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  • Eric Gallagher

    The Cure for the Retreat High

    By Eric Gallagher

    One of the most common struggles that I hear about from youth (and that I have experienced many times myself) is the after-effect of what is known as a retreat “high.” If you have never heard of it before, the retreat high is that time during and shortly after a retreat when someone is experiencing a great consolation in their faith. It’s known as a retreat high because not long afterward, they are hit with a great struggle in staying motivated in their faith (a “low”). Time after time when I speak with youth who have had retreat highs repeatedly, it seems like they have become so dependent on them that these moments have become harmful to the way they practice their faith. The reality is that these types of retreat experiences are extraordinary. Like an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, they may be helpful, and it is certainly acceptable to utilize them. However, the preferred minister is the ordinary minister of the Eucharist, the priest or deacon. The life that we are called to live most of the time is the ordinary life. Extraordinary experiences in the faith should deepen our love for and the practice of the ordinary life. The “feeling” of a retreat high is not bad, just like the attraction between a couple on their wedding day and honeymoon is not bad, but the daily stability, foundation, and practice of love is the way in which we are called to live. Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on the need for Initiatory Catechesis following these conversion-focused retreat opportunities. Initiatory Catechesis is that essential moment in the life of a Christian after they have said yes to Christ. It’s a period in their walk with Christ where they become “initiated” in the faith. The General Directory of Catechesis describes it in these ways: an essential moment a comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith includes more than instruction: it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life, it is a complete Christian initiation, which promotes an authentic following of Christ it looks at what is “common” for the Christian See full description of Initiatory Catechesis in the GDC here (paragraphs 67-68) This is the cure for dependence on the “retreat high.” This is the way in which the youth with whom we work with able to adjust and grow into mature disciples. I experienced this recently as I have been walking with a few youth from my own parish. I find it to be a common experience that many of these youth have encountered Christ and are excited about what Christ has done and can continue to do in their lives, but they struggle knowing how to do it. They struggle connecting this awesome reality of God’s love with their daily life. This is where Initiatory Catechesis comes into play and really where discipleship begins and why discipleship is so important. The cure for the retreat high is NOT more retreats, but it is the process of discipleship which helps a youth give up their life and take up a new. While retreats are a helpful and important part of growing in our relationship with Christ, they exist to enhance, not replace, the ordinary life of a Christian. What does this look like? Well, it looks different depending on the individual, but for everyone it is discipleship in some form. “Want to learn more?” Check out our new Discipleship Leader Boot Camp Course, in which we cover the fundamentals of discipleship.”  
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  • Eric Gallagher

    My Top 8 Youth Ministry Purchases from Amazon

    By Eric Gallagher

    I’ve been an Amazon customer since 2002 when pretty much the only thing that people used it for was to avoid going to the University bookstore and paying full price for college textbooks.  Now Amazon seems to be the first place I look whenever I have need for anything! To start off this new Catholic Youth Ministry Blog I’ve decided that for my first post I would go through the last 16 years of my Amazon orders and share with you the top 8 things I’ve purchased for youth ministry.  Also, please note that if I were to give a true top 8, it would likely include 5-6 books. I’ve decided that I’ll stick to games, resources, supplies, etc. and I’ll devote another post to my favorite books.  So here we go: Please note: these are affiliate links that allow us to receive a portion of any sales made when you purchase these items by clicking through on our site.  This "kickback" goes to support the work of the Catholic Youth Ministry Hub. Games Supplies Poof Soccer Balls We tried out three or four types of balls to use for dodge ball in our gym.  These were by far the best ones we could find. They are soft enough, they last a long time, and more importantly it feels great when you zing that youth with one of them! See it here. Spike Ball An excellent game to have sitting around in a youth room, at camp, etc.  It’s a very common game that most know how to play and it can serve as an excellent ice breaker.  It’s also extremely affordable and is great quality! See it here. Kan Jam This was another well known game that I discovered later on than most.  Similar to Spike Ball (above) this is affordable, it’ll last forever, and most people can just pick it up and play it.   See it here. Board/Party Games Pharisees - The Party Game This is the "Christian" version of the popular youth ministry game "Mafia".   I often tell people it's the perfected version of the game. See it here. Curses Game This is an older game but it’s one of those go-to games that is great for small groups.  In larger groups it’s entertaining enough that observers have no problem just watching! See it here. Exploding Kittens Game I have officially ordered 25 of these from Amazon.  It is an awesome game that can be played in 3-5 minutes and rarely gets old.  It’s another one of those games that observers enjoy watching. It can be expanded to take more players as well. See it here. Other Sleeping Cot I got tired of air mattresses and these have been an excellent replacement for when we need additional beds at camp or on retreat.  They are durable, long lasting, and fairly inexpensive. They aren’t the most comfortable to sleep on but those who have them are usually grateful to have anything! See it here. Pope Francis Bobble Head Definitely the coolest affordable prize that I have bought so far! See it here.     I hope you've enjoyed this list!  If you have other items you'd like to mention, please comment below!
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  • Eric Gallagher

    A CRAZY Youth Ministry Proposal

    By Eric Gallagher

    A couple of years ago, I spoke with a mom in a local parish who was interested in leading a small discipleship group. She was excited because the parish was encouraging discipleship groups to begin as naturally as possible, so she immediately saw her daughter, her daughter’s friends, and a couple other youth as a great group to lead. This mom asked a friend to lead the group with her, and they began meeting in the fall. About two months into leading the group, the pastor caught wind that this group was having a sleepover at the leader’s house and immediately put an end to it. His reasoning was that according to diocesan policy, sleepovers were not allowed. What bothered me about this situation is that two months prior, the pastor would’ve agreed that there really wasn’t anything wrong with this mother having a sleepover, and to be blunt, it wouldn’t really have been any concern of his. In fact, when talking with him later, he readily admitted this, and we agreed about how frustrating it is that the policy at times can actually inhibit us from just living life as a parish family. Let me propose something a little crazy. What would happen if as a Church, the “program” we offered was not “discipleship groups” but the formation of the discipleship leaders? How would this impact this specific situation, and how would it play out overall with regard to discipleship focused youth ministry? Let me offer a few thoughts. Evangelization would be lived rather than programmed In some ways, this mother didn’t see her “sleepover” as an act of evangelization because she was simply being “mom,” and in simply being “mom” she was living out her call to “go and make more disciples.” We should begin to recognize that this sort of community and intentionality is an evangelizing activity that goes outside the walls of the Church (which is the goal, isn’t it?). The idea of this intentionality being recognized by the parish was attractive to her, but was it really necessary? In this situation, we recognize that by formalizing it, much of the freedoms she would have had before were stripped away. Formalizing a “lived evangelization” increases risk and liability to the parish I’m only looking at this one situation, but in this case, by formalizing this “group” as a parish group, the activities that they could previously have engaged in as a normal part of their life now have increased the liability of the parish, the diocese, etc., which is why they couldn’t have the sleepover. I understand that at the same time, bringing something under the umbrella of the parish will provide protections and assistance that someone like this mother might desire. For example, if she were to take her group on a trip or to a conference, she might appreciate the coverage that a diocese or parish could offer as far as insurance, legal protections, etc. In this specific situation, though, the mother would’ve rather taken on the liability of the sleepover than lose the ability to have the sleepover altogether. Parishes could focus more on formation and less of administration The greatest desire I hear from priests who want to be more pastoral is that they would not have to be so concerned about the administrative aspects of running a parish so that they could be more of a shepherd for their people in the spiritual life. This proposal would be along the same lines. If we focused more of our time on helping others do the work of evangelization (and administration), we would be focusing more on formation, which over time would build a stronger church family. If the discipleship group mentioned above were merely a project or effort of the mother (which is was before it was ever a discipleship group) and the parish “programs” existed to help that mother grow in her ability to lead these young women, the parish wouldn’t have to be so concerned about the details of the group. It would create a culture where parents and adults felt empowered to view their daily life as an opportunity to evangelize and would cling to the parish in order to receive the support and formation they needed to do it well. I’m not proposing that all programs are bad. As indicated earlier, a parish leading a trip or an opportunity when it would be difficult or impossible for a group to do on their own would assist adults like this mom in their mission. I’m also not proposing that we do this simply to reduce the risk of liability to the parish. The mom mentioned above has a heart for the Church and a desire for her daughter and her daughter’s friends to be connected to the Church. I’m proposing that the systems that we have in place in order for that to happen can sometimes do more harm than good. I’m proposing that the programs we offer in our parishes be more focused on forming disciples to “go make disciples” and then send them to do so rather than thinking we also need to coordinate and micromanage the ways in which they do.  
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  • Eric Gallagher

    Should We Be Training or Forming Our Leaders?

