Book Preview

Thin Places Launch & Video Trailer

While I have been at work on the development and writing of Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community for over a year, the contents are the culmination of over 10 years of lived theology, story and practice.  While I love to write, this project has been uniquely fulfilling as it is the story of the life calling I (and my family!) have given ourselves to.  It is not abstract theology or philosophy, but rooted in real relationships and experiences from a band of Jesus followers who are seeking to embody the Church everyday through communion with God, community with one another and deep engagement in our neighborhood. 

Further, it is not my book.  It is a book about community that was birthed and formed out of community.  With the wise and seasoned partnership of Rob Yackley, I am simply stepping back and doing my best to share what God has been and continues to do among those apart NieuCommunitiesWe hope this sparks the imagination and practice of Jesus’ communities all over the globe. 

There is both a book and a DVD small group curriculum (which I must say our publisher -- The House Studio -- did an INCREDIBLE job producing) that would be ideal for communities and churches to experience together.   The small group videos were captured right here on the streets and in the homes of our NieuCommunites’ site here in Golden Hill (San Diego).

I appreciate your interest, am looking forward to hearing your stories of community transformation and would be grateful for any support in passing the word about this!

Thin Places releases June 12th.  Huge thanks to Jon Hall and Peter Schrock for putting together this video. 

Pre-Order a Copy!

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Forward by Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and  Executive Director at ReIMAGINE

Book Description

There is currently an abundance of conversation and resources advocating for the Church to move from her congregational and attractional models towards more holistic, missional embodiments of the Church that submerge deep into the neighborhood.  While conversations and resources are often valuable, it is essential that we move from conversation to tangible practices and practical application that enlivens our kingdom imagination for shared mission that is rooted in community and place.

NieuCommunities is a collective of missional-monastic communities scattered around the globe that have been living this out for the past 10 years.  In this book, we share our “field notes” — through theology, story and experience – as a way to offer a tangible framework of rooted practices that develop apprentices of Jesus to live on mission in the unique soil of their local context.

While standing on a hill overlooking his community on the Island of Iona, the Celtic monk St. Columba began to pray.  He described his experience as a thin place, a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated.  We hope this book sparks the imagination and practice of individuals and communities across the globe to cocreate their own unique thin places that aren’t simply a dream, but a daily and transforming reality.

Here’s what comes with the small group edition:
-- DVD containing 6 video sessions with Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley
-- 1 copy of Thin Places
-- In-depth discussion questions to help you explore each topic
-- Video Sessions

Week 1: Introduction & Listening
Week 2: Submerging
Week 3: Inviting
Week 4: Contending
Week 5: Imagining
Week 6: Entrusting

Our publisher just released the complete Submerging video session for free!

Pre-Order the Small Group Edition!

What People Are Saying About Thin Places

“I thoroughly loved this book and found myself saying ‘Amen’ at every page. A primer in incarnational mission by those who have lived it and taught it for well over a decade.”   ~ Michael Frost, Author of The Shaping of Things to Come and The Road to Missional

“As God continues to call the church to it’s most powerful essence of missional communities, Thin Places offers an inspirational look into practices and postures that forge God’s people together and propel them outward.”  ~ Hugh Halter, Author of The Tangible Kingdom, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, and Sacrilege

“Over the past decade interest in community life and neighborhood engagement have emerged as significant themes for a new generation of Christ followers who yearn for embodied and holistic spirituality. To thrive, this world-wild movement needs practical resources, born from historical awareness, thoughtful reflection and most importantly lived experience. Thin Places by Jon Huckins, is precisely this kind of storied resource, a tool that can equip groups to practice the way of Jesus and make a life together in their local contexts for the good of the world.”   ~ Mark Scandrette, Author of Practicing the Way of Jesus and  Executive Director at ReIMAGINE

“The terms ‘missional’ and ‘monastic’ are all too often tossed around by Christians as buzz words, an unfortunate reality given the importance of both terms.  That is why ‘Thin Places’ is such a gift to the church!  Not only do the authors understand and protect the integrity of both concepts, but bring them together in a way that points us towards an exciting future as God’s people actively living into His kingdom”   ~ Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastor and Author of The Cost of Community:Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom

