The Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded the Center for Youth Ministry Training $240,000 to fund its Theology Together program over the next three years. Over the past 20 years, the Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded nearly $90 million in grants to fund their Youth and Theology Initiative. Theology Together will seek to learn from and build upon previous Youth and Theology projects.
Andrew Zirschky, CYMT’s Academic Director, will serve as the Theology Together project director.
Theology Together Project
Theology Together seeks to educate youth workers in tandem with the teenagers with whom they minister while changing the climate of congregational youth ministry as they together introduce theological dialogue, vocational discernment, and reflective action into the fabric and flow of youth ministry in the local church.
By creating an environment in which youth are engaged in theological discussion and reflective action with their youth leaders, not only are youth expanded in their theological knowledge and conceptions, but youth leaders are simultaneously trained in the art of engaging young people in theological dialogue. An added benefit is that youth and adults return to the congregational context together to further expand the theological repertoire and engagement of the entire youth ministry.
Every Theology Together immersion experience, then, (a) combines robust theological and vocational exploration for youth in the context of relational service work, (b) equips youth workers to conduct theological discussions with young people, and (c) fosters the development of creative and theologically rich youth ministry practices within congregational youth ministry.
Five objectives will guide the efforts of Theology Together:
- Engage a cohort of youth from the same congregation in theologically rich exploration together with adult leaders and mentors from their churches.
- Instigate theologically rich practices of congregational youth ministry by introducing youth and youth leaders to a variety of theologically informed and reflective practices, and then assisting them to contextualize these practices for their own congregations in creative and sustainable ways.
- Assist congregations in identifying and developing key youth as leaders to work alongside adults in creating theologically robust congregational youth ministry.
- Educate and equip youth leaders to foster significant theological discussion and vocational reflection among youth in their congregational ministries
- Develop a financially sustainable and replicable model that allows self-sustaining Theology Together programs to be created with minimum startup costs.
Theology Together seeks to appropriate best practices gleaned from high school theology programs and deploy these for transforming congregational youth ministry. We suggest that transforming congregational youth ministry is most likely to occur by bringing youth workers and youth together in educational and transformational experiences, and then equipping, encouraging, and resourcing them to initiate ongoing practices of theological and vocational discernment in their parish youth ministries.
The Theology Together Program has four major components:
- In May of each year, we will hold a two-day Pre-Immersion Retreat where youth directors will bring two to three youth and key volunteers from their congregations to lay the groundwork for both the summer immersion experience and ongoing theological initiatives in congregations.
- In July, youth directors assisted by the youth trained in May return with their entire youth ministry and adult volunteers for a Summer Immersion Experience. The week consists of four components. First, youth and adults engage together in disorienting experiences of service, mission or social justice. Second, group discussions lead youth and adults to process the ways in which their experiences raise theological questions and quandaries. Third, times of theological instruction guided by seminary professors provide youth and adults with both vocabulary and resources for robust theological reflection. Fourth, congregational cohorts of youth and adults converse about how the week’s experiences and conversations can be continued and extended in new practices of ongoing congregational youth ministry.
- In August, youth directors will enroll in an additional three-credit, semester-length course designed to help them guide their youth ministries in continuing the theological exploration, conversation, and action that was instigated during the immersion experience. Capitalizing on the energy and excitement of youth following the immersion experience, youth leaders will be equipped to engage youth in the co-creation of a blueprint for enacting theologically rich practices of youth ministry in the congregation.
- For congregations that desire to repeat the Theology Together experience, the May Pre-Immersion Retreat becomes a Re-Immersion process of returning to share the successes of the past year and prepare for new and renewed practices of theologically rich youth ministry in the year to come.
The CYMT will begin immediately to identify a date, location, and key leaders for the 2014 Missional Immersion Experience. We will distribute the details of how CYMT partner and alumni churches can participate as soon as they are available.