I have decided to title this presentation: Success Without Successor is Failure in Disguise, to highlight the tragedy that stares us in the face if (in spite of whatever we may consider our successes today) we do not invest sufficiently in the future of our Church and of our society, through the establishment of vibrant spiritual, pastoral, educational and human development programmes and projects that are specifically targeted at salvaging our youth population and equipping them for wholesome lives here on earth and eternal life hereafter. In this brief encounter therefore I hope to confront you all with some of the hard truths of our corporate existence and the harsh sociological realities of today as well as the challenges that face the older generation in our society, and particularly leaders of the laity and clergy in the Church with regard to the formation of our youth in general and Christian Youth Ministry in particular. I shall then call for a major paradigm shift in our perception of and approach to youth ministry and in the methods we employ in youth evangelisation and pastoral care. I shall end by calling for a heavy investment of financial, material and personnel resources in youth ministry today, if we are not to bequeath to the coming generation a legacy of failure.
By the United Nations classification that is widely used today, youthsrefer to young people of between age 15 and 24. Some countries however use a slightly varied age configuration in identifying the youth. This is the age immediately after puberty when childhood is abandoned and the individual is expected to mature quickly and soon take his or her place in the world of adults. Many societies recognise 18 (and 21 in others) as the age of maturity. When young people get to this age, they automatically assume a number of rights and responsibilities, including the right to marry, the right to own a driver’s license and drive a car, the right to work and receive wages, the right to own property, the right to vote in an election, etc. When young people get to this age they also assume full responsibility for their actions and choices, such that they can be sentenced to prison for a criminal offence, or where the death penalty is operative, they can be sentenced to death for a capital offence. Today there are 1.3 billion people between the age of 15 and 24 in the world – over 20 percent of the total population of the world. 85 percent of the youths of the world live in developing countries. The percentage of youths relative to the population of continents is as follows: Africa 20.3%; Latin America 19.5%; Asia 17.8%; Oceania 15.6%; Europe 13.8%; North America 13.5%.
The youths of the 21st Century are living in a world of multiple contradictions, a world that has witnessed unprecedented changes in the last one hundred years whose enormity has taken its toll in the individual and corporate lives of people, a world torn apart by a complexity of conflicting value orientations, divergent worldviews and competing ideologies. The 20th century witnessed phenomenal advancements in science and technology that have transformed practically every sphere of life, from telecommunication to transportation, and from agriculture to healthcare delivery. But the 20thCentury also witnessed two world wars and the development and use in warfare of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The 20th Century witnessed the Jewish holocaust, but also the Rwandan genocide and the fratricidal conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the strange phenomenon of dare devil child soldiers emerged and shocked the entire world. The drums of war in the Western and Central African regions can still be heard loud and clear today in Sudan, Uganda and Cote d’ Ivoire. And the dust has yet to settle in Iraq, where attempts to crush terrorism by superior force of arms has proved to be counterproductive, as more anti-Western sentiments are being generated across the Middle East that are sure to fuel further acts of terrorism. At the end of each violent crisis, the countries involved are often devastated, their populations decimated and the survivors, notably youths and children, are dislocated and traumatised.
The economy of most developing countries is in very bad shape. Many of these societies witness a high level of corruption and the mismanagement of the resources available to them. With the wealth of the society often in very few hands, many people are condemned to degrading poverty and even destitution, while a few others wallow in conspicuous consumption. And in the face of widespread family breakdown, collapse of educational institutions, decaying social infrastructure in many of our countries, and widespread youth unemployment, the lives of many young people are dislocated, and they are fast losing the sense of meaning and hope in life. And so we witness widespread drug addiction, criminality, depression and an increasingly high rate of suicide. In recent years some high-ranking members and agents of the Christian Church in many parts of the world have themselves been embroiled in a crisis of credibility and confidence as a result of one scandalous behaviour or the other, and this has sometimes affected the Church’s capacity to reassure the often disoriented younger generation that all will be well.