    By Eric Gallagher

    For the past 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the evolution of youth ministry. During that time, people have been searching for the right resource that is going to respond to the needs of young people. Today, we have top notch resources that can be used in just about any setting, for any sized group of people, with the best speakers in the world, and some of the best production available. Still…there seems to be a desire or an understanding that we can do even better. Over the past five years, there has been a huge emphasis on training. People will often say that you can have the best resource in the world, but without a well-trained catechist, the resource will mean nothing. This is true…or is it? Perhaps, but I think we need to be clear about the difference between training and formation. Feel free to look up the definitions for training and formation for yourself, but in short, training is the action of teaching someone a skill or behavior and formation is to make or fashion into a certain shape or form. Or, another way to put it is that training is teaching someone to do something, and formation is helping someone to become someone. Now to start, I have to say that in many respects, training and formation are very connected. An example that comes to mind is when I asked my priest if I could start a prayer group in high school. I was amazed at his immediate yes. He didn’t ask many questions about what I was going to do or how, but he saw it as an opportunity to lead and form me. He knew that as I followed the Lord’s promptings in my life, those experiences would bear fruit, and they did in so many ways. The “program” itself maybe didn’t look so great at times, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t be where I am today without that formation: the formation that came from his support, his mentorship, and his trust in what the Lord was doing in me. To the extent that I have been able, this is how I have run youth programs for years. In fact, this is what it means to be “discipleship focused.” We must recognize that in order for a program to be run well, our focus must be on the conduits through which that program is run. While it may be important or even necessary to train someone to do a task, we must understand that it will be through their experiences (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) that they will be formed. Having made that distinction, I want to share just a few tips with you on how you can accomplish this type of formation in your efforts: Focus on a leader’s experience rather than their results When you meet with your leaders, either individually or as a group, focus your conversation around their experience. Instead of asking, “What do you think went well?” ask, “Where did you see God working?” Instead of asking, “Where could we improve?” ask, “What was most difficult for you?” This alone will take attention off of the program and put the emphasis on the leader. Their answers will also give you insight into which leaders are attentive to what’s happening in them and which may be too focused on the “program.” Be patient with the lacking in order for growth to occur Taking your eyes off the program will seem like an adult taking their eyes off their two year-old for ten seconds…a lot can happen in that time. Again, we have to ask the question: do we care more about the program than the people? Having patience with an adult desiring to grow in their role will pay huge dividends. Keep the work simple and easy to understand Strive to keep roles simple and easy to understand. This does not mean you should simply dumb things down. Asking someone to “assist in leading a young person to Christian maturity” is a straightforward and clear directive, but it will require a depth of understanding and attentiveness to do it well. The point here is that at any time, you could sit down with that person and ask if they believe that they are doing what they’ve been asked to do. As growth occurs, encourage deeper thought and leadership Continuing from the last point, pay attention to whether your adults understand their task well, and, if so, be ready to invite them into the deeper vision and mission of discipleship. If someone has been leading a small group for some time and desires to take things even deeper, be ready to journey with them in that. Focus on the person as opposed to the program As an adult begins to grab hold of the deeper vision, remain focused on them. It may mean that as they grow in wisdom, discernment, and insight into their gifts and charisms, they will move on and participate in other areas of parish ministry. If you remain focused only on the program, your volunteers will continue to be limited in where and how they are capable of helping out and the degree to which they will be formed. Be willing to sacrifice your best leaders. Remember, your goal is formation, NOT the program. Formation will never end, and if someone leaves your program because they’ve been formed well and feel called to assist in another, you have done your job! To be clear, I understand that these suggestions apply more directly to people who are in roles that are more formative in nature (leading small groups or bible studies, mentoring an individual, teaching, etc. ) and less important for the more menial tasks (bringing cookies, simply being a chaperone, etc.). My hope is not that you set out to create the perfect formation program, nor do I mean to imply that we should focus all of our efforts on formation to the exclusion of anything else. But I do hope that we begin to accept God’s invitation to us and to all of those in our parish to participate in his work, and through that, to receive more of Him. Our role as leaders is simply to allow that to happen and cultivate a culture where we are all becoming more aware of it. And when we do, our work in ministry will be less about what we are doing and more about who we are becoming. We will be changed!
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  • Eric Gallagher

    Ninja Game

    By Eric Gallagher

    You may have seen this game before and not really understood what was going on.  The game is called Ninja.  It is an extremely easy game to figure out and explain but can take a lifetime to master.  Youth Ministers like it simply because they will play and analyze it more than anyone else, ensuring that they could beat any youngster up for the challenge. Here are the instructions: Size of Group:  You can play two people but I would recommend starting with at least four.  If you have more than 20 people, it may be good to split them in to small groups of ten. Goal of the game:  To hit/touch someone else’s hand with your hand.  This eliminates them from the game. Directions:  Have everyone stand in a circle, take a bow (like on the Karate Kid), and strike a pose like a Ninja.  One person will move at a time and you will go in clock-wise motion.  Basically the person whose turn it is will try to touch/hit the hand of another person with their hand with ONE motion.  The person they are trying to attack can make ONE motion to move out of the way.  Both people stay where the end of their motion ends and are frozen until it is either their turn again or they are attacked. How to Win:  You play until one person is left in the game and they are declared the winner. Things to Know: You always go after the person who started to your right at the beginning of the game.  The circle will eventually collapse and people may get out of order.  Always remember who you go after. If someone goes out of turn, have them return to where they were. Can set a rule that your hands must visible (recommended) A role, jump, or spin is considered one motion. Once your youth start to understand the strategy to this game it can become extremely competitive.  It is a great game that most enjoy (especially the volunteers!)
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The Cure for the Retreat High

One of the most common struggles that I hear about from youth (and that I have experienced many times myself) is the after-effect of what is known as a retreat “high.” If you have never heard of it before, the retreat high is that time during and shortly after a retreat when someone is experiencing a great consolation in their faith. It’s known as a retreat high because not long afterward, they are hit with a great struggle in staying motivated in their faith (a “low”). Time after time when I speak with youth who have had retreat highs repeatedly, it seems like they have become so dependent on them that these moments have become harmful to the way they practice their faith. The reality is that these types of retreat experiences are extraordinary. Like an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, they may be helpful, and it is certainly acceptable to utilize them. However, the preferred minister is the ordinary minister of the Eucharist, the priest or deacon. The life that we are called to live most of the time is the ordinary life. Extraordinary experiences in the faith should deepen our love for and the practice of the ordinary life. The “feeling” of a retreat high is not bad, just like the attraction between a couple on their wedding day and honeymoon is not bad, but the daily stability, foundation, and practice of love is the way in which we are called to live. Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on the need for Initiatory Catechesis following these conversion-focused retreat opportunities. Initiatory Catechesis is that essential moment in the life of a Christian after they have said yes to Christ. It’s a period in their walk with Christ where they become “initiated” in the faith. The General Directory of Catechesis describes it in these ways: an essential moment a comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith includes more than instruction: it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life, it is a complete Christian initiation, which promotes an authentic following of Christ it looks at what is “common” for the Christian See full description of Initiatory Catechesis in the GDC here (paragraphs 67-68) This is the cure for dependence on the “retreat high.” This is the way in which the youth with whom we work with able to adjust and grow into mature disciples. I experienced this recently as I have been walking with a few youth from my own parish. I find it to be a common experience that many of these youth have encountered Christ and are excited about what Christ has done and can continue to do in their lives, but they struggle knowing how to do it. They struggle connecting this awesome reality of God’s love with their daily life. This is where Initiatory Catechesis comes into play and really where discipleship begins and why discipleship is so important. The cure for the retreat high is NOT more retreats, but it is the process of discipleship which helps a youth give up their life and take up a new. While retreats are a helpful and important part of growing in our relationship with Christ, they exist to enhance, not replace, the ordinary life of a Christian. What does this look like? Well, it looks different depending on the individual, but for everyone it is discipleship in some form. “Want to learn more?” Check out our new Discipleship Leader Boot Camp Course, in which we cover the fundamentals of discipleship.”  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Ten Common Mistakes Discipleship Leaders Make

