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Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project Receives Major Grant

San Anselmo—San Francisco Theological Seminary has been awarded a grant of $691,000 by Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis to launch an innovative program to train youth ministry professionals and to support adolescent spiritual development.

In partnership with 15 hand-picked interdenominational congregations from across the country, the Presbyterian seminary in San Anselmo, California will test and refine an exciting new model of youth ministry based on classical methods of spiritual formation.

Co-directors of this Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project, which begun July 1, 1997, are Andrew Dreitcer, director of the Seminary's graduate programs in Christian Spirituality, and Mark Yaconelli, director of the Seminary's current Youth Ministry Project.

"Lilly Endowment, the largest grant-making institution in the area of religion in the United States, is concerned about youth ministries and their role in spiritual formation," said Seminary Dean Ronald C. White. "The people at the Endowment are excited about this model because of its potential to also serve as a model to renew congregations all over the nation."

Impetus for the project, according to Yaconelli, is the reality that most existing youth ministries are failing to draw teenagers into a deeper commitment to the Christian family. "We understand that the Endowment sees this as a way to bring young people back into the Church as well as to renew the spiritual life of current churchgoers."

"Adolescents cannot be expected to have any long-term interest in theological concepts, Christian morality, or the Church in general if they don't first have an active relationship with God," says Yaconelli. "Our model is designed to focus on what the Church is supposed to do best—nurture persons toward a deeper experience and greater knowledge of God."

The three-and-a-half year grant will support testing of a model that encourages adult members of a congregation to engage young people in traditional spiritual practices.

The Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project will proceed in four dimensions:

  • fifteen diverse partner congregations from churches of varying enrollment recruited to serve as "laboratories";
  • a two week "inservice" for three consecutive years offered at the Seminary to train partner congregations in the spiritual formation model and provide skills for implementation;
  • evaluation of the content, implementation, and effectiveness of the model;
  • ongoing dissemination of the model to churches throughout the United States.

"This model suggests we need a new, more lasting, and solid foundation for youth ministry," White said. "Conventional wisdom has it that the recent interest in spirituality exists only among adults over 40. Mark Yaconelli has already demonstrated in his work with us that the practices of spirituality can be effectively taught to teenagers."

Yaconelli has been working in many areas of youth ministry for ten years and researching this model for the last four years both in churches in Portland, Oregon and in northern California. In addition, he has led numerous workshops and retreats for youth and youth ministers at conferences across the country.

"I recognized the need for a new approach when I saw young people leaving the church as soon as they graduated high school," he said. "Although they had been exposed to the language of the Church, they had little experiential knowledge of the Christian faith and almost no familiarity with the practices that could sustain their faith."

Yaconelli sees the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project as an opportunity to bring together a diverse group of congregations, theologians, youth workers, and adolescents "who can really think about how we can better keep young people in touch with God."

White will chair the project's advisory board, to be composed of people of national renown from across the country. In addition to White, current participants include Elizabeth Liebert, director of the Program in Christian Spirituality and professor of Spiritual Life at the Seminary, and Mike Yaconelli, president of Youth Specialties, Inc., the world's leading provider of youth ministry training resources, which in 1996 initiated a partnership with the new youth ministry emphasis at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

It's all very exciting," said Seminary President Donald W. McCullough. "Not only will this project develop a new approach to adolescent spiritual development, I believe it has the potential to restructure the spiritual life of congregations across the country."

For more information about the program, please contact Mark Yaconelli.


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