Ours is truly a generation of multiple contradictions. We live in a world of information explosion, and yet a world devoid of meaning. The more words we use, the less meaning we find in those words. Our communication gargets are supposed to enhance our interpersonal communication, but it appears that the more access we have to the internet, the more TV, the more mobile phones and the more fast jets we acquire, the more we are alienated from one another. Our generation has the reputation of not only making war like previous generations, but with our modern communications technology we can now bring the horrors of war to each person's living room. Today we do not stop at just being promiscuous like the fun-loving men and women of primitive times. No, we have become enterprising with our promiscuity. We now have a way of entertaining people in far away lands with the shameful and dehumanising acts of our promiscuity, thanks to the television, video and the Internet. The largest audience for this strange sort of entertainment everywhere are our gullible and vulnerable young people and children. But it only serves to worsen the feeling of futility and the loss of a sense of meaning among them.
Traditional moral norms no longer hold sway in the life of many people today. The traditional agents of socialization - the family, the church and the school, appear to have lost much of their authority and pride of place in the socialization process. Today the Internet, the Television, the Cinema, the Home Video and the Peer Group appear to have snatched from the Parents, the Priests and Catechists and the School Teachers the primary prerogative of imparting knowledge and values and building the character of the younger generation. While the 15 year old who goes to church in the modern society may be instructed for an average of 15 minutes every week from the pulpit and the one from a very good home may have the attention of his or her parents for an average of 15 minutes a day, (and that may be all the moral, religious and value instruction he or she ever gets), the same youth spends an average of 5 hours everyday watching television and browsing the Internet, and taking in often uncritically whatever the television and the Internet have to offer, the good the bad and the ugly - from the nauseating gangsterism of the Music Channel O on DSTV to the dirty pornography available on several Internet sites!
Thus, the religious, moral and character formation of those we call the leaders of tomorrow and their followers are being largely undertaken today by those who know how to capitalise on or make optimum use of the instruments of the modern media. They include big time media executives, operators of the advertisement and entertainment industry, sports and music celebrities and merchants of promiscuity, whose primary interest is often the maximization of profit and not the wholesome formation of the gullible and impressionable young people they have as audience. This major shift in the principal agents of socialization and the dynamics of youth formation from the parents to the television, and from the pulpit to the Internet which has occurred in our time comes with serious consequences for successive generations of human beings.
With the aid of the most up-to-date, sophisticated and effective communication media, long held moral values are now being overturned, secular worldviews and ideologies are now being propagated, the culture of materialism, hedonism, violence and death is now being promoted, and the New Age Movement whose features include satanic worship with the most sordid and absurd rituals is now gradually gaining ascendancy. And our highly impressionable young people are being recruited in their millions. But unfortunately while all this is going on, many highly placed people in the Church and Society have continued to operate with a false sense of security, as if we were going through the best of times. Many parents and leaders have remained complacent in the face of the enormous challenge that faces humanity in the area of youth development. Many leaders in our Church have not woken up to the reality of our times, in order to make an appropriate response by way of a necessary up-dating or even a paradigm shift, but instead they have remained ensconced in an illusory world of success, applying the same old 19th Century paradigms for youth ministry that have been defeated by modern realities, and using the very same tired methods and the worn out media that to my mind and in the context of the 21stCentury society, have become anachronistic.
The family institution itself is in great crisis. There is widespread dislocation, insecurity, instability and uncertainty in marriage and family life, with the very high rate of separation and divorce in our day. In the majority of cases both parents work all day, and they leave the training of children to nannies, maids or paid house helps, who often have little to offer the children put in their charge. With the dwindling economic fortunes of many in our society, the emphasis is often on making ends meet. And so all the attention often goes into looking for or making more money, to the utter neglect of the care and attention that the up-bringing of children demands. Like many leaders of the Church in our society, many of these parents do not seem to appreciate the fact that they are in competition with the Television, the Home Video and the Internet for the moral and character formation of their own children. That is why we are losing a hold on our children, and indiscipline, violent cultism, drug abuse, sex abuse and hooliganism and banditry have become a major feature of our youth culture.
