Why We Published This: The Audacious Seven

steve case is one of the most prolific youth ministry writers i’ve ever known. for 15 years or so, i’ve been trying to keep up with proposals from steve, and greenlighting as many as i can. you might know his work on books like The Book of Uncommon Prayer (and vol 2), Everything Counts, The Big Book of Case Studies, Road Rules, and many more. for the Cartel, steve wrote our very first book, The Youth Cartel’s (Unauthorized) Dictionary of Youth Ministry, as well as the Stations of the Cross curriculum. we’ve got a fun book coming out from steve in march called Bigger Badder Board Games. and we have a few more things in the hopper, just waiting for the right time.

so, yes, steve is prolific.

but the primary reason i’ve published steve so many times isn’t because of the sheer quantity of ideas he comes up with, or the speed at which he can write (which is mind=blowing, by the way), or how open he is to editorial input and changes. the reason i keep finding myself publishing steve’s ideas, year after year, is because he is one of the most creative people i have ever met.

9781942145066-coverThe Audacious Seven: Life Lessons from Seven Saints Who Didn’t Back Down, shows steve’s creativity. it’s a very outside-the-box curriculum (hard to use the word curriculum, as steve’s stuff rarely fits comfortably into preconceived categories) that looks at seven historic saints. but they are far from an academic lessons focused on information. instead, they use story to help teenagers think about bold living for jesus. you can use them as a series, or as one-offs (like the session on Patrick would be great near St. Patrick’s Day; the session on Nicholas at Christmas; and the session on Valentine at… well… Valentine’s Day).

here’s the official description:

What can we learn from the impudent, impertinent, insolent, presumptuous, cheeky, irreverent, brazen, shameless, defiant, fresh, mouthy, saucy, sassy, nervy, daring, fearless, intrepid, brave, courageous, valiant, heroic, plucky, daredevil, reckless, venturesome, mettlesome, gutsy, spunky, and temerarious servants of God?

The Audacious Seven looks at the lives of seven of God’s servants who went so far above and beyond the call that we refer to them as saints. Seven common everyday individuals who had the opportunity to crawl into a hole and hide, but instead looked adversity in the eye and with the power of the Spirit said, “Bring it on.” Teenagers will examine these saints not for their piety, but because their stories are part of our stories as believers. No matter what our denomination, these stories our part of our faith history and that makes them part of who we are as a church today.

it’s a downloadable resource, and includes this stuff:

A detailed introduction and overview of the curriculum for leaders explaining how to use The Audacious Seven, what we can learn from the saints, and why these stories matter today.

Seven lesson guides on the chosen saints: St. Patrick, St. Catherine, St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. Marina, St. Nicholas, and St. Valentine. Each lesson guide includes an introduction for leaders, dramatized stories and re-imaginings of the writings or lives of each saint, the prayers associated with or written by each saint, discussion questions, relevant Scripture, and ideas for actions that will inspire teenagers to take these life lessons and spiritual insights to heart.

download the FREE sample session (St. Patrick) here. and read this fun interview with steve about the product. then you’ll see why i think this thing is so cool.

FRIDAY NUGGET: resource allocation reveals values

Here’s a little test I’ve developed for determining real ministry values: resource allocation reveals values. So, your church might say, “we have a high value on our youth worker building meaningful relationships with teenagers.” But if your resources of time, money, energy, focus, creativity, people and space are dominantly used for prop up a Christian-y social club for teenagers with the measuring stick of how many are coming, or how many don’t leave and not return, then that value is suspicious. If you say, “I value fostering a community of safety and trust, where teenagers and express and process doubts,” but you spend the bulk of your time and energy planning programs…well…you get the point.

Alpha Film Series for youth

last year at the Simply Youth Ministry Convention, i sat down with a sharp young canadian youth leader named jason ballard. he wanted to talk to me about the series of films he and another guy had created for Youth Alpha. he talked about raising a quarter million dollars (or something like that) to really do it right, flying around the world to film on location. he spoke passionately about what they’d created, and his frustration that the films weren’t getting any meaningful distribution in the states.

a couple months later, i finally got around to watching the films. and i was blown away.

