Everyday Spirituality: The Blog

Expanding Theology in Youth Ministry | blog

by | Jan 30, 2022 | connect.faith, Everyday Spirituality: The Blog | 3 comments

Youth ministry as a professional vocation has been around for about 50 years or so – many  tracing its roots back to the 1970’s. Prior to this, there were youth clubs at schools and in the community, but for the church at large, it was in this time that youth ministry as we know it today began taking shape. I’ve been involved in youth ministry going back to my days as a youth since the late 1990’s. From my earliest experiences going to a youth retreat and attending youth group, I’ve felt drawn towards youth ministry. As I’ve gotten older and followed my call into youth ministry, I’ve seen it at its heights up to where we are today. And where we seem to be is at a crossroads, a crucial moment of will or won’t youth ministry survive.

If you were to look at the resources and curriculum that are used in youth ministry you might start to see a commonality in these which leads to a very narrow scope of theology used in most youth ministries. This narrow scope, something I call DRAFT (Dominant, Regional, Affluent, Folklore, Theology) might be one of causes of more and more young people leaving the Christian faith.

What if instead of just leaning into what is comfortable, what is DRAFT, we chose to expand our theology in youth ministry? What can this expansion of theology in youth ministry look like? One way would be to look through theological lenses that don’t tend to be predominant in youth ministries.

What if we took theologies like process or radical theology into our youth ministry spaces? What about theologians like James Cone or Sallie McFague to help young people think about God and creation? What if instead of helping young people just lean into what is comfortable for us and our faith journey, we shared not only our theology but ones that challenge our own assumptions and convictions? How might these theologies help young people who are not finding faith in what they are being taught? How might this help them match their experiences with their faith beliefs?

To help explore this more, I’ve authored a book about how we can learn to widen the theological lenses in youth ministry. Using a practical field guide that helps explore things we talk about in youth ministry like God, scripture, prayer, mission but doing it through the understandings and insights of process, liberation, feminist, and radical theology. This field guide takes a look at these topics and opens up new possibilities for teaching and experiential learning that may help young people rediscover their faith or lead them to a faith they never had.

To read more about the book, go to https://theyouthcartel.com/product/a-faith-of-their-own/

Nathan Wheeler

Nathan Wheeler is the coordinator of youth and young adult ministries for the Discipleship Ministry Team of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In addition to serving the church, Nathan creates music at nathanwheelermemphis.bandcamp.com. Nathan lives in Memphis, TN with his wife, Marissa, and their dog, Lucky.


  1. Karen Wicker

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Nathan. Your book seems like a needed and insightful resource for youth ministry. I served as a youth director for about ten years, and I believe you are right about offering opportunities for exploration more than information in our faith journeys. I know that I often had trouble teaching tenets and doctrines that I struggled with myself. Thank you for your faithful love and care for young people – and for our God who has created them with beautiful diversity. Bless you!

    • Nathan Wheeler

      Thanks Karen! I know the work of youth directors sharing and shaping their faith journey was vital to me in my faith formation.

  2. Nathan Wheeler

    Hey! Thanks Karen. I appreciate your words. I know much of my faith comes from what youth directors/ministers/pastors/volunteers shared with me but also how they allowed me the space to discover God in my own way.


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