A Movement to Re-Center, Re-Charge, and Re-Equip Youth Ministry

Our Mission is to promote adolescent faith and flourishing in a diverse and changing world by conducting scholarship, equipping leaders, and resourcing youth ministries in and beyond Christian churches.

— The Yale Youth Ministry Institute Mission Statement

A compelling vision of flourishing life is not a luxury, a cozy reading room for a middle-class home that already has a kitchen bathroom, living space, and bedrooms. It is a basic need for a being who does not and cannot live by bread alone. All human beings in all cultures, each in their own way, aspire to genuine flourishing, their own and that of those they care for . . . Truly flourishing life is the most important concern of our lives, the pearl for which it’s worth selling everything else we might have – wealth, power, fame or pleasure (Matt. 13:45-46).

— Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun, For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference

Welcome!

The Yale Youth Ministry Institute is delighted to introduce the YMI Flourishing Life Project. Inspired by a deep concern for the “twin calamities” befalling our churches and our youth, over 100 leading practical theologians and youth workers from around the world have labored together for over seven years to conduct foundational research, publish academic monographs and articles, host a six-year, monthly lecture series and five national summer symposia at Yale Divinity School, and develop three sets of curricular modules and supporting resources. Taken together, the fruits of these labors now ground a movement to re-center, re-charge, and re-equip our ministries with and for our youth.

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These efforts have been part of an even longer and more comprehensive movement led by Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Professor Volf’s seminal work on the YCFC’s “God and Human Flourishing Program” led to a $4.2 million John Templeton Foundation grant to fund a “Theology of Joy and the Good Life” program led by Volf. At Volf’s direction, and with the support of Yale Divinity School Dean, Greg Sterling, a significant component of the grant (generously supplemented by YMI donors) funded a three-year Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing [“JAFF”] program of research, conversation, and publication.

Professor Volf and Matthew Croasmun, another one of our colleagues at YCFC, have reflected deeply on the research, conversations and publications generated by the grant and written a “manifesto” identifying a crisis in a theology “that has lost its nerve and forgotten its purpose.” (Volf and Croasmun, at 34.) Noting that “it is possible to read all the great Christian theologians as offering versions of the Christian account of the flourishing life, Volf and Croasmun call for a “renewal of theology,” re-centering the discipline on it’s true purpose to “discern, articulate and commend visions of and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ, with this entire story, its lows and its highs, bearing witness to a truly flourishing life.” (Volf and Croasmun at 61.)

YMI’s collaboration with YCFC on the Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing portion of the grant confirmed our concern that the “crisis” in theology identified by Volf and Croasmun was reflected in an equally profound crisis in churches and youth ministries. (See Skip Masback, “Twin Calamities: Declining Churches, Struggling Young”, Reflections, Yale Divinity School, June, 2014). Here too, the work of the JAFF program generated a call for renewal of youth ministry and supplying the resources for that renewal. We offer you the fruits of this project in these webpages for free, and we invite you to join our movement to address the crisis burdening our churches and our youth. We believe that an effective response will require nothing less than an urgent collaboration to re-center, re-charge, and re-equip our ministries with and for our youth.

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Understanding the Crisis

The Twin Calamities: Declining Churches, Struggling Young

Too many of our churches and our young are struggling. Too many of our denominations and congregations are struggling because they are failing to transmit the faith to a rising generation, and too many of our young are struggling because they lack the foundations that were traditionally supplied by communities of the faith. What’s crucial here is that these two dynamics, the trajectory of struggling churches and the trend of struggling youth, are related – and neither of them will be resolved until we re-center, re-charge, and re-equip our ministries with and for our young. [This passage and much of the following argument are adapted from Skip Masback, “Twin Calamities: Declining Churches, Struggling Young” Reflections, Yale Divinity School, June, 2014.

Declining Churches

We have all been bombarded with the dispiriting statistics of declining denominations and churches. Mainline Protestants are grabbing all the headlines, but thoughtful Roman Catholics and evangelicals are now puzzling over their own worrisome trends as well. These patterns seem to be accelerating among rising generations.