Looking critically at the state of affairs in the world at the beginning of the 21st Century, my impression is that humanity is at a crossroad. There is a desperate yearning for meaning, a profound yearning in the hearts of men and women which our hi-tech civilization and our profound philosophies and lofty ideologies have failed to address. And this is felt more critically among the younger generation. Today many young people in our country and elsewhere are asking fundamental questions of human existence: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of human existence? Is human life worth all the pain and anxiety? Why is there so much suffering? Why are some people so rich while others are so poor? Why is there so much injustice? Why is there so much hate all around? Why are there so many wars and violent clashes all over the place? Is there such a thing as love? And where can we find true love? Thus there is a renewed religious searching among the young generation. There is a revival of interest in sects and confraternities within Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Voodooism, and the New Age Movement, often to a fanatical degree, which is why there is a widespread propensity for violence among young people who belong to some religious sects.
Many of the young people in our day are full of fear and anxiety. Dislocated by family breakdown, destabilised by poverty and unemployment, and traumatised by widespread violence and insecurity of life, some of them are losing hope or becoming very cynical about life and what meaning there is in it. Many wonder what the future holds for them. They ask: “Will tomorrow come?” “And what type of day will tomorrow be?” “What new threats and anxieties will tomorrow bring?” Yet others are full of hope and expectation of a new world order of love, justice, human solidarity and peace, where swords shall be turned into ploughshares and javelins into pruning hooks.
The foregoing presentation of the state of the 21st Century human society indicates that the men and women of today, and especially the youths are yearning for moral and spiritual leadership. They are looking for people to help them answer the fundamental questions of life and help them resolve the puzzles that human hatred, wickedness and suffering and death constitute. My personal conviction and disposition is that we Christian parents and leaders can make a difference in the world for the upcoming generation. We can help them find answers to these questions and direct their search towards Jesus who is the answer to all life’s puzzles. We can show the world and our young people the way out of the present dire predicament. But the question is: Will we? Are we prepared to champion this cause? Do we have the political will? Do we have the courage and commitment to meet the challenges presented by modernity? The Lord has made several promises in this regard, but are we ready to stand on his word? Are we ready to take responsibility (like King David did in Psalm 78:4) for what happens to the next generation? Do we truly recognise that success without successor is failure in disguise?
St Paul challenges us in Ephesians 5:16, that “this may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.” He places the responsibility of transforming an evil generation unto good squarely in the hands of Christians! We read from the book of Joshua that at a time of debauchery in the life of the emergent nation of Israel, when the majority of people had begun to lose faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and when they were taking to the worship of the idols like the Canaanite tribes round about them, Joshua their leader (who had been steadfast all his life and who was about to die at this point), summoned them to himself and demanded that they choose whom they want to serve - the God of Abraham or those idols that they had been flirting around with. He warned them that the God of Abraham is a jealous God and so it is not possible to combine the worship of the true God and their flirtation with the Canaanite idols. So they must choose whom they would serve. Then he declared in those famous words, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15).
Proverbs 29:18 says that where there is no vision the people do perish. Young people everywhere are being led astray by selfish and uncommitted parents, corrupt and visionless leaders, greedy and power hungry politicians, manipulative and exploitative entrepreneurs, and callous and reckless merchants of the violence and pleasure industry. Many of our societies are suffocating under the enormous weight of the seven deadly social sins identified by Mahatma Gandhi, namely: politics without principles; wealth without work; commerce without morality; pleasure without conscience; education without character; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.
The cumulative effect of these deadly sins is of course the culture of violence, death, hopelessness and meaninglessness. And faced with such a culture of absurdity, young people are desperately yearning for authentic leaders to show them an alternative way through life. They are looking out for role models in an alternative culture of love, justice, peace, wholesome life and meaningful existence. To meet this challenge the Lord himself is looking for men and women of integrity from among the adult generation, and especially from among Christians to serve as sentries and role models for our young people, and to address critically the moral reproach that political and economic leadership have become in our country. More than ever before, we need committed adult Christians with sufficient moral credentials to serve as a sign of contradiction and point a different direction to our society which is on the verge of collapse as a result of a progressive moral decay.
