Imagine that a Catholic parish posted a job description and it read something like this:
Wanted: Parish Evangelist
Salary: Very high and competitive salary
Job Description: Recruit and form one person into a life-long disciple of Jesus Christ.
Whenever I offer youth ministry training, I always ask my audience to go through the exercise of imagining this position. What if your entire job description consisted of finding and forming one person with the goal of making him/her into a life-long disciple of Jesus Christ? Your ministry would likely look different than the programs that you see in a typical Catholic parish. Consider these questions:
- How would you identify the person you were working with?
- How would you invite them into formation?
- Where would you meet?
- What would you discuss and how would you discuss it?
- What activities would you do?
I present this exercise to youth ministers because I want them to envision the steps that are required in forming a disciple of Jesus Christ and I want them to envision the environment in which successful ministry takes place.
I am frequently irritated when I hear ministry professionals discuss “methodology.” They almost always start with the mindset of needing to develop parish programs that deliver the Gospel message to a large community. I believe this is a poor way to develop ministry. Every person has individual and unique needs and it is more difficult for people to have their pastoral needs met in a large group environment.
The Sermon on the Mount Mentality
The youth ministries that I see (and parish ministry in general) operate with what I call a “Sermon on the Mount,” mentality. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a long series of teachings to a large number of people. The message is important, and one of the most important teachings that we find from Jesus Christ within the Gospels. What we do not find in the scriptures is the reaction from the audience. Nowhere does it say that those that heard the sermon went on to become his faithful disciples. The content of the Sermon on the Mount was important. But the Sermon on the Mount likely did not form its listeners into lifelong disciples.
Jesus had twelve apostles. Those twelve apostles lived with him and were mentored by him for three years. It was those twelve that spread the Gospel message to the entire world. Those twelve were Christ’s biggest success story. We wouldn’t even know about the message of the Sermon on the Mount if St. Matthew – one of the twelve – didn’t write it down for us.
It wasn’t Jesus’s large group ministry that made the biggest impact on the world – it was His small group ministry.
In the Church, we have a tendency to look at the masses of people that need to hear the message of the Gospel and we fail to focus on the method that Christ gives us to communicate His message.
The Theory of One
If we look at the way Jesus operates, he never loses sight of the individual. Jesus started with the mindset of making one disciple. He took that approach and grew it to three, and then to twelve and then to seventy-two… and so on.
Consider this approach – spiritual multiplication -when you think of some of the most fruitful evangelists in our Church. For example, in 195 St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) founded the Missionaries of Charity with 12 members. Today, the Missionaries of Charity have over 4500 sisters in their community and they have helped thousands of the “poorest of the poor.” What was Mother Teresa’s ministerial philosophy?
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” – Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was always focused on meeting the ministerial needs of each individual.
So should we apply this principle to youth ministry. How do we make life-long disciples of our young people? Delivering the Gospel message to a large number of people is a valuable goal, but it should never be our only consideration.
When I train youth ministers, I want them to do three things:
- Focus on prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
- Focus on developing a process that meets the pastoral needs of one person.
- Multiply that process.
If you were only responsible for one soul, what would the ministry look like? Your approach should look different than the ministry approach of simply delivering a message.