In the work that I do, I get the opportunity to hear about many different ways in which discipleship is being approached, especially in small group or one-on-one settings. One of my priorities in learning more about effective discipleship is talking with those who are actually participants in it. I get to hear about so many blessings and graces that are flowing through these initiatives, but I also come across many individuals who are frustrated because what they have been told is supposed to happen through discipleship is not actually happening. Over the past few years, I have seen several common mistakes, and I thought it would be helpful to share my observations in the hope that others can learn from them as well. Here are some of the top mistakes I am seeing discipleship leaders make as they strive to foster an atmosphere of discipleship in their ministry to others: They Make It “Just” a Weekly Commitment Many leaders try to fit everything into their weekly meeting time. Discipleship is much more than a once-a-week commitment. It is a relationship and a journey with a disciple. They Center It Around a Program or Curriculum Programs and resources are ok, but I have yet to see a program or curriculum do what discipleship sets out to do. What a group does should start with the vision of discipleship, and the choice of a curriculum should flow from that. They Cancel When Numbers are Low One of the primary goals of a discipleship group is to get to know the members of the group. A leader may have to adjust their expectations a little, but should capitalize on opportunities for more intimate settings like these. When fewer show up it provides a unique opportunity to really dive in and get to know one another. While it may be uncomfortable, do not get discouraged. Know that the Lord will bless your perseverance as you remain faithful to those who do make the commitment to be there. They Never Raise the Bar Members of a good discipleship group should be growing. As a discipleship leader, strive to find moments where the group can intentionally deepen their commitment to the group. This can be done by making a deeper commitment to prayer, commitment to more openness and sharing within the group, or simply making individual commitments for growth. They Don’t Include the Disciples In the Planning As a discipleship leader looks ahead, they should be sure to stay in tune with where the group members are desiring to go as well. Be intentional each semester about inviting the group’s input into the planning and vision of the schedule. They Let Things Get Too Big Having more youth gain interest in being part of your group is a good thing, but when it gets too big, your group can easily begin to lose focus. Do not be afraid to have the harder conversations with the group and consider breaking off as needed in order to maintain the Four Earmarks. They Participate Rather Than Coach I’ve heard it said too many times, “My group is so great I just let them take control of it.” Can you imagine a football coach ever saying that about their team? As a discipleship leader, you have the responsibility to see things in a different light. Do not be afraid to look for ways in which the group can grow, and challenge them to do so. They Don’t Take Time to Get to Know Their Disciples It’s pretty hard to come up with a good plan for formation when you don’t know where a person is at. Many leaders feel pressure to get through content, but it’s important to note that in discipleship, you technically don’t even know what things you should be doing unless you first know the student. They Don’t Plan Planning is important for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that it communicates to the youth that you have been thinking about them and preparing for them. Again, imagine a football coach coming to a practice and just winging it. A good coach sets goals and benchmarks to meet those goals and never wastes a second of the time he has to help make his players better. They Don’t Ask Questions The best leaders are also the best students. Every discipleship leader should be committed to learning as well as praying on the ways in which they can lead their group. The challenges of leading a disciple should demand a deeper commitment to prayer and dependence on Christ. These are just a few of the common mistakes that I am seeing. I believe that many of them are rooted in simply adapting to a new approach to ministry. As I said before, I am so grateful for the steps being taken to implement new methods of Evangelization. These observations hopefully shed some light on areas of growth that can make those efforts even more fruitful.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

My Recent Experience and Invitation to Go Deeper With Christ

God has been doing some awesome things in my life.  For the past few weeks, I have been in a place where I’ve truly felt as though I am walking with God every moment of my day.  It has been a time of great consolation and peace that I pray never fades.   I decided to go to Confession even though I wasn’t sure if I had anything to confess (this rarely happens).  The first thing I did was pick up a copy of the examination of conscience at the entrance of the Church.  I don’t even like the one our parish uses, but I decided to take it anyway.  As I knelt, I read the first line in the examination: “Pray that God would make you aware of your sins and that you would trust in his divine mercy.”   After some time of prayer, God began to open my heart to a pattern in my life that I had known to be a struggle but I had often avoided in my examination.  As I stared at the cross, he began to reveal to me in a profound way the depth of his love and mercy for me.  For the first time in several years, he was calling me to confess this area of my life that I knew I had not given over to him.  Without a doubt, he was calling me to take that next big step of faith by inviting him into the struggle and entrusting it to him.  For the first time, I felt absolutely ready to do so.  I was ready to sacrifice a huge part of who I had been because in that moment, I was given a grace to see what was waiting for me on the other side.   As I have reflected on this experience, the call to discipleship has become much more real for me.  A disciple is driven by a love for Jesus Christ that initiates a “dropping of the nets” in order to follow him.  The reality behind my recent experience is that deep down inside, I knew for many years  that what I was doing was going to have to change, but the Lord waited to give me that invitation until the time was right.  He knows me and patiently loves me every moment of every day, and I am motivated to remain with him as a result. May we be this patient and inviting to the youth with whom we work.  May we model friendship and care in this way so that they may be driven to follow something greater than themselves and respond to a life of discipline and sacrifice with hearts full of peace and joy.  God is truly alive and working in the Church, and I am most grateful to be able to be a part of it.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

10 Youth You May Not Be Reaching and How You Can

One of the things that I find myself doing frequently is looking at the youth in our parish and around our community and wondering what I can do- or really, what the Church might be able to do- in order to help them to know Jesus Christ if they do not know him already. For those who do, I wonder if they are engaged in growing and developing that relationship. It reminds me of a video produced by Dan Cathy from Chic-Fil-A entitled Every Life Has a Story. Recently, we have featured a couple of blog posts (here and here) on how we cannot simply offer one program and expect that it will meet the needs of all of the youth in the parish. The reality is that everyone has unique needs, and we live in a world now where people demand a customized experience. I would argue that it is no different for our efforts in the Church. I thought it would be fun to brainstorm some of the different types of youth I have encountered who require a unique approach. This list is definitely not meant to be comprehensive, and I understand that youth cannot be categorized as simplistically as I have done here, but the purpose is to help us realize the many different approaches we need to consider in order to be more pastoral in our youth ministry efforts. Here are 10 types of youth that you may not be reaching and some quick thoughts on how you can: The Game Hater This is the youth that won’t come to youth group or summer camp because they hate games. Believe me, it is possible (I was one of them). This youth is looking for opportunities to grow but would like to be involved in something that doesn’t waste their time with useless activities. The Devout Soul This youth has an active prayer life and is probably already doing most of the things you encourage youth to do in a large group setting. In order for them to be truly engaged, they will need to be challenged. Learn their charisms, and be upfront with them in the ways that you know they can still grow. The Gamer Every week, this youth struggles with the decision to either go to the church for youth stuff or stay home and play video games. Engage this youth by showing him the importance of authentic friendship. Have an adult begin spending time with him, and surround him with a community of youth who have fun but also don’t make him feel incredibly guilty for playing games. The Church Hater It is likely that you will have youth come to your programs who for various reasons are forced to attend. Or, this may also refer to those youth in the schools that you may only be able to reach through their friends who are in your programs . Simply doing fun activities or trying to impress them with entertainment will not be enough. Encouraging a missionary culture and simply being real with them are good first steps to become a bridge to Christ for these youth. The Catholic School Student Most of us have heard this statement before: “We send our kids to Catholic school, so we don’t need to have them involved in the parish programming.” I know too many situations where there is a clear divide between the public and private school students. A great start to bridging the gap is to offer larger events that will appeal to all (ski trips, amusement parks, youth conferences, etc). The Busy Student This student may be interested in the faith and want to get involved in the Church, but because you offer limited times and programs or it requires a greater commitment than they can make, they have to opt out. Ensure that you offer flexible programming and opportunities to commit at any level to encourage the involvement of these youth. Be creative in how you invest in them, and keep the communication lines open. The Outcast This youth was involved in one of your programs for some time but has since left because he or she didn’t feel welcome. You can prevent this by being attentive to those that are more distant, but also by ensuring that each and every youth is connected to on a personal level. The Athlete The hardest reality for this student is that he or she can only be regularly available and active during the off season. Programs that send a message that the program or the youth group is the most important part of being a Christian may make them feel “less Christian” when they can’t be committed. Encourage these youth by investing in them so that they know how to live out their faith during the busy times, and go where they are when they are busy. The Younger Sibling Younger siblings face a number of different challenges in a youth ministry setting. The most difficult part for them may be finding their identity as a member of the group. As much as possible, find ways to create unique experiences for them, but also encourage a dialogue between the siblings so that they can grow together. The Investor This youth is only involved because it is worth the investment of his time. He typically prefers structure and will be very candid with you if he feels that what you are doing is not a good use of the group’s time. He also will require a setting that is customized for him. To reach this youth, strive to make every experience meaningful, but also encourage dialogue with adult leaders who can help the youth see why some things that may not seem important actually are. This is just the beginning of a list, and I know there could be many more. The point is that the models and approach I recommend through Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry could really accommodate all of these youth, which is why I believe DFYM is gaining momentum in so many places. I would love to hear from others about the different types of youth that you encounter and creative ways that we can reach each and every one of them.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

A Unique Method of Engaging Parents in Youth Ministry – Part 2

As promised in my post last week, I want to share with you how Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is impacting the way in which parents are engaged in youth ministry. By getting parents and other adults involved in a way that requires them to act as the youth ministers (actually planning and leading the formation opportunities for the youth), it brings about a deeper understanding of what youth ministry is and what is needed to connect with and build up young disciples in our church today. As we begin to move towards a more discipleship focused youth ministry, I am observing several developments in regard to parents and how they are being engaged. Here are seven of them: Parents are typically better at inviting other parents When a youth minister tries to get parents involved, it can come across very much like “making a pitch” or “selling.” When another parent or adult volunteer solicits help it is more like a personal favor. Adults in the parish are much more likely to respond to an invitation to help if it comes from a friend, especially if that friend offers a testimony of the impact discipleship has had in their own life and the lives of individual youth. Encouragement means more coming from a parent than a youth minister When you have another mom or dad investing in your child as a volunteer and they speak highly of your child or your parenting, it means more than coming from someone who just “gets paid to say things like that.” Positive encouragement coming from a brother or sister in Christ builds a culture of love and affirmation that is difficult to find in a typical youth ministry program. Parents are challenged and encouraged when being in community with other parents Simply seeing other parents engaged in the formation of their children is challenging parents to get more involved. I’ll admit it, even with young children I look around to see what other parents are doing. If they are more engaged and active, then I will be, too. And to be honest, it’s more fun to be a part of your child’s activities if other parents and families are involved as well. Parents are more likely to help when they more fully understand their responsibility Because Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry offers a mentorship approach from the top down, adults are stepping into a more active role of learning to form the youth in the parish. Instead of the parish offering a program that may be received as the prescription that takes care of the necessary work of ministry, it promotes a culture of “we are all in this together” and everyone is learning, growing, and figuring things out together. Parents are required to be more involved in choosing the right formation program for their child When there are several opportunities in the parish for a youth to participate in, it requires a parent to be more involved in the process of deciding what to do. This provides a great opportunity to minister to the parents, discuss the child’s particular needs, and invite the parent to become a part of it. Parents are more free to lead The reality is that the right parents are typically more grounded and able to give of themselves more freely than a youth minister can. When parents and adult volunteers are doing things it takes much less effort and can happen more naturally because they are not bound by many of the rules or affected by some of the politics that a staff person may be. When brought into a program in the Church a simple relationship between family members can quickly be bogged down with new rules and requirements. Parents are up for the challenge One benefit of living in a time when many parents’ primary focus is taking their children from one thing to the next is that parents are used to serving and loving their children. One of the greatest benefits a parent has over any youth minister is the amount of time they get to spend with their child. Unlike a high school sports program, the faith is something that parents can participate and grow in with their children instead of just being a spectator. It truly is a gift to partner with parents and give them the opportunity to be the youth minister to their children. Instead of trying to find someone who can do it for them, parents and other adults in the parish can come together as a parish family and raise their children together.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

