faith. Therefore, we fathers need to step up to our roles as the head of our families. Our wives help us, but our responsibilities are not something we can just “pass off” to them as if religious is something for the women. We need to realize that God will hold us accountable for our failure to fulfill our role.

  13. Stephen M. says

    While I agree with much of the sentiment behind this, I think I may have spotted a weakness.

    At least around these parts, “Youth Ministry” usually refers to High School age youth, and occasionally Middle School age, while those of younger ages are considered “children” and are not part of youth ministry, rather “children’s ministry”. I think everything you have written is exactly on target if you are speaking of replacing “children’s ministry” with a family centered approach.

    However, by the time a kid is 14/15 years old and in high school, it is really almost too late for the parents or father to suddenly “get religion” and take on the role of raising the child in the faith. By that time the youth has seen 13/14 years of the parents being poor role models in the faith. That will be a more lasting impression than having their parents suddenly change tack the last few years they are living at home. Now, it is never too late for a parent to try to make an impact, but if you are starting this project with teenagers you are at a significant disadvantage.

    At the very latest, the ministering to parents and fathers to equip and direct them in leading their domestic church and raising their children in the faith needs to happen starting with the first formation for First Communion. From birth through around age 12 or so I would say the parents need to be the major source of faith formation, and inevitably will be even if they do not intend it. Young children are keen observers, and the example set by the parents will be the primary education, with the relationship between parent and child being the medium for the message, and any formal instruction will be a secondary support. (Sons with poor relationships with Fathers often have distorted relationships with God, unfortunately.) From the teenage years on, something like traditional youth ministry starts to make sense as a supplement, as something to build on that foundation that was firmly established at home.

    The only thing I directly object to is this:
    “or keeping all kids sleeping in a room without any adults! That last one proves that lawsuits are to be avoided more than hell.”
    I think you have made an egregious error with this claim, and that you perhaps should either retract it or justify and explain it.

    • Ricky says

      Stephen, you make a really excellent distinction here between older kids and younger kids. There was also a comment on the bottom of this article that differentiates between teaching the faith and living out the faith in the context of contemporaries–both great points.

  14. Michelle says

    EXCELLENT article and I completely agree! I have taught Faith Formation and volunteered for Youth Ministry for the past 20 years, and everything rings true. The father is the spiritual head of the family, and if that does not exist in the family, the risk is the children will fall off the wayward side. My parents did not bring faith in the picture…in fact, my mother was dead-set against it as it “destroyed” her childhood. How did I fall into the mold? My cousins invited me to a retreat…and so it began, so I agree that Youth Ministry is important to bringing Christ to teenagers. But my brothers did not follow suit. In the past 20 years, I have seen both sides…children from families of GREAT faith (prayers at the dinner table, praying the Rosary together, sitting in the front pew at Mass, etc.) and children from families of NO faith (being dropped off by their parents to attend Mass by themselves and go to Sunday School to get that stamp in their passport to heaven when they make their Confirmation). Fathers need to be reached; it really does need to start with them. It needs to be discussed at Mass, so our priests need to vocalize the importance. God bless you for sharing this!!

  15. Leila says

    Excellent. I shared it on Like Mother, Like Daughter today. God bless you for putting this in a way that clears some of the preconceived notions out of the air.

  16. douglas kraeger says

    You said,”I was once at a Byzantine Catholic parish and the priest, during his sermon, told the parents that if they had in any way neglected their duty to educate their children in the Faith that they need to come see him before they receive communion. Wow. I had never heard such a thing, but it turns out this was an attitude quite natural and normal before the professionalization of ministry. Just listen to the quiet gentle Cure of Ars warn his flock:

    “Go on, shameless fathers and mothers, go on into Hell, where the fury of God awaits you, you and all the good actions you have done letting your children run such risks. Go on, they will not be long in joining you, for you have outlined the road plainly for them.”

    To my youth ministry colleagues: It’s time for a paradigm shift.”

    I would like to suggest what I believe is a workable paradigm shift for helping parents (of every faith) be better parents. I know it is long, but I hope you will take a chance that it does address the crux of the problem (parents who have not accepted a love of truth= complacent). Thank you.

