Youth Ministers Supporting Youth Integration

Quoted by Andrew Root, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of youth ministry:

Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community. It is to serve the church-community by hearing, learning, and practicing the word. God’s spirit in the church has nothing to do with youthful criticism of the church, the radical nature of God’s claim on human beings nothing to do with youthful radicalism, and the commandment for sanctification nothing to do with youthful impulse to better the world.

Though good youth ministry consists in integrating young men and women into the life of the church through the faithfulness of their (god)parents, and not in segregating them from their elders and their younger siblings, there still does seem to be an important role for a youth minister: to catechize people in their teens and twenties into the liturgy of the church, and to teach them ways to approach contemporary challenges faithfully, adhering to Scripture and right reason. By example, in the Holy Communion liturgy, the youth minister might serve often as the Gospeller or the Epistoller; on weekdays, statutes permitting, he might lead students in prayer at school and teach them to lead daily prayers on their own. He could also be their confessor and spiritual director, especially if he was ordained a presbyter:

And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.

Even without authority in the church to pronounce absolution, a confessor and spiritual director can diagnose the spiritual ailment and prescribe a penance that helps the penitent recover his health; unless the penitent desires especially to hear absolution pronounced upon him individually, he will already have what he needs in Sunday’s absolution pronounced upon the whole church. For students, a school lunch is an excellent time for confession and spiritual direction, since the student who approaches then will likely be fasting anyway; the penance that the spiritual director recommends may be something the student can do right away. This presence of spiritual discipline in the midst of daily life is something students can learn to practise themselves, and having learnt they will keep, and keeping they will cherish, and cherishing they will persevere. Or so we hope, that God may use the discipline of the mind and body to infuse the image of his Word into those who are his sons.

Indeed, sonship must be a central theme in young persons’ study. In their stage of life, being the child of a father and mother is, whether well or badly, the most prominent structure. It is in this relation – or in the sense of not having this relation – that they grow up. And the one they are to imitate above all things, the Christ, is the Son of God. Both their origin and their future glory is in sonship. For in their baptisms they are ritually adopted, and on the Last Day they will have in full measure their inheritance in Christ the only-begotten Son, who this day is ascended to the heavens at the right hand of the Father. Their humble beginning is that of a son emerging from the waters, and their glory is in the Son receiving all power and honour. And so, in the life of the Church, the youth minister should encourage them with the lives of the glorious martyrs, that they may believe that what is Christ’s is theirs, and support their relationships with their godfathers and godmothers, that they may learn sonship from those who themselves are sons of the Most High, in the Spirit of the only-begotten Son. The end is that they may know themselves first and foremost as sons, as they learn from the catechism:

Question. What is your Name?
Answer. N. or M.
Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

May they all, with the faithfulness of their parents in God and the help of youth ministers, be worthy by faith to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

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