A Unique Method of Engaging Parents in Youth Ministry

One of the most frequent topics of conversation at youth ministry meetings and conferences is how can we better engage parents in youth ministry. I’ve written about this before on the blog, especially in the post Stop Helping Youth and Start Helping Parents. One goal of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is not so directly focused on helping the youth, but more about helping those who help youth. I would argue that it’s not the youth minister’s job to minister to the youth but that it’s the entire parish community, primarily the parents. The biggest mistake I believe we have made in the way youth ministry is done today is that parents treat the youth program like any other sport or extracurricular setting. If they want their kid to learn soccer, they sign them up for soccer. If they want their kid to learn music, they sign them for band. If they want their kid to learn about the faith, they sign them up for youth group. This might explain why youth tend to stop being involved in their faith after high school. I mean, how many adults stay in band or soccer after graduation? More recently, however, those who organize activities like soccer and band have figured this out. We are beginning to see that in order for youth to sign up, is the parents have to invest their time and involvement as well. They understand that greater commitment from whole families will lead to a more successful team. If there are youth whose families have made it a priority to be involved in soccer, they will be involved and committed long-term, but they will also have greater potential to compete or perform well in the present, too. If this is the case, why are we so afraid to demand that parents be involved in raising their kids in the practice of the faith as well? When parents have to pick and choose the things to which they will give their time and we give them the option to not be involved, why would they be? By not requiring them to be involved, we essentially tell them that we’ve got it covered or we don’t necessarily “need” their help. This is another reason why I advocate for a Discipleship Focused approach to youth ministry. Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry not only requires the involvement of parents and adults in order for youth ministry to happen, but it teaches them and forms them to do it themselves. This is crucial because without their committed involvement, I believe the results will not be statistically different than any other program for youth. In closing, I should note that I understand that many parents are not and will not be involved in youth ministry in the Church. I am simply stating that I believe that the way we have been doing youth ministry is more of a “medicating the symptoms” approach than it is a solution to the problem because the solution to bring the whole family with us. In my post next week, I will spend some time explaining how I have seen Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry bring about change and growth in the parents and families involved. Parents are being drawn in, parents are engaging other parents, and families are coming together to raise their children in the faith. Why? Because we are demanding it from them. Because without them our youth stand little chance (statistically speaking) of a lifelong commitment to faith.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

The Five Levels of Delegation for a Discipleship Leader

One of the most common struggles parish leaders seem to have with discipleship involves trusting in the competence of their adults to truly lead the discipleship groups. This is one reason why I recommend that the actual “program” taking place in the parish be focused on forming, mentoring, and guiding adults to be disciple-makers. Such a program develops these leaders to have a missionary heart, which then naturally leads them to service in discipleship, youth groups, small discipleship groups, etc. The difficult part is that in this model, the actual youth ministers are volunteers. To facilitate this type of training, and also in order to help parishes develop greater trust in their adults over time, I have outlined five levels of delegation that reflect the amount and type of responsibility for which individual adults are ready. This tool helps to identify the type of tasks each person can handle and what are some concrete steps a leader can take to encourage them in each phase of their growth. Helping adults progress through each of these levels will also help them build their own confidence to lead those with whom they are working. Level 1 – I Create The Plan Do exactly what I have asked you to do. I have a plan that often works for people getting started. Report back to me regularly as you do it, explaining what’s working and what isn’t. I want to help you succeed. Level 2 – We Create the Plan Let’s sit down and come up with a plan together. I want to help you grow as much as possible as a leader and help you to understand what should be considered as you plan for your group. Level 3 – You Create the Plan and Run it By Me Come up with a plan and present it to me. Explain to me how you came up with it . I want to have the opportunity to speak into your planning as needed and approve your plan before you share it with your group. Level 4 – I Trust You I trust you and want you to feel free to make decisions on your own because I believe that you understand the vision for discipleship and have the right intentions. I trust that you will keep me informed of what you are doing and will ask permission before doing anything out of the ordinary. Level 5 – Help Me Help Others I want you involved in helping other leaders do what I have done with you. It will be through a process like this that a parish will be able to deepen the discipleship efforts with their leaders. Spending more time with those in the lower levels and letting go and trusting those in the higher levels will allow parish priests and staff and slowly grow a parish of leaders that not only are trusted but have been given what they need to lead with confidence.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Deliberate “Practice Makes Perfect” Youth Ministers

One of my biggest frustrations with the way that youth ministry is done in the Church today is how it approaches the parents of the youth in the ministry. All too often, the language used focuses on getting parents involved in what we are doing rather than us helping the parents with what they are doing. I wrote a little about this in Stop Helping Youth and Start Helping Parents. One of the most emphasized aspects of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is that instead of having one youth minister in the parish, the goal is to have one person who forms many youth ministers in the parish. I do not mean that we form several adults to do whatever the youth minister tells them to do, but instead to form, equip, and inspire parents and other adults in the parish who have the heart, vision, and passion of a youth minister to become youth ministers. We want parents and adults in the parish to believe it can be done and that they have what it takes to do it. The reason this is hard is because for the last 40 years in the Church, we have not done this very well. When a youth minister is hired, it typically takes the pressure off of the parents and places it on the parish youth ministry program. We subsequently fail to form other adults to be youth ministers, limiting our capacity to reach more youth. In his book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin writes about how people often attribute success to talent and believe that the average person doesn’t stand a chance at being good or great at something. The book proves by giving example after example of people like Mozart and Tiger Woods, whose success most would attribute to a God-given talent at birth, that in reality these people had practiced and had been given the opportunity to grow in their skills at an unusually early point in their life. He does not argue that talent in nothing, but that it is overrated. Most people involved in youth ministry are good at it because they have been involved in and practiced at it for some time. Good youth ministry was modeled for them, and they simply learned the ropes from others. Though so many have themselves learned it through practice, they struggle to believe that others in the parish can become skilled at it that way as well. I believe that in order for us to increase our effectiveness in youth ministry, we have to begin to provide opportunities for adults in the parish to practice being youth ministers. In Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin writes about “deliberate practice”. Deliberate practice is how people like Mozart and Tiger Woods achieved such great heights in the utilization of their skills. I believe that we can begin to help adults in the Church become great not just in youth ministry but in discipleship and evangelization as a whole if we can set them up for success- just like the people involved in Mozart and Tiger Woods’ lives did for them. Here are the four things that must be done for practice to be deliberate (as laid out by Colvins) and how I see them working in Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry. Designed Specifically to Improve Performance We must have a system in place that provides room for adults to practice and grow in being the youth minister. This means not only giving them a role in the ministry, but putting them in positions to practice actually doing what a youth minister does. The role of the parish is to be a place of formation where adults improve in their ability to evangelize. Rather than giving them simple tasks to complete, we must set them up to do things they never thought they could do but with deliberate practice can excel in. Highly Demanding Mentally We take the mental stress of youth ministry away from not only the parents but the other adults when we establish a program and pay an “expert” to come up with solutions. The customized approach of discipleship requires that the adults get to know youth and to learn how to form them based upon what they have learned. This is extremely mentally demanding for adults, again because it has not been asked of them for a long time. It Can Be Repeated A Lot The mentorship of a parish coordinator who is helping an adult become a youth minister can provide ongoing oversight and support for that adult to grow over time. Like a coach running a drill several times on the practice field, the adults should be given the space to try things over and over again until they get more comfortable with it. Feedback on Results is Continually Available This is where a parish coordinator or the involvement of the pastor is necessary. Adults who are striving to grow in youth ministry need feedback and support to continue growing. So while we want the adults to have the freedom to do ministry in the way they think is best, they also need feedback both to progress and to provide them with the support they need. It is time for us stop doing youth ministry and teach others to do it instead. Let’s take the years that we have been learning to do youth ministry in the Church and turn from being “experts” to being coaches.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