Alpha, in case you’re not familiar with it, is an open-handed and low-coercion approach to evangelism, originating in england. the approach is to host a series of exploratory meetings with people interested in talking about christianity. there’s no bait-and-switch. there are no high pressure tactics. in england and canada, Alpha has a seen great traction. a canadian youth ministry friend of mine recently ran a Youth Alpha course and found he had more teenagers coming than normally attend his youth group. Alpha, it seems to me, works really well in more post-christian contexts. Alpha has seen some traction in the states, but it’s been an uphill climb.

but here’s what i particularly noticed when watching the film series: the ‘basics of christianity’ topics are things that ALL youth workers would want their groups to be talking about! Sticky Faith and the National Study of Youth and Religion have shown us that even regular attenders of most of our youth ministries really don’t know what they believe. and if they can articulate a belief set, we might be surprised that it’s not exactly orthodox christianity (even if they think it is).

so The Youth Cartel decided to become a distributor of the Alpha Youth Film Series. ultimately, we’d love to see youth workers use it as a way to engage unchurched teenagers in dialogue about jesus and christianity. but i really believe it’s a one-of-a-kind resource for basics of the faith also, for any youth group. it’s SUPER high quality (you won’t be embarrassed).

here’s the official description:

The Alpha Youth Film Series is 12 video sessions designed to engage students in conversations about faith, life and Jesus.

Today’s youth are a savvy, diverse, and fast-paced generation, who are seeking for relevant truth and personal acceptance in a world that seems to offer both in things like money, fame, sex, drugs, sports, media, education, and careers. For many young people, Christianity is so ten years ago-a boring religion that my parents believed, but is no longer relevant in this 21st century culture. How can we make the timeless message of the Gospel applicable and interesting to our postmodern youth?

we have 3 things for sale in the Cartel store: a DVD set with one participant discussion guide, a flash drive with digital versions of everything, and individual (inexpensive) participant discussion guides (with bulk discounts).

YFS Sleeve drop shadow (1)the DVD set and flash drive include:
• Twelve 20 minute episodes
• Built-in discussion breaks
• Supporting discussion questions
• 3 training videos (for you and your team)

here are the topics this series covers:
Life: Is This It?
Jesus: Who is He?
Cross: Why Did Jesus Die?
Faith: How Can We have Faith?
Prayer: Why and How Do I Pray?
Bible: Why and How Do I Read the Bible?
Follow: How Does God Guide Us Into Full Life?
Spirit: Who Is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?
Fill: How Can I Be Filled With the Holy Spirit?
Evil: How Can I Resist Evil?
Healing: Does God Heal Today?
Church: What About the Church and Telling Others?

in short, i strongly encourage you to check this out. considering how robust this thing is, the price is really fantastic ($59.99 for the DVD set or flash drive).

here’s the video trailer to wet your appetite:

Official Trailer Youth Alpha Film Series from Alpha USA on Vimeo.

FRIDAY NUGGET: our calling is to be present

Our calling is not about programs. Our calling is about people – particularly, teenagers. And teenagers, being created in the image of God, are wired for belonging. Here me on this: teenagers do not experience belonging because of our wonderful programs; they experience belonging when someone is present to them. Then, they get an appetizer for the belonging they can experience through the presence of Christ. And, ultimately, isn’t that what we long for? Isn’t that what our calling is all about?

Why We Published This: The Jesus Gap

9781942145028.main.1000february 22, 2014 (less than a year ago): the first Open Grand Rapids. i wasn’t there, but adam mclane was. late in the day, he sent me a text telling me everything was going well. but he also said that the presenter who totally blew everyone away was a chicago area youth worker named jen bradbury. he told me how jen has presented on her original research about churched teenagers and their christology. he suggested a publishing chat was in order.

1:30pm, february 27, 2014: i chatted with jen. wow — yes, it quickly became clear that jen’s research (as part of her MA in youth ministry leadership at huntington) had raised some important issues about christian teenagers and jesus. it was 100% clear to me that we needed to help give jen a platform to speak to youth workers about what she’d discovered. and, thankfully, jen wanted to jump in.

february 28, 2014: jen sent me most of a full book proposal. at least it had the pertinent bits. it was a fantastic start. we chatted again that day and i made a handful of minor suggestions.

march 3, 2014: jen sent me a revised proposal based on my input, as well as a sample chapter.

march 10 i emailed jen with this: “jen bradbury, how is it that you are just now surfacing as a voice that needs to be heard in the world of youth ministry!? seriously — you are the real deal. your expanded TOC is excellent, and is SO CLEARLY a book that needs to be written and read.”

within another week or two, we had a signed publishing contract with jen. she wrote like a mad-woman, and turned in the manuscript in mid-june, and after some frenetic months of editing and design and printing and stuff, we released The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus in early October.

for those not familiar with book publishing, let me clarify: that’s an insane timeline.

