Rev. Yolanda singing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" at PYM16
Rev. Yolanda singing “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” at PYM16

An idea for a unique conference for progressive youth workers. Some conversations with Tony Jones. Three years later, we’ve wrapped up our third successful Progressive Youth Ministry conference and we’re already working on the next one. This has been a wild ride.

In his opening sermon, Neil Cazares-Thomas—pastor of our PYM16 host church, Cathedral of Hope—encouraged us to bask in the afterglow of this event once it was finished. So here are some of my favorite takeaways from PYM16:

  • Content aside, one of the things I’m most grateful for is the growing PYM community. Sharing communion during closing worship as everyone formed a circle around the Cathedral of Hope sanctuary was powerful and humbling. Our primary motivation for creating this event wasn’t to further divide us with more labels, but to create a space for people who don’t fit in or aren’t nourished at other youth ministry events. Each year this family of friends continues to grow.
  • Even with his strong words about conservative Christianity, Neil Cazares-Thomas delivered one of the most evangelical sermons I have ever heard from a progressive preacher. He encouraged us to fall madly and passionately in love with Jesus and to embody his values in the world. Don’t tell me progressive don’t care about Jesus.
  • Doing progressive Christian music is hard, but I think we finally hit our stride this year as we welcomed two artists I have dreamed of working with. Rev. Yolanda blessed us with amazing renditions of gospel classics and her own powerful originals. Phil Madeira poured his soul into bluesy “hymns for the rest of us.” They were both fantastic.
  • PYM continues to highlight serious theology. Our approach has been to use plenary sessions for big ideas and devote seminars to practical applications. This year we reduced the number of keynote speakers so that each of them could give us more and we could spend time in conversation with them. Evelyn Parker helped us think about addressing the elephant of race in our youth ministry rooms. Astrophysicist Paul Wallace used cosmology to critique the anthropocentrism of classical theism and then leveraged the book of Job—a classically theistic text—to transcend classical theism. Radical/process/feminist theologian Catherine Keller invited us to find God in the impossible places of the coincidence of opposites, arguing that separation is a sham in a world of entanglement and radical relationality.
  • Rob Bell blew us away in the final keynote of the conference. I continue to maintain that he is the best and most important evangelist in post-Christendom America. He masterfully brings together science and life and faith into something like a “theory of everything” that is grounded in traditional Christianity but is also appealing to the spiritual but not religious. I’m so glad we were able to get him for a rare conference appearance.
  • Our seminars covered a variety of timely and relevant topics for youth ministry.
  • In her closing worship sermon, Allyson Robinson gave a powerful and poetic testimony about sacrificing the certainty of traditional Christianity, which nearly killed her. She is a groundbreaking and inspiring preacher.
  • And what would a PYM be without a rip-roaring Homebrewed Christianity podcast and lots of zesty fun with Tripp Fuller?

PYM17 will happen March 8-10, 2017 at Montreat Conference Center, a move that will surely bring new elements to the PYM experience. Look for announcements about speakers and tickets and exciting new things like a PYM blog in the coming weeks and months.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. I have GOT to get to one of these. Those conversations sound amazing!!! After my DMin is done I hope to come. Forget the “Youth” part…these are things the whole church needs to be engaging.

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