youth ministry

Teenagers, Tragedy and a New Story

I spent this past week living on a small houseboat with bunch of freshman boys on Lake Shasta.  While living in extremely intimate quarters with 70 teenagers (4 houseboats) can be quite intimidating (and odoriferous!), it was not what intimidated me most about this time. 

Having committed to speak for this annual “Houseboats” trip close to 6 months ago, I wasn’t expecting the phone call I got from the youth pastor about a month before the trip was scheduled to start.  When he told me something terrible had happened to one of his students, my mind began to race as I reflected on my years as a youth pastor.  In short, two teenagers had been building sand tunnels during a youth group beach day and the tunnel collapsed with both of them in it.  While one was quickly and safely uncovered, the other was buried so deep that it look around 15 minutes to free him. 

This teenager is one of the core upper class boys in the group and many of the teenagers stood on the beach as they worked to free him.  Without a heartbeat or lung activity, he was flown to Stanford where they were able resuscitate him, but he remains in a coma. 

Listening to the youth pastor share this story nearly brought me to tears and I wondered, “What in the world am I going to have to say to teenagers who are wrestling through such a horrific tragedy?”  From a pastoral perspective, I wondered if my coming to speak was even the best idea.

Two things stood out to me at this point:

  1. The radical bravery of the youth pastor to navigate these rough waters, while shepherding the rest of the teenagers in his youth group.  The level of intimate community that was developing among the teenagers was unbelievable as they gathered to pray for their friend every night for three weeks following the accident. 
  2. This was a story I could relate to on an intimate level.  Sorrow and suffering while remaining faithful to the hopeful Story of God have shaped our lives (Jan and I) for the past two years since the loss of our first child.   

Unlike any other speaking opportunity I’ve had -- and as much as it terrified me to walk into this fragile context -- I knew this was one I had to faithfully step into.  The “speaking” would be secondary to simply coming alongside these teenagers in their pain, questions and potential hope. 

The week was awesome.  We wrestled through the Story of God and the reality that we are called to faithfully live in the way of the Cross (pain, suffering, self-sacrifice), while trusting the reality and hope of the Resurrection (past, present and future).  I honestly shared about our loss and told stories of hope that have been birthed out areas of pain. 

These teenagers were/are INCREDIBLE.  I have rarely seen such a tight knit community who were so adamantly seeking to be faithful to Jesus in light of difficult circumstances.  The boy’s younger brother was on the trip and led the way in maturity and transparency. 

It was honor to share life with this community for 6 days.  And as is often the case, I went in to do the teaching, but in the end, I was the one that was being taught through the lives of these teenagers and their heroic leaders. 

What would these teenagers’ lives look like if they experienced this tragedy outside the context of rich community?  Are our youth ministries creating and embodying atmospheres that are safe for teenagers to wrestle through the most difficult life realities?  

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.


Book Trailer #2: Theology of Storytelling

This is the second in a series of four book trailers put together by my friends Jon Hall and Peter Schrock.  It is easy to view the Bible as a compilation of individual stories that stand alone. As theologians and storytellers, it is important to understand the whole Bible as a grand narrative that is best (and most faithfully) told as one story. It is a story of redemption that continues to unfold today.

My book is currently available in Kindle form on Amazon.com.

It releases in paperback next month and is available for pre-order in the Youth Specialities Store.

As I continue to walk faithfully forward in writing, I feel called to serve the global Church and give a voice to the stories that are often forgotten.  It is a clear reality that I can’t be faithful in sharing and advocating through my writing without the support of others.  I need your partnership.

Here are two very simple ways:

1. Click here to “Like” my Facebook “Jon Huckins Writing” page.  This platform will focus solely on my writing.

2. Share this blog and/or share the book trailer video. Here is a link to the YouTube Channel with all the videos.

 

Lead By Position or Through Influence?

I recently wrote an article chronicling some of the key tensions I faced while working in the formal position of Youth Pastor.  It was published on the Youth Specialties site today.  Can you relate or have you experienced this tension?

It was my first day working in the local public high school.  The teenagers walk into my classroom, 70% listening to their iPods while the other 30% are busy texting.  They turn the chairs from their desks and face them towards their friends so they can carry on the conversation they were having on the bus.  Trying not to show my inner panic, I calmly walk around the room and keep a stern face while thinking, “I’m sure they will all focus once the final bell rings for class to start.”  One minute later the bell rings.  It might as well have been their mom asking them to take out the trash…no response.  I think, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I had worked at churches and been in youth ministry my whole adult life.  I owned the title of “youth pastor” and was pretty good at it.  Most little boys want to be baseball players or astronauts when they are little.  I wanted to be a youth pastor.  Weird?  Maybe, but there was some truth to that dream and aspiration.  I loved teenagers and being a youth pastor was a great context to serve them.

My time as a youth pastor was full of authentic relationships, generally; the teenagers came to me and I was the guy that was supposed to have all the answers and create a good time.  Everything was going smoothly until I started asking myself some hard questions…Read Complete Article Here

A Day in the Life of a Palestinian Revolutionary

I have enjoyed and been challenged by reading Burnside Writers Collective for the past 5+ years.  BWC is a Christian magazine presenting an alternative to franchise faith. It has Donald Miller roots and this past week I had the honor of having written the feature article. The article tells the story of one of our days in the West Bank/Palestine this last summer and of a Christian Palestinian couple that has chosen to give their lives to instill peace and reconciliation in the youth of the Middle East.  Below is the first paragraph, followed by a link to the complete article on BWC. 

“Even though my wife would be seven months pregnant by the time of our return, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study at Jerusalem University College this past summer.  As a guy who is captivated by the ways in which context and story are central to the Biblical narrative, our time was an incredibly academic and historically insightful experience.  More than anything, we were captivated by the way God’s Story is still being told today through the lives of his people, specifically the Palestinian Christians in the West Bank.  Walking alongside both Israeli’s and Palestinians opened our eyes to the brutal tensions on each side of the tragic Separation Wall and instilled in me a deep conviction to tell the story of those who are often forgotten by those of us in the West.  One such story is found in the lives of a revolutionary Palestinian couple in the West Bank…Click for complete article.

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