    Will you pass along and encourage others to help improve the following proposed plan to “help” all ministers of all faiths do more to help all spouses and future spouses to seek and find out how God wants them to fulfill Ephesians 5:25:
    “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word”.
    Are there any problems facing families today that a healthy dose of Husbands and wives washing each other with a “bath of water with the word” would not help alleviate because of the graces God would likely send in response to such washing?

    How can this be improved? (suggested poster page 8)

    Do you see the potential for good if a few lay Christian groups (Knights of Columbus, St. Joseph Society, and non-Catholic groups) started working together and expected their ministers to support the following? What minister would explicitly say, “I do not want to publicly, explicitly encourage husbands and wives to wash each other with a “bath of water with the Word” the way God wants it done?
    How has your Priest or Minister explained the practical implementation of Ephesians 5:25?
    “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word”. What does God want husbands and wives to do in order to bathe each other with “the bath of water with the word” and to pass the desire for such bathing onto the next generation and all their friends and their children?
    Whether or not anyone is Christian and believes that Jesus was really pierced with a lance and “out gushed blood and water”, will they dispute the concept that this exemplifies the concept of voluntary, self-sacrificing love to the point of freely giving every drop of blood (until none is left and only water comes forth) and that husbands should be ready to follow this example (even if they do not believe it really happened) and be willing to shed every drop of their blood in voluntary self-sacrificing love, to do all they can to help their wife and children believe and do God’s will?
    What about the bath of water with the “word””? The “word” could be the Word of God (the one single, infinite, always in the present tense expressed thought of God), it could be the Bible, or Jesus or it could be all Truths that God has spoken, revealed, and wants everyone to know and believe (again Jesus, IF He is the Way, the Truth and the Life). For Catholics it would also include all that the Church teaches authoritatively in the Bible and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other authoritative documents. What minister of any religion would publicly say that husbands should not be expected to try to share with their wives and children all Truths that God has spoken, revealed, and wants everyone to know and believe, and that this must be a lifelong effort because for anyone to stop doing this, they must at least implicitly be telling God that they do not care and are too busy with other concerns to spend time on this even IF there are more truths that He wants everyone to know and believe? Whether or not a person is Christian and accepts 2 Thessalonians 2:10 as the inspired Word of God, all should agree with the concept expressed therein that God will give a deceiving spirit to those who “do not accept the love of (all) truth (that God has spoken, revealed, and therefore, clearly wants everyone to know and believe) so that they may be saved”.
    If all ministers of all faiths should be expected, by their flocks, to publicly support the idea that husbands should try to bathe their wives with a bath of water with the word the way God wants it done, should not all laity try to bring about this public statement of agreement in the sure faith that God will be pleased as more and more spouses actively seek (all their lives) to know and believe all truth that God has spoken, revealed, and therefore, clearly wants everyone to know and believe (whatever this is)?
    What possible ways has your minister mentioned as suggestions for wives and husbands to try as they attempt to help each other give and accept help, rather than the minister simply allowing them try to “reinvent the wheel” for themselves if they are eager enough and persistent enough without public encouragement from the minister from the pulpit? Has your minister suggested something more workable than children need to see the spouses “washing” the other with voluntary, personal sacrifices, and agreeing that each needs to be helped to love all the truths that God has revealed and that God wants all to try to know and believe and therefore they will agree to share one “truth” each day hopefully, possibly, at the main meal, with the question and discussion of, “How does it seem that God wants all to understand this consistently with all else He has revealed?” Has your priest/minister pointed out that spouses who are not eager for something like the above need to examine the appearance they are sending to God (and children) that they are too busy and do not care if He wants them know and believe more than they currently do and they are willing to set the example of complacency in this matter for their children to follow?
    Can people of all faiths agree that:
    Husbands who really love their wives will “cleanse her by a bath of water (real, voluntary, personal self-sacrifice) with the word of God (the truths that God has revealed)”.
    Wives who want to do God’s will will encourage their husbands to voluntarily sacrifice for them and others and to share all of God’s truths with them and others because this is how good wives help their husbands be holy.
    All Good Priests and ministers will explicitly, from the pulpit, encourage all husbands to “cleanse her (their wife) by a bath of water (real, voluntary, personal self-sacrifice) with the word of God (the truths that God has revealed)” to wash their wives with the words of God and the good Priests and ministers will encourage wives to ask for such washing for their own sake and for the sake of their husbands.
    The devil wants husbands and wives to fall into the trap of complacency (which leads to presumption) and to gradually slack off in their zeal in seeking for all the Truths that God wants all to know and believe and to implicitly place their trust in either themselves and their judgement directly and what they already know and believe, or in themselves indirectly by their judgement of the priest or minister they directly place their trust in, trusting that that priest or minister will tell them everything they need to know.
    All good ministers and all good parents of all faiths are eager to do all they can to help engaged couples and all youth start to develop the good habit of washing each other with “the water with the word”, voluntarily sacrificing their wants in order to help others grow in holiness and sharing the words of truth from God and not gradually falling into a cult of any person. Priests and ministers who do not want to encourage spouses to wash each other with “water with the word” will not speak from the pulpit about various ways others have tried to accomplish this mandate from God, although they will discuss it privately with those who insist upon discussing it with them.
    Young people who have a new, lively faith (that has not been deadened to complacency by the world yet) will see the need to develop the virtue of wanting to be washed with “water with the word” by both their parents and will strive to develop that habit so they will be better parents, better people when they are adults having built good habits and not having to start by breaking bad habits when they are older.

