Today is the conclusion of my series inspired by a conversation with Everett Fritz, author of the recently released book, The Art of Forming Young Disciples: Why Youth Ministries Aren’t Working And What To Do About It.
Everett had just shared with me the methodology of “think small, to grow big” and although I understood why, I was wondering whether this process has proven to be effective. Instead of responding with a yes or no, Everett shared with me the story of Jan Tyranowski.
Jan was a tailor in Poland in the beginning of the twentieth century. As a young man, he committed his life to Christ and began reading spiritual classics, and soon developed a love for the spiritual writings of St John of the Cross. In 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, they began removing priests from parishes because they felt threatened by the priests’ influence over their congregations. The Nazis focused in particular on removing any priests working in youth programs.
Due to the shortage of priests, laypersons were used to help form young people. In one of those parishes, Jan Tyranowski was seen as a prayerful man, so he was asked to work with a small group of high school-aged boys in his parish.
Jan began meeting with 5 young men and through his instruction, they became very committed to living a disciplined life and devoted to a deep mysticism, especially the study and practice of St John of the Cross’ spirituality. They met each week as he mentored them in their lives and in the Faith.
Additionally, he also instructed these same boys in how to weekly mentor twelve younger boys in their faith, too.
All told, there were 65 boys who were involved in the small group mentorship directed by Jan Tyranowski. Ten of them became priests. One of those young men was Karol Wojtyla, the future Saint Pope John Paul II.
Everett ended this story by saying,
“Never underestimate what one saint can do to change the world. Because what is more powerful? One saint or 100 mediocre Catholics? Our young people need mentors. They need discipleship. We need forwards thinker who realize that we cannot repair the problems of youth ministry—we have to rebuild youth ministry.”
“Our youth need their parents engaged in their lives. They need mentors and peers who will assist in meeting their pastoral needs. They don’t need the latest fancy programs and youth groups. What they want is conversation, listening and friendship”–just like everyone else. (Emphases mine)
Because my own experiences in both youth and adult ministry during the last two decades have validated and affirmed exactly what Everett wrote about in his book, and it continues to be affirmed in my current high school ministry parish work, so I am wholeheartedly in agreement with Everett that this is the focus we need and the methods we need to be using.
I, for one, am in this for the long haul, and I hope and pray that my fellow youth ministers and catechists and a whole LOT of holy men and women will respond to this clarion call to help stem the tide of our young people leaving the Faith by rolling up their sleeves and doing the work that should be done to serve our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in our Lord’s vineyard.
We need to get busy laying the foundation NOW, so lifelong disciples of Jesus are being raised up who can become the multitude of witnesses necessary to transform our world today just like the Apostles did more than two millennia ago.
Looking forward to seeing each of you on the Way real soon, and God bless.
For more information on resources and suggestions for how to implement Everett’s “think small, grow big” mentality in youth ministry, read his book, and/or check out St Andrew Missionaries at www.standrewmissionaries.org