Called to Youth Ministry?

I’m in high school, and I think I might be called to be youth minister or a Catholic motivational speaker.  What should I do?

I assume that you are a person of prayer; otherwise you probably wouldn’t be feeling this call.  So, the first piece of advice I can give it to just keep on keepin’ on. The best thing you can do at your age is to remain faithful to God; continue to grow in faith, hope, and love through prayer, sacraments, and community.  There is no substitute for the basics, which are like a spiritual exercise routine to keep us spiritually fit.

Though you can’t know 100% for sure if God is calling you to be a youth minister when you are older, there are some basic steps you can take to help you in the discernment process, and a few other things to worth thinking about.

In addition to staying faithfully committed to your youth group’s meetings and activities, I would encourage you to talk to your parish youth minister about this call you’re feeling.  Not only should you tell him/her that you think you might be called to youth ministry, but offer your help in any way possible.  Parish youth ministers generally need all the help they can get.  Helping out, and stepping into leadership in your parish youth group will not only be a blessing to your youth minister, but you will learn a lot!  I would be willing to bet that your youth minister would love to mentor you.  And as you step in to leaderships, you will quickly discover that it is not all about the good feelings that can come from speaking in front of a crowd and being loved by the teens in your group.

Leadership in ministry is, first of all, about being a follower.  Not only do we need to follow Jesus and His teachings, but we also need to learn to humbly follow the guidance of our pastoral leaders – even when we disagree with them. This is challenging, but will teach us humility.  You see, incorporating the wisdom of Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Church into our lives is a lifelong process and we need to remember that it’s never all about us. Any good leader humbly follows pastoral authority.

Leadership in youth ministry also includes doing a lot of things that never get noticed by others – hours of sitting in front of a computer, responding to emails, creating fliers, communicating with parents, attending meetings, organizing events, preparing talks, creating budgets, and doing rather mundane paperwork.  The amount of time youth ministers actually spend in front of a crowd of teens speaking to them about the Lord is minimal; most of youth ministry involves lots of hard work that often isn’t very fun – though it’s absolutely essential to make youth group a positive experience for everyone involved.

As you continue to discern if a call to youth ministry is for you, I would also encourage you to learn as much as possible about what our church teaches – and why.  Along with practical experience, a firm understanding of Catholic theology is essential for a youth ministry career.  As you begin to think about where you might want go to college, you might want to consider a Catholic college with a reputation for having a strong theology program and perhaps even one that offers a youth ministry degree.  Two that come immediately to mind are Benedictine College in Atchison, KS and Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, though there are many others, too.

Just having a degree, though, is not really enough. Most parishes that hire youth ministers are looking for someone who not only has a degree, but who has experience.  Both are essential.  I’m not saying that you HAVE to go to a Catholic college, either, by the way.  Many of my friends in youth ministry attended secular colleges and earned other degrees before discerning a career in youth ministry – but if you continue to feel like this is your call, a good theology background will give you a head start and make you more immediately marketable.  The important thing to remember is that we ALL have to keep learning about our faith.  None of us will ever know everything there is to know about the faith; it’s too deep.  But by continually growing in our understanding of our faith, we can make sure that we are doing our best for God and His people.

Keep in mind that just because you feel a possible call to youth ministry now does not necessarily mean that it is for sure God’s plan for your future career.  It might be, but it’s important to continually pray about it and continually discern.  There are countless ways to do youth ministry without necessarily being a parish youth minister or public speaker – volunteering at a parish or agency, parenting, and even becoming independently wealthy and donating to a favorite youth ministry cause are just a few!

It is cool that you dream of being a Catholic motivational speaker like you have seen at the Steubenville youth conferences.  It’s probably because you have experienced firsthand the impact that such speakers can have in such a short time in so many lives – which is definitely an awesome thing. However, as you dream of this, please keep in mind that very few folks in youth ministry end up being called to speak to thousands of people at a time.  Rather, most of us work with a relatively small number of teenagers in ways that most people never know about.  And this is more than OK, because God’s definition of success and being a “Catholic rock star” is not tied in to entertaining large crowds. Thank God.  Rather, God wants us to humbly set about doing the tasks He sets immediately before us, which are usually not glamorous and most often end up going unnoticed by the world. Mother Teresa had a lot to say about this much-needed humility when she said, "Love does not measure; it just gives." & "Love is doing small things with great love." & "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."

That being said, it is of course possible that God might be calling you to some day speak to large crowds.  But if that is to happen, your training ground will be working with smaller crowds and individuals.  It will involve lots of learning and lots of preparation.  It will necessitate being humble enough to practice and practice; first and foremost to practice what you are going to preach, and also lots of practice as you develop your speaking skills by letting others critique you and offer advice on how you can better. I don’t know of any national speakers who started out as national speakers.  They all start out small, working with youth groups, and even individuals, trying to bring God’s love into the lives of everyone they meet. In the Scriptures, Jesus talks about how if we are faithful in small things, God will give us chances to do bigger things. (Matthew 25:21) But how God defines “bigger things” may not be the way we define them.  The bigger thing, in God’s eyes, might be mentoring one teen who is really struggling and pointing them to God, so that they can influence countless others throughout their lives.

So, I guess I’m saying that it’s totally cool to dream of speaking to thousands of teens at a youth conference, but that should not be the goal.  Being faithful to God in the small opportunities He gives us and recognizing when He gives us special “divine appointments” to help others should be our goal, and anything else He might bless us with is a bonus.

You will be in my prayers.  Please keep me in yours.  And I would encourage you to ask your good friends to pray for you as you continually discern God’s plan for your future.

Paul Masek, Director of the REAP Team

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord - plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.(Jeremiah 29:11)