Tag Archives: young leaders

New Year Youth Retreat

Br John Baptist's hand is now famous...

Br John Baptist’s famous hand (featured on all the publicity)…

WOAH. Dear readers, even now, over 24 hours later, I cannot contain my joy. I know I have written on this blog many times (e.g. here and here) having just finished at a Youth 2000 retreat, overwhelmed with joy and praise at what God has done. And this new year’s retreat was no different. How can you capture in a few words the freedom, peace, joy and contentment that comes from being filled with God’s completely-satisfying love and that forms us into a new family? We experienced what God became a tiny Child for, what he died on the Cross for – to transform us into new creations and create a communion among us that we could never create ourselves. It does not get ANY better than this! Today, Facebook is overflowing with statuses wishing we could turn back time and surround Jesus in the Eucharist again with our songs of praise. I think we tasted just a crumb of the glory that awaits us in Heaven…

Some of my personal highlights:

The joyful and untiring ministry of our priests… Many young people today are heavily burdened, are suffering deeply, and have a lot of brokenness in their hearts. There is so much damage that the devil does in young hearts through our broken culture and I know that Jesus wants to pour his grace out upon these young people. I saw this happening – through the whole retreat – through the priests. They heard hours and hours of Confessions, spent hours talking and praying with young people, no sooner had one young person left with a heavy burden lifted than the next one arrived. I saw – incredibly tangibly – the ministry of Jesus active in his priests. It made me realise with more urgency: we need more priests! Priests faithful to God and faithful to people; who are unconditionally surrendered to the Holy Spirit, and who understand deeply the joys and struggles of young people today.

Our inspiring, outstanding, star-studded team… I couldn’t get over how much God blessed us with our team this year. From the first day, when a group of new MCs (the people who lead the prayer in the retreat) arrived early for training before the retreat started, we were surrounded by a truly talented team of young leaders in love with Christ. A couple of times I looked around and thought God has given Youth 2000 the very best young leaders and musicians in the country 🙂 How generous he is… We are so immensely challenged by resources, and yet he sends the very best people. And what a great joy and privilege it is to work with them. I love you guys!

The endless praise! The greatest thing to do, when you are completely exhausted (as I was a couple of times during the retreat), is to praise God anyway. Truly, I think we could have kept going all night… How beautiful it is to praise Jesus.

Effective youth ministry really has a very simple recipe 🙂 The conversions that have happened over one weekend are countless… it works! Photos to come… In the meantime, one of the theme songs of the retreat:


Courageous Leadership

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now. Leadership is a topic that is close to my heart, as I’ve written about here and here. The last few months, my Tube-reading has been this wonderful book: Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. Even if I wasn’t a slow reader (which I am) I would read this slowly as it is outstanding. In my view, it should be required reading for every leader in the Church: seminarians, lay leaders, teachers, priests and bishops! It is that good.

As a young lay person working in the Catholic Church, my impression is that awareness of ‘leadership mentoring’ or ‘identifying emerging young leaders’ is not on the radar of most leaders in the Church. Bill Hybels talks about the many different ways we may come to leadership – someone may take us under their wing and disciple us; we might shadow someone in their role and be coached to develop our skills; or, we might be thrown in at the deep end. In my case, my parish priest took an enormous gamble in putting me in a position that I was not really qualified for. I remember at the time someone telling him that I should not be put in this role. It freaked me out, I knew they were right. But he replied that he would be the judge of that. Looking back, I am tremendously grateful at this huge risk that he took with me. It is not the right introduction to leadership for everyone, but for me, God knew I needed to be put in a ‘sink or swim’ situation and be forced to work things out pretty quickly.

What never fails to frustrate me is that young leaders within the Catholic Church in this country need to go outside the Church’s walls for leadership formation. Hybels’ book is an example. I don’t know of a Catholic equivalent. Last year, a big group of us went to the HTB Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. I can honestly say they were two of the most inspiring and well-spent days of my year. The faith and passion were immense. HTB is providing the Catholic Church a beautiful service in building up and impassioning her young leaders. But why is she not building up and impassioning her own?

I am going to hazard an answer to this question. I know it is a complex question with varied responses, but I think it is worth pointing out the elephant in the room. My eyes were opened to it through the honest, direct faith of Hybels’ book: we have a crisis of leadership in our Church. Hybels repeats the same simple truths again and again: vision and passion are inextricably bound in the life of a leader. If a leader does not have vision that is crystal-clear and passion that is white-hot, and if he is not able to communicate these to others, he is not fully alive, he is not fully living out his vocation (Hybels says it much better – read the book!)