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It must be self-evident that no denomination, no church, can prosper if its ranks aren’t being replenished by young adults arriving in the pews to take up the mantle of their elders. Yet, as sociologist Christian Smith has found, “Our distinct impression is that many religious congregations and communities are failing rather badly in religiously engaging and educating youth.” (2004) As David Kinnaman echoed, “The levels of disengagement among twenty-somethings suggest that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation.” (2006)

With Volf and Croasmun, we can see that the crisis they diagnose in theology has long since “trickled down” to undermine the transformative dynamics of church and youth ministry. Just as theology has “lost its nerve and forgotten its purpose,” straying from its central task to “discern, articulate and commend visions of and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ . . . .(Volf and Croasmun at 34)(emphasis added), so churches and youth groups too often lack the vision, commitment, and tools to resource robust formation programs centered on God’s vision of human flourishing.

In fact, the challenges faced by youth ministries are made all the more acute by the fact that their financial resources are dwindling just as the adverse cultural headwinds they face are building. Fewer young people are willing to commit the time and resources required for formal training in youth ministry; fewer churches are willing to commit the resources necessary to pay professionally trained youth ministers; and more parents and their youth have decided that extracurricular activities that fatten their resumes for college admissions are more important than Christian formation.

As our friend, Andy Root, recently concluded in an excellent study funded by YMI and the John Templeton Foundation JAFF grant, “Youth ministry is for joy. It is for flourishing. But this kind of flourishing runs counter to cultural presumptions.”

Parents may still acknowledge that spiritual ritual and religious engagement are good, Root assesses, “but parents . . . have to ask themselves, ‘Is it a higher good than seeing my daughter happily engaged on the court, or gaining confidence and pride by mastering the piano?’ And, just as powerfully, ‘’Do I feel like a better parent, like I’m closer to the good life, if my kid is happy, passionate, confident and skilled? . . . Would skipping a violin lesson or basketball practice to attend a confirmation class hurt [my child’s] opportunities to get into a good college and therefore live a good life in the future?”

For their part, Root observes, young people are all too familiar with how social media have “democratized celebrity” casting young people into competition with one another for “recognition” as the coin of identity in the social media realm. “Who has time to participate in youth group when you need to curate your image and seek constant recognition? And, even if you fail to get 100,000 Instagram followers, your more “conventional” thing (basketball, piano, jujitsu) can provide some stage for recognition.”

Andrew Root, The End of Youth Ministry?: Why Parents Don’t Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should do About It at p. 110. See also, Skip Masback, “The Death of ‘Default’ Youth Ministry: And the Rebirth of a Transformative Youth Ministry of Human Flourishing,” Yale Youth Ministry Lecture Manuscript, June 2018.

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Struggling Young

We’ve all been trained to understand that proof of correlation does not necessarily mean proof of causation. Still, there is a worrisome decline in adolescent well-being that parallels the decline in religious affiliation and connectedness.

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We certainly don’t mean to suggest that all adolescents are suffering. We’ve all known scores of amazing, creative, intelligent and loving young people. Every community has always had its own particular blend of the sour and sweet in adolescent health and development, challenges and suffering.

Still the anecdotal concerns of youth ministers, teachers, and psychotherapists are confirmed by statistical surveys done regionally or nationally. As the chief of Mental Health Services at Harvard advised,

“If your son or daughter is in college, the chances are almost one in two that he or she will become depressed to the point of being unable to function . . . and one in 10 that he or she will seriously consider suicide. In fact, since 1988, the likelihood of a college student’s suffering depression has doubled, [and] suicide ideation has tripled, and sexual assaults have quadrupled.” Richard Kadison and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo, College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It (Jossey-Bass, 2004), p. 1.

According to the 2003 Commission on Children at Risk: “Scholars at the National Research Council in 2002 estimated that at least one in every four adolescents in the U.S. is currently at serious risk of not achieving productive adulthood.” According to another study, about 21 percent of U.S. children ages 9-17 have diagnosable mental or addictive disorders associated with at least minimum impairment.” Rena D. Harold, Lisa G. Colarossi, and Lucy R. Mercier, Smooth Sailing or Stormy Waters? Family Transitions and Their Implications for Practice and Policy (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007), p.8.

Accompanying these diagnostic findings are observations that many of our young seem to lack a sense of higher purpose or meaning in their lives. As David White noted in one of our YMI lectures at Yale Divinity School, “In 1970, [of] entering college freshman 70 percent of them could talk about their hopes for a vocation that served the common good. Less than 30 percent lacked this sense of purpose. That statistic has flipped now.” Less than 30 percent of entering college freshmen can talk about their hopes for a vocation that serves a common good; more than 79 percent report a lack of this sense of purpose. David F. White, “Practicing a Theology of Youth, Spirit, and Vocation,”
http://new.livestream.com/yaledivinityschool/YMI

At the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, director Miroslav Volf has been making a similar point in the God and Human Flourishing Program. His critique describes a widespread culture that is offering our young a maladaptive account of human well-being, drifting away from the religious, philosophical, and artistic resources that previous generations had called on to equip their children to discern what makes life worth living. Without knowing how to discuss that question, Volf asserts, our children remain ignorant of the purposes of life. They become perhaps experts in understanding and manipulating their environment but amateurs in knowing to what end they should do so.

