Tag Archives: teenage faith

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!)

youth pastors need a title change

The title “Youth Pastor” has implication.

Whether you’re a professional Christian (meaning, you’re paid by a church or other organization), or a volunteer youth worker, you’re likely reading this because you’re a youth worker. And that title implies something. Of course, exactly what it implies is very subjective, and includes heaps of expectations, inferences, values and duties.

Most commonly, I find that the implication of the Youth Pastor (or Youth Minister, or Director of Youth Ministries, or Student Ministries Pastor, or Youth Director) title is this: Program Planner for Teenagers. This has been the case for at least four decades. And while you might chafe if someone in your church or community suggested “Program Planner for Teenagers” as your official job title, it’s the implication, the expectation, for most of us.

Maybe you’re wondering if that’s really true in your context or not. Here’s a little test I’ve developed for determining real values (which, by the way, are the driving force behind the real meaning of “Youth Pastor” in your situation): resource allocation reveals values. So, your church might say, “we have a high value on our youth pastor 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, 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.

I’m not picking a fight with the title of Youth Pastor. It is what it is. And I’m not one for pretentious new world titles like “Lead Teen Experience Architect” or “Director of Young Person Formation” that sound nifty, but don’t deliver anything more than a fleeting sense of hipness.

No, let’s leave Youth Pastor alone. But let’s change the implication.

Recent research into what sustainable faith in teenagers really looks like delivers some critical off-centering hip-checks to the old implication of Program Planner. The reality is that teenagers can be wonderfully engaged in our programs for years, but not develop a sustainable faith. We’ve built programs that are wonderfully effective at delivering the results we’ve built them for: teenagers who appear to have an active faith as long as they’re connected to our ministry. But as soon as they’re no longer in our prescribed age-range, that faith is no longer sustainable.

What the research has revealed, among other things, is that teenagers need to experience a multi-generational connection to the whole church, not only to the youth group. In fact, those teenagers who feel a meaningful connection to their church tend to hold onto their faith into their young adult years whether or not they participated in a youth group.

So here’s the suggested implication change. Instead of Youth Pastor meaning Program Planner, let’s move toward Youth Pastor meaning Banner Bearer for Teenagers. You can swap out other verbiage in place of Banner Bearer if you want: Champion, or Advocate, or even Gadfly (a personal favorite of mine). But the implication remains the same: our role is to act as a connection conductor, helping teenagers find meaningful integration into the body of Christ, not isolating them into an age-group ghetto. Our role is to speak into the broader context of the church, not allowing them to forget about their calling to teenagers.

You might be thinking: I don’t have the power to make that change. Ah, you might be surprised. Banner Bearers don’t have to be empowered to do much more than carry the banner; and when you wave it well, and wave it often, some will respond (and you might even wear down some of the resistance over time). This kind of change takes times (years, even). But it has to start with you and me: as we shed the skin of Program Planner, and move into a new self-image as Youth Workers.

(And, no, Kurt, i’m not being anti-program.)

**by the way – I just thought of this after posting, and have come back to add – this is basically what April Diaz will be presenting on at The Summit.

youth ministry in light of adolescent brain development

these past couple days, i was at a small gathering of youth workers in millersburg, ohio (not far from canton), called seismos. joel daniel harris organized this event last year, focusing on youth ministry 3.0, after ys canceled the “future of youth ministry summit” he had planned on attending. this year, he asked me to join them as a conversation facilitator, with a focus on adolescent brain development. everyone had (in theory) read barbara strauch’s important book, the primal teen, in preparation. there were about 30 youth workers present, and our dialogue was rich (as were the times of play!).

two of the guys there, in particular, have been blogging notes. here are some of their posts:

from tom roepke…

seismos 2010 – the adolescent brain day 1

seismos 2010 – day 2 – “journey not destination”

siesmos 2010 – the image of a 15year old disciple

seismos 2010 – day 3 – the practical

from adam lehman…

seismos 2010 – rules of engagement

great quotes from seismos 2010

a 15 year-old disciple #seismos2010

faith development in relation to brain development

failure friendly youth ministry

i’m guessing both guys, along with joel daniel, will be posting more in the days to come; so check back to their blogs for more.