“The call of faith has always included living in community. The thing is, it is really hard. And there are not enough places where gritty community meets possibility. But, that is what I found in my time with NieuCommunities. These are people who welcomed me in, as a stranger and not only treated me as an honored guest, they made me part of the family. In short, these are people who know what they are doing in creating Christian community and Thin Places not only chronicles their experiences, but invites other communities to imagine how to do the same.”  ~ Doug Pagitt, Pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Author of Preaching Re-Imagined and Church Re-Imagined

“In the modern world of exponential speed and individual mobility, there is a growing hunger for a faith that can be lived out together… where we can be present… where there is an embodied practice… where the gospel becomes tangible in a particular place. NieuCommunities extends the rare gift of a transformative discipleship process that is full-bodied and place-based. Their longevity and fixity is in rich contrast to a world of quick-fix and fast-track!  ~ Paul Sparks, Founding Co-Director Parish Collective

“It has become painfully obvious to many that the religious atmosphere of the West has drastically changed. Are we Christians still to be a people animated by the Gospel? If so, than more than ever, we need small bands of people like NieuCommunities that move into neighborhoods with the Gospel in their hearts and shaping how the live to change our communities for the sake of the Kingdom.”  ~ Jason Evans, founder of the Ecclesia Collective

“You do not get to clarity alone. Gaining new understanding of what God desires of his followers comes only in the context of community. No one does community better than the NieuCommunities tribe who value both authentic life change as well as missional impact. For over ten years NieuCommunities has formed people who look, love, act, and live like Jesus. This new book chronicles their journey and gives those passionate to live different, for Christ, hope. I highly recommend this read.”   ~ Terry Walling, President of Leader Breakthru and Author of Stuck!

There is a “come and see” authenticity about NieuCommunities that is so reminiscent of Jesus calling the disciples out of fishing boats on the shore of Lake Galilee I can almost taste the salt air. At the same time, the “come and see” community is balanced by a “go and do” mission that gives me hope for inside-out change in neighborhoods in the global city. At a time when many are talking about missional communities, NieuCommunities quietly and expertly goes about doing it—forming young men and women and transforming neighborhoods. The vitality of NieuCommunities is less about what is being said than what is being lived. You’ll want to read this book and listen to their story.  ~ John Hayes, founder of innerCHANGE and Author of Submerge and Living Deep in a Shallow World.

“As the Church is rediscovering its missional ethos within a post-Christian culture that has been saturated with religious consumerism and nominal commitment, we have needed communities that could model a new path forward for us. NieuCommunities has done just that and I excitedly anticipate a book that captures their journey.”   ~  Kyle Osland, Pastor at Icon Church, San Diego.

”I have had the privilege of seeing the NieuCommunities mentoring year up close as a pastor of a church community in which both mentors and apprentices have participated. I can witness to the transforming impact their mentoring has had on people. In an age when we are so often (de)formed by default by the forces of consumerism and individualism,  NieuCommunities offers an alternative formation: intentional mentoring relationships shaped by kingdom practices of community, service, cultural engagement, scripture and prayer. Surely this way of mentoring is a vital pathway for re-forming the church to participate in the mission of God.”   ~ Tim Dickau, Pastor of Grandview Church, Vancouver, B.C. and Author of Plunging Into the Kingdom Way: Practicing the Shared Strokes of Community, Hospitality, Justice, and Confession

“The Christian Scriptures tells us that in the present life we will receive hundredfold in houses and for many of us that’s hard to believe but at NieuCommunities you get to experience this reality come true.  Where there is a NieuCommunities there you will find people with houses ready to share with all who come to find rest and it is by this commitment to hospitality that we experience the Scriptures coming alive.”  ~ Darin Petersen of Relational Tithe and The Simple Way

The Science of Storytelling and Listening

This article was originally posted on Fuller Youth Institute’s website.  For full list of statistic sources, click here. 

Although I’ve spent one semester as a seventh and eighth grade science teacher, I don’t claim to be a scientist.

In fact, in high school and college, it was the subject I avoided the most.  Years later, I started to take seriously my role as a communicator and discovered the significance of science in relation to my understanding of how best to engage listeners with the Story of God.

It turns out that learning more about the science of listening can actually change the way you and I teach kids in our ministries.

