Jeffrey Conklin-Miller has been appointed director of Youth Ministry Initiatives, a new position that involves working with both the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation  and the Master of Arts in Christian Practice .
Conklin-Miller served as a United Methodist pastor for a decade before joining the first cohort of students accepted to Duke’s doctor of theology degree in 2005. He began his new position in the Divinity School on Nov. 1.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that I am a Christian because of a strong local church youth ministry,” said Conklin-Miller, who was not brought up in the church. “And while I’ve served in several different contexts of ministry—in the South, the Midwest, and the West Coast, as a lay person, an associate pastor, and a senior pastor—working with youth has been a thread that connects them all.”
Separating youth ministry from other aspects of congregational life such as worship or mission is a mistake, he said.
“The hopes and goals and aims of youth ministry aren’t different from the hopes and goals and aims of the church: to be the people of God, to be disciples of Jesus Christ, to love God and neighbor. What ails us in youth ministry ails us in the church: we’ve grown distant from the means of grace by which God shapes us into a holy people.”
His hope is that youth ministry might reclaim that identity and live into the practices that shape youth and adults alike as disciples of Christ. “Even more,” he added, “my hope is that we would see renewal of youth ministry as the renewal of the church.”
“Jeff Conklin-Miller will play a pivotal role in overseeing the work of the Duke Youth Academy and helping to develop our new focus on youth ministry in the M.A.C.P. program,” said Dean Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament. “He brings extensive pastoral experience in the United Methodist Church, and understands well that youth ministry is a fundamental component of the ministry of the church.”
The M.A.C. P. is among three new degrees the Divinity School has introduced in response to the church’s needs in the 21st century. The others are the doctor of ministry (D.Min. ) and the master of arts in Christian studies (M.A.C.S.) .
Now in its 10th year, the Duke Youth Academy selects 40 to 60 high school students to spend two weeks living in an intentional Christian community on the campus of Duke University. Through practices of daily worship, study, service, and reflection, the academy embodies Duke Divinity School’s commitment to excellence in youth ministry.
“Jeff’s faithfulness as a disciple of Jesus, combined with years of church ministry experience and a powerful theological imagination, make him ideally suited for this position,” said Fred Edie, director of the academy and associate professor of the practice of Christian education. “Duke Youth Academy students and staff will love Jeff, and so will our new M.A.C.P. students in youth ministry. I have no doubt that he will become for them both exemplar and hospitable friend.”
Conklin-Miller will work closely with both Edie and Craig C. Hill, research professor of theological pedagogy and executive director of the D.Min. and M.A.C.P. programs. In addition to recruiting students for the youth ministry cohort of the M.A.C.P., Conklin-Miller will develop non-degree services ranging from retreats to coaching.
A full member of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, Conklin-Miller is nearing completion of the Th.D. at Duke, for which he received a Duke Evangelism Fellowship from the Foundation for Evangelism.
“Jeff’s doctoral work affirms and challenges the church's witness in and to the world, exploring the deep contours of Christian formation in the midst of the ambiguous relationship between church and world,” said Laceye Warner, associate professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist Studies and the Royce and Jane Reynolds Teaching Fellow.
“As Jeff has said, ‘This is not a second career,’ but rather a continuation of his vocation to ministry, which epitomizes the mission of the Th.D. program and the Divinity School,” said Warner, who is also associate dean for academic formation and programs. “His scholarly interests complement well the trajectory of Duke Divinity School's Youth Initiatives.”
Innovative teaching technologies will allow ministry professionals to continue working while they study for both the D.Min. and the M.A.C.P. degrees. The latter requires two academic years, including five intensives on the Divinity School campus and a period of supervised ministry. The first class will matriculate in June 2011.
The first intensive for M.A.C.P. students will include participation in the 2011 Duke Youth Academy on the Duke University campus (June 19-July 2). The remaining intensives at Duke, each one week in length, will be spread out over the following two academic years (2011-12 and 2012-13).
Youth Ministry Initiatives is part of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity , whose mission is to strengthen the ecology of Christian institutions that play pivotal roles in enabling U.S. congregations and pastors to flourish in their ministries. The offices are located at the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham.