Sharing Expertise to Help Local Youth and Young Adult Ministries

Youth and young adult ministries at United Methodist churches across the United States will gain more immediate access to support and resources with a new effort aimed at helping local churches share their best expertise.

Church leaders with successful programs and ministry skills will be sought out in each jurisdiction to serve as resources for others who need their support, says Rev. Michael Ratliff, associate general secretary of the Young People’s Ministries, a division of The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.

“We want to find people who are already established in the jurisdictions of the church, who already have a track record in relation to young people’s ministries, and have the abilities to work with established organizational structures to help us relate to people at every level of the church,” Ratliff says.

A part-time YPM staff member is being placed in all five jurisdictions to help make the local resources more accessible.

“We, as a general agency of the church, are trying to make a difference in what is happening in local congregations, but there are a lot of levels of the church between us and a local congregation,” Ratliff says, adding that the YPM wants to provide more direct assistance to local ministries by marshalling existing local resources.

Carl Thomas Stroud Gladstone, working in Detroit with the North-Central Jurisdiction, is the first part-time YPM jurisdictional staff member. Others will be added in jurisdictions each quarter with all five in place by January 2011, Ratliff says. Beyond the United States, similar division staff members are currently serving in each Central Conference region.

Ratliff says he wants the YPM staff members serving in jurisdictions to identify people in their jurisdictions who are excellent in particular areas of ministry and enlist them to be available to other people in ministry who need their expertise.

“It may be that we identify local church leaders working in young people’s ministries through this process who can become a resource on the general church level, too,” Ratliff says. “So it really is a binary process, not a one-way process. … We’re trying to open up that conduit for ministry in both directions. And ultimately, the goal, of course, would be to help young people—both youth and young adults—to discover faith in Jesus Christ and to grow in that faith as Christian disciples and become Christian leaders in the United Methodist Church to make a difference in our world.”

Gladstone, who was ordained as a deacon in 2004, previously served as full-time director of the Youth Leaders Initiative, a collection of programs to nurture young people as Christian leaders in the Metro Detroit area. The YLI is supported by the Detroit East and West Districts, and he will continue working part time in that position.

“We want to be doing things on the general church level that increase everyone’s immediate access to learning how to do ministry in even more effective and radical and influential and inspirational ways,” Gladstone says. “So whatever tools we develop need to really hit that mark.”

Gladstone says he feels the structure of the United Methodist Church is important because of the church’s reach in the world and the local resources it offers. But he says, “I really don’t think that we can exist as a church up in the stratosphere of the institutional formation.

“The church always has to be focused on the ground, really making things happen, changing somebody’s life and giving them the tools to immediately re-connect back on their block, in their city in a new way,” Gladstone says.

“My task is to look at the North-Central Jurisdiction and figure out ways that I, as a division staff person, can help connect the various ministries, celebrate them, communicate about them, build up relationships between people within the jurisdiction and in general be a catalyst for all things we are doing and make them even more successful.”

Gladstone says he wants to create a peer system for sharing all the ministry wisdom that abounds in his jurisdiction.

“In the area of youth and young adult ministries around the North-Central Jurisdiction, I’m starting to develop a list of people who have some expertise in particular areas—youth missions, young adult drama groups, campus ministry, all of those kinds of things,” Gladstone says.

Others will be able to connect with those resource people online.

“So, someone coming to an eventual website might type in their geographic area and see who is around them that has what kind of expertise. Or they might come to the website, type in ‘I really need to know something about small group ministry and youth programs and I’ll drive wherever I need to drive to talk to somebody about that,’ ” he says.

Tom Gillem is a Brentwood, Tenn.-based freelance writer for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship GBOD’s mission is to support annual conference and local church leaders for their task of equipping world-changing disciples. An agency of The United Methodist Church, GBOD is located at 1908 Grand Ave. in Nashville, Tenn. Visit for more information or call the Communications Office at (877) 899-2780, Ext. 1726.