Neurologically-Friendly Teaching

Listening is central to the growth and development of everyone who can hear. Studies show that 53% of class time for a U.S. college student is spent listening.1  For the same demographic, nearly 12 hours out of a 24-hour day are spent in some form of listening activity.2  The often unspoken reality is that listening does not necessarily constitute learning, content retention or a willingness to believe information.  In contrast, some studies show that we remember a mere 25% of the content we are presented.3

Why so little? Students tend to listen for facts, but get easily distracted.  Their listening is sidetracked by noise, daydreaming, or chasing another topic altogether.  And often, students listen without being interested in the subject at hand in the first place.4

With all this being said, the task of an effective communicator is not to be taken lightly.  Some argue that offering convincing statistics engages the listener and creates lasting impact, but experts also tell us that people quickly dismiss statistics that are inconsistent with their beliefs.5

On the other hand, fictional stories—which often can be processed very efficiently with minimal effort and high recall—engage a phenomenon called “suspension of disbelief,” which can lead to tangible change.6  Employing the art of storytelling, I once wrote and told a story to my teenagers whose main character, Chloe, dealt with depression, loneliness and cutting.  I shared it over the course of a few weeks at our mid-week gathering, but I could see that one teenager was especially impacted.  During my second week of telling the story, this teenager stood up and quickly walked out of the room in distress.  One of our youth workers followed close behind and found out that this teenager also struggled with cutting and could no longer walk alone in the struggle.

This student suspended disbelief and chose to be engaged by story. This ancient form of storytelling—Jewish Agada (Rabbinical Storytelling)—had become so real to her that she began wrestling with some of the biggest issues she’d ever faced in her young life. She heard Chloe’s story and realized that it was her story.  For this reason, some in the medical field have implemented storytelling as a mode of healthcare communication, bringing attention to issues ranging from suicide to AIDS prevention.

Communication expert Dr. Brian Leggett says, “A story is a narrative which actively engages the listener’s sense-making faculties. It helps the listener to make sense of what is being said and to make the right associations. It helps the listener to think widely by stimulating his or her imagination.”7

We’ve discovered that storytelling can break down walls of cynicism and mental distraction and lead listeners toward engagement. The art, then, is in assimilating fiction into belief. In order to practice that art of assimilation, we need to create intentional dialog and discussion.

Less Preaching, More Conversation

As youth workers who are passionate about inviting our students into the Story of God, it is important that we follow in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.  Jesus was the master storyteller, and true to Rabbinic tradition, one-third of his teaching was done through the art of storytelling.  Similar to Jesus’ parables, modern day storytelling is a method that might provoke more questions than answers. The story becomes a conversation starter, not a conversation finisher. This isn’t always true, of course. As youth listen and engage in the story, they can process some of the answers because the story meets every teenager in a different spot of their faith experience.

Where the story is the conversation starter, the follow-up discussion and dialogue is the conversation continuer. (I would say “finisher,” but most often that’s not the case.) It’s paramount that we communicators open up times of honest dialogue and questioning. Just like a rousing conversation after a good movie, most of the impact and application will occur after we tell the story. It’s like spending a large amount of time setting the table and displaying a beautiful meal, and now it’s time to call our guests to sit around the table and take it all in. We communicators become not simply the primary medium for communication but hosts of a feast of questions and conversation.

Does this mean we simply offer up our opinions and spiritual insights through our stories and then let them all be cast out into a sea of subjectivity? Absolutely not. It’s very important that we keep the group centered on the topic while still leaving room for honest conversation and questions.8

However, we must keep in mind that our teenagers are told conflicting stories and “truths” all the time, whether they’re at school, on the sports field, at home, or in some form of relationship. Let’s allow our teaching to give way to guided, thoughtful, and Spirit-led conversation in the hopes of inspiring them to begin the process of entering into a living, active, and very real relationship with Jesus.

If Only I Had a Guitar in My Hands

I have a friend named Robbie. He’s been a part of our high school community for the last three years or so. For the most part, he attends our gatherings and is well liked and respected by his peers and adult leaders.

Robbie is a guitar freak. He plays it, listens to others play it, and flat-out lives it. And I have no doubt that he’d be proud of that description. He has the long curly locks of most “good” rockers, a penchant for tie-dyed shirts, and an endless supply of Converse shoes. When I ask Robbie what his favorite activity is at any given point in the day, he puts his index finger over his closed mouth and ponders his response. Fitting to his character, he responds, “I would have to say either listening to guitar riffs of my favorite artists on CD or playing my guitar without distraction.” This kid would eat his guitar if such a feat wouldn’t scratch it.