The Lord the God of new beginnings challenges us clergy and laity alike to champion the cause of moral and social rejuvenation for our people, in order to give hope to the rising generation. With the acrimonious poverty and the destitution of the multiple of people existing side by side with the affluence and conspicuous consumption of a greedy few, the Lord challenges us parents and church leaders (both clergy and laity), to live such holy lives of frugality, self-sacrifice and self-denial as would serve as a powerful sign of contradiction to the confused youths of today, many of who have been led to believe that a person’s life is about how much he or she owns, or how much territory he or she could conquer. The Lord challenges parents and leaders to show the true way of life to the young men and women of our day who are often lost in the world of endless acquisition, senseless consumption and mindless pleasure. By a life devoted to the pursuit of spiritual, moral and transcendental values, the Lord challenges us to demonstrate to the young people around us in Church, at home, at work or at school, that “being” is greater than “having,” and that life is not a property to be defended, but rather a gift to be shared.
I am convinced today more than ever before of the need to invest in our future by channelling a lot of our time and resources into the wholesome formation and integral development of our youths, because what we see as our successes today must bear fruits in future generations to the glory of God. We must invest in youth ministry and youth development because our successes today must not end with our generation. They must have a multiplier effect on the coming generation. Thus I consider that the Church will do well with a better priest than myself. So I am called to invest a lot of my talents and resources in the formation of young people, so that from among them, a better priest than myself will emerge in the Church of tomorrow. This generation of adults in Nigeria have been called a lost generation, the leadership has been described as a failed leadership, and a number of those who make up the elite have been referred to as corrupt and bereft of vision.
I am convinced therefore that we must invest heavily in our children and youth population, so that from among them would emerge better presidents, better governors, better local government chairmen, better MDs and Directors of companies. Above all, as Church leaders (lay and cleric), if today we invest appropriately in our youths through prayers, through showing good example in Christian living, through adequate liturgical, catechetical, pastoral and human development programmes, combined with the grace of God who has promised that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his Church, then we can look forward to a vibrant Church in the next generation with a more committed crop of clergy and laity than we have seen in our own day.
I suggest that the way forward is first to undertake a thorough study of the dynamics of today’s youth culture in order to understand the population we are targeting. I shall make only a few comments here about the phenomenon that has been identified as the global youth culture: Young people are generally very media driven. They are fascinated by the television, the video and the Internet. They can be hooked on to the TV or Internet screen for hours. They like watching the same kind of movies and listening to the same kind of (fast rhythmic) music. Whether they are in Africa, in Asia, in Europe or America, they adore the same kind of movie stars, the same sports celebrities and the same Pop, Rock, Rap or Reggae musicians. Thus young people in the remote villages of Costa Rica, Uzbekistan, New Zealand, Austria, and Nigeria know the songs of the American pop musician Michael Jackson and they know all about Kanu Nwankwo the Nigerian football icon.
As a result of what looks like the globalisation of culture through the mass media, youths all over the world today have nearly the same clothing habits. They generally prefer to wear T Shirts and blue jeans, thus universalising or globalising fashion. Youths also share a common cultural language. Young people make friends with one another very easily across ethnic and sectarian lines. They do not have too much of the inhibitions of the adult society when it comes to meeting people of other cultures and societies. There are many slangs and clichés that are understood by young people across linguistic and cultural boundaries. That is why inter-marriage (across racial, ethnic and religious boundaries) is very common among young people. Youths generally desire independence and freedom, sometimes with little sense of responsibility. Thus, they sometimes take decisions whose full implications they do not realise.
Today’s youths are often very suspicious of dogmas, often averse to rigid traditions and rituals. Also they are often contesting absolutes. They are generally more existentially inclined. They are hungry for love, for truth and for life, but they don’t want a body of teachings simply rammed down their brains about love, about truth and about life. They are looking for role models or living witnesses to these Christian ideals. They want to see practical examples of true love rather than read a lofty theological treatise on love. They want to see living models of truth among members of the adult society rather than be preoccupied with a grandiose doctrine on truth. They want to see examples of wholesome Christian life that they can emulate, and not be bored by a lengthy dissertation on Christian life. They have had their trust betrayed and have been scandalised so often by the hypocrisy, wickedness and corruption of the adult society that many of them have lost trust and confidence and instead have become very cynical and suspicious of the adult society and the dogmas and traditions they hold dear. That is why many do not hold very strong religious/denominational allegiances.