but we pushed hard and fast because we were 100% convinced this was a book that needed to be published, and that it was a book that every youth worker simply must read. after all, if the majority of our teenagers have massive misinformation about who jesus was and is, then what the heck are we even doing? the beauty of jen’s book, though, is that while her research reveals some surprising and frustrating–even discouraging–news about what our teenagers actually believe about jesus, there are totally actions we can take to address the problem. in other words, it’s a hopeful book.

here’s what andy root (in my opinion, one of the top three minds in youth ministry) had to say in the foreword he wrote:

So here we stand, needing not simply to help our young people possess information about Jesus, but rather to invite them to experience the living Christ. We are asking them to take these experiences of Jesus’ presence and absence in their lives and reflect on them through Scripture and church tradition—not in order to know information, but to give testimony to the depth of their experience. And this, in my mind, is the gap—the gap between young people’s experience of the living Jesus and their ability to give coherent and thoughtful reflection upon it. If we can help them do this kind of reflection, it might transform their lives and be a rich blessing to the church.

Reading Jen’s book will prove helpful to bridging this gap. It will make you think; and most importantly, it will move you into the depth of ministry where the living Jesus is always present, taking what is dead and bringing it back to life.

and here are a few other opinions:

Jen Bradbury is seasoned, wise, and warm, as might be expected of a youth minister. She’s also a tenacious researcher with mad writing skills and a desperately important problem to dissect. That’s why The Jesus Gap managed to exceed my expectations. This book needs serious attention from anyone who loves Jesus, loves kids, and loves the Church. There’s hope in these pages!
- Dave Rahn, Sr. VP, Youth for Christ/USA, Director, MA in Youth Ministry Leadership at Huntington University

The Jesus Gap is a must-read book for four reasons. First, it discovers, critiques, and champions the place of Christology in youth ministry. Second, it is a rare gem: National research done with rigor that helps us find a confident way forward. Third, it was written by a veteran youth pastor with a proven and current record of fruitful leadership. Finally, Jen Bradbury is a gifted thinker and leader in youth ministry who leads, teaches, and nurtures as well as any I’ve seen. You can be confident of the quality of the data, the theological wisdom, the practical application, and the integrity and Christ-centeredness of the one who writes.
- Terry Linhart, PhD, Author and Educator at Bethel College – Indiana, TerryLinhart.com

In The Jesus Gap, Jen Bradbury offers deep insight into the way teenagers view Jesus. Full of important questions and a critical look at what we are telling teens about him, Jen offers a wealth of practical ways we can positively impact what our youth believe about Jesus. Regardless of your denomination or the size of your ministry, this book is filled with valuable wisdom for how pastors or parents can play a key role in strengthening the faith of our youth. I am left feeling hopeful that when we introduce teenagers to the true Jesus, we will open the door to a faith that will last a lifetime.
- Doug Fields, Author of Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, Co-founder of downloadyouthministry.com

so, yeah — here are my questions to you, dear blog reader:
1. are you a youth worker?
2. if you answered ‘yes’ to question 1, have you read The Jesus Gap yet?
3. if you answered ‘no’ to question 2, what is your frickin’ problem?

(oh, two more things: we asked jen to speak on this subject at The Summit last november, and her excellent, short talk is available here. we want to take another step and help your teenagers come to know and experience the real jesus; so we’re just starting the development of a Jesus Gap devotional, with jen as the author. watch for that to release sometime in 2016!)

two overlaid planes of ministry

Dream about this with me. What would it look like for you to live into a ministry that takes place on two overlaid planes: organic, contextualized youth work within the existing social networks your teenagers are living in; AND, a Kingdom-of-God gathering of the tribes–a place where our “preferences” (our sub-cultural norms) aren’t ignored, and aren’t diminished, but melt away in the context of a greater unity of the Spirit?

it’s a parallel mindset to the thinking behind the mash-up word GLOCAL (global AND local).

The Role of Camps and Retreats

i write an every-other-month back page column for Youthwork Magazine in the UK. in the issue that just came out, my column was about the role of camps and retreats. as winter retreat season kicks off in the youth ministry world, i thought these might be some helpful thoughts to some of my U.S. youth ministry friends. and, as i start preparing for a handful of winter retreats i’m speaking at, this is a reminder to me!

Here’s some good news: teenagers in the 21st century still respond to Jesus. In some ways, this is truer than ever! The lives of early and middle-adolescents have changed dramatically from when you and I were their age (no, don’t be tempted to say, “it’s really the same.”). But this shift to more pain, more confusion, more stress, and more isolation make the Jesus way of living truly revolutionary: something teenagers are hungry for.

