A while back, my friend Heather suggested a topic for a Catholic Stand article: “What it’s really like to be a youth leader.” The only problem with this suggestion was that I had no idea what it was like to be a youth leader.
When Heather made her suggestion in late April, early May, the thought of becoming a youth leader wasn’t even on my radar. But life is funny. In late July I found myself applying for my current job as a youth minister. I felt a little bit like one of the 72:
“The Lord appointed seventy-two others whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place He intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals [.] Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you’.”
~ Luke 10: 1-4, 8-9 ~
The Journey begins
When I first heard about the position, I felt a mixture of excitement and uncertainty. I hadn’t gone to college to learn about ministry. And the closest I had come to teaching or leading teens was when I presided over a summer program as a librarian. I couldn’t help wondering if a job like this was something I’d even be any good at doing.
There was a part of me that wondered if I should even apply for the job. I’d been spending a good portion of the last decade just trying to find a job that better suited me so I wasn’t even sure if I would have the time to be a good youth minister. But, still, something kept prompting me to give it a try. So, after prayerfully reflecting about it, I decided to take a chance. I would try something new. So I answered the calling.
On The Job Training
I was welcomed into my new job and slowly started learning the ropes. Leading Core Team meetings, collaborating with other youth leaders, and organizing youth events were all part of the job I soon found myself growing and adapting in new ways; some exciting and some awkward.
I’ve always been kind of an “ideas” guy. I’d get these wonderful, big ideas, but when it would come to implementing them, all too often I found I’d forgotten some of the nitty-gritty key details. I soon found out that youth group ministers really have to pay attention to the details.
For instance, in early December, Fusion (my youth group at Immaculate Heart of Mary) is planning to go Christmas Caroling at a nearby retirement community. Afterwards, my plan was to return to the church and continue the festivities in the Social Hall. In my mind and even during the planning phase on paper, everything worked out fine.
But then, in one of our meetings, several questions were raised, like “Has anyone contacted the retirement home to make sure they’re still expecting us?” and “Who’s providing the food, if any, for the gathering in the Social Hall?” The cold hard reality of those two questions silenced me. I realized in horror that we had yet to finalize either of those matters. And the event was a little less than a month away!
The next week was a mad scramble as I made phone calls, sent out emails, and asked various people and organizations if they could help out. I was pretty frazzled for much of the week. But then I got a chance to discuss my concerns with Fr. Marcoe, the man who hired me and a man who has quickly become a close friend.
Embrace the Awkward
I expressed my fears to Fr. Marcoe, some of my frustrations, and the ways in which I felt confused and conflicted. I shared my desire for Fusion to become a great youth group. And I told him that I wanted to lead it as best as I could. But I also told him that I felt awkward, in some ways.
Infinitely patient, he reminded me that there are going to be times when as the leader of Fusion I will have to make the tough decisions. He also said I shouldn’t be hesitant about asking others for help, and that I have to give myself time to learn what type of leader I am. I also have to give myself room to grow, he said, and forgive myself when I make mistakes. Near the end of our conversation, he gave me this nugget which stuck with me: “Paul, sometimes you just have to embrace the awkward.”
Saints in the Making
Going forward I’m goring to continue to do my best. Youth ministry isn’t always going to be glorious or fun. But I knew that from the start. At the same time the outcome is so rewarding. No matter what stresses or surprises come with the job, I consider it all worth it. I am getting to see these young people opening up and growing into the saints they will one day become.
As Fusion continues to grow, I want to thank my fellow youth leaders for all their invaluable assistance, time, and energy.
And, please, remember to pray for everyone.