The majority of young people all over the world nurse the same fears, are faced with the same kind of temptations and are confronted with similar threats. A larger proportion of the world’s youth population reside in the poor Third World countries where they have to put up with degrading poverty even as they can see conspicuous consumption displayed on TV. Many young people reside in urban areas where they put up with high unemployment rates, poor wages for those employed, unjust and inhuman conditions, street crime and widespread prostitution. Many of the young people come out of dysfunctional, dislocated or broken families, and they are living through the trauma of parental dislocation. Today many of them are victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as the majority of those infected in most countries belong to the age bracket we refer to as youths.
Ron Hutchcraft summarises the global youth culture described above in the following words: “Young people listen to the same music, watching the same TV show and video, wearing the same clothes, but also making the same tragic mistakes…and needing the same SAVIOUR.” It is my opinion that the emergence of a global youth culture can be viewed in two ways: one, as a major challenge for evangelisation, and two, as a providential new opportunity for evangelisation. Agents of evangelisation can capitalise on and make maximum use of such elements of the global youth culture as their common love and attachment to the modern mass media, their common language, their love for music, and the fact that they often do not have strong religious allegiances.
To transform the crisis of youth formation and development today into new opportunities for evangelisation however, a major paradigm shift is called for in our structure and method of formation and pastoral care. Many of our Churches as presently constituted are adult Churches, meaning that they focus almost exclusively on adults to the near total neglect of children and youths. Once upon a time Catholic schools were the primary forum for the inculcation of the Catholic faith and our moral values. Children were prepared for the various sacraments in school and their growth in faith and morals was expected to be consistent with their advancement in school.
Apparently many leaders in our Church did not think it was necessary to develop any alternative methodology for the spiritual and moral formation of youths beyond the school setting. That is why the faith knowledge of many adult Catholics, including those who have become Lawyers, Doctors and Professors, has really not grown beyond the level they acquired as infants and children in primary school. That is why since schools were suddenly taken over nearly 35 years ago, our Church in many parts of the country has been rendered totally helpless with regard to youth formation and development. And rather than devising new ways of making progress in evangelisation in spite of schools take over, many of our leaders have simply folded up their arms and have continued to lament and bemoan the take-over. Many of us who have been calling for the return of our schools are under the grand illusion that Catholic schools today and tomorrow will serve the same purpose and play the same role they played for the Church in the 1940s and 1950s. But that is only an illusion, and I consider those who hold such views a little over presumptuous. The truth is that the face of the world and the face of our society have changed tremendously in the last fifty years, therefore some of our old methods and paradigms have become obsolete; they are no longer able to deliver the goods, and must necessarily be replaced by new methods and paradigms if our Church must reach the new generation of young men and women and lead them to Christ and to wholesome existence.
A major element of the paradigm shift we propose in youth ministry for the contemporary society concerns the very structure of our formation programmes. In the context of an age of discouragement and a widespread search for meaning among young people, I suggest that the primary preoccupation of evangelisers and pastoral workers should be to help the young people find a sense of meaning in life, to give them a reason to live. They need to be reassured that life has meaning. The starting point in the evangelisation of young people should therefore not be doctrinal or moral, but in the area of pastoral charity. Young people should first be attracted to Jesus Christ and his Church by concrete examples of sacrificial love. They need to be reassured that Christian love is possible, and not an empty cliché. They need to see, demonstrated in the lives of those who bear the message of Christ that Christian forgiveness is possible, that justice makes for peace, and that the human spirit grows only through self-control and the moderation of the appetites. These lessons cannot be taught or dictated to the young people. They have to be lived out by the agents of evangelisation, and caught by the young people.
True, young people are capable of believing and aiming at the highest ideals of our religion, but first of all, they need to see among the agents of evangelisation (and this includes their parents) an active witnessing to the truth of Jesus who comes to give abundant life. They need to be given a vision of life that is different from the mess they see all around them everyday. And they look up to the older generation of Christians to give them this vision. Young people can indeed accept challenges. They can make a great deal of sacrifice if someone takes the lead and shows them an example. Without such examples from the agents of evangelisation and from among the older generation of Christians, they easily get discouraged and alienated and often conclude that a lot of the doctrinal, moral and the administrative structures of the institutional Church are only instruments of oppression.