Today’s teens are hungry for something to be passionate about. And the message of Christ is wonderfully counter-cultural. While their schoolwork often calls for busy-ness, Jesus calls them to a relationship of trust and slowness. While their sports teams often call them to performance, Jesus calls them to a place where their worth is pre-established. While their parents, and even their peer clusters (and, unfortunately, even their churches), call them to wear a variety of masks to hide the pain in their lives, Jesus calls them to be themselves—the selves he so perfectly loves.

A primary issue today’s frenzied teenagers is isolation. Teenagers today live in a world either completely or almost-completely isolated from adults. And this experience of isolation goes deeper: teenagers often experience isolation from self, others, and the world around them. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ can penetrate this isolation, and still bring about the kind of radical transformation we hope for in all our lives.

But in the blur of everyday life, it’s tough for teenagers to experience these passion-worthy truths. But camps and retreats still provide “mini monastic experiences”—opportunities to pull away from the distractions of normal life and practice a slower-paced and spiritually focused daily rhythm.

In my rush to move away from manipulation of teenagers (it’s not hard to get kids to “respond”, if you use the kind of manipulative techniques often perpetrated in our history of youth ministry—especially when it comes to “decision night” at camp), I once shied away from calling students to a decision. I was so conscious of not manipulating decisions that I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

But in more recent years, I’ve come to realize a couple things about these decisions (especially at camps and retreats): First, it’s very rare to find people who made one-and-only-one decision for Christ. Most of us make a series of decisions. In fact, most of us need to make a “decision for Christ” pretty much every day!

Second, teenagers (and adults) still need to make stake-in-the-ground choices. “I’m not going to be a part of this behavior anymore.” “I’m going to re-arrange my priorities based on this new information.” “I’m going to follow Jesus this year.” These choices—this ongoing series of spiritual choices in our lives—become re-directors, guiding bumpers in our journey toward Christ.

So, finally, I’ve come to see spiritual decisions (especially the “biggies” made at camps and retreats) as Ebenezers.

Remember that great Old Testament word? Samuel put a big rock up, called it an “Ebenezer”, and said it was to commemorate a spot where God met us (1 Samuel 7:12). An Ebenezer is a spiritual marker. Significant spiritual decisions—when not manipulated—become spiritual markers for students. And when a 15 year-old girl finds, six months later, that she doesn’t “feel” God anymore, she—hopefully—can reflect back on her Ebenezer from summer camp and say to herself, “But I know I felt God then; I know God is real, because I know God was real then.”

Sure, this is a bit simplistic; and even Ebenezers can be forgotten with enough landscape in-between. But a series of spiritual markers seems to most accurately reflect the reality of the spiritual life for those of us with a few more years perspective.

But we have hope! We know (not from scientific proof, but from our own life experience) that this God-stuff is the real deal—and following Jesus is the only way to really experience the fullness of life.

I want to be a youth worker who never manipulates or coerces teenagers into spiritual decisions. And I refuse to use certain types of programs to manufacture behavior and commitment. Instead: I am an environmental host, creating spaces where teenagers have an increased opportunity to experience Jesus. And that’s why I still love, love, love the unique out-of-the-ordinary environment of camps and retreats. Let’s help teenagers build some Ebenezers!

my 2014 travel year, by the numbers


  • Trips (not including personal stuff): 31
  • Stops (some trips had more than one stop): 46
  • Airline mileage: 144,742
  • Flight segments: 141


  • Train segments: 1
  • Nights in a hotel, camp, conference center or guest bed: 124
  • US States visited (not including layovers): 17 (CA, MI, GA, MA, CT, PA, NJ, SC, OH, WA, NC, AL, CO, TX, TN, VA, IN)
  • Foreign countries visited: 3 (England, Canada, Belize)
  • Car rentals (not including a couple in-town rentals): 34
  • Car rental Days: 86
  • Nights stuck in a layover city due to missed connections: 4


my bucket list, end o’ 2014 edition

i am a person not short of longings and daydreams. and i collect experiences like others collect trinkets. so it should not be a surprise that i think ‘bucket lists’ are fun. in fact, at the first meeting of each new cohort of the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program, i have participants give us a little glimpse into who they are by sharing 3 bucket list items: one they have done in the last few years, one they’d like to do and probably will, and one they’d like to do but probably never will.

so, i’m gonna put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were) to list some of my own. some of these were already in place; but others i’m making up on the spot.

in no particular order:

