PARISH SPOTLIGHT: Sarah Daszczuk and Christ the King Parish in Wauwatosa, WI
“In one moment of Holy Spirit boldness, I went to our parish’s 6 a.m. ‘That Man Is You’ men’s group and said, ‘I love that you guys meet here every week. This group has grown, and that is amazing. It feeds our church, so thank you for doing this. But, also, right now, I have a bunch of moms trying to teach boys how to become men of Christ. And that’s going about as well as you can imagine. So, I need some of you to step up. Keep coming here to be fed! But I also need you leading our young boys.’ I laid out the vision of small groups and discipleship. I just told them what I needed. And several of them said yes!”
Holy Spirit boldness is a foundational value in youth ministry at Christ the King Parish in Wauwatosa, WI. It started for their new youth minister, Sarah Daszczuk, long before arriving at Christ the King, even before she walked into that men’s group at a former parish and asked for help. And it’s the undercurrent to the strength and longevity of her ministry.
“Youth ministry is such an interesting beast in some ways. It’s something I never really expected to go into. I have a degree in theology, I studied for youth ministry, but in my mind I [thought] youth ministry is for people who think to themselves, ‘I just can’t wait to drink an entire gallon of chocolate milk!’ Those people!”
She’s been saying yes to youth ministry for ten years now. Even when opportunities gave her an option out, “I just love parish ministry because you get to walk with the families long-term.”
In those ten years, Sarah’s transformation of mindset about how to do youth ministry, and how she views herself as a minister, is reflected in the transformed lives of the ministries and people she has led. Hearing Sarah’s story, we believed it would resonate with many of your own, so we caught up with her to hear how God revealed a new way of approaching youth evangelization and formation early in her ministry career.
Going in with a plan
“Coming out of college, I thought, ‘I’m going to bring the truth to people, and the truth will set them free! They’ll hear the truth and convert immediately!’ you know? Getting into ministry, I was like, ‘Here’s the truth!’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, I don’t really care.’ And I was like, ‘What?! Isn’t it so beautiful how Augustine says…’ and they would say, ‘I don’t understand.’
“It was very much a learning moment. Everything I thought I knew about ministry, I had to look at it fresh and figure out, ‘What is it these people need, at this moment?’ And it might not be Augustine. It might be listening to them, playing a game, winning them over first.
“I’m a product of Life Teen, and I knew YDisciple because I went to the Augustine Institute. I came into ministry knowing these different tools and believing, ‘These will be the best programs!’ I quickly learned programs don’t form disciples, disciples form disciples. I walked into a program where youth ministry was, by and large, faith formation and sacramental prep. There was a mentality of youth ministry as a class, and that’s hard to break.” Sarah learned first-hand the practical application of the tools we receive in any youth ministry and theology training: different ministries call for different tools.
“I first tried the large group ministry model, and I thought, ‘This will solve all the problems!’ I had 100 kids show up. I thought it would be great! And it was terrible; they were not paying attention, and I had tried so hard to make things relevant. I had fun video clips and all the stuff. I was at my wit’s end and thought, ‘Why don’t you like this?! Why don’t you like me?!'”
Letting God change her mind
“When I first started in youth ministry, I often used the image of being in the trenches. You have these people writing really great books, with all these beautiful examples of great leadership and what we should be doing in parishes. Often I look at them as a great General, upon the tower, seeing what’s going on in the field. When you get down in the trenches, it’s so much messier and more complicated than I thought it would be. But there’s something really beautiful and gross in the midst of all of that.
“That night in ministry, we struggled to get through the rest of the night. The kids even refused to participate in dodgeball; you can imagine the awkwardness. It was such a painful moment of utter helplessness. I talked to one of my leaders in one of those experiences where the Holy Spirit clearly spoke through her. I said, ‘Man, that was rough! I don’t know what to do!’ She just said casually, ‘Yeah, it’s like they bring out the worst in each other! Like they create a toxic environment together.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, it is. Wait. Yes, yes, it is! We should not have them in a large group. This is a terrible idea!’