Thus an excessive stress on dogmas and traditions at the beginning of an evangelisation programme among young people today (rather than a living witness to Christ’s civilisation of love) will not bring many of them to the Church. Yet, as we noted above, young people are capable of high ideals and they are capable of making enormous sacrifices. As they grow in the faith, they will not only accept the rich dogmas and the high morals, but they will actually take up the challenge of propagating these truths and moral norms. It is a matter of a change in methodology and not a change in doctrinal content or moral standards. I am not suggesting anything new here. Pope Paul VI often repeated the saying that “what modern men and women want are not more teachers, but witnesses, and that if they listen to teachers at all, it is because these teachers are also witnesses!” It’s about putting the Pope’s charge into practice in the very structure and method of evangelisation.
Another element in the paradigm shift I propose is the massive involvement of youths themselves in the work of evangelisation. In youth evangelisation, the youths should not be seen as mere objects or targets of the Church’s programmes and projects for the youth. Young people in the Church should be seen as active agents for the evangelisation of their own peers. The reason is that young people want to be appreciated and given value. They hate to be treated like children who need to be spoon-fed. They are very conscious of the fact that they are now grown up, that they are full of energy and resourcefulness, and that they have gifts, talents and charisms that are useful in the Church. They want to use their gifts and talents. They want to be celebrated. They want to be taken seriously. They want to be involved in the management of their own affairs and the affairs of the Church. They want to participate actively in the liturgy and other worship sessions and not to be treated as mere benchwarmers. Young people are often full of passion to study the Bible and to share the message as well as their faith experience with their friends inside and outside the Church. That is why testimonies are a major feature in many youth-friendly Churches. The opportunity to come out and share their faith experience with the congregation occasionally is often a major attraction to the youths.
In these days of media bombardment where images on TV are changed every couple of seconds, young people have little attention span, especially for monologues. They prefer interactive sessions. Preachers will not be making much impact on young people if their homilies or instruction sessions are all monologues. Dialogue and interactive methods of preaching are already recognised in the Church, and must now be used profitably, especially for the benefit of the younger generation. Also, agents of evangelisation must learn to make adequate use of the modern instruments of communication in reaching the young population, including the Internet and Electronic Mails, the Television, the Radio, the Video, the Overhead and Power-Point Projector, Film Strips, Drama Sketches, etc.
Modern researchers in Communication studies reveal that human beings only retain a maximum of 10% of information they receive by hearing alone, but that they retain as much as 75% of what they see and hear simultaneously. They retain even much more when in the transmission of a particular lesson, their hands are engaged in doing something. This is in line with the Chinese proverb that says: “What I hear I forget; what I see I remember; and what I do I understand.” It is sad to note that the engagement of a multi-media approach to preaching the homily or teaching catechism is an area that has been totally neglected in most of our Churches. In fact many Catholics and their leaders in this country do not know that homilies at mass could be delivered in any way other than as a monologue. This is an area in which we must do a paradigm shift if we are to remain in business and make an appreciable impact in the media-driven modern society. Young people will easily lend a hand in the organisation, planning and execution of such multi-media presentations as film snippets and drama sketches to illustrate biblical themes and doctrinal or moral lessons, because they love to act plays and snap pictures and use their talents in operating the various electronic gadgets involved in the performances.
A major element to put in place if a youth-friendly Church is to emerge is high quality modern Christian music. Music means so much to young people that hardly any outreach programme targeted at them will succeed without good quality music as a major input. And here we cannot afford to get hung up on old traditional classical hymns that lack the rhyme and rhythm of modern life, no matter how inspiring the words may be. The genre of songs and accompaniment meant for worship among the young people of our generation cannot be opposed to or be too far away from the kind of music young people in every part of the world cherish today. If such a dichotomy exists between popular music and Church music, then we may not catch the interest of our young people.