  1. continue to visit one new country, at least every other year. i’d love to visit one new country per year, but that’s not always reasonable. however, i have 2 (and maybe 3) on deck for 2015 already (Italy, Spain, and maybe Jamaica). i’m at about 41 or 43 countries visited so far, and i’d certainly like that to cross 50. 75 would be nice.
  2. visit the two remaining states i have not been to (Vermont and Idaho), merely to complete the 50.
  3. vacation with my wife in Italy for our 30th anniversary for 3 full weeks (this one is likely, for 2016).
  4. write a handful of books for the broader christian market (meaning: not youth ministry or teens or parents). i have my first–Hopecasting–releasing in march. how it does will greatly determine whether this is a one-and-done item, or a broader impact and new area of growth for me.
  5. grow The Youth Cartel to a sustainable place where i’m less necessary. i imagine about 5 or 7 staff, a fun office, ongoing creativity and impact, and the ability for me to play an active role without being so busy.
  6. bucket list

  7. be involved in raising up a couple UH-MAZE-ING next leaders for The Youth Cartel–people who are WAY more talented than me and WAY more likely to instigate a revolution in youth ministry.
  8. be an 80 year-old middle school ministry volunteer, if i make it that long (in life, that is, not in ministry).
  9. speaking of being less busy, i would love to scale back but still be meaningfully involved in youth ministry and Cartel-y things, post 60.
  10. move to a house with an ocean view.
  11. have a cabin in the mountains where i can retreat whenever the heck i feel like it.
  12. a harley. or a vespa. (yeah, i know those couldn’t be more different; but i’d love them both and realize that’s absurd.)
  13. get asked to speak in chapel at my alma mater.
  14. paint. (i loved this back in college, and would love to revive it when i reach that partial retirement mentioned above.)

and then, all the more noble things that don’t quite qualify as bucket list items, like launching two independent and passionate adults (who are currently teenage and young adult), loving my wife better, and stuff like that. but, yeah, those aren’t really bucket list items.

how about you? what’s the item on your list that you might actually do, one day?

my (youth) ministry language pet peeves

everyone has pet peeves, right? i know i do. by their nature and name, ‘pet’ peeves are subjective and personal. so i fully admit that while there are four terms/phrases i’m quite confident we should do away with in ministry circles, i realize these are my issue. in other words, you are more than welcome to disagree and be wrong!


several years ago now, i was hosting a group of 20 junior high pastors for a few days of interaction and thinking. and christian smith, the noted sociologist responsible for the National Study of Youth and Religion was our guest for a half day. at the end of our time with him, i asked, “if you could get all youth workers to stop doing one thing, what would it be?” i expected his response to have something to do with how we talk about or lead teenagers in faith formation. but he surprised me with, “I wish all youth workers would stop using the word ‘students’ when referring to teenagers.” (or he may have said ‘young people,’ or some other term.) he went on, “‘student’ is a role, not an identity.”

Smith’s little statement had a big impact on my thinking, and i’ve come around to completely agree. when i’m speaking about teenagers these days, i usually use that word (teenagers); and when i’m speaking to them, i usually use something aspirational, like ‘young men’ and ‘young women,’ or something similar. i agree (i’m projecting that some of you are thinking this) that we don’t have a perfect term. but i try hard not to use ‘students’ unless i’m specifically talking about that role.


along the same lines, i try very hard not to use the term ‘kids’ when referring to (or even more so when talking to) teenagers. really, i feel MUCH more strongly about this one than i do ‘students.’ i think it’s demeaning and diminishing. i know it’s easy, and a natural part of our language. but language communicates all sorts of meaning. language teaches.


this one isn’t so much a ‘youth ministry’ term; but i see and hear it used all the time in youth ministry circles when referring to female youth workers, female volunteers, and teenage girls. the term ‘lady’ refers to behavior. a woman is (in the true sense of the word) considered to be a lady if she is ‘behaving’ properly, meeting the imposed expectations of ladylike behavior. in the same sense that ‘students’ refers to role, not identity, ‘ladies’ refers to behavior, not identity. you might think i’m overstating this, but the use of this word does harm to women, implying that their value and worth is based on their behavior.

‘love on’

and finally, a phrase. youth workers seem to think it’s great to say that they want to ‘love on students’ or ‘love on teenagers.’ i understand (and very support) the sentiment behind this. but it is simply creepy language usage. find another way to explain your good and worthy intentions. ‘show love’ or simply ‘love’ are both much better.

so: what ministry language pet peeves do you have?