Great Catholic Reads: The Art of Forming Young Disciples

If you’ve met me in person you know I’m never without a book (or 2 or 3). I think reading is the best way to live someone else’s story and experience a new adventure. In 2018 I read over 200 books and learned so many new and interesting things. This year I’m going to read a “Catholic Church Book” every month or so and share the wisdom I glean here with you … so you can either ‘get everything you need from my post and save yourself a few hours of reading’ or ‘get excited about reading it on your own.’ By “Catholic Church Book” I mean, a book that is designed to help parishes grow and thrive! I’ve got a whole bookshelf, but if you have a favorite you think I should read, let me know! I’m always in the market for a new book!

February’s Selection is: The Art of Forming Young Disciples: Why Youth Ministries Aren’t Working and What to do About It by Everett Fritz (Amazon)

As a former youth minister, I was very excited to read this book. I always felt like I wanted to be making a difference in the lives of my teens, but I just wasn’t sure if I was successful. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. So when I saw this book late last summer, I had to get a copy.

Everett writes what we’re all thinking “something’s wrong with youth ministry because teens and young adults aren’t staying in the church.” We all know this is the case, and most youth ministers, pastors, and parish staff members cast the blame in one of two places. Either the youth minister isn’t young enough, hip enough, doing their job well enough, or having enough activities OR the parents are the problem.

Where does he suggest we begin? First, ask the right question. The wrong questions are “how do we get more teens at youth group?” and “what can we do to get the parents there too?” The right question is “how many teens do you think will become lifelong disciples coming out of our youth ministry?”

That’s a harder question because it makes us look deeper into the meat of it all. What does a “lifelong disciple” look like?

If a young person becomes a lifelong follower of Christ, the following habits will likely be visible in his life: regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament; weekly or even daily Mass attendance; daily prayer, including the Rosary; reading and studying Scripture; intentional growth in virtue and service; and tithing. This is what we want – to form our young people into lifelong followers of Jesus Christ and His Church through the process of discipleship. Sounds simple, right?

The Art of Forming  Young Disciples, pg 18

So what’s the obstacle in our way? The Holy Father wrote about it in his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Guadium:

Youth ministry, as traditionally organized, has also suffered the impact of social changes. Young people often fail to find responses to their concerns, needs, problems, and hurts in the usual structures. As adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns, demands, and to speak to them in a language we can understand. For the same reason, our efforts in the field of education do not product the results expected.

The Art of Forming  Young Disciples, pg 19-20

Everett goes on to say “In fact, in some cases, parishes are implementing approaches to youth formation that haven’t been updated in more than four hundred years” (pg 20). That might be an exaggeration, but I could name a few youth ministers who are still doing the same thing that they were in 1985 today, with maybe a few tweaks here and there.

So what’s the solution? Well, after asking the right question, we ask “how can we form teens into lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ?” Everett gives us a solution of “meeting their pastoral needs.” What are their pastoral needs?

My colleague Sean Dalton at the Augustine Institute in Denver articulates better than anyone the five basic needs of teens: the need to be understood, the need to belong, the need to be transparent, the need for critical thinking about faith and life, and the need for guidance.

The Art of Forming Young Disciples, pg 32

Everett suggests a ministry model that’s design to meet the pastoral needs of the youth of our time. He suggests a small group model where teens of the same gender are in groups of 5 to 9 led by two mentors who can walk with them through the questions of faith, navigating life, and building community. This involves building a network of small groups that replace traditional forms of youth ministry. These groups might come together for large group activities a couple times per semester at the parish, but the traditional large group model is done away with.

It’s a radical idea. It sounds crazy. It also sounds impossible. It also sounds like if it was done right it would revolutionize our Churches and the lives of our young people.

This was an excellent, thought-provoking read that I’ve already recommended to three youth ministers I’ve been working with.

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