Growing up in the small community of Oneonta, Ala. (population 6,600), Skyler Jones has known since junior high school that God’s call for his life was youth ministry. Skyler holds a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Athens State University. Upon hearing about CYMT during the summer before his senior year of college, he thought is was too good to be true and said, “You mean they actually find me a job and pay for my Master’s?” In July 2013, Skyler and his high school sweetheart, Casey, packed their stuff and moved three and a half hours from home to another small town, Philadelphia, Miss. (population 7.400).
Skyler has served at First United Methodist Church in Philadelphia for two years. They currently have around 25 students in 7th – 12th grades from three different schools in their weekly gatherings, which include Sunday night large group, Wednesday night small groups, and Sunday school. Skyler encourages the youth to invite their friends, and even goes so far as intentionally scheduling events for the youth to invite their friends to, such as game nights or trips to the movie theater, bowling alley, paintball, or a local restaurant.
At the beginning of his second year in ministry at FUMC Philadelphia, Skyler took nine students on a three-day summer mission trip. It was a special trip because, after a somewhat rocky first year, it finally felt like there was a deep sense of community formed between the students and Skyler. Soon after that trip, those students quickly became the core members of the youth ministry. They ushered in a new sense of community and togetherness and encouraged the rest of the youth ministry to participate more fully. These particular students have been faithful in attending and regularly inviting their friends to youth activities, some of whom have joined the youth ministry permanently and who now serve on the church student leadership team.
Over the past six months the youth ministry at FUMC Philadelphia has experienced the divorce of parents, surgeries, and the loss of loved ones. These same students who went on that summer mission trip have been the ones to lead the charge in responding to these difficult situations. Skyler has seen the students live out their faith by caring for, praying for, and lifting each other up.
Skyler says, “I’m not sure I can articulate all the ways in which CYMT has positively impacted my ministry. CYMT has helped me learn organizational skills, which is often overlooked in youth ministry. The biggest impact CYMT has made is that it has given me a deeper theological perspective to youth ministry. There is purpose and theology to every aspect of youth ministry.”
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.