Youth Ministers – More Than Meets the Eye

Most youth ministers who are worth their salt will happily and proudly tell you that they went into this field of work because they felt called to it.  And, I definitely agree.  Being a youth minister is 100% a vocation.  You have to have a deep understanding of the overall mission of the Church, believe in the young Church even when they seem like a lost cause, and want nothing more than to equip, empower, teach, and lead those “lost causes” into the arms of Christ.

I’ve made it 7 years w/o owning a clown, chicken, gorilla, or any other type of costume.

But, there is a huge, huge, HAAA-UUUGE misunderstanding about what youth ministers do, particularly for people who aren’t actively involved in youth ministry or who don’t have youth of their own.  And, not surprisingly, the teens don’t “see the forest for the trees” so to speak.  They (and many others) think that youth ministers spend a lot of time “hanging out with teens” or “going on fun trips” or “getting pies in their faces” or “eating pizza.”

While all those things are undoubtedly things that most of us have done (what youth group would be complete without pizza or messy games?), that’s not WHAT WE DO.  Those are things that happen that we participate in.  We don’t pursue this calling, this VOCATION, just to go to summer camp or water parks.

So, here is a very, very short list of some of the roles/jobs that are required of youth ministers…some of the things that people may not realize that we do on a regular basis.

1.) Teacher & Google

Our number one job is to catechize the youth of the Church.  We have a responsibility to teach them the truths & teachings of the Catholic faith in a orthodox way that they can understand, discuss, and process.  And, not only do we have to know and understand WHAT we’re teaching (and do so in a systematic way), but we have to be ready to be a human Google about any and all faith-related questions.  No matter how prepared you think you are, teens have an amazing talent of asking the most random, outside the box, unexpected questions that you DIDN’T plan for.  But, you’ve got to be ready to answer.



2.) Event Planner

Every single week, at least once a week and sometimes more than once, we have to event plan.  From food to engaging activities to handouts to prayers to atmosphere, every detail has to be lined up and ready to go.  We worry about enough to eat, the right lighting, the sound system working, the teens having a good time.  Every.Single.Week.  And, on top of that, there are ACTUAL parties we plan – Fall Kick Off, Advent Party, Retreats (at least 2-3 a year), Senior Dinners, etc.  We get really good at knowing how much food to bring and what kind of music sets the right mood.

 
3.) Spiritual Guide/Moral Compass
We are in constant conversation with the teens who are in the youth group (some more regularly than others).  And, that means constant questions about their spiritual lives, making moral choices, living rightly, etc. come up. Some teens are very open and keep you up to date on everything happening and want your advice practically daily.  Others will hit you up via text, phone call, Facebook message, etc. only when there’s a big problem or they feel confused, anxious, need prayers, lonely, sad, whatever emotion.  We have a huge responsibility to be in direct conversation with the Holy Spirit on a regular basis so that we can do our best to respond and guide these young people into the love of Christ.



4.) Supporter/Cheerleader
Games.  Concerts.  Performances.  Buying what they are selling for teams, choirs, groups, etc.  We are there as much as we can.  We are supporting them constantly via social media.  We have to be aware of big tests, auditions, games, college submissions, try-outs, whatever so that we can ask about it, cheer them on, and support them through the process.  We have to encourage them when those things take precedence over Church things (as they do, more often than not).  We feel their joy when they succeed and their hurt when they fail.

5.) Reference

If there’s a college scholarship, organization, group, or job that needs a reference letter for a teenager, we have probably written a recommendation, filled out a form, or answered questions over the phone.  If a kid is regularly involved in the youth group (and, heck, sometimes if they are not!), the youth minister is generally #1 on the list to ask for a recommendation.  And, boy, those things can be difficult to write sometimes!

