SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CNS) — The goal of Life Teen “is to completely transform the idea of what youth ministry is in our church and what it can be,” said the director of events for the Mesa-based organization.

“It needs to be more dynamic. It’s not meant to be boring, but to be an experience on Sunday night and not just a class,” said Stephen Lenahan. “Everything in our church is so grand, why not for our youth on a Sunday night by showing them the beauty of our church?”

Lenahan, who works in Life Teen’s Atlanta office, made the comments to The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese, during the organization’s mid-June conference in in Scottsdale.


The annual Catholic Youth Ministry Training Convention, sponsored by Mesa-based Life Teen Inc., was an opportunity for new and seasoned leaders to be renewed and affirmed in their ministry.

The conference had as its “Inspire,” and it didn’t disappoint the 700 attendees with its 60 breakout sessions lead by well-known youth leaders offering practical and comprehensive training.

Topics ranged from how to balance a budget and lead a youth group meeting to relational ministry and dynamic environments.

Not one to shy away from societal issues facing teens today, the conference also offered leaders a course on same-sex marriage and same-sex attraction under the heading, “Same Love, Same Church.”

Attendees had the opportunity to pick classes based on the needs of the teens they serve.

The setup in the hotel ballroom rivaled any big-ticket event. The three-screen backdrop was impressive with a beautiful image of an iconic Christ as 60 priests concelebrated daily Mass.

Worship leaders and former Diocese of Phoenix music ministers Ike Ndolo and Emily Wilson led spirited praise and worship, with an infectious sound seemed to resonate with the participants.

Three bishops, along with religious and deacons, also attended with another 100 people leading talks or hosting workshops, including Scott Hahn, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and Father John Parks, chaplain and theology teacher at Notre Dame High School in Scottsdale.

“There are two types of preachers, those who get up to say something and those who get up because they have something to say,” Father Parks said, advising youth ministers to be relevant, resourceful and real with the teens they serve.

“God called you to be here and he called you to preach to his teens, his flock. He called you to do this,” he added.

Life Teen is in nearly 1,700 parishes in the United States and in 17 other countries. Besides its Mesa headquarters and its Atlanta office, it has a leadership team in St. Louis. With the motto “Leading teens closer to Christ,” and a special emphasis on the Eucharist, the international ministry hosts training and workshops throughout the year and offers scholarships for priests to attend.

Youth ministers were not only formed in the head, but the heart. The June 8-11 conference was a spiritual renewal that offered adoration, reconciliation and daily Mass.

Chris Epplett from the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, works with 100 teens in his high school program. He made his way to Scottsdale and found himself “renewed and given the zeal to do ministry.”

“Being able to dive into the theme, ‘inspired’ was good because it allows us to not just further inspire those teens we work with, but to be inspired,” he told The Catholic Sun.

The goal of the conference is to give youth ministers the tools to lead, listen and nurture intimate relationships with God, thereby impacting their parish ministries.

St. Patrick Life Teen coordinator Scott Bagshaw has been involved in youth ministry since 1996 as a participant, leader and speaker.

He said the training is not only invaluable but necessary to know what works in youth ministry and how to implement it.

“That’s when the work really starts, when I apply all that I’ve learned,” Bagshaw said. “If we’re not staying close to God, our teens won’t either. We need an opportunity to recharge with each other and share, then we can go out and set the world ablaze.”


Keating writes for The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese.