When I was younger, the greatest challenge in my prayer life was learning to hear the voice of God and follow the Holy Spirit’s movements. As I have grown older, I have found that hearing God is not the difficult task – it’s saying, “yes,” to Him.
When Mary was asked to be the mother of the Christ child, her fiat took tremendous courage. When Peter was told by Jesus to, “feed my sheep,” it took tremendous faith. When the martyrs were faced with the choice to rebuke their faith or die, they said, “yes,” to their hope in Christ’s promise of the resurrection. Every saint in the Church has had to, time and again, learn to say, “yes,” to Christ when faced with God’s difficult callings.
Nearly one year ago, I found myself at a crossroad in my life. I left my job at the Augustine Institute in order to answer God’s call to “go and make disciples.” His words were loud and clear in my prayer life. But hearing His voice was a lot easier than saying, “yes,” to His request. I knew that I had a calling to get out from behind the desk and go into the Church to change the way that youth ministry is done. Nevertheless, as a husband and father of three, leaving a stable position at a growing Catholic institution with no prospects and no understanding of what I was supposed to be doing is a terrifying position to be in. As I quickly learned, God provides when we are faithful to His call.
Over the course of 2016, I am launching a new organization called St. Andrew Missionaries. 1 in 10 Americans is a former Catholic and 80% of former Catholics leave the Church by their 23rd birthday. The Church is hemorrhaging our young people. The mission of St. Andrew Missionaries is to work to change this reality. Pope Francis points out that the problem in youth ministry is structural – our parish youth ministry structures fail to meet young people’s basic pastoral needs.
“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 they can understand.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
In order to meet the basic needs of our young people, we cannot continue to use the same failed paradigms that haven’t been working in our Church for the past several decades. Youth need mentors and examples in the faith – they don’t need silly games, empty teachings and stale pizza. Our Church has to learn to shift its approach with young people from youth groups and/or classrooms into discipleship based structures where every young person has a mentoring relationship.
Understanding how to fix and develop ministry comes easy for me. For me, the scariest part was all of the other aspects of starting and running an organization. Over the past several months, I have had to file for 501c-3 status (achieved in December 2015), incorporate and setup a Board of Directors. I have had to come up with a business plan that was sustainable and could project for long-term growth. I have had to work for seed funding (my current mission support team is 17% of the way to being fully funded). I have had to sell the mission concepts to donors, colleagues, and the hardest sell – my wife.
The learning curve isn’t any easier over the next several months. I’m in the early stages of logo development, branding and website development. I’m putting together a marketing and launch plan. I’m writing a book (called The Catholic Youth Ministry Problem) that I hope will be published and released to coincide with St. Andrew Missionaries official launch later this year. I’m having meetings with Diocesan directors to share with them the vision and goals of this new organization. For a guy that has been little more than a career youth minister, starting an organization is an intimidating proposition.
I’m learning, day in and day out, that God provides the grace when we say, “yes,” to His plan. He guides us each step of the way and guides us down safe paths. And with each new step following Christ’s plan, I am discovering how saying, “yes,” draws me deeper and closer to Him every day.