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A Book Review… How To Start A Program For Youthful Perseverance

August 8, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

Fritz, Everett. The Art of Forming Young Disciples: Why Youth Ministries Aren’t Working and What to Do About It (Sophia Institute Press, 128 pages, Paperback and Kindle).

This slim volume is divided into three parts, namely understanding youth ministry generally; looking at the Catholic youth ministry problem; and an outline of the twofold solution which the author, Everett Fritz, is advocating.
The book has come out of Fritz’s experience as a youth minister, as he realized that the approach he had taken up to that point was not really working. Of the young people who had gone through programs he had led, only a relatively small number of them had continued to practice the faith in later years.
This led him to try and analyze what the factors were that made the difference between a teen who becomes a lifelong disciple of Christ, and one who falls away from the Church. In doing this analysis, he came to realize that the ones who persevered were the ones he had spent the most time with, in a program of discipleship.
He had looked on the teens in his parish as a large group, rather than as individuals, and realized that somehow he had to adopt a program that would enable him to reach each of them in a deeper way.
Looking back, he also realized that that was exactly what had happened with him when he was younger: a priest had taken an interest in him and worked personally to deepen his faith and give him a greater understanding of Catholicism. And this, Fritz argues, is just what Christ did with His closest disciples who lived with Him for three years.
The numbers which Fritz puts forward to support his position that Catholic youth ministry isn’t working back up his claims: Of young Catholics nearly half have effectively left the Church by the age of eighteen, and nearly 80 percent by the age of twenty-three — and this isn’t due to a lack of resources or programs.
But, he argues, in true discipleship, faith is caught and not taught — and this means a process, an apprenticeship, where the disciple learns from a “master,” just as Jesus taught His disciples. That way they learn good religious habits, and become lifelong disciples.
The problem is that the culture in which young people are growing up in has changed so much over the last five or six decades that an intense period of discipleship is needed to overcome the huge anti-religious bias which most of them have lived through. So, somehow, the Church needs to meet the complex needs of today’s young people without watering down the faith.
As Fritz says: “Teens need relationships, and, within those relationships, they have to be given the opportunity to engage in critical thinking and discussions about faith and life. If this basic need is not met, they will not become disciples.”
These relationships, and the guidance they provide, are more necessary than ever today, given the negative aspects of teen culture, and particularly the focus on sex and violence in much popular entertainment, and given also the fact that teens spend much less time with their parents than was formerly the case, even though, in reality, they actually crave adult guidance. And when they do get this, emotional walls and barriers come down, as proper order is restored to the young person’s life.
This is all the more the case since parents are meant to be the primary educators of their children — and this isn’t something that should only happen when they are very young.
Fritz is against large groups of teens meeting together for youth ministry, since this prevents the possibility of the minister engaging in a meaningful and productive spiritual relationship with a smaller number of young people — and even a popular youth minister, or even several of them, can only do so much.
But because Catholic schools generally are doing a poor job of passing on the faith, there is all the more need for effective youth ministry in order to reach young people and hopefully make them lifelong disciples. Fritz argues that the most important thing about a Catholic school, if it is to be effective at passing on the faith, is that it must develop a student body which is focused on living its faith — and because this is not happening, more and more families are turning to homeschooling.
He argues that what is needed for a successful Catholic education generally is that it should encourage an atmosphere in which older students support younger students, and young people are put in touch with genuine disciples of Christ, so that the entire worldview of the student is formed by Catholicism.
Overall, Fritz says that this should be done in small groups if youth ministry is to be more effective in the future.
As an example of this he points to Jan Tyranowski, who was the Polish tailor who acted as a spiritual mentor to young Karol Wojtyla — the future saint and pope, John Paul II — in the 1930s. He started a youth ministry entitled “The Living Flame,” and mentored five boys with a focus on the spirituality of St. John of the Cross.
He told the five boys to find twelve younger boys to meet with weekly in Living Rosary groups, which made for a total of 65 boys, ten of whom eventually became priests, including Karol Wojtyla. As Pope, he would say that Tyranowski’s influence was pivotal for him, and led to his vocation.
Fritz also points to the approach taken by Jesus, in His mentoring of His closest disciples, who formed the nucleus of the young Church and went out to evangelize the world — whereas the great crowds who listened to His preaching, for the most part rejected Him.
Considerations such as the above led Fritz to adopt an approach in his work which focused much more on small groups and one to one mentoring, in which the Gospel was being shared and the pastoral needs of the young people he was involved with were being more fully met, and where they were being held accountable by friends for growing in the faith.
He has also involved parents as a way of spreading the load, and because it is quite natural that committed parents have a great interest in passing on their beliefs to their children.

Worth Your Time

The book concludes with a useful list of recommended tools and resources including various organizations, and videos and books, and will undoubtedly become a very useful resource in itself for those involved in youth ministry, be they parents or professionals.
The Art of Forming Young Disciples could perhaps be improved by having more practical examples of how disciples have been formed in the Church historically, such as for example the way St. John Bosco formed his young followers, or with incidents from the family life of St. Therese of Lisieux, and it would also probably benefit by having some endorsements from leaders in the field of Catholic youth ministry.
But overall, the system outlined by Fritz seems to be one based on solid evangelizing principles, and thus this short work is well worth the time of any interested parent or Catholic youth worker.

+ + +

(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also a written two time-travel/adventure books for young people — details can be found at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk/.)

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