Many mistakes have been made in this area in the past, and in many of our Churches we have continued to make the same mistakes when some of us have a sentimental attachment to a particular brand of music and we make that brand sacrosanct and reject all others as unacceptable in liturgy. That is why there are still Churches in this country where African drums, gongs and guitars are not accepted for worship. But the truth is that songs of praise and glorification rendered in whatever type of melody, in whatever type of language, and backed up by whatever type of musical instruments are acceptable to God. The musical taste of individual Church leaders should never be made into law, especially when such a taste runs against the general musical orientation of the modern generation. Thus to attract youths to our Churches in large numbers, our choirs must be top class choirs, rendering such quality songs and music as will compete favourably with the music the young people hear outside. Many young people will want to be part of the choir if they are truly attracted to the kind of music being produced. They should be welcomed and trained to sing well and to play different musical instruments. This calls for major financial inputs into training personnel, acquiring state-of-the-art musical equipment and generally upgrading the choirs. This is one more area that is calling for a major paradigm shift, as many of our leaders have not paid much attention to it in the past.
Young people like outdoor activities. Evangelisation programmes and projects targeted at young people should not be limited to Church building, no matter how beautiful and comfortable those buildings may be. Young people would like to be taken out for camps where they could meet new people, make friends, compete with one another, and do their own things, out of the sight of their parents. Young people like playing games. They have a lot of energy and they need avenues to expend some of that energy. Outdoor Church programmes can constitute wholesome and appropriate avenues for them to exercise their energy and resourcefulness. We need more occasions than Easter Monday and Christmas Picnics to take young people out on camps. There is no reason why some catechetical programmes, including elements of the adult initiation programme cannot be conducted occasionally in some camping location.
Above all, we require a major paradigm shift in our annual budgetary allocations for youth ministry as Parish, as Diocese, and as Church on the national level. Before now many of our Churches hardly make any allocation for youth ministry in their annual budgets. But if investment in youth ministry is the guarantee of the survival of our Church beyond our own generation, then we must look critically at what percentage of our annual income we are prepared to expend on the spiritual, moral, and general personality development of our youths. My proposal is that youth programmes and projects should take priority place in budgetary allocations before we consider the funding of fine Church buildings and elegant parish houses, otherwise a few generations down the road (just like is happening in Europe today), there may be no one to occupy those fine Church buildings and parish houses.
Church based programmes and projects for youth development should include not only spiritual, moral and doctrinal education, but also (especially in our economically distressed environment where many youths have dropped out of school and are without skills) to include vocational and basic skills training for economically disadvantaged youths. And besides budgetary allocations, the most capable personnel in each parish and diocese should be trained and equipped for youth ministry. Many more full-time youth animators should be appointed at all levels, and Youth Centres should be established in created in each diocese, where various youth-friendly activities should be promoted on diocesan and parish levels.
It is said that, “while one tree can produce a million matches, no one knows how many tress a match can burn.” This statement is food for thought for me as I conclude this reflection on the need to invest in the youth if our apparent success in Christian ministry and evangelisation today is not to turn out a failure tomorrow, by virtue of the lack of a viable succession. Our Churches and Cathedrals may be full to overflowing today, and our Seminaries and Convents may be experiencing a boom in vocations, but if we cannot see the multiplier effect in the number of teenagers and young adults that are actively and enthusiastically involved in Church, then what we see as success today may actually be failure in disguise. As presently constituted, many of our Churches are in large measure an adult Church. They are run in such a way that very few youths would want to stay and getting passionately involved. But we need them to be passionately involved today, if the leaders and the membership of tomorrow’s Church must come from among them. So we need some re-thinking of our methods and processes. We have been using the same paradigms in our youth outreach programmes for over 50 years. But the world has since moved on. We need to adopt alternative paradigms to the ones we have been used to that have proven to be unsatisfactory for our generation, for it is said that for one who has been doing the same thing in the same way to suddenly expect a different result is a sign of insanity.
Finally as I end this reflection, it is important to emphasize that in pursuing the above objective of taking responsibility for the future generation and winning millions of our young people for Christ and towards a more wholesome humanity, even in the midst of a world of widespread debauchery, the Lord does not abandon us to our own resources. Before we implement any of the above suggestions, he would already have taken the initiative. He has promised to be with us always. He says the powers of hell will not prevail against his Church. He assures us that his grace is sufficient for us and so we need not be overwhelmed by the challenges of the moment. With this assurance, therefore let us march forward full of confidence that in spite of our mistakes in the past, the Lord will bless the little efforts we shall be making to reach out to the youths of our generation with success.