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How Fathers and Families Can Save Youth Ministry From Itself



Jason Craig - published on 07/15/15

Our kids need parents more than they need professionals

Man is formed by two main things: family and Church. God made the family at creation and made the Church at the re-creation through Christ. One we inherit at birth and the other we inherit at our second birth (baptism).

What has happened in recent decades, however, is the unprecedented breakdown in both of those institutions, family and Church. They’re divine institutions, so they’re not going anywhere, but they’re populated by men, so it can get messy.

And I want to point out the findings of Mary Eberstadt in her book How the West Really Lost God to perhaps shift your thoughts on which of those two things decline first, or rather, which decline has a great effect on the other’s decline.

Most of us think it does like this: stupid, lame, and lethargic teaching hurts faith – bad preaching, wonky catechesis, etc.. Without faith, then, families begin to loosen at the seams and decline. Families suffer when faith suffers.

Eberstadt looks at the evidence and finds that the opposite is often true. While poor catechesis and soft morality do perpetuate the problem, it is the decline in the family that usually precedes the decline in faith. No, it’s not an “either/or” issue, but we at least need to understand that the health of the family and the health of faith are inseparable. Like a DNA strand, “family and faith are the invisible double helix of society – two spirals that when linked to one another can effectively reproduce, but whose strength and momentum depend on one another” (Eberstadt).

Family life itself predisposes us and even prepares us for a life of faith. As St. John Paul famously said, the family is the “school of love”. Loving fathers reveal the face of the Father; tender mothers teach us the value of mercy; siblings teach us fraternal love; and all of the pains and trials teach us of sin and redemption. I’m pretty sure changing diapers prepares you for purgatory. And, of course I’ll mention this, the most important factor for faith is the father. The stronger his faith the stronger the chance that the rest of the family will be lifelong disciples.  So, faith suffers when families suffer.


Youth ministry is a symptom of unhealthy families. Why? Because most youth ministry programs are targeting young people for initial evangelization – often they’re trying to convince them that God is real, sent His Son, and loves them, and that the Catholic Church is the true Church. In short, they’re trying to make them Christians. But few are asking – why do so many youth ministry folks presume (rightly) those kids are not well-formed Christians to start with? We’ll get to that…

But the problem arises when most youth ministry programs see young people in isolation from their family. They are not considering the whole ecosystem, and by doing that they are limiting their effectiveness.

I Googled “Catholic youth ministry mission statement”, and here’s one from the top:

“The purpose of the Youth Ministry Program is to create an environment which leads high school teenagers into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and His Church. This is the command of Jesus to his first disciples: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.’ Everything we do at St. [Example Popular Youth Program] is directed toward the evangelization of our young people, leading them to know and love Christ and His Church!”

That’s a big burden for that ministry to carry. From evangelization to sending them out to evangelize? – it’s the entire Christian formation placed upon one team. It follows the world’s model of dividing and conquering; put babies in daycare, old folks in homes, those in the middle in “productivity”, and once every age is divided and cared for, we’ll be ok.

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