This Black History Month, UYWI continues to highlight modern-day leaders we believe are carrying MLK’s vision, forward. Our third spotlight is on Dr. Virginia Ward.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Refusing To Be Still or Silent
One woman who has refused to be still or silent about the issues of urban youth and urban youth leaders, is Dr. Virginia Ward.
For nearly three generations, Dr. Ward has been empowering youth across the nation. Her impact is felt in every sector—from education to ministry, business, and beyond. She is an accomplished professor, author, pastor, speaker, and trainer who is a leading voice in urban youth ministry. She is a native Bostonian with deep roots in the church as a third-generation pastor’s kid, whose heart for youth ministry and indomitable drive are unmatched.
Dr. Virginia Ward received her Bachelors in management from Northeastern University and went on to pursue her Masters of Arts in Youth Ministry and Doctorate of Ministry in Emerging Generations at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where she continues to serve today. Dr. Ward began her career with the Devos Urban Leadership Initiative (DULI), as the Boston City Coordinator and a participant. DULI exists to develop urban youth workers in Christian organizations and institutions. This 15-month program gives youth leaders the confidence, support, and connections needed to truly thrive and remain committed to urban youth ministry. Upon graduation from the program, Dr. Ward went on to serve as a coach for urban youth workers in San Diego, Detroit, and Pittsburgh and New York. She has been training with DULI for over 22 years, impacting the lives of hundreds of youth workers across the nation.
For eight years, Dr. Ward also served as the Black Campus Ministries Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, where she supported the leaders serving students and faculty on college campuses across the New England area. Dr. Ward was committed to the mission of developing extraordinary black Christian leadership and ministering to the unique needs of the black community. Her passion for urban youth and experience in the field led Dr. Ward to begin teaching at her alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. In the classroom, Dr. Ward has been able to pair real-world experience with Biblical scholarship to help equip the next generation of urban leaders.
“As I am working in the urban sector, I want to see urban young people rise up and not just speak of the issues of the day, but speak to the issues of the day from God’s perspective.”
Dr. Ward now serves as the Dean and Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry and Leadership Development and the Director of Leadership and Mentored Ministry Initiative for Gordon-Conwell. She is also an associate pastor at Abundant Life Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband of 35 years serves as the lead pastor. If her resume of urban leadership wasn’t enough, Dr. Ward and her husband lead a consulting company, Wards of Wisdom, to support urban ministries seeking change.
Bridging A Multi-Generational Gap
As a researcher, author, and speaker, Dr. Ward integrates leadership and motivational skills with knowledge of multi-generational urban youth ministry to inspire, enlighten, and help individuals and organizations equip the next generation of leaders. For example, she has worked closely with The Fuller Youth Institute to launch “Growing Young” and “Growing With,” a robust research initiative that offers practical resources to ministry leaders, youth workers, and parents. The church nationwide is aging and losing young people, but strategic churches are growing young with the help of the tools, cohorts, books, and mentorship Dr. Ward has assisted in providing. Last year alone, 130 churches across the US and internationally committed to joining the “Growing Young Cohorts”—resulting in over 200,000 church members empowered and equipped to engage teenagers and young adults like never before. Dr. Ward’s passion for ministry inside and outside of the home is reflected in the work of “Growing Young” and in the way she parented her two, now adult, sons.
“I believe urban ministry has a pulse like no other ministry! Our family understands the complexity of urban life, and each member is able to thrive in multiple settings. Raising two African-American sons in the city is a blessing because they have learned how to make critical choices daily. We have also watched them share their blessings with their peers. Urban ministry has enhanced our family life in three key areas. Ministry in the city: calls us to seek the peace of the city through prayer, draws us to do our part to help build our city, reminds us to ask the Lord of the harvest for more laborers.”
In September 2003, Dr. Ward became an ordained minister, where she uses her prophetic voice to inspire, enlighten, and empower youth and youth workers across the globe. She is a keynote and workshop speaker for Orange Tour and National Youth Workers, both leading conferences for youth ministry leaders. Additionally, Virginia has served as the lead instructor for Gordon-in-Boston, a cross-cultural experience for students attending Gordon College. Lastly, she has contributed to several books including, “It’s Personal: Five Questions You Should Answer to Give Every Kid Hope.” As a book for volunteers, parents, and leaders who work with children and teenagers, this guide aims to promote a more personal, effective and fulfilling approach to leading youth. Dr. Ward believes that if more adults would stop and get to know youth on a personal level, they would have a renewed sense of identity, belonging, and purpose. She knows first hand that when we see people the way Jesus sees them, something remarkable can happen.
As an urban pastor, ministry organizer, and youth ministry expert, Dr. Virginia Ward stresses the importance of intergenerational ministry as a key way to engage youth today. She believes the church has become far too fractured by generational lines, and both older and the younger generations must look outside of their age groups to invest in one another. To do this, Dr. Ward’s church has implemented creative strategies to build relationships. From simple community events where both the young and old serve together to the 5-minute rule, which asks members to spend five minutes talking to someone outside of their peer group after services. Additionally, they seek to ensure and encourage churches to have multiple voices at their decision tables both across racial, generational and socioeconomic lines. They even invite non-members from the community they serve to speak into how the church engages with them and they listen to their desires and advice.
“You can do this with minimal resources and creative relationship building…You don’t have to have slick programming, (they need to know that) they are known. I gotta remember your name or or some fun characteristic about you, it’s all relationships… you don’t need money for that, you need intentionality.”
Thank you Dr. Virginia Ward, for your dedication to urban youth and urban youth workers across the nation. Thank you for using your voice and wisdom to promote the needs of the urban community, in strengthening the church, intergenerationally, and developing leaders of color with faithful perseverance.
Check out her work!
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