Way back in 1999, Deech Kirk (only his mother and his wife call him Dietrich) was attending seminary at Memphis Theological Seminary and had a conversation with a friend about the frustrations of how to “do” youth ministry after leaving seminary. Deech’s friend had a solid theological background (and a Master’s of Divinity from Asbury Seminary) but no one had trained him in the actual day-to-day ins and outs of local church youth ministry. Deech went back to class and, instead of taking notes, wrote out his vision for a youth ministry institute that would educate and train youth ministers simultaneously.
Fast forward five years to 2004, Mark DeVries and his senior pastor were discussing the need for a youth ministry training program, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Later on, Mark and Deech met to discuss youth ministry consulting and Mark asked Deech THE question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” During that pivotal conversation, Deech and Mark discovered that God had given both of them essentially the same vision for a youth ministry training program.
In 2005 a task force was created made of members from Brentwood United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church with the intention of exploring the possibilities of starting a youth ministry training program. Both churches put up $25,000 in “seed money” for the program and to help raise long-term support. On March 1, 2006 with the approval of both the First Presbyterian Session and the Brentwood UMC Church Council, and the arrival of official incorporation documents, the Center for Youth Ministry Training was born.
Since that date, the CYMT has grown from two staff members to 22, from nine initial students to 36 current graduate residents and 59 alumni, from nine churches to 57, and has, with God’s help, impacted the lives of hundreds of youth and their families. In 2007 CYMT received a $925,000 grant from the Eli Lilly Foundation to help the CYMT develop its program, create a new campus, host a Youth Ministry Think Tank, and develop Lilly research into useable resources. The inaugural CYMT class was commissioned to ministry in 2008. CYMT officially partnered with Memphis Theological Seminary (MTS) in 2009 to create an innovative retreat based program, and CYMT students who complete the three-year program graduate with a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry through MTS. CYMT’s ministry expanded to serve churches in much of the Southeast region, including Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky. And in 2010, the first eight residents graduated from MTS with Masters degrees.
In 2014, the Eli Lilly Foundation awarded CYMT a 3-year $240,000 grant to launch the Theology Together initiative as a part of their high school youth and the theology program.
In May of 2015, the CYMT Board of Directors and the church leadership of Bethany UMC in Austin, Texas unanimously voted to partner to launch a CYMT campus in Texas. The first cohort of CYMT residents will begin at the Texas Regional Campus in the Fall of 2016. This expansion will allow CYMT to serve churches within a 3-hour radius of Austin, Texas including churches in Houston, San Antonio, and eventually Dallas and Fort Worth.
The Center for Youth Ministry Training equips youth ministers and churches to develop theologically informed and practically effective youth ministries. Because, as we like to say, good youth ministry doesn’t just happen!