Written by Robin Smith
on 21st December 2022
When I was younger, so much younger than today…
When I was a lad growing up in Glasgow, I was mentored in to youth ministry leadership through summer camps and volunteers in my local church. Faithful amateurs took me hill walking and canoeing, sat with my painful attempts to play in the church band and gave me mini-experiences of speaking up front, visiting the sick and planning bigger events.
Gradually, after I left school I got more involved across these three areas of ministry: outdoor education, worship ministry and discipleship in my local church. The church survives and will grow because of volunteers – more so now than ever but gradually it felt like my employment in a local bank was getting in the way of doing what I felt God was calling me to do – so I went and did a theology degree.
I stopped all my volunteering and went to bible college for three years.
I learned how to understand the story of scripture, broader theology, evangelism, pastoral care, philosophy etc. … but stopped ‘doing’ it. I learned about ministry and mission but didn’t do any.
What is the point of stopping for three years when you could be out there, changing lives?
One of the beautiful things about studying with CYM is that you do both. Our undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are both ‘practice based’ meaning 1/3 of your learning hours are doing it. Students work in local churches, schools, community projects and other settings then come to college and learn theory and theology which gives them an understanding of what is happening – they then learn tools and skills which they go and experiment with in a context that knows they are learners.
Back in the Real World
When I came back from bible college I had lots of knowledge – I could discuss who wrote Hebrews, different explanations of the Trinity and what evangelism and discipleship was. I had to learn how to do it¸ not just how to understand it.
On the other hand, the churches that CYM graduates go to understand that they come with, as a minimum, three years of ministry experience in a relevant context. Our students go into their next job with skills that help them lead teams of volunteers, how to plan and evaluate discipleship programmes and with a knowledge of scripture that is relevant to what they do each day.
They also understand the idea of continuing to grow in ministry practice. The values they have developed over the previous 3 years shape their whole lives, not just Sunday morning or Friday night. The know to prioritise their relationships – with friends, a partner and family; to prioritise rest to give them energy for the long term; and most significantly, to continue growing their own relationship with Christ.
In my own journey I returned to study 10 years after my first degree to do an MA … with CYM. I had a foundation of knowledge from my degree, some experience in the real world but the Practical Theology degree helped me to join the two together, to help me understand why some things worked and how to develop and improve what wasn’t. It also gave me the Professional Youth Work qualification (the JNC) that gave me confidence and competence to work alongside council youth work agencies in my town.
Values for life and ministry
This is perhaps well summarised by one of our BA graduates this year. When asked how the course had impacted on his spiritual development they said:
"Incredibly – I came into the course feeling like an imposter from a faith perspective – I don’t know the bible that well. Having CYM where you have to read and write about the bible has forced me to learn and it’s changed who I am. My faith now leads my life rather than my life leading my faith."
Another student noted that the story they came in to college was about ‘dying to self’ – going out full speed and working as hard as they could, to a point of burnout but the course had inspired them to rest and retreat spiritually so that they would still be standing years later.
This is perhaps the area that surprised students most about studying on a CYM course – many come in to get a degree, to qualify or to get experience but is their own personal and spiritual journey that impacts them most.
Another student said:
“I liked the how we learnt to engage in scripture by doing the practical theology. Through this I have seen my faith grow and intwine more in every aspect of life."
Life after the degree
So students develop knowledge, skills and experience to sustain them in ministry and mission in the real world. Most go on to serve in a ministry context: a local church, hospital chaplaincy project or faith-based community project. Others find that God is calling them to stand with confidence as a professional qualified Christian working in local authority or school setting and that their CYM degree has equipped them for both environments. Finally, a number go on to further study – continuing in ministry, further training in social work for example or moving into academic research.
So what does a student get from doing a degree with CYM?
Apart from three years of knowledge of theology, leadership, working with people and communities; apart from a qualification which acknowledges their professional and ministerial experience; apart from developing their personal and spiritual self; apart from access to a wide range of employment contexts…
Not a lot really.
There is something significant and resonant when people who are driven by a common purpose get together. That resonance deepens when God is involved - when we take time out to de-clutter our thinking and focus on God speaking through others’ learning, experiences and reflections.
Dr. Graham Bright - Senior Lecturer
5th September 2023
Have you heard the phrase: ‘today’s newspaper headlines are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper’? This ages me of course, since chips haven’t been sold in papers since around 1980 but the metaphor stands – today’s scandals quickly fade away like newsprint stuck to a soggy chip.
Robin Smith - Course Director
29th June 2023
The fable of the three trees is one I have used again and again in children’s ministry. It’s been great for Easter holiday clubs, teaching up to Christmas in junior church and for after school mid week activities (I’ve used it a lot!)
Ali Campbell - Trustee
13th June 2023