6.) Confidant

On many occasions, we are brought into serious situations happening in teens‘ lives, families, and relationships.  And, I do mean serious.  From deaths of family members and friends to abuse in homes to suicide attempts to drug problems and teen pregnancies (just to name a few), we’ve all been there.  We’re often contacted first by the family or been told in confidence about something before a counselor or police officer.  We’ve lost sleep, cried, sought counsel, prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  We’ve watched pain unfold, seen teens leave the faith, and, thankfully, seen healing and growth, too.

Ultimately, the vocation of youth ministry is a call to LOVE a very specific group of people in ways that are very specific to their needs.  And, it’s anything but easy.  It’s an uphill battle 90% of the time.  It’s a thankless job where maybe 10 out of every 100 teens or families ever offers gratitude for what you’ve done.

But, we don’t say “yes” because it’s easy and we don’t do it to be told “thanks”.  We do it because it’s part of the mission of the Church – it’s OUR part of the mission.  Though my time as a youth minister will soon be coming to an end, my love for the young Church has not and will not ever change.  Being a youth minister has formed me into the adult, wife, mother, and friend that I am.  I am thankful I was called to it.

Morality part 2 – Peer Pressure can be AWESOME

Note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series on helping empower teens to make moral decisions.  The series introduction can be found here, and part 1 can be found here.

As you’re probably aware of by now, I’m a Catholic.  It’s not just a fitting-in sort of label for me, like a 3rd generation 20% Irish-person around St. Patrick’s Day.  (Yeah, I said that.)  My being a Catholic is part of who I am, how I define myself, how I hope to portray myself.  I strive for it to affect literally every part of my life – the fact that I fail constantly is irrelevant here.  As I try to live out my faith and my identity as a Catholic, I am always on the lookout for that community of Catholics to share my life with – friends who share our faith, values and priorities.  I want to know I’m not alone in my challenge, and I can be there to support and lift up others who are trying to navigate the narrow road.  Having a community of Catholic men, women and families around us has been a humongous blessing & help to myself and my wife – and of course it is!

We all know how important friends are to teenagers.  This is the time of life when teens are beginning to break from their family.  They like to believe they are independent, but they are so, so far from real independence from family and parents.  (see part 1 for how important adults are)  A huge part of this break is the friends teens have.  Teens quite often list friends as more important than family.  This may or may not be the case – and that doesn’t really matter for this discussion – the apparent truth of it matters.

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Oversimplified morality – in 3 parts

Working in youth ministry with junior high and high school students over the past I don’t know how many years has given me lots of things.  First, it’s given me an incredible amount of failures.  It’s given me a lot of entertainment and laughs.  It’s given me gray hair.  It’s given me headaches and sleepless nights.  It’s given me countless privileges to walk on a faith journey with a young person.  It’s given me lots of tears, stress, extra hours of prayer, challenges, successes, awesome retreats… ok I could go on.

One other thing is that it has given me a little bit of insight into the heart and ind of a teenager.  I’m not claiming to have all the answers – I’m not claiming to be very smart – I’m claiming that my experience with teens over the last 12 years has given me a little bit of insight with teens.

I hope that isn’t too much of a stretch.

Ok, why all this?  Because, morality. There are so many well-meaning people at our parish, at other parishes, and from who knows where telling me we need to do more things to teach morality to our teens – but it all sounds and feels more like “you need to crack open their heads and brainwash them into thinking this one thing that I think is the end all be all issue and it needs to be this.”

And we do morality nights – on chastity, on obeying God, on pro-life, on stealing, on cheating… etc.  Do I expect a big turnaround in the life of teens based upon these nights?  Heck no.  It can start a discussion or get them thinking, but if convincing others of the truth were as easy as one 90 minute youth night, well, we probably wouldn’t have too many youth nights.

I’ve come up with a bit of a theory here – and it is that teens essentially need 3 things to really be empowered to make good moral choices in their life.  All three of these things are important, none of them is a quick fix, and they all take efforts from the teens, the parents and the Church.

So this, I guess, is a 4 part series – and you’ve just read part one.  Congratulations!  And I realize, this told you nothing more than – Hey, I’m writing a morality series!  Parts 2-4 will come out about every other day for the next week or so – so stick with me.