As a consequence, Volf observes, adolescent lives are not only drained of their capacity for flourishing but also stripped of the joy Volf identifies as the affective “crown” of a flourishing life. (The following excerpt is from Volf’s forward to the forthcoming Joy: A Guide for Youth Ministry edited by David White and Sarah Farmer. Volf set forth his summary views on the formal structure of human flourishing and of the difference between joy and happiness in his essay, “What is the Difference between Joy and Happiness: The Crown of the Good Life – Joy, Happiness and the Good Life”.

One of the most remarkable – and troubling – facts about adolescent lives in modern societies is how joyless they have become. Right when life is opening up to them with all its possibilities, a staggering number of them are beset by anxiety and depression. This should not surprise us. Joyless parents living in a joyless culture will have joyless offspring passing from childhood to adulthood: the joylessness of modern culture is magnified in their experience as they try to figure out their place and purpose in the world and the meaning of their lives. Miroslav Volf, “Forward,” Joy: A Guide for Youth Ministry, Yale University and Wesley Foundry Books (Forthcoming in 2020)

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The Resources to Respond

The challenges faced by our declining churches and struggling young are daunting, but no Christian would (or should) concede that we lack the resources to respond. We Christians profess a Christ who comes “that [we] might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) We are spiritual descendants of the Paul who exhorted us to “take hold of the life that really is life.” (1 Timothy 6:19). We preach that a life that dies to self and rises with Christ, a life that lives out Christ’s love commandment, offers, perhaps counterintuitively, the most appropriate and healthy prescription for human flourishing. We have a 2,000 year heritage from our Scripture and tradition for gathering our young into bodies of Christ, into youth ministries, with thick connections of love, nurture, and support.

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At its best, ministry with and to youth creates time and space for adults to walk alongside young people in deep relationship, characterized by “caritas, covenant, and community”: unconditional love and acceptance, clear and understandable commitments and boundaries, and participation in something larger than themselves. When we are true to our calling – when we embrace all our kids with unconditional love and acceptance, the beauty and joy that result can be astonishing.

But the resources and prescriptions of our faith are not self-executing. It is magical thinking to believe that we can throw a few crumbs from the church budget table, underpay a revolving-door cast of rookie youth ministers, and trust that a few mumbled prayers will convert pizza, games and mission trips into a body of Christ or a community ground for human flourishing.

If we re-center our theological vision of flourishing life, re-charge our clergy, youth workers, lay leaders, and parents with the call to nurture and form our young, and re-equip them with the practices that ground flourishing lives of joy, we will unleash a spiritual power that will heal both our churches and our young. If we do not, because we’ve set other priorities, or don’t mobilize the resources, or undervalue the importance of these ministries – we will set a stumbling block before our children. As we have seen, the consequences of this neglect have been calamitous for both the churches and the youth that we know and love.

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Responding to the Crisis: The YMI Flourishing Life Program

A Movement to Re-Center, Re-Charge, and Re-Equip Youth Ministry

As we have seen, theologian Miroslav Volf and Bible scholar Matthew Croasmun have located a quest for human flourishing at the center of every human life and posited that the true purpose of every great theology over the centuries has been “to discern, articulate and commend visions of and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ, with this entire story, its lows and its highs, bearing witness to a truly flourishing life.”

What would it take to facilitate the same theological turn in youth ministry? If Andy Root is right that “Youth ministry is for joy. It is for flourishing”, and if David White is right that “reclaiming joy for youth ministry may be crucial in light of modern secularism that, according to philosopher Charles Tayler, has evacuated the world of such things as mystery, wonder, grace and transcendence,” what would it take? What would it take to mobilize the resources and the gifts and talents of congregations and youth workers around the world to respond to the “twin calamities” afflicting our churches and our young?

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These were the questions that animated the Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing project pursued by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and the Yale Youth Ministry Institute with multi-million dollar grants from the John Templeton Foundation and YCFC and YMI donors. You can see the breadth of the grant’s research and development activities in the “JAFF Project Activities Description” .