“It had nothing to do with the program; it was just not the right fit for this group of people. It was not what they needed.”
Setting the foundation for small group ministry
“That was in March. We tried to shake things up and do what we could for the rest of the year, but I knew, from here on out, we’re doing small group ministry. That was such a clear answer to me.” That summer, Sarah learned how to cast that vision. She approached the men’s group and other faithful parishioners and formed a team of almost all new leaders, who were sold on the vision of small groups.
“When asked to be a catechist, people get intimidated. I hear this from people all the time, ‘I don’t know the faith that well!’ And we say, ‘That’s OK, we will teach you. And you will learn alongside your teens. But it’s not about you having all the right answers. It’s about you being there and giving them space to ask the question. I’m not looking for someone who can recite back what they heard on EWTN. I need someone who will love and encourage these teens and walk with this one person or this group of five or six young people. And when I ask, ‘Can you do that?’ most people say, ‘Yeah, I can do that!'”
Asking for Help
“I’ve recognized I have this mindset when I ask people to help with something as if I’m putting a burden on them. So I tend to under-ask and take away an opportunity to do more because I assume it’s going to be this burden. I’ve learned to take time to get to know my leaders more one-on-one, so I can discern properly with them their level of commitment, and honor that.” In doing this, Sarah has found out who on her team is ready for more.
She’s also started to ask, “What is the mission of this ministry, and where are the holes? What are we not doing? What do we not see?” And then they find people whose charisms fit those needs. “I’m so busy putting out fires and making sure that Johnny, who tested positive for COVID, didn’t come in contact with whoever. Things are falling off my radar constantly, and I just need to have a reality check: maybe I need help with this. And that’s okay. So, finding the right leaders to help has been key for me.”
One of her volunteers, who has a gift of pastoral care, has taken on the Alpha ministry, while Sarah, with her administrative gifts, has said, “I’ll help with whatever you want behind the scenes. Your main job is recruiting leaders: walk with them, call them, get them together to pray.”
With other ministry leaders in place, Sarah has the time to cultivate longevity with small group leaders: “Some leaders I see, they’re not just doing this because their kid is in the group. They might keep doing this long after. So I might say, ‘Can I take you out to lunch, share with you this great YDisciple video I watched, get your feedback on it, and hear about what we could be doing with your group?’”
Nearing the end of a parish three-year plan to shift the culture of youth ministry, they see some significant, positive changes. “Like now, instead of parents signing up their students for ‘whatever 9th grade is,’ they have choices, and they sign-up by semester. “We are trying to be as intentional as we can with their time and focus more on relationships instead of checkboxes. Of the students whose parents would normally sign them up for whatever’s happening, 50% of them are choosing to be in small groups.”
“I have a parent involvement goal for everything I’m planning for next year. We’re looking for ways to keep parents involved. Even if we could provide snacks every week, we ask parents anyway. We’re also requesting that all parents attend the first session of their teenager’s Alpha class. We will host the adult Alpha for them and then invite them to be a part of it. We are also looking at hosting a Confirmation parent night on the Holy Spirit just for parents. To pray with them and show them these are things we’re asking your son and daughter to do.”
Seeing the Fruits
In ministry, we might not see the fruits we hope for right away, like parents saying, “Our whole family has converted because of what you do!” or even, “My child prays all the time, now!” Hopefully, those signs of fruit will come. But Sarah sees, “The kids want to come. They’re willing to sit and listen, and not just to listen but converse. I mean, that seems like such a simple little win, but I had a parent tell me, ‘It’s hard to get my son to tell me what you talk about, or how it’s going. But he used to really fight me in going, and now I say, ‘You have small group,’ and he says, ‘Okay’ and just goes.’ So those things show we’re winning the right to be heard by them. To be with them. To share of themselves.”