New Evangelization = The Courage to Forge New Paths

What is the New Evangelization? For the first time in the history of the Church, we are in a situation where entire countries and civilizations that once claimed to be Christian no longer do. They accepted the Gospel and even strived to live Christian moral values for some time but have since rejected those values. We can see evidence of this in many ways that suggest we are not far from this situation in the United States. The New Evangelization is the Church calling us to understand that reaching people who have been exposed to the Gospel but have rejected it requires us to evangelize with a “new” approach. The great Saint John Paul II articulated this, defining the New Evangelization as new in ardor, method, and expression. One of the most common analogies I have heard used to explain the New Evangelization is that of the flu vaccine. When someone gets the flu vaccine, they actually receive a diluted dose of the flu virus to help protect themselves from getting the flu. This seems a little silly when you think about it, but in order for one’s body to reject the virus, it must be exposed at least minimally so it can later reject it. To give a practical example of this in a youth ministry context, imagine talking to a youth, and as you begin the conversation about Jesus Christ, they immediately respond, “Oh I know about that Jesus guy. My parents go to Church every week, but he hasn’t helped them at all; they fight every day. Why would I want anything to do with that?” Their exposure to the Gospel (or rather, what they think it is) actually leads them to reject it (like the flu vaccine). This is why the way in which we present the Gospel must be new in ardor, method, and expression: because we have new circumstances. This young person needs to experience the message of the Gospel in a way that is more accurate. Another definition I love comes from the Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. It says: We must not be afraid to forge new paths. The image that comes to mind is what is known as a desire path (see image). The desire path is the one on the right. In my last post, I talked about how no program will be the magic pill that will solve everything. The problem is that the programs, in an effort to help us, are giving us new resources but these resources are not solving the problem. They do their best to make it as easy as possible for us so we don’t have to worry about the pains of taking the road less traveled. The New Evangelization is a call to respond in faith, to be formed by God and challenged through our efforts to grow. It dares us to go where we may not have everything we think we need but to trust in God’s providence . It gives me great hope to know that there are many in the Church whom God has called down these desire paths. As the paths become more traveled, they become more clear. It will not be easy to have the faith to enter into the New Evangelization, but it will be an exciting time in the Church.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Diving Into The Earmarks: Accountability to Life Change

I truly believe that one of the greatest struggles we have in youth ministry today is the fear to look at things for what they truly are. I remember sitting in a meeting with several youth leaders, and we were taking a guess at the percentage of youth who leave our programs and continue to live out the faith in college. The consensus in the room was about 5%-10%. Unfortunately, the conversation did not progress towards a discussion on what could be done better; instead it focused on all of the outside factors that were the cause of these percentages. While the majority of the people in that room believed the problem was the negative effects of culture and the difficulty of transitioning into college, I disagreed. I believe the challenges associated with these things are both legitimate and substantial, but they are symptoms of the real problem. If teens had the muscle to handle these struggles, the success rate would be much higher. The problem is that we as a Church have failed to help them build that muscle. This is where Accountability to Life Change comes in. The reality is that we can’t make someone else build the muscle that will give them the strength to overcome the things they will come up against; they must choose to do it themselves. We can only encourage them to do so. Fostering Accountability to Life Change in Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry starts by recognizing that we are not able to do in the 90-120 minutes a week all that needs to be done. If we are going to have ministry that truly helps youth, it will need to begin requiring more than simply attending our programming. The difficult part is knowing how to do this. Here are a few tips: Expect Change or Stop Meeting This can be difficult, but make it clear as you meet with youth that it’s pointless to meet if it is not bringing about change. I believe this alone will inspire change because they understand that you are there for them and not there just for the program. Extend Mercy As youth do struggle and make mistakes, be patient and merciful in your response to them. Knowing that they will have the support to get up and continue moving forward will bring about a greater sense of personal responsibility, as well as accountability to you as their mentor. Set the Standard For Your Group As a group, set standards for behavior as a member of the group. Commit to daily prayer, Sacraments, etc. When you ask the question “How is everyone doing?”, it’s a question aimed at how they are doing in keeping these commitments and not so much casual conversation about school, homework, etc. Provide Opportunities to Grow Always have a plan in mind for how to encourage the youth to grow. Make your meetings more of a huddle that prepares them for the specific opportunities they will have for growth that following week. Teach the Disciplines Instead of just waiting around for things to happen and then responding to them, teach the youth the different disciplines they can grow in each week. Spend some of the time in your meetings actually practicing them, and give them the tools to keep doing it when they leave. Learn to Observe Growth One difficult thing as a discipleship leader is learning to observe the life of a youth and being able to articulate what it is they are needing to grow in, as well as how much they are growing in it. This comes by developing the ability to ask the right questions and looking for certain responses. Be Patient In Your Speech As a discipleship leader, it is extremely important to speak positively about people and be hopeful rather than negative in your speech. Youth will be more inspired to grow if they believe that you truly think that they can do it. If you spend time talking about others in a way that communicates that you are never satisfied, the youth you are working with will believe that they will never satisfy you as well. Be Growing Yourself The best teacher is a good witness. The greatest inspiration for growth will be through the witness of what God is doing in your life as their leader. In conclusion, I want to return briefly to the first point, Expect Change or Stop Meeting. Our programs in the Church have become so “Catholic nice” that we have neglected making them places of growth. For those who do truly need accountability, we do them an injustice by making things too accepting. It should go without saying that this friendly and overly-accepting mentality that requires no Accountability to Life Change is far from how Christ taught his disciples to follow him. Like Christ, let us be honest and upfront about the expectations and demands required to follow after him and never hesitate to call those desiring growth on to greatness while being patient and merciful at the same time.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

______________ is Not the Magic Pill

“What do you think about Alpha?” This is a question I was asked by four different people over the course of three days while I was speaking at a series of diocesan events covering the fundamentals and practice of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry. In the past two years, I have probably been asked or heard the question asked “What do you think of Chosen?” over 50 times. I won’t even attempt to count the number of times I’ve been asked about Decision Point. My opinion of these programs is irrelevant because the point I want to make is this: these are “programs,” and my response to these and any other programs you may ask me about will be that ________ is NOT the “magic pill.” John Paul II alluded to this in his document Novo Millennio Ineunte when he said, The problem that I see in the way many parishes are trying to do youth ministry is that they select one of these programs and make it the center of all that they do. Programs like Chosen and Decision Point are used as the curriculum for a class, and that class is the sum total of all that is offered to the youth. While these programs can be effective in doing some things, they will never be able to respond to all of the needs of every individual youth. Thus, they are not the magic pill; they cannot and will not solve all our youth ministry problems. I do believe that these programs have a place and can be a tremendous resource in helping to form our young people. However, I have yet to meet a young person whose only means of formation is one of these programs who is thrilled about the impact it’s making on their life. I pray that this post is not received as a criticism of great resources like Chosen and Decision Point, but rather a challenge to those responsible for choosing the programs and resources used to form our young people. Do not start with the program; start with a vision that is focused on the whole person and will provide opportunities for the youth to grow where they are at. If that leads you to offer Chosen in your parish, awesome! If Chosen would be great for 80% of the kids but not the others, do not settle by making that your only option. Instead discover ways to reach the other 20%, and do those things as well. We must shift our mindset from figuring how to have the best program to how can we help each youth seek after the face of Christ. That is our program, and that is the magic pill.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

4 Ideas for Kicking Off This School Year the Right Way

Getting back into the school year is always exciting for me. While I enjoy the summer months very much, I look forward to the routine that comes with the school year. Since moving to a more Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry approach, summer has always been sort of a wildcard. Some groups continue to meet regularly during those months; others hardly meet at all. Some youth have experiences that have helped them grow in their faith; others may have taken a few steps backward in their spiritual disciplines and are looking forward to renewing their efforts with the support and accountability of their group. With all of the variables that come with an approach as messy as Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry it, can be difficult for a parish coordinator to know how to respond. I thought it would be helpful to share just a few things I have seen a parish coordinator do well that can help support and encourage the discipleship in the parish as the new year begins. Lay the Foundation for the Year Start first by talking with your pastor about his hopes for the year. Work towards setting one or two major goals for the year and focusing your parish programming and offerings around those goals. Give your group leaders the top things that they should know and include in the planning for their teens (annual conference, parish bazaar, mission trips, etc.) and ,be ready to communicate the goals your parish has and how these things will be helpful to them in encouraging their groups in those goals. Host a Back to School Party Invite all of your discipleship group leaders and those they lead to a gathering hosted by the parish. Keep it simple. Play some games, do a simple welcome, talk briefly about some things to look forward to this year, and pray together. I have seen this type of event used as the official restart time for many groups, especially those groups that have been meeting less or not at all throughout the summer. Reconnect With Your Leaders Just as leaders may have found it difficult to have consistency with their groups, it’s likely a parish coordinator will have had similar difficulty with their leaders. I strongly recommend having a meeting each fall to bring your discipleship leaders together, recap the vision and mission of discipleship in the parish, and lay out the expectations and hopes for the coming semester or year. This meeting should inspire your leaders to look forward to going deeper in their own faith and give them what they need to dive into discipleship with the youth with whom they work. Have a Plan for Your Own Discipleship The two most important things you can do in your parish to foster a culture of discipleship are 1) be a disciple yourself and 2) model discipleship in how you lead those in your parish. Be sure you are going into this year with a plan for how you hope to grow. You can find a mentor, spiritual director, or even a strong mastermind group to join. Commit to reading one book a month and have that list of books planned out for the year. Modeling discipleship in how you lead others is extremely important. Discern which leaders you are called to invest in over the coming year and who you might seek out that is not yet committed to discipleship. Make discipleship a priority for your own ministry and do not be afraid to cut other things out of your plans for the year if you think they will prevent you from the discipleship ministry you can offer your leaders.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Diving Into the Earmarks – Customization