Taken together, the grant activities undertook to: a) sponsor deep and original theological reflection on the questions of joy and adolescent faith and flourishing; b) develop resources, tools, and networks of scholars and practitioners to support the discernment necessary to articulate new missions and visions for youth ministry; and c) develop online training modules, curricular materials and supporting resources to equip youth ministers and faith communities to pursue the newly articulate missions and visions. The fruits of these activities are offered here as resources to re-center, re-charge, and re-equip youth ministry.

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Re-Centering Youth Ministry

Re-Centering youth ministry will require the support and energy of ongoing theological reflection, conversation, and network development. The grant enabled YCFC and YMI to bring together a network of over 100 leading practical theologians and youth workers to begin the work. The specific resources developed to date are collectively listed in this summary of “Intellectual Capital” generated by participants in the JAFF grant.

Re-Charging Youth Ministry

To paraphrase David White, a desire to nurture joyful, flourishing lives for the adolescents in our care cannot be simply an appendage staple onto the edge of a youth ministry as a new set of “tips, tricks, and techniques.” The transformation envisioned will require clergy, youth workers, lay leaders, parishioners, parents and youth to engage in the kinds of informed, prayerful, sustained discernment and engagement that are the predicates and hallmarks of meaningful transformation and then to charge their staff, volunteers, parents and youth with the new mission.. In addition to engaging the substantive theological resources generated by the grant, congregations may find helpful the YMI “Primer on Articulating Vision and Mission” and the free, online YMI course on “Envisioning, Building and Sustaining Thriving Youth Ministries” with presenters Roland Martinson, Kenda Creasy Dean, Mark Devries, Skip Masback, Jorge Gonzales, Mark Gornik, and Lillian Daniel.

Re-Equipping Youth Ministry

The network of over 100 practical theologians and youth workers engaged in the JAFF grant devoted much of their collective energies to developing the training modules, curricular materials, and supporting resources to equipping congregations and youth workers to actualize missions and visions to nurture joyful, flourishing lives for their youth.

The work of the grant began by assembling world renowned practical theologians on a Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Advisory Board to guide the work of the grant: The advisory board labored together to identify the key practices, beliefs, attitudes, habits, and virtues that ground faithful, joyful, flourishing lives in adolescence and beyond. The board then assigned twenty-four of these topics to a three-year lecture series entitled “Why Youth Ministry? Nurturing Joy in an Uncertain Age” and assigned ten of these topics to three sets of summer symposia entitled “Why Youth Ministry? Beacons of Joy in the Midst of Suffering.”

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Having identified the foundational practices, beliefs, attitudes, habits and virtues, the Advisory Board identified the leading practical theologians in the nation and beyond to address each of these issues. Each scholar/practitioner team was offered a generous stipend to contribute an academic lecture, essay, video interview clips, and curricular modules on the issue assigned to them. The participants and their lectures topics are set forth on these flyers.

After the grant concluded in December, 2018, the YMI staff began the arduous task of building out two separate sets of free, online courses. The first set offers free training in the “Training modules.” Taken together with the rich course offerings offered from the Yale Bible Study , these resources offer clergy and lay youth workers and volunteers the grounding they will need to lead their youth ministries with excellence.

The YMI staff assembled the second set of materials as a “YMI Quest Program.” The YMI Quest Program, offering three separate curricular modules to nurture joyful, flourishing lives is described in the next section.

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The YMI Quest Program

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
— Saint Augustine

Welcome

“Welcome, pilgrim. Your search has ended.” It’s a phrase better suited to television commercials than to the restless, Spirit-driven quest at the center of every human life. The quest Augustine had in mind was the project of a lifetime – more journey than destination. Adolescents may never have read Augustine’s Confessions, and talk of a “quest for the holy grail” may summon up nothing more than trivia questions about a Monty Python or Indiana Jones movie, but youth know all about restlessness – and their hungry hearts are primed for the journey. Book sales and box office receipts set record after record as one youthful cohort after another surge to follow the archetypal quests traced by King Arthur, Prince Hal, Dorothy Gale, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and countless others over the centuries.

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The YMI Quest Program follows Augustine’s insight that the ultimate source of adolescent restlessness is the heart’s hunger for God, and that the true quest lying behind and beyond each of the quests limned by the popular culture is the quest for the “peace that passeth understanding” (Philippians 4:7), the “life abundant” offered by God in Christ (John 10:10), the flourishing life at the center of Paul’s exhortation to “take hold of the life that really is life.” (1 Timothy 6:19). To resource that quest, the YMI Quest Program offers youth workers everywhere free, online curricular materials and supporting online lectures, video clips, devotionals, program templates, vesper plans, essays monographs and sample sermons. Welcome, pilgrim. Your YMI Quest begins!

