Blog/CYM Blog

It Doesn’t Have to Be Awkward: Working With Priests in Youth Ministry

How great is it to be at a Steubenville Conference, LTLC, or other event, and see your priest concelebrating Mass, or hearing Confessions? You feel that moment of pride when you can point and say, “That’s OUR PRIEST!”

I’ll let you in on a little secret… it’s even better from the other side. Looking out and seeing my teens, Core, and youth minister together fills me (and my brother priests) with immense pride. Hearing their Confessions and seeing them enter into worship is humbling, indeed. It is truly an honor to be in the presence of those pursuing holiness and that in turn drives me to be holier. I love being a priest!

Working with teens is a huge gift. It brings me such radiant JOY as a priest; their passion and zeal invigorates and energizes me and my priestly ministry. Quite frankly, it’s what gets me up in the morning.

But, as rewarding as youth ministry is, it’s also challenging for all of us. Navigating that priest-youth minister relationship can be awkward. It is, after all, multi-faceted: shepherd-sheep, employer-employee, co-workers in the vineyard, etc. Keep in mind that it is a delicate dance for the priest as well, as he serves as spiritual father as well as administrator of all the people entrusted to his care, including you, your core, and your teens!

So, how do we navigate this relationship? The same way we navigate everything else — with our compass, Jesus.

Pray More

The key to any successful relationship is communication, with others and with God. So, begin with prayer: for yourself and your needs, for your program, and for your priest(s). No matter what your current relationship is like with him, smooth sailing or a little rocky, take time to pray, every day.

It doesn’t matter how we pray, it matters that we pray. Just do it. It can be attending daily Mass, a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer for peace, or a prayer that God gives him whatever he needs that day. It is really important to pray for your priest(s). People sometimes forget that we priests need prayer too!

Communication

Next, carve out a brief period of time each week that two of you can connect and touch base via face-to-face. Emails, texts, and phone calls are no substitute for the honest to goodness personal conversation. Take the initiative and approach your priest. Get on his calendar.

Remember that just as you aren’t perfect, neither is he. See Prayer. I have been fortunate to work with two great youth ministers in my parish where I’ve been assigned as a priest. I know I’ve made mistakes in working with them. We have shared several learning experiences together, and I believe the result has been stronger relationships with each of my brothers, all because of working at communication.

Invite, invite, invite!

Invite him to everything, letting him know he is always welcome. Sometimes people just need to be asked. Now, he probably won’t make it to everything, but, if you keep inviting, giving him plenty of notice, he’ll come to something. If you think he’s getting tired of you inviting him, keep inviting. Remember, chances are that you are probably the expert in youth ministry, not him. Give him a reason to be there, if necessary. Sacramental needs, adoration, retreats (don’t forget to order him a t-shirt too!), a talk on vocations, whatever. If he just happens by, that is great. Be sure to briefly acknowledge his presence. Take time with the teens and Core to pray for your priest/s too. One of the most moving experiences for me as a priest has been to be prayed over by my teens. See? Prayer.

Know that your priest, whether he shows it or not, supports you and youth ministry in your parish. Maybe not in the way that you’d expect, but if he didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be there. He’s got your back. Make sure you have his! You can do this!
In the words of Yoda, there is do or do not. There is no try.

About the Author

Fr. Chris Dunlap
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