    Cult of love of (all) truth vs. cult of a person (minister and therefore implicitly the person themselves)
    God wants all to accept the cult of love of all Truth, to seek Truth (especially truths concerning God), to be open to all such Truth, to want to believe whatever God wants everyone to know and believe (2 Thes. 2:10), to understand Truth the way God wants it understood and to not despise prophetic utterances, to not quench the Spirit, to test everything and retain what is good (1 Thes. 5:19-22) (to not say or behave as if saying, “I do not care what truths God wants all to believe.”) and to try and do all they can to instill this cult of love of all moral truth in all others.
    The devil wants us to be in a cult of some person, to be lazy and place our trust in somebody (especially and essentially ourselves when we place our trust in any “other man”) by not questioning the reasons or evidence for a decision, just simply saying (or thinking implicitly) “so and so says “______“ and that is all I am concerned with. I do not care to think or investigate further, even if I am wrong about one thing I already believe, or even if God wants me to seek to know and believe more” and the devil wants us to implicitly encourage others to be part of a cult of some person, any person other than Jesus Christ.
    Obviously, no minister or priest can teach all the Truths that God wants all to know and believe in any one sermon, or even in a lifetime of sermons and adult education classes. God does not expect anyone to know, in this life, all the truths He has revealed. What God does want is for our hearts to yearn for Him, to yearn to learn all that He wants us to know, and for our hearts to be open to all truth, not closed to it, not uninterested. God does not want us to place our trust in men or their institutions (Jeremiah 17:5) and good priests and ministers of all faiths frequently insist that their flocks test everything they say, retain what is good (1 Thes. 5:16-22), and do not bring upon themselves God’s curse by placing too much trust in any “man”, especially their minister because the devil wants people to fall into the trap of getting complacent (leading to presumption) after finding a “good” minister and therefore not be in the cult of love of all truth that God wants all to know and believe. The devil also wants people to give up because they have failed in the past, whereas God wants us to honestly throw ourselves on His infinite mercy and ask for His needed help to start again to honestly try to do His will in seeking and sharing whatever Truths He wants all to know, believe and try to share.

    What else can be done to help spouses to demonstrate their acceptance of the love of truth so that they may be saved (2 Thes. 2:10) and to help spouses “wash each other with a bath of water with the Word”?

    “A Poster and slip of paper” idea: (Latest version, May 31, 2015) to help all ministers of all faiths to publicly support this Poster and slip of paper idea and to help all spouses to bathe each other with “a bath of water with the word” in the sure faith God will lead all to the one Faith He wants all to have, by His grace and His peaceful means.

    Should not all Muslim and Christian adult and youth groups support the following even if some of their ministers fear what Faith God will lead all to? Do you fear where God will lead all? Do you trust God enough to publicly support others making this better?
    Would you agree that it would be a very good result if someone could develop a very simple plan that should be publicly supported by all major religions of the world, that each individual church can implement on it’s own, and that would help all spouses to grow closer to each other by growing closer to God? Will the following do that? Can you imagine the change in everything as more and more young people, of all faiths, have at the center of all relationships the desire of helping each other to know and believe whatever and everything God wants everyone to know and believe, to follow the Spirit of God and to let the chips fall where God wills, without “being in your face” or “shoving anything down another’s throat”, just freely offering questions for the other to seek God’s answer in the privacy of their heart and home?
    Starting verifiable fact:
    I, along with many others, believe God IS so infinitely good, merciful, and powerful that He Wills to, and therefore must be, turning the whole world right side up, by His peaceful means, to the one Faith He wants all to have, without violating anyone’s free will, by His grace, through verifiable evidence and His questions that He wants to give His answers to.
    Do you, and/or your ministers, believe God is infinitely good and powerful enough to convert the whole world to the one faith He wants all to accept, by His grace and His peaceful means of verifiable evidence and His questions that He wants to give His answers to, without violating anyone’s free will and therefore all ministers of all faiths should be expected to publicly reject terrorism done “in the Name of God”?