Robbie also is a very intellectual and thoughtful student of the Christian life. He’s not afraid to ask hard questions, and he’s a model to many regarding how to live a life of honest transparency and openness to accountability. I respect him very much. That said, Robbie has a hard time focusing during any kind of teaching because he self-admittedly drifts off into guitar world within about two minutes of the start of the talk. He recently told me (during a time when I was not teaching through story, incidentally) that he was really interested in what I had to say and would like to know more. But he just couldn’t pull himself away from pondering how to “play that A-minor with a harmonic that the Allman Brothers nail every time” in one of his favorite two hundred songs of theirs. (I felt so affirmed and self-assured in regard to my teaching abilities after hearing that—defeated by an A-minor with a harmonic. Awesome!)

As a result, while Robbie would often come to our weekly gatherings on Thursday nights, during the talk he’d either play his guitar (outside) or do his best to listen for at least a few minutes.

Then we started a new story.

I don’t remember the topic exactly, but there was something about it that caught Robbie’s attention. And not the two-minute span I was used to seeing, but twenty minutes of attention followed by thirty minutes of dialogue attention. At this point I began wrestling with some of the ideas articulated above. Scientifically, what was it about storytelling that allowed an otherwise hard-to-capture mind like Robbie’s to actively participate in what I was saying? There had to be something to it.

And apparently there is.

I’m not proposing you scratch all your future teaching and permanently teach through story.  I don’t!  But teaching through the art of storytelling is a great communication tool to add to our communication toolbox as we seek to engage and invite our teenagers into the dynamic Story of God.

Action Points

 

  • Consider teaching your next topic series through story (i.e. sex & dating, forgiveness, etc…)
  • Instead of preparing a three point propositional teaching, begin to build an outline of your story as a modern day parable, while taking into close consideration your audience and context.  As a 1st century Rabbi in the Roman Empire, Jesus was exceptional at this.
  • Create characters, a setting and plot that integrate Scripture and illuminates your topic.  Try to develop characters and setting that your teenagers can relate to and have fun with it!
  • Prepare follow-up discussion questions that unpack your story, which ground it in the everyday realities of your teenagers.
  • Tell your story with confidence and conviction!  You can tell your whole story in one night or you can tell it over the course of a few weeks and build momentum by ending each session on a cliffhanger.  Your teenagers will hardly be able to wait to come back and hear the rest of the story!
  • Follow up with group conversation, questions and dialog that allow the main points of your story to take root in the hearts and minds of your teenagers.

Constantine, Conversion and the Sales Pitch

This is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling, which releases in paperback today!

As a direct result of these historical events, the teaching of the religious Christians took a turn in a whole new direction. In response to the clinical baptism that had become so common starting with Constantine, preachers and theologians developed a new genre of sermon that contained threat and appeal. Much had to do with not delaying their salvation and was communicated through solemn monologue and increased theatrics. In reference to the awesome‖ and hair-raising writers of the day, it was said, “A powerful emotional and psychological impression [was put] upon the candidates in the hope of bringing about their conversion” (The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, 219).

I believe many of us teachers and communicators are prime candidates to fall victim to this arrogance within our teaching. For those of us who‘ve taught for extended periods, it may be easy to assume we can just put it on cruise control. We believe we can fall back into the lap of teaching that was once considered effective and expect our beautiful deliveries filled with humor, irony, and drama to clearly communicate the message of Jesus. Or we may believe that since we‘ve been with these teenagers for such a long time, we know what they need—it‘s simply our role as communicators to feed them their needed spiritual meals.

Or how about those of us who just graduated from college or seminary and believe we‘re arguably the best communicators or theologians since Billy Graham? It all seemed so clear in school, and we got lots of A‘s. So now it‘s time for the easy work of harvesting souls, right? Everyone will be blown away by our superior knowledge and charisma and—BOOM! The masses may now come forward.

Gregory of Nazianzus, who was in Asia Minor during the era of Constantine, once offered himself as “the director of your soul.” We must take our roles as pastors, shepherds, teachers, and communicators seriously, but we must never take ourselves too seriously. It‘s not that we can‘t be confident; it‘s that we can‘t be arrogant. Only then can we be fully dependent on the Spirit. May our teaching never take the form of calling our teenagers to an immediate‖ conversion out of our arrogance based on a personal misinterpretation of who we are and how we view our roles.

