Youth Leadership: Why?
Youth Leadership: Why?

Youth Leadership: Why?

Explaining LEAD #2 with Jerome Meeds

Many, many times I have led a DLITE team and thought that if other people witness what I see, especially the older generation, they would be built up in hope. To see what these young people are doing is so encouraging. Although I want to pass on the philosophy of LEAD and our techniques for youth ministry,

I would also like people to be encouraged by our young generation.

– Jerome Meeds, Executive Director, Founder of Leadership Experience At Dunrovin (LEAD)

Why pour our resources into youth retreats? Why are they important? Why the urgency for impact?

Our Church needs change. The same old same old is not working.

At Dunrovin, I grew in my Christian faith. I feel way more close to God now that I am not afraid to let him in my life.  – DLITE student

I don’t have to be crazy or an outcast to be Christian. – DLITE student

(DLITE = Dunrovin Leadership Intensive Training Experience, an intensive experience of leadership training for high school students)

Everyone knows statistics that tell the grim story of youth leaving the Church in droves. Our youth ministers and religious education directors work hard to capture the hearts of our kids. THEY GET IT – they fight on the front lines of the battle. They valiantly crusade to touch the hearts of our youth.

Without a doubt, most Catholic adults share concerns for the future of our Church. We recognize the need to hold onto our youth in the pews. People can spend a lot of time talking about all the awful things happening with our youth and in the world. Without keeping our heads in the sand, we must concentrate instead on the positive we can do as we contend for our kids. Do not let the present circumstances rob our hope!

This week opened up a new chapter in my relationship with God and who he wants me to be.  – DLITE student

I really reflected on my life and the way I act; Dunrovin taught me how to act as God created me.   – DLITE student

How do we pluck our youth out of the miry pit they find themselves in? Jerome believes our Church needs to be much more aggressive in changing the way we minister to youth. Instead of giving up on youth, invest in them. Touch their lives and make a difference. What people may not recognize is the need for change in how we do things. A trite definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. We easily fall into the habit of repetitive youth ministry and expect different results. Our urgency is to find new ways of touching our youth and engaging them.

How long has Jesus been knocking at the door of your heart, waiting to enter? – St. John Baptist de La Salle

Jerome’s premise of youth ministry reformation is simple: In order to engage youth, it must be their home now. Today. Let us change the discussion from one that says we are handing the Church on to the youth, as if they are only part of the future, to a voice that proclaims, “This is your Church. Now! Today!”

Therefore, let us ask the youth to become part of the solution to today’s quagmire.

Build the future of the Church and society by building today’s young leaders. Today is when we need our young people to transform the world, today while they have hope and zeal and young energy. Deep inside, most young people dream and believe they can conquer the world.

At Dunrovin, I discovered that I actually can influence others.  – DLITE student

I learned at Dunrovin that I had more strength & bravery than I realized and I will take this home [to Chicago] with me.  – Chicago middle school student

On opening night of LEAD’s most intensive retreat experience, the DLITE retreat, Jerome avoids icebreakers and cozy welcome chats. Instead, cutting to the chase, he invites the high school participants to talk about their concerns and issues for our world and our Church. Jerome urges the youth that now is the time! He convinces the students that his generation honestly needs them now, not waiting for tomorrow. The young people hear that they can be the change. They can be part of the solution. They can be game changers now.

I am a game changer and with great power comes great responsibility. It is my responsibility to change the game.  – DLITE student

Part of what sets LEAD apart from other styles of youth ministry is the rationale for a high adult to student ratio. The LEAD style strives to make a big impact on a small number of kids. Jerome refocused his youth ministry philosophy from an economical approach – Cram in as many kids as you can! Bunk beds! More, more!– to one of recognizing God’s lavish, personal love for each person. This created an approach of smaller numbers of kids with higher numbers of mentors.

It took a personal conversion for me to move from a practical approach of herding as many kids in as possible, to one of giving each person an experience of God’s extravagant love. What is the value to transform a life? Think of Adali, who came to Dunrovin with a suicide note in her pocket. Investing in our young people is everything. Transforming one person ripples out and eventually hundreds and thousands of lives are changed.  – Jerome Meeds, Executive Director

LEAD fosters young leaders to encounter Christ, where they experience God’s overflowing love. This is one approach, not the approach. Just as teaching theology isn’t a conversion approach for everyone, LEAD is not a conversion approach for everyone. However, Jerome would debate that most people do not experience personal conversion through learning theology but rather through an encounter with the loving God, their Creator. While a LEAD retreat teaches some Catholic theology, encounter and conversion occurs more through the retreat team who become role models of a lived out faith, Catholic teaching enmeshed in every action.