    To help ALL parents be better helpers of their children, ONE STEP AT A TIME.
    This idea has three aspects:
    1. A poster (similar to the one on next page) in all churches, put up by their minister for passive but powerful reminding of what everyone can know for certain.
    2. Superb questions (God’s questions) that will improve with each succeeding generation with verifiable evidence on slips of paper with a web address
    3. all ministers of all faiths will be expected by their flocks to publicly show they trust God’s answer to all such questions will lead people, by God’s grace, to the one faith God wants all to know and accept (or explain why they do not), and each minister will be expected to make available their own sequence of questions or endorse another’s sequence.
    Hopefully, people will be more and more expected to enter the market place of theological ideas armed with critical thinking skills and work to make those skills better. What minister will fear this will lead all away from their faith and therefore publicly state so and refuse to support it?
    What minister will publicly dispute any part of the following suggested Poster idea that can be improved and/or shortened and is to be put up in every church as a silent reminder to parents and children so each thinks about demonstrating better and better that they have accepted the love of all truth so that they may be saved (Thessalonians 2:10)?
    Suggested Poster:
    “All truly good parents are seen wanting to pray ever more perfectly, are seen washing each other with a “bath of the water with the Word” and committing themselves to a lifelong effort at being open to all Truth from God, through anyone, and All truly good parents are thereby seen as eager to know and believe whatever it is that God wants everyone to know and believe and therefore these parents, in order to share them with others but especially with their children, are looking for the best verifiable information and GOD’S ANSWER to the best sequences of questions from people of all faiths who are eager to share such in the sure faith that God’s answers for these questions will lead all, by peaceful means, to the one Faith God must will all to have and for them to thereby reject violence and all man made additions to this Faith.
    There are many in this church eager to help anyone start or continue in this quest to pray as perfectly as possible, to wash each other with a bath of “water with the Word” as God wants it done and in the lifelong search for Truth. These members want to help any who are now seeking to find everything God wants everyone to know and believe, one step, one question at a time.” (names, telephone numbers, email addresses)

    Obviously people will eventually know everything in the poster no matter how long it is if the minister makes a monthly, strongly worded comment reminding all that there are members of the church who are eager to help anyone find God’s answer to all questions from anyone. Parents and children will each know (because the poster and the monthly reminders puts a “spotlight on the parent’s actions”) whether or not the parents are, or are not, doing what they should already be doing but many times today, in this world, are not doing. Is this not a good way for ministers to frequently remind all (without pointing a finger at any one person) of the importance of truly accepting the love of, and therefore being open to truth, from God through anyone and eagerly seeking ALL the truth that God wants all to love so that they may be saved (Thessalonians 2:10)? If you cannot think of a better way, and this idea might help many, many parents, and many children, should you pass this on so others can help improve it?

