Equipping High School Students to Hear God’s Voice and Take Their Next Faithful Step

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. D.J., raised Catholic, plays his sax for evening worship, and says he thinks about David, playing the lyre. Molly, from a small Presbyterian church, praises God, as Miriam did, for bringing her through troubled waters. Callie, who didn’t grow up in church, passes the bread and cup, and feels like she tastes the One who has always been by her side. 

Each summer, the MAST (Maryville Adventures in Studying Theology) Program at Maryville College in East Tennessee welcomes high school students like D.J., Molly and Callie to our Expanding Horizons Institute. Scholars spend a week on campus, diving into Christian theology while exploring the Smoky Mountains and listening for God’s voice through stories of faith reflected in the arts, science, and nature.

Students come from different denominational backgrounds or with very little religious formation at all. They bring curiosity and a desire to connect big questions of faith to concerns about the world. They bring energy, intelligence, imagination and so much love. As they talk together, they make a joyful noise to the Lord.


From “Going” to Worship to Experiencing Worship

After days spent in class and outdoors, we gather each evening for worship. Worship helps seal the connections within the group and offers a space to weave strands of learning, insight and experience into a new design. 

Students quickly move from simply “going” to worship to creating and leading services for their peers. This is usually a new experience for them, because while they may have played music or spoken in worship before, few have built a service from scratch. 

Yet every service is a joyful noise to the Lord. Students from free church traditions discover that when they write prayers for worship, they connect with God both in the creative process and during the service itself. Others, from more structured settings, find a new voice as they lead the group in prayers. They also share how familiar, poetic words and actions, repeated weekly, get into your soul. 

Almost every year, by the end of the week, the student who on the first day hung back, resenting the parent or pastor who “forced” them to come, is the one their peers ask to preach at closing worship. In the mix of scripture and community, pain and healing, a sermon is born. We make a joyful noise to the Lord.


From High School Student to Church Leader

At Christ’s table, we are grateful for the presence of the people right next to us along with the company of saints around the world and across time. In the same way, our work in Maryville’s MAST program connects us to other people and institutions doing similar work through the Youth Theology Network (YTN). 

This broad community, initiated by Lilly Endowment Inc. and supported by many generous donors, represents over one hundred nationwide programs of theological and vocational exploration as well as leadership development for high school students. 

Comprising different strands of Christian tradition and different styles of worship, these programs guide students to dive deeply into questions of faith and calling, and then to respond deeply with their minds, hearts and voices—to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Thanks to this unique network, students like D.J., Molly, Callie and so many others find a welcome, hear a voice, read old words in new ways and take their place as leaders in the church and in the world. 



Written by Anne McKee:
Anne McKee is the Campus Minister at Maryville College and the director of Maryville Adventures in Studying Theology (MAST). The Youth Theology Network (YTN) is proud to include MAST as one of its national partners who offer vocational discernment programs for students who want to explore their purpose, passion and calling.

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