One of the most powerful aspects of Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry that truly sets it apart from other approaches is the call for a customized plan for each and every student. When I led a youth group, I remember the constant tension between boring those who wanted to go deeper with too many games and doing less games but losing those who were not yet interested in more. Having one option or one program for the youth in a parish is like taking a football team and making them all spend an entire practice punting. It wouldn’t take long for the individual players to begin losing interest and, in the long run, they wouldn’t make a very good team. Discipleship is an apprenticeship that requires the time and focus of a teacher to observe and help a student where he or she needs to grow the most. It is the watchful eye and specialized instruction of the teacher that helps the student rise to a new level of excellence. A master carpenter, for example, can teach a student to see how he or she sees things. This is what makes it possible for the student to build items of greater quality and craftsmanship than any factory could ever produce. What the teacher teaches is based upon what the disciple knows and what he or she needs to learn. Looking at things this way helps us to see how a customized plan, crafted through careful observation, will create the best outcome in helping a young person grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here are a few ideas for how to work towards this customized approach in your ministry or small group: Allow The Group Leaders To Create The Plan From what I have seen, the norm in most parishes is to present everyone with the same information, content, or “program,” and the opportunity for customization typically happens through guided small group discussion that has to fit within a 20-30 minute timeframe. We must teach our small group leaders to vision and plan for their own groups and give them the freedom to step out of the programs we provide if they are not meeting the needs of their groups. In fact, parish programming should only exist if it is a response to the needs in the groups anyway (read more about that here). Observe, Observe, Observe The reality is that if you are really going to teach someone well, you must observe them in action. Take time doing things with the youth in your groups, and watch how they respond. Ask difficult questions that challenge the way they think about things, and spend time each and every time you meet catching up on the most difficult challenges they are facing in their family, school, and work. Keep Groups Small In order for your group to really be able to give each person the individual opportunities they need, you must keep the groups small. I typically recommend groups of 4-6 youth with two adults. Mathematically, this means each adult leader can invest deeply in 2-3 youth or at least be responsible for observing them and ensuring they are engaged in what the group is doing. Allow Groups To Be Formed Naturally Once discipleship groups begin to form in your parish, they will tend to take on unique characteristics , especially if your group is active and present in the parish community. People will desire to join a group or may even leave one group for another if they see what a certain group is focused on. Allow youth to go where they will be challenged and will be fed right where they are at. Make It Less About The Small Group It doesn’t matter how many times your small group meets or what types of things your group has accomplished. What matters most is that every person in your group is given the opportunity to be formed as a disciple and has someone helping them as needed. Do not be afraid to throw out the agenda if you find something specific that needs to be worked on. These are just a few ideas. One way you could test if you are customizing your efforts would be to answer the question: “If you swapped out all of the youth in your group and had new ones come in, would you keep doing the same thing?” If so, this is likely an earmark that you can work on!  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

5 Ideas for When You Didn’t Plan for Small Group

I am praying that this doesn’t become my most read blog on the site (totally kidding…except not really). It happens to the best of us. The week flies by, you forget your group is meeting tomorrow, and you need ideas that require little preparation but will still be engaging for your group. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are five ideas you can use today. Study This Week’s Gospel Spend your meeting reading through the upcoming readings for Sunday Mass or diving into the readings from last Sunday. There are several sites that even give you good discussion questions for each week. One that I recommend would be the reflections from the USCCB. Practice Lectio Divina You can pick any passage from Scripture. Spend time actually teaching what Lectio Divina is, and then spend some time actually doing it. You can find some instructions on Lectio Divina here. Go Through The Discipleship Roadmap FOCUS has a couple of great tools that you can use to facilitate discussion for a single meeting or use as ongoing support towards challenging your group to live the call of discipleship. I recommend the Discipleship Roadmap or the Depth Chart. Go on a Rosary Walk Walk and pray a rosary together, then simply spend time talking and enjoying fellowship with one another. Watch a YouTube Video and Discuss This may need a little prep, but if you know some of the places to look, it can be pretty easy to find a good video to watch that can spark excellent discussion. A few I recommend checking out are VCAT, Skit Guys, OutsidedaBox, Catholic Youth Ministry Hub Videos, One Time Blind and Chris Stefanick.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

7 Realities That Summer Will Bring For Your Discipleship Group

No, I don’t recommend that you take the summer off from your discipleship group. The reason is because discipleship is not just about meeting in a group; it’s about taking on and sharing the responsibility of forming another person, which is not a nine-month commitment. I think the best approach to the summer months is to accept that discipleship will just look different than it does during the school year. Summer makes things a bit more difficult, but it also offers opportunities for things that are not as easily done during the school year. Here are 7 realities that will hit when summer kicks in full force. Meetings Will Be Inconsistent During the summer, group members will be gone on vacations or to summer camps, and it will be less likely that you will find and be able to commit to a regular weekly time to meet. Be careful not to try forcing consistency. When you do and it’s not working out, it becomes frustrating for everyone involved. People Are Typically More Relaxed You should be able to let up on some of the expectations for your group and be comfortable letting things happen more naturally in the summer. Youth will be more eager to simply hang out, and parents will be more relaxed and disposed to just let their child be with others. Youth Are More Available At Unique Times This opens up opportunities that you don’t have during the school year, especially during the daytime. If you’re able, consider getting together for coffee during the mid-morning, working on a house project together, or volunteering at an organization that you normally wouldn’t be able to. It’s Prime Time For Outdoor Fun Summer offers many opportunities to just enjoy life, especially through nature. Be sure to take time simply experiencing the beauty of summer with your group, and have fun with them outdoors. There WIll Be Unique Opportunities For Growth It can be very difficult for youth to adjust to the challenges that summer brings. Maintaining friendships can be difficult, staying committed to prayer is a struggle, and handling many of the pressures that come when youth have so much free time creates opportunities for you as a discipleship leader to encourage them and help their summer be one of greater growth in maturity. Summer Events = Time as a Group The one thing that summer brings for most groups is more time to just be together. To find a full day or even a few hours during the school year can be difficult. Take advantage of the times where you can have a bonfire, go on walks, hold a movie night, etc. Scheduling Is Still Important While you may be tempted to just see how things play out, the reality is that in a very short while, the summer will already be gone. Make some commitments as a group beforehand, and establish a few key times throughout the summer when you know you will get together (daily Mass, summer camp, family picnic/potluck, etc.). Regular contact with one another will foster everyone’s excitement to gather in between those times. Scheduling is also important because it helps parents to be able to plan ahead and be more supportive of what your group is doing. Please do look forward to summer and taking a break. But while it may be tempting to take a complete break because of the sacrifices you have made during the year to plan for and keep a group going, the investment you make in the summers will multiply your efforts throughout the rest of the year. It will give you opportunities to build upon real human relationships that, in reality, will likely change you more than it will them.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

