Youth may apply for !Explore: A Theological Program for High School Youth when they are in grades 10, 11 or 12 for the summer program that immediately follows that year in school. Up to 15 participants will be selected for the program, which is divided into two parts.
In consultation with their home pastors, participants identify five areas they want to pursue. These learning goals are integral to the Group experience and the Congregational experience.
- a theological question or issue they want to wrestle with and discuss
- a spiritual discipline they want to practice to draw closer to God
- three ministry skills they want to test or practice more fully
During the 16-day Group experience (July 9–25, 2019), youth worship, serve and study. Participants become church with and for each other while exploring their own places in their congregations and in the church they imagine for the future.
Worship and prayer are the bookends of each day, offering new ways to connect to God. In between is time for reflection and activities that build relationships, develop leadership gifts and foster spiritual practices. Visits to local and regional congregations introduce participants to different forms of worship and Christian community. Intersections of faith, the church and God's creation become a focus during retreat and service activities.
Faculty and seminary students, who serve as event pastors, are conversation partners for the theological study that !Explore fosters. In-depth discussions about God, the Bible, culture and faith encourage participants to ask tough questions and exchange ideas with others who share a commitment to the church.
In addition, youth work alongside Elkhart residents in service agencies that help transform the lives of people in the community. Assisting at a local food pantry, working with survivors of domestic abuse, and participating in life-skills training underscore ways to join in God’s healing work. In these service experiences, youth come to identify systemic injustice and understand how class, race and gender affect individuals and communities.
The Congregational experience comes before, after, or on both sides of the Group Experience (see reverse side). Participants give 100 hours of work in the congregation over five or more weeks, working along side their pastor in a mentoring relationship.
During this time, participants test gifts for ministry while church members can discover new, vibrant leadership in the congregation and practice their role of encouraging young people to hear God’s call on their lives.
Each participant joins in ministry assignments in the context of the congregation, observing, interacting with the congregation, practicing leadership skills, receiving and giving counsel, and further engaging in spiritual disciplines and theological reflection.
The pastor-mentor, the congregation and the !Explore participant collaborate to shape ways for new ministry gifts to emerge and grow, and for new perspectives and vision to be valued.