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What is the YMI Quest Program?

The YMI Quest Program offers three different curricula with scores of program modules or lesson plans. These curricula are, in turn, supported by over 100 full lectures, over 1,000 video interview clips, and suites of enriching devotionals, essays, monographs, program templates, vesper plans, and sample sermons contributed by the leading practical theologians and youth workers in the world. Each curriculum supports the individual and group quest by focusing on a different dimension of Christian formation: three different dimensions of the practices, attitudes, habits, understandings, orientations and virtues that our Christian tradition has nurtured over the centuries as foundations of flourishing lives of meaning, wholeness, and joy. These three different curricula are: a) The YMI Quest for the Spirit; b) The YMI Quest for Truth; and c) The YMI Quest for Life.

The YMI Quest for the Spirit introduces youth to the ancient spiritual disciplines that have offered a hundred generations of the faithful gateways to the experience of God. This quest draws together meditation forms from ancient monastic traditions (e.g. Benedictine lectio divina and Gregorian chant) guided meditations developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, Quaker “centering down” exercises; Protestant “centering prayer;” and Orthodox gazing exercises with icons. Following the lead of many modern Benedictines and Jesuits, some of the exercises are enriched with movement and breathing exercises borrowed from Buddhist or Yoga traditions.

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The idea of meditation will not be new to your youth. They are keenly aware of the popular culture’s growing fascination with mindfulness, awareness, or transcendental meditations. What may prove revelatory is our introduction into the rich and varied Christian meditative traditions that date back to the desert fathers and before. Moreover, as we have learned in leading Quest for the Spirit programs in local churches for over twenty years, young people’s growing yearning for personal experience and “authenticity” creates fertile ground for the ancient provenance and experiential core of Christian mystical traditions.
As we have framed the offer in our invitations to youth since 1999:

What if instead of just being lectured about God you could experience God yourself? What if instead of just reading about what Jesus said to others 2,000 years ago, you could hear what Jesus has to say to you today? What if instead of just listening to speeches about peace and love, there was a peaceful weekly refuge where you could be with a bunch of friends seeking to live out the vision? Now, that would be a Quest worth taking. Where Indiana Jones and Monty Python sought the metaphorical Holy Grail, we quest for the true grail behind the metaphor: the true joy and peace God promises for those who seek him.

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Lectio Divinia

Meditation, Prayer, Scripture

Welcome and Surrender

Meditation, Welcome

Scripture Recitation

Meditation, Prayer, Scripture

You Are My Beloved Child

Jesus, Meditation

Loving Your Enemies

Jesus, Meditation, Prayer

The YMI Quest for Truth offers youth a chance to revisit the truth of God revealed in Scripture and tradition. For too many of our young, notions of Biblical truth summon up only fading memories of pasting macaroni onto Moses’ bear in Sunday School, or worse, news accounts of a world view that requires them to reject science and history. By the time some churches are prepared to present them with the truth of Scripture in a way that respects both their faith and intellect, they have shuffled out the door.

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It’s not because youth aren’t hungrily searching for the truth. Indeed, renowned psychologist Erik Erikson saw that adolescence was “a vital regenerator of social evolution; for youth selectively offers its loyalties and energies to the conservation of that which feels true to them and to the correction or destruction of that which has lost its regenerative significance.” And, it’s not because God and God’s Church can’t handle the probing questions and skepticism of our young.

What is needed, and what the YMI Quest for Truth seeks to offer, is a courageous, communal search for truth that honors youth’s growing capacities for engaging, reflecting upon and interpreting both the great questions of life and the answers offered by the great story of God and God’s people. What is needed is a curriculum that helps our young locate their own daily lives inside of the Sacred Narrative and immerses them in the great narrative in a way that helps shape their capacity to see and embrace the truth. As John Calvin wrote,

Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. (Institutes I.vi.1)

The YMI Quest for Truth offers youth the vision to see and embrace the truth for themselves.

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This curriculum is currently under construction and will be available shortly.

