The Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) was conceived by Dr. Craig Dykstra, who envisioned a different way of engaging young people in religious life. Emory University’s Candler School of Theology partnered with Dr. Dykstra and Lilly Endowment, Inc., to create a program where youth could address theological questions and issues that might not be discussed in their local faith communities. Since 1993 YTI has gathered youth from across the United States to the annual Summer Academy, an ecumenical program in justice-seeking theological reflection for juniors and seniors in high school. Our summer “scholars” explore important theological and social issues, create an intentional community of transformative, mutual relationships that call out the imago dei in all people, and serve others through work at Atlanta-area social agencies.
Throughout these years YTI has engaged in research into the ways young people are reflecting on God, God's relationship to the world, and their own participation in tikkun olam, the healing of the world. We also conduct research into practices of and resources for ministries with youth that foster the exploration of theological questions and their activity on behalf of justice in the world. Beginning in 1999 we expanded our youth ministry education beyond courses offered at Candler School of Theology by partnering with various denominational groups to offer workshops and consultations for adults working with youth in local faith communities. Drawing on our research and our work with young people in the Academy, we help these adults develop the skills that will enable them to engage more adequately young people as Christian disciples in the fullest sense—with a committment to acting attentively to God's ongoing activity in the world by bringing together justice-seeking action and compassionate responses to all creation. In all of our work YTI strives to equip young women and men to engage in theological reflection and action, and to ignite their vocational imaginations for the benefit of church and society. With the support of Lilly Endowment, Candler School of Theology, churches and individuals, the Youth Theological Initiative has become an internationally-recognized leader in alternative approaches to practices and perspectives of youth.