While the Church confronts undeniable challenges, including the scandal of abuse, diminishing Mass attendance, and the weight of Church culture toward maintaining the status quo, Director of Parish 2020 Daniel Ang sees the Holy Spirit calling the Church to a renewed form and expressions of life.
Addressing a packed room of young Catholics at Perth’s Newman Siena Centre earlier this month, Mr Ang spoke on the causes for the decline in participation within the Church and the role of young people as influential leaders in future renewal. “If youth ministry is there to prepare young people for adult discipleship, how well are we preparing young people for that future?” Mr Ang said.
“Youth ministry exists not simply to hold people within the church when they are young, but exists to animate inspire and equip young people to leave youth ministry and become active and missionary adult disciples. It can play a part in the gradual transformation of our Church culture, to place again a full and living discipleship to Jesus before young people as the heart of what we do and who we are as Catholics.”
With this as the ultimate mission of youth ministry, Mr Ang shared that we sometimes see little fruit and can in fact witness a decline in participation among the young for various reasons.
One of the roots of the dilemma can lie with the approach of youth ministry within our parishes simply as a retention strategy or otherwise as a social gathering that lacks an explicit focus on evangelising, bringing people to faith and to entrust their lives to Christ.
“If a group is simply about retaining members, then youth leaders will need to constantly come up with new and gimmicky ideas to retain the current membership and ‘get them to Mass’ but never address the deeper ‘why’ that might sustain them for a lifetime of faith.” Mr Ang said.
“Such groups can have short futures as they will tend to focus on behaviour modification rather than discipleship.
“What we can miss is that when people become disciples – encounter Jesus, surrender their life to him, and make the decision to follow – they will go to Mass for the rest of their lives.
“We want people to fall in love, not merely fall in line.”
Moving forward, Mr Ang see youth ministry as having the potential to create a new missionary culture within our Church and unleash spiritual entrepreneurs and disciples who can impact the wider culture with the Gospel.
“It is the prophetic role of youth ministry to recover a new norm by equipping young people to move from a faith that can be customary, inherited or barren to a faith which is intentional, personal and fruitful.
“Our witness demonstrates what a new life in Christ looks like. If our own Church attendance and involvement in the life of the Church does make a difference in how we live, if we are actively learning a style of life steered by love, it provokes a response from the young people in our care and opens a path of curiosity, trust and dialogue.
“It is important to underscore that it is not our youth programs that make disciples; it is disciples that make disciples.”
The 4 July talk, aimed at young adults in youth ministry, was an initiative by the Archdiocese of Perth’s Centre for Faith Enrichment.
Centre Director Dr Marco Ceccarelli said he felt that it was important to invite Mr Ang to speak on these issues as he brings a ‘freshness’ to the discussion that is extremely important.
“He [Daniel Ang] courageously analyses the reality we are facing regarding young people moving away from the Church and our inability to speak about Jesus Christ to them.”
“His observations about a Church that needs help in passing from administering sacraments to actively speaking about Jesus Christ and the salvation He can bring to people’s lives are very important.
“Only through a personal and intimate meeting with Jesus Christ. Only once this happens, as Daniel says, will the youth come back to the Church and to the sacraments.”
The talk was followed by a lively Q and A with many encouraged people keen to know how they could become intentional missionary disciples.