They came from their places of comfort and with preconceived ideas of what it means to do missions. They came not knowing what God had in store for them. They came from six churches to Fisk University in downtown Nashville where they would begin to explore Uncharted territory. They came to explore what it means to be present with people and to experience what it means to serve and be served. They came to find themselves in disorienting dilemmas where what they believed about the world was challenged and they became uncomfortable in this new Uncharted space in their lives.
They left changed.
Theology Together challenged the way our teenagers see missions and people. It challenged why we do mission and it tested their ideas of “ministers.” They experienced being ministered to just as much as the people we served alongside. They were able to see the full humanity of the other person in new ways. —Andrew Mochrie, Manchester FUMC
Youth and adults from six of CYMT’s partner churches—Maples Memorial UMC, Olive Branch, Miss.; Madison Street UMC, Clarksville, Tenn.; Manchester FUMC, Manchester, Tenn.; Smithville FUMC, Smithville, Tenn.; St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville; and Preston Taylor Ministries, Nashville—came together July 5-12 for the Center for Youth Ministry Training’s first Theology Together Missional Immersion. The Theology Together project is a three-year grant project funded by the Lilly Foundation. The goal of the grant project is to train youth ministers and adult leaders how to engage youth in deep theological conversation and reflection while engaging youth in deep theological exploration.
Uncharted was neither a mission trip nor a camp; it was something new. We began and closed each day in worship and prayer, serving at ministries in the greater Nashville area throughout the day. We served and worshiped with 300 Nashville’s homeless under the Bridge; played, tutored, and learned from children and youth at Christ Centered Ministries at Cleveland Street Baptist Church; we prepared medical supplies to be sent around the world at Project Cure. We worked in the community garden with the Nashville Food Project and we were humbled by the servant hearts of the leadership Trinity Lane UMC. We provided food for those in need by working with the Isaiah 58 project, Second Harvest Food Bank, and the East Nashville Cooperative Ministry. We were present with the elderly at Fifty Forward and we were moved by the stories of Thistle Farms. We prayed over the city while we shared lunch with the needy. We questioned why things are the way they are and all of these things opened us up to encounter God.
Uncharted showed us that poverty takes many forms and therefore affects more than just people who may look “impoverished.” Poverty and injustice can’t be separated because as long as we have one, we will always have the other. —Dwight Johnson, Preston Taylor Ministries
One of our groups experienced injustice firsthand sending a ripple of change throughout our group. They were denied services by a local business simply because they were spending time with an individual who appeared to be homeless. Our youth reacted in a variety of ways that culminated in one individual encouraging the group to return to the location and pray. The spirit stirred in the hearts of our youth as they began to experience and respond to injustice in a new light. —Daniel Bradley, St. George’s Episcopal Church
After serving each day, youth and adults participated in theology talks. We invited three theologians-in-residence to participate in the week. They were asked to prepare a TED-style talk on specific theological issues. Kermit Moss is a pastor in the Bronx and shared with us about hope and injustice. Ben Conner is a professor at Western Theological Seminary and shared about the personhood of all people and mission of God. Laura Larsen from YouthFront shared about poverty and calling and vocation.
After each theology talk, youth participated in theological reflection in discussion groups where they processed their experiences from the day and from the theology talk. Throughout the week, youth engaged in deep theological reflection as Uncharted created space and openness to questions.
Kermit, one of the theologians in-residence, really had an impact on my boys and really got them to think differently about poverty and social injustice. Uncharted, overall, has given all of us different eyes to view those whom society has deemed “the least of these” and has given new understanding of the phrase “leveled playing field.” —Dwight Johnson, Preston Taylor Ministries
Theology Together brought kids together from a variety of cultures, neighborhoods, and backgrounds to be the hands and feet of Christ. Each day, our youth were confronted with their own personhood as they saw a new view of themselves and others through service alongside a diverse group of new friends. —Andrew Mochrie, Manchester FUMC
Do. Discover. Think. Grow. was the bold mission of the week. We did all these things as God guided us through uncharted theological territory.
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.