The YMI Quest for Life introduces youth to two sets of curricular materials developed by leading practical theologians and youth workers supported by a $1.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

The first program, “Quest for Life: Nurturing Joy in an Uncertain Age,” offers over three dozen program modules designed to nurture 24 Christian practices, habits, attitudes, orientations, beliefs and virtues that have proven to ground flourishing lives of meaning, wholeness, resilience and joy. (e.g. gratitude, worship, prayer, agency, belonging, forgiveness, etc.)

The second program, “Quest for Life: Beacons of Joy in the Midst of Suffering” offers ten program modules designed to nurture hope and joy in the midst of the adversities and afflictions that are too often present in the lives of modern adolescents. (e.g. depression, anxiety, poverty, substance abuse, and family instability, etc.).

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The practices and virtues addressed in both program modules were developed by a national advisory board of leading practical theologians and practitioners. The advisory board was led by YMI founder, Skip Masback, and included, among others, Kenda Creasy Dean, Andy Root, Anne Wimberly, Almeda Wright, David White and Roger Nishioka. Each program module is supported by a full lecture by a scholar-practitioner team, an accessible essay on the module’s topic, ten or more short inverview clips with the scholar-practitoner team and ancillary helps.

As Archbishop of Canterbury put it “. . . religious faith is not just a set of private beliefs about supernatural things, but a comprehensive ground for reflection on how the world and human life hang together….” The YMI Quest for Life program introduces youth to this “comprehensive ground for reflection,” offering Christianity’s “Life 101” as the treasure map to the “abundant life” Jesus came to share.

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Nurturing Joy in an Uncertain Age

Beauty Reclaimed

Beauty

The Flowers of the Field

Testimony

Forgiveness

Forgiveness

Beacons of Joy in the Midst of Suffering

Bravery and Imagination

Poverty

Becoming a Spiritual Athlete

Poverty

Join Us!

The resources curated by YMI reflect the fruits of more than twenty years of dreams and labors and the work of over 100 practical theologians and youth workers. We offer them for free, in part, because Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling has made clear that the Yale Divinity School’s mission calls for the free sharing of its intellectual capital wherever practicable. There is, however, an even more compelling reason: the desire to contribute to, participate in, and reap the shared benefits of a growing conversation around nurturing joyful flourishing lives in the youth we minister with and for.

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YCFC constructed the JAFF grant, like the “Theology of Joy and the Good Life” grant of which it was a part, with an animating strategy of intellectual change. The strategy, informed by the “theory of change” promulgated by the John Templeton Foundation, the works of sociologist Randall Collins (The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (1998)) and James Davison Hunter (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (2010)).

The John Templeton Foundation change strategy, for instance, is envisioned as a “virtuous” cycle with three contributing “drivers”: a) new spiritual information (scholarship); b) field development (networking); and c) public engagement. Each driver both receives from and contributes to the vitality of the transformation intended.

As you can see from the contributors and resources identified in this project, the work already includes significant scholarship (the monographs, articles, essays, and lectures), field development (the scores of practical theologians and youth workers who have already collaborated on the JAFF project and the hundreds more who participated on other elements of the Theology of Joy and the Good Life grant), and public engagement (the communities gathered for the lectures and who participate in the curricular and training modules offered on this website and beyond.

But, as must be apparent, this is just the very first stage of the cycle. It is to the continuing conversation, development and enrichment that we now invite you. As the theories of change agree, transformation has never been a unidirectional much less a “top down” process. No reformation, evolution, or progress has ever occurred by tossing a program or manifesto out of an ivory tower window and calling it a day.

The movement to nurture joyful flourishing lives for your youth now depends on your participation – whether it be by embracing and improving or even by – or maybe, particularly by – offering your constructive conversation. Transformation will not come by ring circling a small community of the likeminded but rather by inspiring and facilitating a robust community of conversation, even disputation. The hope isn’t simply that you’ll agree with the theological perspective and practices encouraged here, but rather that you’ll agree that the goals and aspiration are important enough for you to join the effort.

So join us! We’d love to learn with and from you, your wisdom, your experience, and your prayerful discernment. Should you have questions about the resources, desire help implementing the program materials, or just want to participate in the conversation, please contact Kelly Morrissey, the Managing Director of the Yale Divinity School Center for Continuing Education, at kelly.morrissey@yale.edu. She’ll make sure you connect with the right folks on the project. Or participate in any of our various social media fora for conversation:

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Resources for Life

Be Christ to Others

Community, Social Justice

Playing in the Park

Community

Team Reveal

Community

Parent-Guardian Meeting

Parents

Advisory Board

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