10 Ways a Parish Discipleship Coordinator Can Find Mentorship

In ministry, we usually focus on helping others grow in discipleship, but lets face it: it can be very difficult for a youth leader to find good mentorship for him or herself. Naturally, it would seem that the Diocesan Director is the one who should be mentoring and forming parish youth coordinators, but the reality is that many times they have 10 other hats they are wearing, or their roles are more of authority and program coordination than mentorship. Plus, there are likely more parish youth leaders than any single Diocesan Director would be able to reach by themselves anyway. One of the most fundamental aspects of discipleship is that a disciple is striving to be like their rabbi and do what their rabbi does. What I have found in youth ministry is that most youth directors don’t really have a specific person whom they follow or way of doing things to which they ascribe. There are numerous online communities and websites that peg themselves as “youth ministers helping youth ministers.” However, the danger of this is that there is no authority or leader who is driving things. To put it bluntly, the right thing to do often becomes “what everyone else is doing.” It’s almost like a football team without a coach, just trying to be the best football team they can be. Even though I didn’t really experience formal mentorship in youth ministry up until a few years ago, I do feel like many of my strengths have come from finding mentorship in other ways. I thought I would share with you 10 different ways I have found mentorship not just in ministry, but in family, finances, marriage, etc. Here they are: Prayer God is our greatest mentor and has been by far the greatest guide to me in every aspect of my life. Never underestimate the power of spending time with God in daily quiet prayer, the Sacraments, Scripture, and finding him in community and friendship with others. Spiritual Director I would argue that most, if not every, leader in ministry should have a spiritual director. There are many resources out there on helping you figure who would be a good spiritual director, how to find one, etc. I meet with my spiritual director every 4-5 weeks. Veteran Youth Coordinators Find someone who has been in ministry longer than you who you think you could learn a lot from. Do not just look at the amount of their experience;look at they way they view and do ministry, and ask them to meet with you on a regular basis. Diocesan Director In many dioceses, there is someone hired or appointed to act as the support to parish youth leaders. Find out who this person is and meet with them, especially if you are new. Typically this person will have a good knowledge of the diocese, people you can connect with, and opportunities available for you to be fed. Your Pastor Ideally in any working environment, your boss would be a mentor to you. Strive to follow the vision and guidance of your pastor. If your situation allows, set up a regular meeting with him, simply to keep the lines of communication open and to help you grow in your understanding of your role in the parish. Read Authoritative Documents There is a great treasure of wisdom and guidance that can be found in the documents of the Church. Be sure you are familiar with the documents specifically focused on evangelization and catechesis. Also, talk to your diocese about any guidance that has been given from the local level of the Church in regard to evangelization. Read Books and Blogs I love reading books and following blogs. In some ways, I would say that I am a follower or disciple of many different authors and speakers online. I recently updated my reading list on the site and added books and blogs focused on different areas in which I am striving to grow. Find a few people you desire to emulate, and soak in everything they have to offer. Listen to Podcasts I am also a big fan of podcasts. Many of the people I follow online and look up to in various aspects of life have a podcast. I listen to them while I run, on my way to/from work, and while I travel. Mastermind Groups Finding a youth ministry mastermind group is one of the newest ways I have found to receive and be a great help to others. It’s a way of working and growing with people on the same level as you, but committed to a more specific area of growth. I will have more on this in a future post. In short, the goal is to network on a regular basis with a few others striving to grow in similar ways that you are. Online Communities Finding an online community of people desiring to grow in specific areas is also a great way to be led. We have a group specifically focused on Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry on Facebook. While it is peers learning from peers, there is at least a common vision and shared practice that everyone is striving towards. These are just some of the ways that I am working to become more like the people I desire to be like. Sirach 6:36 says, “If you see an intelligent person, rise early to visit him; let your foot wear out his doorstep.” I encourage you to be a disciple; yes, a disciple of Jesus Christ, but also stri other people in your life whom you look up to as well.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Diving Into The Earmarks: Mutual Responsibility

Have you ever wondered why fitness center memberships can be so expensive or why they require you to have a certain length of contract? Many fitness centers would actually say that charging a higher rate and expecting a commitment from their customers will actually make the customers happier. People use their services because they have a strong desire to be healthy, which motivates them to seek help. Therefore, they are actually helping customers follow through with their resolutions and achieve their goals more effectively by asking for a bigger commitment and charging a higher price. It’s quite a concept. The call for mutual responsibility by the disciple and the teacher in Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is a similar concept. If you truly want to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ, it requires commitment and sacrifice. If you really want to be a disciple, you must drop your nets and follow after Christ, or “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow.” I understand that not everyone is ready for this type of sacrifice and commitment (or, in the case of the fitness center membership, maybe can’t afford it). This is one of the biggest ways discipleship is different than what is most commonly done in the Church. Typically, a Church will offer the same programs to everyone, and every program is so general in nature that it’s not really offering anything substantial to any one demographic. In discipleship, where the process and content are focused on the particular needs of each individual, there will be specific moments that challenge and call the individual to an even deeper commitment. It is in making these commitments that a disciple is able to truly grow. Here are a few ideas to help you establish mutual responsibility in your discipleship group setting. Be a Committed Leader It is important to note that this is “mutual” responsibility. When asking the youth to make a commitment for themselves, they must be given the confidence that you will be committed to this journey together. Communicate The Expectations As a leader, be sure you are communicating what the expectations are for meetings, spiritual disciplines, commitments outside of the regular meetings, etc. Do not be afraid to make a covenant of sorts that communicates what you are both committing to. Writing these expectations down will do wonders in establishing a good understanding among everyone involved. Call Each Other Out When the expectations are not being met, do not be afraid to call each other out. As a leader, be ok with the youth calling you out when you are moving towards being less committed. Practice patience and gentleness in challenging those you are working with to keep their commitments as well. Be Consistent Especially in a group setting, it is important to hold each person accountable to the standards your group has decided to set. When one or two people are slacking in their commitments to the group, it can be a parasite to the culture you have spent time building so far. Re-Evaluate Responsibilities Regularly Once or twice a year (or more often if needed), go through what you previously agreed to and decide as a group if it looks good or if things need to be adjusted. Ideally, you will be able to set higher expectations over time, especially if they are more specific in practice.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Stop Helping Youth and Start Helping Parents

For about the first ten years that I was involved in youth ministry, I remember asking some of the same questions I see many asking today… It wasn’t until the last few years that the questions I was asking started to shift. I started really focusing on how much responsibility I should be taking on for the formation of the youth. Besides, it seemed like no matter what I was doing, it was still a gamble as to whether or not each youth involved in my programs was going to continue living their faith out after high school anyway. Recently in my own prayer, God has revealed something else to me. He reminded me who the responsibility of forming the youth really belongs to. We have heard it said a million times that the primary people responsible for the formation of the youth are their parents. The Church doesn’t have a secondary role in their formation, as if it’s only when the parents are doing it poorly, but it shares in this responsibility. What God revealed to me in my time of prayer is that my role should be less about having parents help me, but more about how I can help parents. I am beginning to see youth ministry more as a social service for parents, coming alongside them and aiding them as they are in need, as opposed to a rescue service for youth who are in need. Here are the questions I am asking now: It really seems to me that the more effective way of helping families is not through any formal program or group, but really through close, personal relationships and authentic community with others who are walking the same difficult path that they are. While programs can be helpful in bringing this about, I’m afraid we too easily make the program the focal point for what we are trying to achieve. Without a personal connection to someone already in the community, many parents probably won’t respond to programs anyway. This means that we will likely have to go seek parents out and draw them in rather than waiting for them to come to us. So, while the title states that we should stop helping youth, what I really mean is that I am realizing more and more that the only way to truly help the youth is to help their parents and the communities that they belong to.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Down With Youth Groups…Continued

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog article titled Down With Youth Groups. I recently did a little research into the popularity of my past posts, and that article has been by far the most read of all I have written in the past seven years of blogging. I remember immediately after publishing that post receiving several emails and messages asking me for more insight on starting to work outside of the youth group model. To be blunt, I’m not sure what advice I gave at the time, but with this new focus on Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry, it has become much clearer to me why I was so frustrated with my own experience of leading a youth group and how a Discipleship Focused approach responds to some of these frustrations. Let me use the Four Earmarks of Discipleship to explain this in a little bit more detail. Intimacy When I was leading a youth group, the reality was that my goal was to make the youth group bigger. Once I had grown the group from 4-6 youth to 30-40 youth, I missed the intimacy we had shared in our smaller group setting. Instead of reaching 4-6 youth well, it seemed like I was reaching no one at all. While a larger group model can provide a different sense of community and allow you to do things that a small group can not, Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry strives for an intimacy that is more accommodating to depth and authentic friendships. Mutual Responsibility One of the most difficult situations for me to accept in a youth group model was when a teen would come for a few weeks and then we would never see them again. The youth group model tends to focus attention more on the number of youth in the youth group than on the individuals that comprised it. I could have 40 youth one week and two of them would never show up again, but 5 more would join the next week, so I was supposedly doing well because now we have 43 total. But what about those two youth that we lost? Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry demands a responsibility and commitment from the youth and the adult leader that facilitates growth in mature Christian discipleship. Customization Some youth love games, others hate them. Some youth would prefer to spend over an hour in Eucharistic Adoration while others would rather play dodge ball. There was always tension for me in balancing fun and depth in my planning for a large group. With Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry we are able to craft a more customized plan for each youth involved. We meet them where they are at and no longer offer just one program that is generally for everyone, hoping everyone will get something out of it. Accountability to Life Change The single most common question I hear in youth ministry is, “How do I get more adult volunteers?” I would argue that this earmark provides the answer that the youth ministry world has been looking for. When adults see the change and the impact that their sacrifice of time and energy is giving them in return, they will continue to give. If adults are showing up simply out of obligation or even just to “help out,” it is not nearly as motivating because anyone could do what they are doing, and if they don’t do it, someone else will. But when an adult is directly involved in assisting a youth to have an encounter with Christ, they are hooked…not necessarily because they did anything grand, but because seeing something like that happen changes who we are. Putting adults with youth who are truly desiring to grow will change the culture of “adult volunteers” in your parish for good! So, returning to my past post, looking back saying that having a youth group is a bad thing. I think the definition of “youth group” is rather vague, anyway. My point is that the first instinct when youth start to become interested in spiritual growth is usually to start a youth group. I would argue that focusing on these earmarks as the means to teaching them the faith is the better way to go.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

