By Robert Hiini
Youth ministry isn’t just the business and responsibility of youth ministers and young people but must involve the whole community, according to Mario Borg, a lecturer at Acts2Come Bible College.
Mr Borg was speaking at the Activ8 Young Adult World Youth Day Conference in a workshop he co-presented with Marie Raheb of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and Leonard Ong of the Young Christian Students (YCS).
The workshop was conducted under the title “Leading in parish ministry: Effectively engage and retain young leaders,” exploring the many challenges confronting young Catholic leaders in the Church today.
The presenters began by painting a picture of the cultural context that youth ministers are operating in, describing “Generation Y” as experientially motivated, ambitious, flexible in their employment and relationships and technologically savvy.
In a time when less than five per cent of school leavers practise their faith, the witness and outreach of young leaders and parish communities are central to evangelising disaffected Catholic youth, Mr Borg said.
“We have a whole generation of people who don’t know what it means to have an engaged faith level. They don’t know who God is and why He is so interested in them and why they need a relationship with Him”.
Mr Borg, a former primary and high school teacher, says that youth ministry should be seen as a career pathway and that parishes should ideally employ trained and qualified youth ministers.He encouraged conference participants who weren’t already doing so, to meet regularly with their parish council so that youth ministry is seen as the business of the whole parish. Regular meetings allow youth leaders to update parish councilors on youth activities and to tap into the talent and gifts that parishes have already in their parishioners.
Borrowing from the megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren, Mr Borg said that youth ministry initiatives must contain five elements:
l Discipleship – leaders must help young people to grow into followers of Jesus Christ through teaching and mentoring,
l A plan to evangelise – young people must be encouraged to be welcoming and to share the Good News with other youth,
l Fellowship – youth initiatives should provide an opportunity for young people to have fun together,
l Youth involvement in ministry – young people need to be given roles of responsibility,
l A sense of worship
“If you take one of those things out, you prevent it from being Christian,” Mr Borg said, concurring with Mr Warren.
“Our leaders have to know what those five things are and how they can go about them,” Mr Borg said.
He encouraged conference participants to expose young people to as many forms of worship as possible, pointing to the array of worship experiences pilgrims encounter at WYD such as Mass, adoration, rosary, lectio divina and praise and worship. Several conference participants said that they had encountered difficulty in trying to encourage young people to take up leadership positions.
Ms Raheb described the efficacy of YCW’s “See, Judge, Act” methodology in helping young people to feel involved – assessing youth needs, designing initiatives and making them a reality.
She described the importance of “walking with” local youth leaders through every stage of the development of a youth initiative, keeping regular contact with organisers once a project is up and running.
Leonard Ong explained the work of the YCS in engaging young people in high schools who may not have any connection to a parish, alerting conference participants to the resources that have been developed by YCS and YCW over the past year.
All three facilitators stressed the importance of nurturing and supporting youth leaders, with Mr Borg describing time spent mentoring and affirming young leaders as “our investment in the Church”.
“If you invest in them they don’t care how old you are, they don’t care how you look. They’ll listen to you and ask you questions. If you invest in them they will love you forever.”