by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and where did you earn your Master's Degree in Theological Studies, and what was your most challenging course, and why was it challenging?
Joe: I earned my Master's Degree in Theological Studies from Ave Maria University, Orchard Lake, Michigan.
Gordon: What initially interested you in Youth Ministry?
Joe: I remember sitting in a Calculus class at the University of Tennessee when I noticed regular Monday morning conversations taking place among my peers touting what they did over the weekend.
These conversations had similar themes week to week such as how much alcohol they consumed, how drunk they were, what antics took place with others there who were also drunk. Interestingly enough, they also seemed to brag about how sick they became afterward in great detail.
They described in detail about their 'great' weekend.
They thought it was fun. I thought to myself "How did their thinking become so twisted?
Why don't they realize that they are on the wrong path?
Don't they realize that what they are doing isn't really fun?
Don't they understand who God created them to be - mighty, virtuous, heroic men of God?"
I quickly realized that what my peers really needed wasn't a string of numbers, symbols, and equations. They needed to hear the truth of why they were created and that God had a great plan for their life. Someone should tell them.
Then I began to think about the course of my own life. How should I spend it? Should I consider 'ministry' of some kind? Is the Lord calling me to possibly serve the Church somehow? Am I in some way called to help young people understand their great dignity and the 'abundant life' God has in mind for them?
I went on to complete my Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration - which I absolutely loved. Then I worked at a major corporation but felt empty. While reading a Catholic magazine one day I read an ad from a national Catholic youth retreat ministry - NET Ministries.
It intrigued me. You would travel the country giving retreats to Catholic young people.
I applied and was accepted as a 'missionary' on the team.
I left my corporate job and spent a year with a small team giving retreats across the country (US).
After my year ended, I said a prayer: "Lord, if you ever want me to do this full-time, I am open."
You better be serious when you pray that prayer! The Lord heard it and one day I received a totally unexpected phone call from a Catholic priest I'd never heard of from a town I'd never heard of: Fr. Tim Nolan, Pastor of The Church of Saint Paul in Ham Lake, MN, just north of Minneapolis. It's been non-stop ever since. God is good.
Gordon: When did you serve as Director of Youth Ministry at The Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake, MN, and please provide an overview of your work there?
Joe: I served as the Director of Youth Ministry at The Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake, MN from July 1997 through May 1994.
My responsibilities included ministry to over 300 teens in grades 7-12 including Confirmation preparation.
Knowing that small group discipleship was key, I recruited and trained a volunteer team of 50 leaders for their mission. The young people were evangelized, catechised, and experienced personal conversion.
Our comprehensive youth ministry program also included life-changing retreats, monthly nights of anointed praise and worship. A select high school team of twelve was trained in door-to-door evangelization who visited the Confirmation candidates. And I better mention that we always had excellent fun social events!
Gordon: When did you serve as Outreach Coordinator NET Ministries and approximately how many teens did your serve monthly?
Joe: I served as Outreach Coordinator with NET Ministries from October 1994 thru May 2020.
There I founded the monthly Catholic youth outreach event "LIFELINE" which ran for 25 years drawing over 175,000 teens. On average 1,000 teens attended a monthly LIFELINE event.
Each event included an outstanding ministry team, great music, gifted Priests and speakers, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
Gordon: When and why did you found Joe Roueche.com and what services do you provide
Joe: When I began in Catholic youth ministry at The Church of Saint Paul there was not much available in terms of training.
Fortunately (providentially) I am a 'builder' by nature so I was able to put together the vision, team, and ministry there to make disciples of Catholic young people which is the purpose of Catholic youth ministry. I kept some simple notes of what I did and how I did it.
Then, at NET Ministries at the LIFELINE events, youth ministers and faith formation leaders would ask me questions and seek advice.
Then a parish asked me to come to train their leaders. Then another and another and another.
Then someone mentioned I should have a website to make it easier for people to find me and see what I can offer.
I offer presentations for a variety of ministry needs and groups:
Faith Formation Nights
Parent & Teen Nights
Parish/School Staff retreats and in-service days
Consulting and mentoring
and now lately...CANA Dinners!
Gordon: There have been many reports of young people leaving the church. What are some of the reasons why teens leave the church and what can parishes do to reduce this challenge
Joe: There are several reasons for what has been called this 'mass exodus'. The statistics are sobering. At or about age 13, Catholic young people are asking themselves why they should be or remain Catholic. Within seven years of receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, eighty percent leave the Faith never to return.
Some of the reasons are as follows.
The lack of effective Catholic evangelization is one reason young Catholics leave the Church.
Many have never really heard or fully understood the life-changing, life-giving message of the 'Good News' of Jesus Christ.
Specifically, how Jesus came to redeem them, set them free from sin, and fill them with His Holy Spirit to become fully alive as daughters and sons of God.
The idea of a God who desires for them to be in a personal relationship with Himself, Who loves them, forgives them, and has an incredible plan for their lives is foreign to them.
And without this personal relationship, it's easy to perceive "Church" as irrelevant and oppressive.
It's easy for them to reduce "Church" to a cold institution that demands allegiance to a lot of 'rules.'
Another reason is due to a lack of effective catechesis.
Many young people leave the Church because they do not agree with the Church's teachings on moral issues such as homosexuality, sacramental marriage, and/or the sanctity of life.
Many misunderstand the Church's teachings much less know WHY the Church holds to these matters of Faith as she does.
Thirdly, they leave because they don't see the difference Faith makes.
While sitting at Mass or in religion classes they are asking themselves the question 'What's in it for me?" They need to see in us that Faith in Jesus and His Church DOES make a difference and IS worth it. Young people are so desperately hoping, wishing, and looking for a true, authentic witness of Faith which is alive and aflame and marked by joy! They want to see it in action before they know it is worth pursuing.
Gordon: What are some of the primary questions that teens ask about their faith?
Joe: Some of the primary questions that teens ask about their faith as mentioned earlier include why the Church seems so outdated, out-of-touch with its teachings on matters of morality such as same-sex attractions, sacramental marriage, and the sanctity of life in all of its stages.
What is wrong with birth control and contraceptives?
Why can't there be same-sex marriages if the two people love each other?
Other questions tend to be of a more practical matter: Why do I have to go to Mass when I don't get anything out of it? Why do I have to be Confirmed?
How can I know there's a God? How do I know who to marry?
There's a great book entitled, "Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?" by Matthew Pinto (Ascension Press). He covers 200 of the most frequently asked questions by Catholic teens.
Check it out!
Gordon: Thank you for a super interview.