Ministry professionals learn ways to connect with teens

ORLANDO | Working hard to ignite love of the faith in the hearts and minds of teenagers throughout the diocese, more than 50 ministry professionals and catechists listened to Life Teen chief executive officer and president, Randy Raus, at a gathering at Holy Cross Parish in Orlando April 9.

Life Teen is a program intended to provide the outline so youth ministers can spend more time building relationships with students that lead to discipleship. Using catechesis modeled after the format of the Mass, Life Teen is specifically designed to assist in engaging teens and enabling possibilities for encounter. The program began in the 1980s after a young devout teen left the Catholic Church because he did not feel loved there.

“Teens need to be loved and I think that was the big, big point of today. They go through the motions and Sacraments in the Church and become good teen leaders. Then they graduate and go to other places because they don’t feel loved,” said Christine Stalnaker, director of religious education at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Clermont. She soaked in the information with two high school confirmation catechists and their new youth coordinator who is rebooting their middle and high school youth groups.

Stalnaker appreciated Pope Francis’ message in his newest apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit and said her take way from the event was that “teens are visual and need encounters with Christ. Making all of that relevant to their lives today is really important.”

She plans to share this new awareness with her parish. “Our young people are not visible enough. There’s not enough in the parishes that they can take hold of and be seen and feel as though they have a purpose. They want purpose and they’re going to keep searching… but there are too many rules, the elderly want to take over insisting (for example) that ‘ushering is my job.’ They don’t want to give teens an opportunity to take over some big responsibilities, with guidance of course.”

Her thoughts echoed the words of Pope Francis: “They (youth) need to be accompanied and encouraged to use their talents and skills creatively, and to be encouraged to take up their responsibilities,” (Christus Vivit, 170). This is difficult to do when young people are denied opportunities to become a vital part of their faith community.

Deacon Paul Gaucher of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish in Eustis has previous experience working with the Life Teen program and currently assists the youth director at his parish. “The presenter went into great depths on the needs we have as a Church and how everyone is responsible for accomplishing those needs,” said Deacon Gaucher. Although the Eustis parish has a large elderly population, the parish high school youth group has approximately 40 active students. He is a big supporter of what Life Teen offers.

“The most important thing that resonated in me is that we need to bring the youth to Christ. You have to go to them and meet them where they are. The connection factor is important,” he stated. “There is a need to resonate with them through prayer and friendship opportunities and to remember that everyone’s faith experience can be and is different and that’s okay.”

Life Teen CEO Raus explained that, ultimately we are all seeking relationship, but technology has replaced conversation and interpersonal engagement. He insisted youth ministers cannot invite teens into a relationship with Christ until they are taught what relationship looks like. He also highlighted the importance of sharing stories and accompanying young people, getting to know them and what is going on in their lives: exams, home life, and friends. Then follow up with what they shared.

“One of the most effective things we can do is to just listen to them and wait until they ask for our advice,” said Raus. Then, “Challenge your teens to grow in holiness… and actively work with them in a discipleship relationship to help them realize their call to be a missionary disciple.” He cited a recent study by the National Council of Diocesan Vocations Directors that determined more than 40% of seminarians were part of Life Teen at some point.

The day concluded with advice for avoiding ministry burnout. Raus emphasized a strong prayer life and encouraged ministers to spend time with different age groups – keeping the mission fresh and dynamic.

Life Teen offers programs for parishes with limited budgets through the John Paul II Youth Initiative. It will also launch a parent website including resources to assist keeping children connected to their parish in June 2019.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – April 16, 2019