february 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!)