    Second aspect of Idea: Slips of Paper to help evangelize others and especially children?
    The second aspect requires the minister or a moderator (or team of moderators) who will write, or find, and post suggested sequences of questions (with verifiable, unassailable evidence) on a particular part of the church webpage (numbered and grouped according to topic) for people to be able to read and print out the questions on slips of paper and carry them in their wallet or purse. Then, when a person has an opportunity to dialogue with someone, (or when a parent and child have “one of those” discussions) they have these carefully worded, superbly well thought out questions, that they can hand to the other person and ask them if God might want to give them HIS ANSWER to this question and if they should therefore seek and find God’s answer to that question in their heart in the security of their home. The intent of each question will be to help people take one step at a time, one issue at a time, towards believing whatever God wants everyone to know and believe, rather than trying to get them to read an entire book (which is a very good thing but few do this today) and there will be services (almost always free) where many different approaches to questions on each particular “step” are put side by side for comparison purposes. Parents, especially fathers, will be expected to arm their children with the best examples and to demonstrate being open to knowing and believing everything God wants all to know and believe and to help their children check out the arguments, questions, posted by other faiths to see if they have any questions that God’s answer to seems to appear to lead to this other faith only. Hopefully, many people will include related questions to be found on the web page also listed at the bottom of the slips of paper.
    Think if all religious schools made sure that all children knew where to go for the best questions for people of any faith.
    This idea does not negate everyone’s responsibility to know their faith and be eager to share it. It merely helps them be better armed, gives them a sense of confidence, so that even if they do not have all the answers at any given time (fear of which keeps many from engaging in dialogue) they know that they are armed with several well worded questions that the other would know they should seek God’s answer to, and which we can be hopeful will lead them to the One Faith God wants all to have when they find His answer to all questions, hopefully checking out the web address on the slip of paper.

    What minister would want to be seen not enthusiastically supporting these two ideas once others publicly endorse them, once the ball gets rolling?
    I have the beginning of a list on my blog at and I hope people will make their own lists, suggest their own questions to me and try to improve mine
    Should you trust GOD to be able to give HIS questions to those people He chooses and should you hope that many young people will seek and try to share the best questions they can find and, should you trust GOD to be able to help all find His answers and the one Faith He wants all to find, by His Grace?
    What reason can you give for not passing this on to others (maybe without endorsing it) who may be interested in helping make it better?
    Can you see how this plan will help many parents do a better job of demonstrating true love of truth and love for their children because of the poster, the monthly reminders, and the people in each church eager to help all to find God’s answers and the slips of paper with superb questions that people of all faiths will eventually be expected to carry which will help future generations quickly find (without having to personally reinvent the wheel) the best questions that God wants to give everyone His answers to?
    Should not all ministers believe such an approach would help lead all to the one faith God wants all to have, to their faith?
    Should not all ministers enthusiastically support this?
    Should anyone put any trust in any minister who does not have a better idea and who does not support this publicly?
    Can you imagine the change in everything as more and more young people, of all faiths, have at the center of all relationships the desire of helping each other to know and believe everything God wants everyone to know and believe?
    Do you, and/or your ministers, believe God is truly infinitely powerful enough to create free will such that He can give us, at the end of time, the truly infinite graces needed to be like Him because we see Him as He infinitely IS?
    Do you, and/or your ministers, believe God is infinitely powerful enough to share Himself completely with those He created in His Image and likeness for His purpose that He could share Himself and all His goodness with them?
    If God must be the infinite perfection of every good virtue we can (by His Grace) know, then, God being the infinite perfection of what any good father would strive to do, to share all his good possessions with his children: must God not then accomplish what He has eternally intended, to share Himself totally with His creatures, even with those in hell for ever and ever and ever and…..?

  17. DonnaL says

    Thank you so much for writing this article. {I followed the link from “Like Mother Like Daughter”–thank you Auntie Leila} From the comments I can see that some disagree, and that is their right.

    As a parent of 5 {and counting} I could not WAIT to have my children back with our families, free from the 2 youth group evenings per week at our Catholic church. I was shocked and disappointed that more parents did not/could not help, but I also understand. It is hard. I was disheartened by the lack of GOOD leadership given by girls and guys only a couple of years older than my kids. They mean well, I must believe, but it is not wholesome/helpful to have youth leading youth….in fact, I have found myself angry at our pastor because of the poor leadership. I am not bashing him, just sad that he thinks this model works well. It does NOT.

    What bothered me, and your article helped me articulate it, is that I was dismayed that Wednesday nights there was “something for everyone” quite separate from one another. The babies and little ones at the child care, young ones by age in a group, junior high group, High school group {down the street in a different building entirely} and the parents were “required/forced” to listen to the priest talk….pontificate, whatever. Then, there was ANOTHER group on Sunday nights from 6:30-8:30 for the High school kids. When are we supposed to have time as a family to help/learn/spend time? Really? I think saying that we are *busy* is one thing, but busy-ness without thought to what will help strengthen the family and parish is short-sighted, and does more harm than good….
    I may, with your permission, share this with the team that is trying to “take over and decide what is best for our family”. Please pray for me, as my questions and ideas have not been taken well in the past….

