To my mind, anybody working with young people has the opportunity to be a leader of youth ministry. In faith schools, children and young people see the vision of Christ through the way we all interact and treat one another. As St. Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”. In this way, we are all youth ministry leaders.
Young people need to be empowered to change the world around them by continuing the missionary work of Jesus Christ strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the idea of ‘growth’ is key here – as teachers, we need to not only help young people to grow spiritually in their relationship with Christ, but also to provide them with the skills necessary to continue their spiritual growth as they grow into adulthood.
Our mission, particularly in an increasingly secular society, is to be brave enough to follow the example of Christ, whilst also empowering our young people to be brave bastions of the faith by living out the Gospel mission to change the world so that others will come to know Christ.
Key to this mission is the development of the whole child, spiritually, morally, socially and academically, asking them – “Dear young people…..how are you using the gifts you have been given, the ‘power’ which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you?” In order for pupils to be agents of change through their faith, we work with each child to enable them to understand what their talents are, so that they can use these talents to transform the world around them.
As a leader in school, I am inspired by the servant leadership modelled by St. John Bosco. I believe that this model of leadership is firmly linked to the model that Jesus himself demonstrated. The Final document of the Synod of Bishops, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, talks of Jesus’ journeys with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, “As they listen to him speak, their hearts burn within them and their minds open; they then recognize him in the breaking of bread. They themselves then choose to resume their journey at once in the opposite direction, to return to the community and to share the experience of their encounter with the Risen Lord.” My role is to lead by example and to bring both staff and pupils alike together in a shared vision for what a faith school should strive to be – a place where pupils encounter Christ. However, for me what is most significant here is when the disciples choose to continue in the opposite direction – I hope that the experience that pupils have in faith schools will enable them to go in their own directions, so that they can enact real change by sharing the message of the Gospels with others. Our accompaniment of young people through our youth ministry will enable them to discern their own vocations in life.
In a time of increased secularisation, faith schools often become the Church for many young people:
“we believe that all pupils entrusted to our care should be empowered to question the world around them; our pupils form their own views on an ever-changing society. We empower our pupils to voice their opinions, developing a mastery of the written and spoken word. Our intent is that we teach pupils three key concepts: to think, to feel and to act – leaving us ready to make a difference in the world.”
I try to ensure that I consider not just ‘what would Jesus do,’ but also ‘how would Jesus do it.’ I believe that to be effective youth ministry leaders, teachers in faith schools must themselves be treated with compassion and humanity. Leaders have a responsibility to ensure that staff and pupils in the school are treated with a level of care and respect so that they in turn can model these expectations to pupils. Again, this links closely with servant leadership and a ‘you’ not ‘me’ attitude which is inextricably linked to the actions of Christ.
In my role as a form tutor, I have worked hard to ensure that the pupils in my care receive pastoral support and guidance. In form time, we pray regularly and take part in whole school masses and services, however, we also take time to reflect on our faith by discussing news stories and current affairs in the context of consistent Gospel values. In my experience, as pupils journey through high school, their faith can often be a source of apprehension – this is often because they do not always understand the value and importance of their faith. To be effective youth ministry leaders, it is important that we take the time with our pupils to stop and reflect on what the Gospel calls us to do and why it calls us to be agents of change. By helping pupils to understand the role of the faith in their lives, we also help them to become “missionary disciples”.
In order to help young people to realise their power to change the world, we have carried out a number of acts of charity. These include providing food for food banks, raising money for CAFOD and providing products for the Operation Christmas Child programme. These acts of charity and service enable young people to understand their role as transformers in the world. I also remind pupils that we do these acts so that we mirror the image of Jesus.
Youth ministry must engage parents as well as young people. In school, we work hard to engage parents in the Christian nature of the school. We regularly hold services for parents and pupils, so that they can come together and practise their faith. However, at this very difficult time during- and post-pandemic, we have introduced different ways to support parents – to serve them as best we can despite local, national and global circumstances. For example, each family is regularly called for a check-in to make sure they are still safe and well and we have provided food and support packs for more vulnerable families. In this way, we demonstrate our Christian mission of service to others.
Overall, I believe that youth ministry is realised through servant leadership, enabling teachers and pupils alike to understand the universal mission of Christian schools – to be places where each person encounters a real and tangible living Christ.