Vision. Passion. I asked a priest recently what his vision was for the adult formation in his parish. He fumbled around for an answer but couldn’t really tell me. Something is wrong with that. So many of us have gone off the boil. And when everyone goes off the boil, it becomes normal. We start checking that our parish is pretty much in line with what the next-door parish is doing… and that’s as far as our vision extends. How terribly sad! We need to turn up the heat, wake up, listen to younger Catholics with vision and passion, itching and ready to take the baton, who right now can only dream of being led by the quality of leadership Hybels talks about in his book.

There is a lot in Courageous Leadership, and some particular themes I’d like to explore in future posts: vision and leadership; creating your dream team; discovering your own leadership style. I really encourage you to get a copy.


Some things I learnt about leadership…

Around a month ago, I attended the excellent HTB leadership conference at the Royal Albert Hall. I know, I know. It is not a Catholic conference. A few people helpfully reminded me that only decades ago I would have had to go to Confession for attending a non-Catholic church. But, I have to say, a great believer though I am that all we need is found within the Catholic Church, I did gain a lot from this conference. For those who don’t know it, Holy Trinity Brompton is the church led by Nicky Gumbel, the founder of the Alpha course. I really am impressed by them. I’m impressed at their evangelisation, how they draw people into the life of the church, how they disciple and form people. All without any sacramental grace 🙂 I really think we can learn lots from them.

So, for a full two days, the stunning location of the Royal Albert Hall was crammed with over 4,000 passionate Christians (they must be pretty passionate to take two days off work) and the quality of the teaching was, on the whole, excellent. (First of all, a little aside: I think this conference is great for Catholics who are well-formed. I would not recommend it to Catholics who have a hazy understanding of doctrine or of what we mean by the Church, because you have to remember, when all these speakers are speaking about the “Church” – fantastic as they are – they do not mean what we mean by the Church.)

OK, so doctrinal differences aside: What did I learn about leadership?

1. You do not need a position to lead: This is what I want to shout out to every young Catholic who feels a desire in their heart to make a difference, to lead, to serve, to do the things they think should be happening already, but are not. Lead anyway! Perhaps the older people who are doing the things you should be doing by now are reluctant to let go of their positions: that’s their problem, lead anyway! Because through our Baptism we have an intrinsic calling within our lay vocation to holiness, and to evangelise, we don’t have to wait for anyone else’s permission. Do it anyway. Start the prayer group, form the study group, organise a retreat or a conference… Don’t wait for the position. Maybe one day someone will realise, ‘Wow, this person’s leading a whole crowd of people, we should give him a position!’ Maybe they won’t. Let’s just do the things it seems clear God would like to be happening. This was a ‘penny-drop’ moment for me, thank you Judah Smith!

2. Resist discouragement: This is what I needed to hear big-time… Somehow, in the Church, especially when you work for it, several things happen a day which can discourage you if you let them. We hear lots of negativity, a bit of cynicism, complaining… The Lord isn’t making us a “new creation” for this! The devil wants us to be discouraged – let’s not be! There is always something to be thankful for, God’s mercy is new every moment.

3. Do not look for glory: We have to be constantly on the look out for ‘rectitude of intention’… what a murky area. For anyone in a role of leadership, this is something we need to ask ourselves every single day, ‘Are these projects, plans, ideas my will or the Lord’s? Am I truly surrendered to God’s action? Am I committed to working on in obscurity with little or no recognition?’ From experience, it is far, far better for us to be working in obscurity with no one noticing what we are doing. How hard is it to accept that though?! Every part of us rebels against that idea. Rick Warren, author of Purpose-Driven Life, put it nicely: The fruit growing in the shade grows ripest.

4. Have a day of rest: Preferably Sunday 🙂 This is another way of ensuring God is driving our plans, not us. We give him his day, we relax and recuperate, spend time with the people closest to us.

5. Live with integrity: Another great Rick Warren point. We Catholics call this “unity of life” (see Christifidelis Laici). Integrity of life means that how we are with one person is how we are with everyone. I am who I am. I am the same with my Catholic friends, my non-Catholic friends. I am not divided into compartments.

Formation of Catholic leaders is vital for the next generation. How are we doing this? Are we doing it at all? One speaker used the image of the ‘exchange zone’ in a relay race: the baton has to be handed to the next runner within a certain stretch of space, not too early, not too late. Are we preparing the next generation? Are we handing over too early or too late?