| By Mary Gates

Forming Disciples of Christ

Today’s Catholic Youth Development is More Than Pizza and Fun

As the director of parish youth discipleship and catechesis for the Diocese of Lansing, Brian Flynn looks to support parish staff in their mission to help form disciples of Christ.

“Young people are taught to be disciples in their homes, as well as in schools and in their parishes.” Brian says, noting that in each of those settings, relational and educational aspects are needed. “Good youth ministry is catechetical and good catechesis is evangelical. While youth ministry is sometimes stigmatized as where the fun and pizza happens, it is actually an opportunity for trusted adults to accompany young people as they explore life’s challenges and questions and seek to follow Jesus.”

Brian describes the role of adult leaders as more than friendship, saying the youth need “real mentors in the context of faith.” Mentorship, he says, provides young people with trusted witnesses who model the peace and joy that come from following Christ. “When these relationships exist, youth are much more likely to stay engaged in their faith.”

Because models of the faith are essential, Brian seeks out ways to form and aid the youth ministers, directors of religious education (DREs), teachers and coaches who act as mentors and witnesses. “We are intentional about looking for ways to support and strengthen and evangelize those who work with young people—specifically the people at the parishes doing the ministry. If we don’t have adults who are equipped and trained to walk with young people, then events that are held for youth are just isolated occurrences without lasting impact. I try to listen and pray and I am always researching and paying attention to current trends and applying them as we see fit.”

As Brian discerns ways to support parish staff in discipling young people, donated DSA dollars allow for those avenues of support to come to life.

In listening to both pastors and families across the diocese, Brian has seen the spiritual fruits of Damascus ministries (well known for Catholic Youth Summer Camp). The Damascus approach—one of ‘high adventure high faith’—provides an effective means of both evangelization and catechesis.

“Post-COVID there are fewer youth adult apostolates that are thriving. Damascus is one—they are selling out their camps with thousands of youth attending each year. It’s obvious that what they are offering is resonating with young people.”

In addition to running camps and retreats, Damascus is partnering with dioceses.

“Their events are great, but like us, they know the value of training and equipping people in their day to day discipleship” DSA funding has allowed the diocese to invite Damascus missionaries to Lansing to hold practical training sessions that teach and support those involved in ministry.

“By bringing the Damascus National Team in we are saying we know this is bearing fruit. A lot of what they do at their camps they are able to train people to do year round. Last year the training sessions here were for youth and young adult ministry leaders but this year we opened it up to DRES, youth ministers, parents, coaches, and mature teens ready to be equipped to lead their peers.” With topics including: sustaining one’s own relationships with the lord in the context of ministry, prayer ministry, small group ministry and recruiting and training volunteers, the Damascus national team led three training sessions with the hope equipping ministers to bear greater fruit across the diocese.

“I appreciate that the Damascus team doesn’t just give a presentation or training, but they talk about the biblical basis of these practices and then there’s a practicum—for instance, there is a time to practice prayer ministry. Not all of those who attended had been involved in prayer ministry before, but everyone had the chance to be prayed with and then to pray with people.”

Abby Walraven, youth minister at St. Rita Catholic Church in Clarklake, is grateful for the training. Having already implemented ideas into her ministry, Abby was bouyed by the guidance and testimonies.

“In addition to tips for creating a welcoming environment and leading small groups, the Damascus team also reminded us of the power of praying and fasting for our youth—and practical ways to remember to pray for each person by name,” Abby says. “They shared stories of how prayer and fasting had changed their own ministry for the better, and it was incredible to hear how God has changed young people's lives through the ministry of prayer. The Damascus team reminded us that ultimately, we change kids' lives when we allow God to work through us - it is not the perfect youth group plan, or the best snacks, that will change a young person's life for the better. Rather, it is leading them to God the best we can and letting him do the rest.”

Appreciative of the efforts of the diocese to support youth ministers and grateful for the DSA funding that covers these and other opportunities, Abby says that the takeaway was more than just tips and reminders, but even more so a chance to be spiritually fed.

“I think often, those who minister to others forget that they need to be ministered to themselves, and this is certainly the case with me. Having someone else lead something that I could simply participate in and learn from was a blessing.”