“We started a small group ministry at this parish in the fall, so it’s still very new. But I hear all the time from small group leaders. The faith of the students has inspired them. I had one leader share, ‘I didn’t think high school students could have profound thoughts!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re really amazing!’ Our small group leaders get to hear those questions and see the teens are paying attention! I think that’s lifegiving!”
Radical reliance on the Holy Spirit
A hallmark of youth ministry at Christ the King is, “We push ourselves to rely on the Holy Spirit to the point of discomfort. To trust until it hurts.”
In 2019 when Christ the King started using Alpha to engage young people, they learned to trust a new process. One Alpha guideline is not responding to a question but instead rephrasing the question for other people to answer. “In a Catholic setting, that can be terrifying; it could potentially go terrible,” Sarah said. But they trusted the process, tried it, and found it works better than they could’ve hoped! “You’re actually keeping the teens engaged fully. There’s all this wisdom behind it!”
They stepped out in faith with the Holy Spirit again the first time they had High School students pray over each other, out loud, in prayer ministry. “On my own, naturally, I would think that they’re not ready for this. Going into that evening, I knew I had to be detached from the outcome because they have the freedom to engage or not. But during prayer, I looked over and thought, ‘They’re actually praying together, and it looks kind of intense. That’s so beautiful.’ Through those experiences, I realized the Holy Spirit does want to do big things! And small things, too – small things that you don’t even realize are important.”
Those moments continue to build faith in their community, moving the people to more profound trust and greater expectation that God will move: “We won’t know until we give them a chance to rely on the Holy Spirit.”
In it for the long-game
Sarah started asking her small group leaders, “What can we do with our freshmen today to ensure that senior year they are still in a small group? That may mean you don’t open the Bible or Catechism this time, and that’s OK. And it might mean that you do! That’s even better. I don’t want just to find something for tonight to get us through. I want the long game. I want to move forward, more intentionally.”
Christ the King’s visioning team asked, “If resources were of no consequence; we had as many volunteers, time, space, finances as we needed. We can do anything. Imagine one teen: what would we do to form them into a saint?
“That’s such an important question! I tend to view teens as a whole, as a generation, or as a Confirmation group, instead of as Hanna or Joe. I think both are needed to remind us this is ultimately about somebody’s salvation. And their unique, beautiful relationship with Christ. It’s not about ushering as many people through Confirmation as possible. If that were the goal, we’d be great at that. But that’s not the goal.
“Someone threw out an idea, ‘Well, if I can do anything, I’d send every single student on a mission trip for free in their high school career.’ I looked at the finances and actually, that’s not a crazy goal. We can do that. We could do that now! So, we’re starting to move towards bigger things.
“We’ve started asking the right questions, not being afraid of the answers, and then being bold. On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people repented and were baptized in one day. Yes, it’s a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but also not. We have that same power of the Holy Spirit today. Jesus tells us faith can move mountains. I think God wants to move mountains in our lives. I think we should ask big things of God and be bold. If we want to send every kid on a mission trip, let’s not just push that aside. Let’s say ‘Great! How are we going to get that done?’”
What was Sarah’s “one thing” to give every teen a fighting chance at Sainthood? Give them a mentor. “To walk with them, for years. We’re not there yet, but we’ve changed our Confirmation program to be more one-on-one mentoring, and it’s made all the difference. We’ve been empowering our sponsors, and we train them better. Instead of inviting them to show up for a short lunch and discussion, we say, ‘You’re the one walking with your confirmand. This is your role by Canon law. So we’re going to let you do that. We’re going to try to walk with and support you, pray for you, and love you through it, but you’re leading them.’ And we’ve seen such beautiful fruit from that.”
In her time in ministry, the Holy Spirit moved Sarah and the ministries she guides from the mindset of having all the answers to asking the right questions. In youth group, volunteer commitment, and parent involvement, Sarah got to know her people and their needs and let the Lord guide how to move forward.