Further, I believe this “speed it up” mentality in our teaching can be a direct result of our inability to trust in a God who‘s sovereign over every situation and every heart. Again, we begin to take ourselves too seriously. We avoid story because such a method of communication often prevents us from experiencing the satisfaction of spiritedly pounding home our profound points. But so what? Sometimes that intentional focus on a point may be necessary, but it‘s often more powerful and pointed when attained through conversation.

Don‘t get me wrong—this art of storytelling stuff can be hard on our modern, Western mindsets. Slow. Deliberate. Time consuming. Patience trying. It takes humility and willingness to evaluate our own motives and habits as teachers. I hope we‘ll always leave far more room for the Spirit‘s direction than for our own.


Parables and Hidden Messages

Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling releases in paperback this week!  You can pick up the paperback copy here or the Kindle version here.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 2, which explores Jesus’ use of parables (Jewish Agada) as a first century Rabbi.

It‘s important to remember that Jesus‘ parables sometimes contain hidden messages. And the messages aren‘t always clear. Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus tells a story and doesn‘t explain it, leaving the disciples to scratch their heads. Sometimes the messages are packed deep in cultural understanding, and other times they play out through characters and scenes that could be viewed from many different angles. Yet Jesus left a lot of room for conversation and interpretation.

The parables functioned the way all (good) stories function, by inviting hearers into the world of the story. They were designed to break open worldviews and to create new ones, encouraging listeners to identify themselves in terms of the narrative.” Pg. 181 – Jesus and the Victory of God, N.T. Wright

My Hebrew professor at Fuller Theological Seminary once told my class that he‘d heard parable defined as a puzzle, which he originally sourced from his language professor. I was intrigued by this understanding.

Puzzle Piece

As we know, a puzzle consists of many different pieces that come together to make one whole and comprehensive picture. Without all the pieces there‘s at best a fractured semblance of the intended image—since each piece is unique, necessary, and often beautiful in its own right.

When you get only a fleeting glimpse of a piece of fine art, it‘s impossible to fully appreciate its beauty; if you take time to study its complexities, however, you attain deeper levels of understanding. The same is true for the parable as a puzzle. The parable story gradually offers small glances at a work in progress that‘s building on itself. With each piece that drops in place, the story exposes formerly hidden truths. What‘s interesting is that the pieces of the parable puzzle may not create the same image for each listener, who assembles them in unique ways specific to his or her life experience and worldview.

In the same way our artfully created stories may affect one teenager in a completely different way than another. Therefore the most important variable is that the story is meeting them in some way, whether it inspires some listeners to give away all they own to the poor or develop a better relationship with a close friend. Only remember that as with a puzzle, our created stories have pieces, too—characters, plot, and setting—and listeners may relate to one piece more than another.

 

Stories of Redemption

This is an article I recently wrote for Youth Specialties that gives a small snapshot into some the heart and content of my book Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling. For the full article, click on the link below.

As I write this, I am traveling internationally seeking to build common ground between two people groups who have demonized one another through polarizing rhetoric and histories of resentment. Behind the caricatures I am amazed at the dynamic human stories of hope and perseverance that share so much in common with one another. In large part, it is the humanity of these stories I am seeking to illuminate with a group of fellow peacemakers.

Jesus lived and taught in a similar context of polarizing rhetoric, warring ideologies and religious division. Whether the militant propaganda of the Roman Empire or the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, each stood as a potential hurdle in the promotion of Jesus’ unifying story and reign of the Kingdom of God.

In the case of warring storylines, both the ancient and modern, the Story of God has the ability to transcend the rhetoric through the continued advance of God’s Kingdom as was inaugurated in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The Story of Jesus’ reign swallows up the stories of infighting and offers a hope that invites all to participate in his Story of restoration. His Story redeems humanities’ stories.

Interestingly, as Jesus shares the good news of the Kingdom, he often employs storytelling that takes into account the warring storylines of his day. As a first century rabbi, he develops brilliant parables (known as Jewish Agada) that are rooted in reality, but are able to transcend the rhetoric and create a common ground that points to the hope of the Kingdom.

To read the rest of the article go to Youth Specialities where the article was originally published.

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