  18. Garry says

    When I ask Catholics of all ages “who” is Jesus Christ, I often get a very vague or superficial answer. Scripture or Church teaching is rarely mentioned. The answer is often given with the opening phrase, “in my opinion …..” When I ask “what” is the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ I often get a complete blank or something like “love one another.” Many teachers of the faith in parishes do not have a personal walk with Jesus Christ or with others committed to the Way. Many get super excited and animated over sports or a movie or television but feel awkward over if talk turns to Jesus. If asked many cannot share what Jesus has taught them the past week. Many reject the teachings of the Church and many would agree that Christianity is but one option among many equally valid options to God. More than a few cringe at the mention of hell or the devil as too negative or as not existing at all because God is love. There are many exceptions. But too many sad examples like this.

  19. Justine says

    Thank you so much for such enlightening advice. I am not a youth worker in my parish per se, but I teach catechism to the youth in my parish and I help prepare the young children for the sacraments as well. Im from New Zealand and while culturally NZ and USA may be quite different I do think that these sorts of challenges, particularly to do with the faith and how to evangelize, are quite universal. In teaching Catechism and preparing children to make their First Confession and First Holy Communion, I have always worked with the knowledge that what I teach is only effective to the extent that it is lived in the home. And ofcourse parents are vital for this. I know that what took 45mins to teach the kids , parents could teach in ten minutes through family life. I know parents are the primary educators of their children, and id often write this in letters given to the parents of the children preparing for the sacraments. And while I would remind them of this, I was stuck as to how to help parents fully realise this marvellous and challenging role and vocation. Thank you for articulating so eloquently what I knew but could not say or action. Im taking this to prayer because I know its so important that we remember to evagelize our young people in the context of their being part of a family.. But in saying that, how to reach these parents with delicacy and helping them to really be active in teaching their kids the faith can be challenging. Any more insights on how to go about this would be most welcome, particularly with advice on how to work with parents who cant be bothered or have become very comfortable with a bare minimum kind of apporoach to their faith and therefore are not as excited or enthused about teaching their kids the faith.

  20. Erik C. Rivers says

    your spot on. Keep up the good work. Erik C. Rivers. Emergency Room Provider and founder of

  21. Jacintha says

    Spoiler Alert: I disagree and here are some reasons why!
    As we understand by mediating on the mysteries of the rosary (Presentation, Finding in the Temple, and Wedding Feast at Cana), our children are not our own. Youth Ministry is not about teaching the faith but about living the faith. When we travel towards Christ it is always in the companionship of others. There is no surer way of finding friends than in your parish youth group. Friendship helps our kids uncover their meaning and purpose. Friendship keeps loneliness and lust at bay because we become unable to have a fantasy about someone we know. Sunday night is often the only day and time that our overscheduled youth has free. Ok, so you want more men running youth ministry? Then pay men a living wage as per Catholic social teaching!
    Lastly, it is beautifully obvious that you are all about keeping men in their families. Bravo! But the youth are going to go out into the world whether or not they come from a broken family. Better that they have some authentic Catholic friendships to begin their journey with.

  22. Amanda George says

    This bit is gold:
    “Most American teens turn out religiously to look a lot like their parents – not always, but very often… It does not appear to be the case that most U.S. Catholic parents of teenagers are struggling to live out vibrant lives of Catholic faith and yet find teenagers to be religiously apathetic and resistant. Rather, it appears that the relative religious laxity of most U.S. Catholic teenagers significantly reflects the relative religious laxity of their parents.”

    In other words, youth are not the problem. Parents are the problem. So if we want to fix a problem why are we focusing so much on youth?

    One problem we have, however, is that many young adults in youth ministry simply don’t trust their parent’s generation to pass on the Faith. Why? Because they had a conversion late in life through someone else, and they often harbor an understandable and justifiable anger towards their parents and parish for not giving them the Gospel younger, which would have saved them from heartache and sin. I feel this way. Thanks for the extra purgatory folks! But the answer is not to throw out human nature and family life – don’t throw grandpa out with the bathwater. In this situation we need healing and the rebuilding of trust. I don’t have an easy answer, but I hope bringing it up helps.


  1. […] blueprint for getting started. It seems so simple that you might not realize how important it is. This post by Sam Guzman, How Fathers and Families Can Save Youth Ministry from Itself, comes at this nearly lost way of doing things with a strong critique of the “youth […]

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