Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/2 2015

Christian Response to Preventing Youth Violence in Pennsylvania

Youth-ViolenceThe spectrum of youth violence categories ranges vastly from elementary school bullying to teen homicides. In a 2011 nationally-representative sample of youth in grades 9-12, 20.1 percent reported being bullied on school property in the preceding 12 months, and 16.2 percent reported being bullied electronically (e-mail, chat room, website, texting). [1] The effects of bullying include physical, social, academic, and emotional harm with bullying as a huge contributor to youth suicide. Furthermore, in 2010, 4,828 young people ages 10-24 in the US were victims of homicide—an average of 13 each day, 82.8 percent of whom were killed with a firearm. [2] Such youth violence has seen an upward trend in the city of Pittsburgh.

While many Christians complain about the youth violence issues in our city without actively becoming part of the solution, some local churches try to provide pastoral care through Christian youth ministries. However, more often than not it is limited to kids with ties to the church who already participate in the life of the church, which is not a significant sampling of youth at risk for violent offenses.

There are noteworthy Christian organizations throughout the greater Pittsburgh region addressing these issues head on through mentorship and afterschool programs like Homewood Children’s Village, the Pittsburgh Project, Bible Center Church, and Amachi Pittsburgh. Amachi Pittsburgh provides a youth mentorship and family support program for kids with incarcerated parents that boasts a 92 percent success rate of program participants avoiding the criminal justice system as juveniles and adults. Amachi partners with local churches in Allegheny County to acquire committed mentors, however there remains a significant mentor vacancy with many willing kids still waiting to be matched.

Another organization of note is “The Point” which serves the Parkesburg, PA, region near Philadelphia. It was founded in 2003 and is funded by local businesses, churches, and community leaders. Their mission is to provide after-school, weekend, and summer programs for at-risk and vulnerable youth in the area and provide a safe haven by addressing the spiritual, physical, emotional, and academic needs of the community through the hopeful message of the Gospel.

A few national Christian organizations with local presence provide more intensive programming such as Teen Challenge. They provide long-term “spiritual boot camps” for troubled youth within a system of extreme accountability while teaching personal responsibility.

What if local churches took personal responsibility to address the issues facing youth in their respective neighborhoods regardless of whether the families are involved in the life of the church? What if local churches partnered with other churches in more at-risk areas to be of assistance in addressing youth violence? What if more churches made commitments to successful prevention programs like Amachi Pittsburgh so that mentors would be waiting for kid matches as opposed to the current opposite? As Christians there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in preventing youth violence, the question always is, what are YOU willing to do?

[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2011. MMWR, Surveillance Summaries 2012; 61. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6104.pdf.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010). www.cdc.gov/injury.

Kimberly Merrell, an MDiv program alumna of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is the director of the Metro-Urban Institute at PTS.


1/8 2015

The Church’s Responsibility to the World

Whether we live in urban environments like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, small towns like Latrobe, Pa., or in rural villages, most people’s natural tendency is to use whatever power and influence we have for self-serving purposes. We often abuse our God-given privileges by prominently doing good to those who can reciprocate our generosity. Privilege comes wearing many different hats: wealth, prestige, caste, gender, education, race, etc. I think as Christians we have the greatest privilege of all, a relationship with Christ. However, as Christians, we often stay too comfortable, too self-centered, too stymied by fear that we cover up our own light. This light was divinely designed to shine brightly. This light was never meant to be just ours and those like us. This light was always meant to humbly undergird our sisters and brothers everywhere toward shalom and freedom.

I will never forget worshiping with a homeless church under a bridge in the urban-center of Surabaya, Indonesia. Even with the rumbling of semi-trucks overhead, tremendous insect infestation, and perpetual sickness from extreme proximity to a high bacteria yielding garbage dump, these Christians exuded more joy in the privilege of knowing Christ than I had ever seen. This church under the bridge’s fervor for Christ so transcended their circumstances that they took up a collection of what little they had to give to their non-Christian peers and to serve refugee orphans. They accounted their privilege as followers of Jesus over all other circumstances and joyously operated out of that framework toward the betterment of others.

It is both our duty and privilege to spread God’s love throughout the earth in transformative ways. This call will often take us into unpopular places and undesirable circumstances aligning ourselves with those whose cries go unnoticed and whose conditions seem permanent. However, our “Christ privilege” calls us to minister to all people and places, and we end up being transformed in the process. With great privilege comes great responsibility. Let us take the greatest privilege this world has ever known, and be light to all.

Kimberly Merrell, an MDiv program alumna of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is the director of the Metro-Urban Institute at PTS.


8/15 2014

New Doctor of Ministry Degrees: Meeting Today’s Needs

Urban scene from Pittsburgh to Paris

By the end of the century, 75 percent of the world’s population will be in urban areas. The Church must be spiritually and socially transformative in urban ministry.

As the world changes, those in ministry must meet new needs. To help prepare pastors, Pittsburgh Seminary is offering two new Doctor of Ministry focuses. The Missional Leadership and Urban Change DMins begin January 2015.

The Urban Change Focus is designed to assist church leaders in framing and pursuing spiritually and socially transformative ministry responses to rapidly changing complex urban circumstances. Opportunity for study in urban settings, including an international immersion for one week in London and a second week in Pretoria, South Africa, will provide global contextual education. Other sessions meet in Pittsburgh.

The Missional Leadership DMin seeks to form pastors to lead congregations in recognizing what it means to participate in God’s mission within their specific context. Defining mission while sitting in the pews blocks the wide open vision of community. The goal is to plunge into the neighborhood and develop new relationships while practicing a keen understanding that God is active in the world. From these new practices and habits, a new vision for ministry and faith emerges. Classes meet in January and June in Pittsburgh.

Both Urban Change and Missional Leadership include the following goals:

  • To develop a biblically rooted and theologically informed understanding of missional congregations and leadership. Achieving this goal will include the development of a theology of missional congregations, leadership theory, ethics, ecclesiology, proclamation, and conflict theory.
  • To form leaders who are theologically reflective from within their own contexts and able to lead their congregation to become a missional community. Achieving this goal includes the integration of research methodology with formative postures, habits, and practices of adaptive change leadership, the challenge of re-thinking church, cultivating communal discernment, plunging into the neighborhood, preaching, worship, and pastoral care.

Interested in either program? We welcome your applications online through Oct. 31, 2014. Or contact the Doctor of Ministry Office with questions at 412-924-1421 or skendall@pts.edu. An MDiv or equivalent is required for the Doctor of Ministry degree.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Susan Kendall, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program.

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