Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Faith as Story: Reclaiming Youth Ministry and the Art of Storytelling

One of the reasons the message of Jesus and the work of the church has gone so stale is because, for many, Christianity is about words, statements, and concepts we must agree to be true in order to belong. We have substituted Jesus’ riddles with elongated confessions. No wonder many are pondering, what’s the point?

But to follow Jesus is to be all about stories. Jesus' invitation is to become story-hearers and story-tellers, ridiculous role players and clumsy characters within an unfolding drama of love and generosity, reconciliation and promise for the world to be made new and right again.

This story is called Resurrection and we, this blogger included, have crucified it with our ecclesial confessions and dogmatics most of the world neither understands nor cares about.

Especially teenagers.

But story, now that’s another story.

Maybe that’s why the protagonist in the Biblical story, Jesus Messiah, told so many.

It’s also why youth workers and pastors must become better at not only telling stories,* but also equipping youth to share their faith stories. We need to reclaim, especially as mainline youth ministries, the lost art of testimony and narrative evangelism.

Actually, the whole church would benefit from such a paradigmatic shift.

“Our youth ministries are about trying to develop passionate students who will engage in the work of God and live as an extension of Jesus’ mission as understood through Luke 4:17-21. We’re consistently attempting to inspire the rising generations to be storytellers- God’s witnesses.”

Chris Folmsbee, Story, Signs. And Sacred Rhythms 139

Our youth ministries, mine included, are still situated within old paradigms where we open the craniums of teenagers, dump in all the information and theology we can, and expect when we seal that sucker back up youth will awaken from our programs as thoughtful and creative practioners of the faith.

We may then be left disappointed and confused when youth don't live up to such expectations, as if they needed yet another expectation to live up to. We are bewildered when they stop coming to youth group, unable to articulate faith language, increasingly disinterested in reading Scripture, and maybe even struggle to respond to the simple question, "why do you love Jesus?"

Maybe this is because the stories within the Story has not gripped them? Have we failed a generation of youth by not helping them see their life as a story interwoven within the Jesus story?

Kenda Dean says it, as usual, better than I can in what she calls the "pilgrim principle":

“Without a story to tell, there is no faith; without a language to tell our story, Christianity remains on mute- and the church’s missional imagination atrophies. The gospel is unambiguous: good news is meant to be shared. The pilgrim principle inherent in Christianity- the gospel's boundary-crossing imperative, the good news 'gone viral'- insists that God's message of good news is not just for us. Enacting the pilgrim principle in youth ministry means that families and congregations hand on the story of faith, not as a generic tale of niceness but as the revelation that God loves us too much to lose us, a story that comes to us through the messy particularity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the God-story that the church confesses, and that families and faith communities must articulate for teenagers called to run from the tomb to tell: ‘Here’s how it went, here’s what I saw. I’ve been there and I’m going back!” (Almost Christian 156)

I have been convicted of late by my lack of storytelling and the minimal amount of opportunities our youth ministry has provided for youth to contemplate and illustrate their faith stories. When we have, like this past Sunday or at the end of confirmation programs each year, the proclamation of the gospel through the individual faith stories of youth has more umph and influence than anything I can say as their youth pastor. Youth who listen are affirmed and their faithful imaginations are provoked. They are told, through the witness of their peers, yes, I can do this. I am a part of this. The Jesus story is my story, too.

So over the course of the next few weeks, as we continue our series of storytelling, "Why We Love Jesus," I am both looking for and developing a few resources to help youth with illustrating and sharing their faith stories.

I am so excited for what's ahead.

“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

“Being a Christian…isn’t about agreeing to a certain way; it is about embodying a certain way. It is about living as an incarnation of Jesus, as Jesus lived as an incarnation of God. It is about being Jesus…in tennis shoes.” Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

“I think Jesus had in mind that we would not just be ‘believers’ but ‘participants.” Bob Goff, Love Does

Helpful Resources

Worksheet for Youth and Illustrating Faith Stories

My Faith Journey Written for Ordination

Why I Love Jesus and Red Minivans

* This is why when I do engage the confessions I tell the stories that surround them. When youth hear about the confessing church behind The Theological Declaration of Barmen, they are provoked to consider how the church speaks in the midst of present-day injustices.