Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing

A major area of focus in the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project will be Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing, which will examine adolescence as a uniquely opportune and consequential phase of moral and spiritual development with profound implications for long-term prospects of a life of joyful flourishing.

Denominations and faith communities have traditionally supplied the faith formation, communal support, and intergenerational care of adolescents, but they have lost the critical capacity to articulate a normative theological account of the joyful good life. Moreover, lacking a compelling vision and mission, faith communities have stumbled into a series of wrong turns that have steadily reduced their influence on rising generations: 1) a misplaced emphasis on quantifiable deliverables (e.g., How many youth did we baptize? How many kids were on the mission trip?) rather than on the qualitative depth of the vision of life offered and spiritual experiences shared; 2) an unimaginative settling for either “keep them occupied” fun and games or listless extensions of Sunday School; 3) an impoverished imagination for what a church can look and feel like; and 4) a distracting enmity between “right” and “left” and between “church” and “parachurch” that blocks communication and opportunities for mutual learning. Finally, as faith communities fail to lift up an alluring vision of the joyful good life, their parents and adolescents drift away to the culture’s high altars of college admissions, material advancement, and experiential satisfaction.

The Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing project will focus attention on two questions: 

  • What practices, attitudes, habits, and virtues help to inspire and sustain joy and flourishing for adolescents?
  • What are the biggest obstacles and counterfeits of joy that adolescents face? How can we offer adolescents the spiritual communities, experiences, and resources that sustain resilience in confronting these afflictions and distractions and enable them to live with a measure of joy despite them?
The very formative nature of adolescence grounds our hypothesis that adolescence is an opportune phase, if not the opportune phase, on which to focus research and in which to resource transformative programming on joy and the good life. Our planning grant consultations, literature review, and decades of collective experience in ministry with and to adolescents indicated that any joy and the good life “recovery” project would face extraordinary challenges and extraordinary opportunities in the formative period of adolescence.
The Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing subproject will host a three-year series of 34 lectures on the foundations of adolescent joy and flourishing. See the schedule of upcoming lectures here.
Over its three years, the subproject will also publish scholarly articles, an anthology, a major theological monograph, and curricular materials on both the foundations of joy and flourishing life and the spiritual resources supporting resilience in the face of various sources of adolescent suffering. Grant funds have also made it possible for Yale Divinity School to appoint Sarah F. Farmer to its faculty to support the project as Associate Research Scholar for Adolescent Joy and Flourishing.
The Joy and Adolescent Faith & Flourishing subproject is led by an Advisory Board composed of leading scholars and practitioners from across the United States:
Joy and Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Advisory Board
Caroline Ainsworth is the Minister to Youth at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Connecticut. She received a degree in Education from Northwestern University and for the past six years has served her home congregation and the larger New Canaan community, caring for over 250 youth.

Mark Berner is the founder and president of Joy Consortium, an initiative funded by the John Templeton Foundation to bring joy into the mainstream of religious practice and academic inquiry. He has been an entrepreneur; hedge fund manager; attorney; and foundation trustee and advisor.

Kenda Creasy Dean is the Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also the coordinating pastor of Kingston United Methodist Church in New Jersey, and an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. Her publications include Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church and Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church.

Frederick Edie is Associate Professor of the Practice of Christian Education at Duke Divinity School. His research interests include exploring the relationships between Christian worship and Christian identity, creating rich contexts for the formation of Christians, and constructing “full-bodied” epistemologies. He is the author of Book, Bath, Table and Time: Christian Worship as Source and Resource for Youth Ministry.
Mark Gornik is the director of City Seminary of New York. He has spent the last 25 years as a pastor, community developer, and researcher in African churches in NYC and beyond. He is the author of To Live in Peace: Biblical FaithThe Changing Inner City and Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City, which won Christianity Today’s 2012 Book Award for Missions & Global Affairs.
Pamela Ebstyne King is Associate Professor of Marital and Family Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is a co-author of The Reciprocating Self: A Theological Perspective of Development and co-editor of The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence.
Skip Masback is the Founding Director of the Youth Ministry Initiative, Managing Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and Director of YCFC’s Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Program. He came to Yale after serving for 19 years as the Senior Pastor at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Connecticut.
Rodger Nishioka is the Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary. He focuses on equipping pastors to be teachers and leaders in the church’s educational ministry. He is particularly interested in building a congregation’s youth and young adult ministries. His publications include Sowing the Seeds and Rooted in Love.
David Rahn is the Senior Vice President and Chief Ministry Officer for Youth for Christ USA, an organization he has served since 1972. He also teaches in and directs the Graduate Program in Youth Ministry Leadership at Huntington University. Recent book publications include Evangelism Remixed: Empowering Students for Courageous and Contagious Faith and Symmetry: Fixing Broken Patterns for Kids in Crisis.
Andrew Root is Associate Professor and Carrie Olson Baalson Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary. His research interests include issues of pastoral and practical theology. He is a member of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry and the International Bonhoeffer Society. His publications include the four-part series, A Theological Journey through Youth Ministry and The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry.

David White is the C. Ellis and Nancy Gribble Nelson Professor of Christian Education and Professor in Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. His recent publications include Dreamcare: A Theology of Youth, Spirit, and Vocation and Awakening Youth Discipleship in a Consumer Culture.

Anne E. Streaty Wimberly is Professor Emerita of Christian Education at the Interdenominational Theological Center. She serves as the Executive Director of the Youth Hope-Builders Academy Executive at ITC, a youth theology program funded by the Lilly Endowment. Her publications include In Search of Wisdom: Faith Formation in the Black Church and Soul Stories: African American Christian Education.
Almeda Wright is Assistant Professor of Religious Education at Yale Divinity School. Her research focuses on African American religion, adolescent spiritual development, and the intersections of religion and public life. She is ordained in the American Baptist Church. She is co-editor, with Mary Elizabeth Moore, of Children, Youth, and Spirituality in a Troubling World, and has served as editor of an issue of Practical Matters Journal.
For more information, contact Director of Adolescent Faith and Flourishing, Skip Masback.

JTF Logo The Theology of Joy & the Good Life project is made possible by the John Templeton Foundation with additional support from the McDonald Agape Foundation.