‘Encounter’ is currently a common buzzword, popular in spiritual circles, but not meaningless. Scripture speaks of the meeting between Nicodemus and Christ in John 3:1. Nicodemus visits Jesus in the secret darkness of night. Nicodemus does not understand Jesus. He seeks answers. The search of Nicodemus imitates our young people who attend confirmation retreats. They come, yet do not understand. For most, the experience of God and faith makes no sense to them. Why is faith important? Why is God important? Why is encounter relevant?

Jesus reveals, “Unless you are born of the Spirit….” Nicodemus did not understand until he had a spiritual encounter, an encounter with the Spirit. Until we have a spiritual encounter with Christ, faith in God will not make sense. We have seen for centuries that the cross is ludicrous. Jesus is ludicrous until there is an encounter with the life-giving Trinity. Why would the youth believe without an encounter?

Vital to the LEAD philosophy, Jerome directs this inward encounter by tapping into a young person’s energy for adventure, zeal, and inherent desire to do good. This outward energy serves others. The opportunity to serve in an experiential way is paramount to the DLITE retreat, where high school students learn leadership skills while serving the middle school campers from Chicago or the Twin Cities.

I learned that serving others is a joy, not a burden.  – DLITE student

Working with the campers, I learned that love is sometimes the most valuable thing you can give someone. I learned to pour myself into the campers.  – DLITE student

  • Service transforms young people.
  • They live the reality of being the change in the world.
  • They grow in confidence to know they can make a difference.
  • They take on new purpose.
  • “OK, we are leaders now. What can we do?”

The wise leader creates spaces for the young people to step up. Deacon Ramon Garcia at St. Stephen’s Church, Anoka, involved youth in many needs in their parish community. Teresa Richards developed a new model in the youth ministry of a Catholic lay organization, the Community of Christ the Redeemer, where a high school leadership team serves the younger children of that organization.

Jerome senses a great urgency to care for young people and call them on to transformation. Change in a young person does not happen immediately, or in a month, or in a year or two, three, four. Sometimes the fruit sprouts five or ten years later. He clings to the hope that all things work together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Do your part to help build up the kingdom of God in the hearts of your students. –  St. John Baptist de La Salle

SARAH’S My Dunrovin Story

When I first went on DLITE, I was experiencing a challenging period in my life, a period where I lacked joy and energy. I was beginning to lack life. That week on DITE changed me. I experienced so much joy, freedom, and peace, as I went ‘all in’ during that week. When I got home, I realized that the life I had been living before wasn’t where I wanted to stay, so I began the long journey towards reclaiming joy and life. Now I am a new person, a process that had started on DLITE, and I saw the tremendous abilities I had. Physically, I could do more and push myself more than I thought I could. All of the weaknesses I had been carrying, I realized that weakness is okay. Through camp, I saw how God takes the weaknesses and uses them to make us leaders. As I surrendered myself and asked God to be in control, I saw myself becoming an effective leader. So many parts of DLITE challenged me, but those challenges, whether being physically exhausted from playing hard with the campers, being mentally and emotionally stretched trying to break down walls to reach campers, or personally as I discovered the life-filled energetic and enthusiastic side of myself, these challenges transformed me. I know who I am, and I have confidence in that identity. I am definitely not the same person that I was before I came on DLITE, and I’m definitely not the person that I used to think I was. I am grateful.

Last week, I jumped off the dock with one of our campers, and she clung onto me in fear once we were in the water. As I pointed out to her how she was able to float (she was wearing a life jacket), I helped her slowly swim on her own, with less and less reliance on me. I encouraged her and affirmed that she could do it, and I saw her confidence grow until she did not need me any longer. She began to believe in herself and she realized what she could do even though she was afraid and had doubts.

DLITE gave me the confidence to see the potential in myself, a potential I may have never discovered if I never would have left the dock and jumped into the deep.

Camp was so much fun, scary, and amazing! – Chicago middle school student