Again, I’m not claiming this is the end all – be all.  And I’m not claiming that this closes the book on teen morality – this is my discussion starter – based on my experiences loving, being rejected by, listening to, supporting, praying for, praying with and observing teenagers.

Tom Brady is Overweight (but better than Aaron Rodgers)

The day after the Super Bowl, all the sports writers and radio hosts were busy trying to put perspective on the game.  Every year, it seems, we hear about how this was one of the 10 best of all time, or this quarterback sealed his Hall of Fame bid, or that quarterback choked.  There was an awesome awesome article (actually, it was terrible, and ridiculously hyperbolic) on Monday blaming the entirety of the loss on Tom Brady – that he was fully to blame, and that the prince has turned into a joke.

(Yes, that is really Tom Brady to the right.)

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Bullying: “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

I happened to walk in on the incident when I was picking my 7 year old up from school last week:  Another little boy tackled my son to the ground and then taunted him when my son started crying and asking him to stop.  I transformed from harried mother on my cell phone at after school pick up into the raging force that is “Mama Bear.”

I grabbed the offender and pulled him off my son and demanded that he apologize.  I told him that he could not treat his friends this way if he wanted to have friends any more.  He stuck his tongue out at me and ran away.

There’s something about “Mama Bear” mode that infuses the voice with a special timbre of authority.  It carries with it unspoken violence and brooks no disobedience.

“Johnathan Smith,” I called after him.*  “Get back here this instant.”  He heard the implied threat and turned around and came back and apologized to my son, so I let him off the hook (very giving of me, don’t you think?).

If we all just watched Veggie Tales more often, none of this would be an issue...

Bullying has become a pretty serious problem at the school my kids attend in the past year, and this is not the first time my son has been on the receiving end of it.  The principal and teachers are on top of it – they have a whole program they’re implementing to try to weed it out.

Only, I’m not convinced this new program is going to work.  Bullying has become so rampant and accepted in our society that a few lessons in the classroom can’t compete with what these kids see day in and day out – on television, at home, on the Internet, even at Church.

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Hell hath frosted over

Hell must have frozen over because I have seen some things lately that probably indicate Frost Covered Treesthe end times are near. Let me explain.

I was running a retreat at a neighboring parish this weekend. It was one of those required one day confirmation retreats that try to give a retreat experience to those last 10% of kids who haven’t done a retreat yet. Nothing wrong with these teens, we love them, and it seems like church may not be the most important thing in their life. I think you get what I am saying.

At the end of the retreat we did a reconciliation service in the beautiful side chapel of the parish. At this parish, the tabernacle was kept in this side chapel, which was great for us; we got to pray before the Blessed Sacrament while preparing or praying through our penances.  About 40 minutes into our prayer time, this little old lady comes into the chapel and walks before the tabernacle. She genuflects, takes the tabernacle key from its hiding spot and begins to open the tabernacle.

Honestly, it was a bit of a shock. We had just spent all this time praying to Jesus who was stuck inside his tent, and all of a sudden, the tent flaps were opening and Jesus was coming out.  A crazy thing happened next. As I went to kneel, the entire room started moving from their various positions of repose (laying, sitting, leaning), and knelt while Jesus in the Eucharist was removed and moved into the main church in preparation for Mass.  It was a moment.  There was a palpable change in the room. The whispering teens stopped chatting. The sleeping teens awoke.  The teens reading a Bible out of boredom paid attention.  Seriously, it was miracle akin to Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection.

I was moved. Read More

Tough Questions

“Were Adam and Eve on Earth with the dinosaurs?”

“How could that be if God created the earth in 7 days and dinosaurs were around a long, long time ago, before people?”

“So, the bones archeologists found of the ‘first human’ were the bones of Adam or Eve?”

“Are we all on the same family tree?”

“Where, exactly, IS Eden?”

“When we die, will we even want to ask God these questions?  Will we know everything?  Will we even care since we’ll be in God’s presence?”