Diving Into The Earmarks: Intimacy

If you’ve spent some time on this site, you know that the Four Earmarks of Discipleship are qualities or characteristics that help us understand what discipleship looks like and evaluate its effectiveness. Discipleship is a way of teaching and forming another person. All too often, we in the Church approach the task of formation like we should just be able to instruct on something and others will automatically do it. The reality is that we live in a culture that is so relativistic and distrusting of authority that it will take much more to inspire others to do something than simply telling them to do it. Only love for another will motivate a person to freely adopt a new way of thinking and acting. This love and the trust that corresponds to it will increase with growth in intimacy. Developing intimacy in discipleship can take time, and discipleship will deepen intimacy over time. But how do we begin to work on intimacy in discipleship and through our discipleship groups? I thought I would share some ideas from my own experience. Spend Time Together Time together will help to build intimacy. In fact, intimacy requires time. Spending time doing study and talking about the faith is important, but be sure to spend time just enjoying each other’s presence as well. Have Fun When you experience joy together, it will deepen the desire to be with each other. Have Purpose Every relationship needs to be going somewhere. When your group has a purpose that is clearly communicated, it creates a strong sense of support and belonging, which leads to a more faithful commitment to discipleship. Be Honest A key part of intimacy is trust. Do not be afraid to speak honestly. Be prudent and humble in your sharing, but do not hesitate to be honest, and expect honesty from those in your group as well. Share Each Other Be sure your relationships are being shared with others. When you see the other person proud and excited to be with you and share you with others, it will deepen the trust and care you have for each other. Talk About Each Other In your discipleship group, do not be afraid to talk about yourself and address personal questions to each of the others. Get to know the youth you work with, and do not be afraid to step outside of programming and curriculum. Always make your time centered upon each person and not the curriculum or study. Pray For and With Each Other Bring your relationships to Christ. Pray daily for the youth you work with, and remember to keep prayer a central component of your group meetings. Be Faithful Youth have people coming in and out of their lives all of the time. When they discover someone who will make more than a program or a simple time commitment, it will inspire more faith in that relationship. Ensuring you are consistent with your time, attention, and care for the youth in your group will also build intimacy in your group. Say Sorry Lastly, do not be afraid to say you’re sorry for the times where you may have let the youth in your group down. The patience and trust the youth have for you will grow because you have expressed a desire to love better. If we can foster intimacy among the youth we are working with, it will be hard for the other things in their life to compete. Youth are hungry for intimate and healthy relationships that inspire commitment, sacrifice, and growth. Do not be afraid to truly give of yourself to the youth you are serving and receive the love that they have to give as well.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

When Programming in Discipleship is a Good Thing

One of the things I find most difficult in what I do is being able to explain to others how discipleship is not a program. Any programming in your parish, including discipleship groups, should be done in order to foster and build a culture for discipleship. If a program is not helping build up discipleship or draw new youth into discipleship, then I would take time to seriously consider why it even exists. On the other hand, programming is a very important part of building a discipleship focused youth ministry in your parish. There are plenty of things you can do on a bigger scale that will bring discipleship groups together and will be an opportunity to draw others in as well. Here are a few parameters I have developed that will help evaluate programs as being helpful in a discipleship focused youth ministry. Coordinate Things That Require More Than a Small Group It’s hard to play a game of softball with a small group of 4-6 youth. Work towards offering opportunities in the parish that small groups could not do by themselves. Compensate for What Your Leaders May Lack Your leaders may have agreed to lead a group of young people in their faith, but they may not be experienced retreat leaders or engaging teachers. Consider planning a retreat that is an opportunity for your groups to attend and do the work of providing quality content that is presented well. Take the “Work” Out of Being a Disciple Leader Many leaders are great at mentoring and walking with the youth in their journey of faith. They may be more than willing to go on a camping trip with their group, but they may not have the skills or time to figure out the details. If the parish makes opportunities like this easy for their groups, they are more likely going to do them. Bring Communities Together Discipleship groups should be part of a greater community. Doing things that allow a group to continue being a group, while also exposing them to other groups and other youth in the parish will continue to foster growth as they are opened up to other people and possibilities. Inspire Involvement In Diocesan/National Events Similar to the tip above, exposing the youth in your parish to the Church community outside of your parish will provide a better understanding to the youth of the bigger picture of the Church that they are a part of in their discipleship groups. Provide a Bridge to Outreach & Mission Discipleship groups tend to be very inward-focused, but the goal is that they would be a light to the world and be sent to build up the Body of Christ (the Church). The parish should provide opportunities that make it easier to practice outreach and share the fruits of what is happening in their group. I should end by saying that in each case, these opportunities are ideas that should be offered, not required, for those in small groups. If the parish has programming in place and no one wants to be a part of it, then stop doing it. People will go where they are fed and formed and the programming is helping them move forward. Be sure to have ongoing dialogue with your discipleship group leaders about what things the parish can do to help build up the small groups and inspire them to a missionary initiative.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

The Balance Between Too Much Control and Too Much Freedom in Discipleship

When I was kid, I remember my grandparents having a pendulum clock. I thought it was so cool that I could grab the pendulum to stop it from moving back and forth. When I let it go, it would slowly begin to build up momentum and start swinging again from side to side. This clock often comes to mind when I think about youth ministry and as I address questions regarding safe environment, oversight, etc. On the one hand we want to protect our youth, so we need to have guidelines and boundaries in place, but on the other, we don’t want so many limits that those involved have no freedom to do what they know needs to be done. It’s a difficult balance between too much control and too much freedom. Another example from my own life that illustrates this principle was when I was 16 and my dad told me that he was no longer going to give me a curfew. I did, however, have to tell him where I was going. He knew me and my tendencies well enough by that point, and he wanted me to know that he trusted me but that he still had the right as my father to speak into my life. This is an example of good oversight and accountability while still providing freedom and communicating trust. I am sure it was difficult for him to let go of the control, but he knew it would give me the freedom to truly grow up as I needed to. Discipleship will require a greater deal of trust on our part, but also the expectation of greater responsibility on the part of the adults involved. If we can have faith in the adults we are working with and give them opportunities to “grow up” in ministry, we will gain much ground in the work we do in the Church. Here are a few tips for creating the atmosphere of trust, accountability, and freedom. Keep The Rope Short At First Entrusting and delegating a vision and responsibility to others takes time. Do not be afraid to over-communicate and expect dialogue in the beginning stages of forming your leaders. At first, you might expect them to communicate every detail of what they are doing with their groups and how things are going, but as time goes on and you develop greater trust in your adults, you can lighten up and give away some control. Expect Growth Some leaders would actually prefer that you tell them what to do all the time. This can be a very bad thing. Your goal should be to equip leaders and give them the confidence they need to do it on their own. My dad, by forcing some responsibility on me, forced me to look at all of my decisions differently. Expect your leaders to learn how to observe situations and make decisions on their own rather than coming to you for everything. Helping them too much is not really helping at all. Do Not Be Afraid to Discipline While this post might seem to focus more on the necessity of giving adult leaders the freedoms they need to grow, I have often found it to be the case that many adults will require more control than they would like. Either they do not understand what is expected of them in this regard or they don’t respect your leadership. Do not be afraid to have conversations with these “rogue” adults. Like a child running into the street even after his father tells him not to, adults need to be formed. Lean in to this type of conflict and do not be afraid of it. In many situations, you may find it’s actually your own lack of leadership that is causing the leader to misunderstand what is expected. In situations where a leader is not receptive to authority over them, their freedoms should be taken away. The role of parish coordinator should look very much like me as a child holding the pendulum on the clock, working to find the balance of too much control and too much freedom. The right adults, truly desiring to serve our Lord through youth discipleship, will find great freedom when this type of balance is in place. Much like the child given the boundaries within which to play, they will experience great freedom in knowing what they can and cannot do.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

You Can Not Force Discipleship

Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is tough because it requires a more natural evolution than simply creating a program and getting people to become involved in it. As the earmark of mutual responsibility implies, discipleship is a two-way street. You need a rabbi (teacher) who is willing to invest themselves in a disciple, and you need a disciple who desires to be like the teacher. The reality is that we cannot force discipleship. In youth ministry, a youth must see something in an adult and develop a strong desire to be with them in order to become like them. In a discipleship group setting, a youth must see something good in a discipleship group, so much that they wish to be with the group and become like those in the group. My point is that this happens naturally, but a few key things are essential to making this take place. Have Solid Groups If you are a discipleship group leader, strive to make your group a place that is attractive to others. Fun is attractive, but depth is even more so (strive for both!). When someone comes to check out your discipleship group because their friend invited them, expose them to a group that is a living witness of authentic friendship and committed to growth. Have Solid Adults If discipleship groups are led by adults that are living witnesses of Christ’s love, it will attract youth that are seeking that love, and it will inspire parents as well. Look for adults that have humility, patience, and great care towards everyone they meet. Find adults who are committed to the daily sacrifice of following after Christ. A youth desiring to grow in their faith can spot an adult lacking in these things from a mile away. Create Opportunities to Connect It will be very difficult for youth to meet adults (and vice versa) unless there are opportunities to connect. The role of the parish leader oftentimes can be to play matchmaker, finding times where an adult might be able to meet a youth that they think may be a good match for a discipleship-focused relationship. An example would be to get an adult and several youth who you think might make a good discipleship group to all go on a trip together to a youth conference or mission trip. If they connect well, it can be an easy transition into a discipleship group afterwards, allowing them to continue building those relationships. Youth will be drawn to healthy and fruitful relationships and opportunities for growth. It may take time, but I encourage you to let things play out naturally. When we get in the way and try to force things, it can oftentimes do more harm than good.  

Eric Gallagher

Eric Gallagher

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