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United Methodist, Presbyterian churches train youth leaders

Sept. 19, 2006

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Center for Youth Ministry Training

Nine students make up the inaugural class of the Center for Youth Ministry Training.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - A United Methodist church and a Presbyterian congregation have formed a two-year training center for college graduates interested in youth ministry.

Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church of Nashville have partnered to form the Center for Youth Ministry Training. Nine students are participating in the inaugural semester, which began Aug. 16 and ends Dec. 12. Most of the students are in their first youth ministry position.

The center is the result of the shared concerns and vision of the Rev. Dietrich Kirk, who was then minister of youth at the United Methodist church, and the Rev. Mark DeVries, associate pastor for youth and families at the Presbyterian church. Kirk now serves as the executive director of the center; DeVries chairs the board of directors.

During the past 10 years, mainline Protestant denominations have realized the importance of a strong youth ministry program, says DeVries. This realization has highlighted the need for "well-equipped and theologically informed professional youth ministers," he says. "Few places of higher learning dedicate efforts to youth ministry education."

As a result of inadequate training opportunities, mainline churches are frustrated with youth ministries and those who lead them, Kirk and DeVries say. Churches are often overwhelmed, and their youth ministers are ill-equipped to handle the challenges before them.

"I know - I was one of those youth ministers 11 years ago," says Kirk. He explains that if he had not had an experienced mentor, he would never have become an effective youth minister.

"Sadly, the turnover rate for youth ministers is extremely high, with an average employment in one place of only 18 months due primarily to a lack of training and support," Kirk says. He points out how important consistent relationships are to youth, and 18-month turnovers do not provide that consistency.

The center's immediate goal is to equip its students with the tools and foundation they need to make a long-term difference in youth ministries in the region.

"Ultimately, it is our hope that the work completed through CYMT will eventually lead to both denominational certification in youth ministry and graduate credit that could be applied to a future seminary master's degree," Kirk says.

School partnerships

With classrooms and office space located at the United Methodist church and student housing provided by the Presbyterian church, the center can provide for residential and commuter students.

"I was looking for training and a place to be supported, and the CYMT offered me both. I am so excited about this opportunity," says Jill Sethness, one of the students in the inaugural class.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Center for Youth Ministry Training

The Rev. Dietrich Kirk speaks at the dedication service.
An important part of the program is the center's collaboration with United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School, Martin Methodist College's Center for Church Leadership and Presbyterian-affiliated Princeton Theological Seminary's Institute for Youth Ministry.

Amy Vaughn, co-director of Princeton's Institute for Youth Ministry, says the institute provides counsel regarding curriculum and potential visiting faculty for the center.

The Center for Youth Ministry Training's curriculum focuses on three areas:

  • theology, including biblical content and interpretation;
  • theology in practice, including history and understanding of youth ministry and strategies for sustainable youth ministry; and
  • personal development, including leadership and spiritual development.

Classes for the spring 2007 semester will begin Jan. 9 and end May 15. Summer 2007 classes will be May 22-Aug. 14, and next year's winter classes will be Dec. 12-Jan. 16.

Working with local churches

In addition to training the next generation of youth ministers, the center will equip the local churches for youth ministry. Center staff members will help churches establish their own vision, mission, and goals. The staff will also train volunteers and help churches implement their plans.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Center for Youth Ministry Training

The Rev. Mark DeVries and the Rev. Howard Olds, pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church, converse during the opening ceremonies.
The youth director, church, and center become partners in ministry over the two years of the program to build strong, effective youth ministries that will reach current and future generations with the love of Christ, Kirk says.

"Impacting young people for Christ is the ultimate goal of the CYMT. We accomplish it by equipping others to develop their gifts and ministries to make the impact," he says.

United Methodist churches participating in this first two-year youth ministry training effort are Arlington and Calvary, Nashville; Ashland City; Crossville; and Nolensville First. Churches of other denominations participating are Second Presbyterian, Nashville; Advent Lutheran and First Presbyterian, Murfreesboro; and St. Andrew's Presbyterian, Nashville, working with Preston-Taylor Homes.

More information about the Center for Youth Ministry Training is available at

*The above article is adapted from a release by Jan Knight, retired editor of Pockets magazine and member of Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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