What really happened to the dinosaurs.

These are real questions that came up with my teens this past Wednesday night in our 11th and 12th grade PSR class.  The class is not, actually, a bible study this semester.  We are supposed to be studying Theology of the Body for Teens; and, tonight’s chapter was entitled “Naked Without Shame.”  And, that’s how we started with Adam and Eve, talking about original justice and original nakedness.

Needless to say, we didn’t exactly cover the chapter of TOB that I had intended.  But, we DID discuss a lot of different topics including Church and science, heaven, final judgement, and, somehow, the Shroud of Turin.

As the topics and questions swirled around with sincere curiosity on the faces of the teens, I came to realize, again, what an incredible responsibility I have as a youth minister and teacher of the faith.  The teens have found a place where they know it’s okay to ask the tough questions.  They know they won’t be laughed at or ridiculed for wondering.  And, that means I have to be prepared.  I have to stay one step ahead of the teens, anticipating what they might ask on a given night and praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to give them correct and complete answers.  And, I have to pray for the ability to listen with love, so that they will continue to ask these questions and thousands more.

      This is pretty much how I explain Eden…

In all honesty, there’s no way I could’ve anticipated the conversation of this night.  Dinosaurs, creationism, evolution, and science aren’t exactly my forte, but I did my best to give the Church’s teachings on these topics. These teens, they’re keeping me on my toes and I couldn’t be more grateful.  Without them, I might not be growing in MY faith in quite the same way.

What if there was no tomorrow?

I have no idea why, but I’ve always liked Groundhog Day. Really, anyone with a critical bone in their body realizes that a rodent coming out of his hole can’t predeict anything, but it’s these little things that help the sanity stay right on that red-line, ya know?

I’ve also always loved the movie Groundhog Day, and I’m not sure if it was that movie or Ghostbusters, but I have a mammoth man-crush on Bill Murray. Whatever it is – that line – “What if there was no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” has always stuck with me a little bit.

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The Miraculous Desk Plant of Chris Kostelc

This is my desk plant.  My wife bought me this plant while on a visit to Ikea almost 3 years My Office Plantago, and it has sat in that place on my desk since.  For the most part, it is green and lush and happy, which makes me happy.  Also, this is a miracle plant. It is a miracle it is still alive because I am a notorious plant killer.  This is plant number 3 for me, and so, everyday it remains more than a brown husk is a win.  Honestly, I rarely remember to water, and then when I do, I go on a bender and water with a fire hose till I have drowned the thing (okay slight exaggeration).

Needless to say, I proud of my little plant that could.  I have brought it back from the edge of death so many times, I have thought about naming it Lazarus. (Then I remember it is a plant and come to my senses; talking to plants is foolish.)  The little leafy beast has come back from death so many times that honestly it has become a mini reminder of life in the face of death.  I live in Minnesota where I don’t see a green leaf or blade of grass for about 5 months out of the year. The little green thing in my office reminds me that soon the world will be resurrected in springtime and life will return to this barren tundra.  As silly as it sounds, my office plant reminds me of the paschal mystery, resurrection, my salvation, and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Really? Yes really. Read More

A New Tool For Self-Reflection: Your Desk

This morning I found myself highly unmotivated to get any work done.  In an effort to find some motivation (ahem…waste more time) I hopped over to one of my favorite blogs:  The Time Management Ninja.  He regularly posts insightful comments on how to better make use of time and technology to be more productive.  Of course, the irony here is the amount of time I spend (waste) reading his insights and never implementing one…

My desk - who knew it had so much to say?

I found a post from January of 2010 (told you I was wasting time) called Freeze! Nobody Move! What is on your desk?  He spends the article talking about how to reduce the clutter of your workspace (valuable, I’m sure), but as soon as I followed the directions in the title I got distracted (no surprise there!).

I realized something – the top of my desk can tell you a lot about me…about my job, my values, and how I work, but also about some things I can do to be more effective and productive. Read More