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.
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.
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.
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!
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.