Sponsoring Institution: Texas Annual Conference
Youth Theology Program: Texas Youth Academy
Contact: Eddie Erwin, Director, Texas Youth Academy – email@example.com
Scripturally, we look to Matthew 28:19-20. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” As well as, Acts 2: 1; 42-47, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
We also follow John Wesley’s General Rules; do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God.
Title of Practice: Societies, Classes, and Bands (small groups)
We conduct three distinct small groups with our students, each is led by adult mentors and are blended as much as possible to prevent overlap. These are based on the groups that helped the early Methodist movement become better followers of Jesus. Each day has a theological theme and lectionary text that help guide the teaching, preaching, and experiences. The Societies and Classes follow this plan, while the Bands have an additional set of guiding questions.
The Society meeting is the largest where we gather all together for prayers or preaching. These always include “passing of the peace” and our evening gatherings include Holy Communion. Our Classes include 6-10 students and form a community around designing and implementing a worship service for the rest of the Texas Youth academy. The Bands are the smallest groups, and are where the students work through the theology of the day and struggle together. This is often where baggage from home is worked through.
Effectiveness of the Practice:
I believe that this practice is effective for a couple of reasons. This development of Christian Community is at the heart of our Wesleyan practices in creating disciples. It has been practiced and adapted from early church models of sharing our faith community with large groups, discipling a dozen and struggling with a few others. It is also something that the students who participate in the Texas Youth Academy can replicate after they finishing their time together. I’ve know them to continue to pray, disciple, and grapple through life together as separate years, and as a community of participants.
Our struggles have not come with creating a Christian Community at Texas Youth Academy, but once they return to their local church. Students often desire this same community, but is tough to find through busy schedules, lack of interest in other participants, or sometimes through a sending congregation that is unwilling to open themselves to authentic community. As Bonhoeffer states in Life Together, “Christian community sets young people free to be who they are in Christ, and to experience what it means to bear their true image as Christ’s own. If next-generation churches are actually to become life-shaping, incarnational communities, then those who lead them must learn to engage a community’s life-shaping, incarnational power.”