Derek Walker was entering his final year at Belfast Bible College in Ireland where he studied youth and community work with applied theology when CYMT was placed in his path. He didn’t know what was next after graduation, so Derek spent time praying and talking to several people, including Emma Loane, a 2012 CYMT graduate. She suggested he look into CYMT. He was interested from the moment he heard about the program, but was overwhelmed at the thought of moving to America. He prayed, discerned, and then applied to CYMT, and he was accepted to CYMT for the fall of 2013 cohort.
Derek serves at Grace United Methodist Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn. Derek says, “This is such an encouraging and loving community, and I find myself at home here. The youth director before me moved on to become the associate pastor so I inherited a healthy youth ministry, which was great!” The youth ministry’s main programming occurs Wednesday nights where they minister to 30 to 40 students. They also have Sunday School and Sunday afternoon small groups. One event Derek was excited to tell about is the Acoustic Café which happens every two to three months. At this event they provide live music and food and invite everyone of all ages to come. They have seen hundreds of people enjoy Acoustic Café night.
Grace UMC has seen growth in the youth ministry, as well as in the church this past year. In January he took 25 students to a winter retreat; last year only six students attended. They are also seeing growth in parents wanting to be involved to the point where they have more volunteers than they need “which is always a great problem to have,” he adds. He said, “I think people are excited about what is happening within the youth ministry and the Church. God is at work, and people are hungry. We’ve recently gotten a new senior pastor and since his arrival, weekly attendance has risen significantly. There is a buzz around Grace UMC right now, and we are excited about where God is leading us as a congregation.
When posed with some of the challenges and opportunities that working and studying in the Unites States provides, Derek stated, “One difference that I find with youth ministry here in the US is that it is much more of a family ministry. Parents are much more involved. They want to know the curriculum you plan to use and why, whereas back home, for the most, parents were happy to drop their kid off for two hours and have some peace and quiet. I have enjoyed this aspect of the ministry and have built some great relationships with the parents of our youth.” Additionally, since coming here, Derek has had opportunities to speak at various youth events in different states and has made lasting relationships through CYMT’s cohort and Grace UMC.
Since his start in youth ministry six years ago, Derek has seen God work in many ways. God has brought him to places and situations that he honestly was scared of. His previous church was located in a protestant estate in Northern Ireland where violence was a regular occurrence. Many of the students that came into the youth center were involved with alcohol, drugs, and gang violence, an area with which Derek had no experience. Yet God was faithful in equipping him and used him in ways he could never imagine.
Additionally, Derek said that CYMT has challenged him to think and reconsider his theology and also his youth ministry practice. “I feel hugely supported by all aspects of CYMT, through the staff, my coach, and also the cohort of students. I know that I always have that support and that is a wonderful thing to have in ministry. I love how we have the opportunity to put into practice what we learn and discuss in class.”
Derek said when he first started out as a youth minister he felt like he needed to prove himself, and that this would all be accomplished by doing it alone. However, he has found that being transparent in his ministry has been hugely appreciated. He has also learned that youth ministry is a vocation that requires community. Derek thinks it is vital to have a support structure outside of the ministry. “We all need people to talk to, to help us process what is going on, and also people to relax with. I feel like that is something that just happens with CYMT. CYMT’s biggest strength is the cohort and the beauty of companions in ministry but also good friends!”
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.