Monday, August 20, 2007

Why [We've] Given Up On Youth Group

Last month I had the privilege of meeting a recent high school grad named Natalie Stadnick at YOUTH 2007, the United Methodist youth convention in Greensboro, NC. She attended my workshop on The God-Hungry Imagination--even though it was technically for "adults only"--and afterwards shared her enthusiasm for what I had to say. Specifically, she confirmed my suspicion that many spiritually-minded youth are just as alarmed as we are by "pervasive teen inarticulacy" regarding matters of faith (Soul Searching, 131), and wish their churches would do more to intentionally teach them. Students like Natalie (assuming there are more like her) are fed up with typical church youth programming and are hungry for the "narratable world" of scripture through meaningful study and worship.

For an inside look at Natalie's thoughts on this and other issues, check out her blog "Take My Hand" at Her post "Why I've Given up on Youth Group" (under "Popular Posts," top left), caught the attention of the youth ministry world back in August 2006. She heads off to college this week, and I can't wait to see where her story leads next!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Endorsements for "The God-Hungry Imagination"

I'm thrilled to have the following kudos from such a stellar group of ministry/culture-watch gurus:

This is not a book that will simply inform you. Sarah Arthur’s intent is to transform your soul and ministry, to help you re-envision your life in the light of the Gospel itself.
- From the foreword by
Ron Foster and Kenda Creasy Dean
Authors of The Godbearing Life

The youth ministry world today is re-thinking many of its assumptions, paradigms, and practices, searching for different approaches that might be more faithful and effective in contemporary culture. Sarah Arthur offers a creative and important contribution to these reconsiderations. [Her book] deserves to be widely read and discussed.
- Christian Smith
University of Notre Dame
Author, Soul Searching

Sarah Arthur’s God-Hungry Imagination is welcome evidence that youth ministry has entered the post-gadget era. She reminds us of a deep, if forgotten truth: human beings are story-telling, story-hearing, and story living beings. She shows us how to cultivate youths’ capacities for imaginatively dwelling in the Christian Story. And, along the way, she blesses us with some very good stories of her own.
- Fred P. Edie
Duke Divinity School
Director, Duke Youth Academy
for Christian Formation

Good stories, says Sarah Arthur, aren’t out to make a point. They are the point. And they’re powerful. Arthur even calls them “subversive.” They can wake you up and shake you up. When the Holy Spirit is present, they have the power to transform young lives and revitalize a tired youth ministry. Sarah seems to be onto something, and we who care about the spiritual health of young people would do well to carefully consider what she has to say.
- Chris Lutes
Editor, Ignite Your Faith
(formerly Campus Life magazine)

Beyond propositions, beyond even the elements of theme and plot, lie mystery and meaning. Arthur takes us on a delightful journey down a path of imagination and narrative, inviting us to become ‘bards’—stewards of God’s story to young people—and to have faith in the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. I’m looking forward to sharing this one with friends and colleagues.
- Will Penner
Editor, The Journal of Student Ministries

The God-Hungry Imagination challenges the ‘Mc Jesus’ culture of youth ministry that often seeks the latest ‘fad’ to attract youth. A gifted storyteller, Sarah Arthur offers a thoughtful perspective on the use and power of story to transform thoughts and lives. With assurance and conviction, Sarah provides insight into imagination as a source of spiritual growth.
- Beth Miller
Founding director, Strangely Warmed Players
Author of Worship Feast Dramas (Abingdon)

Having put together one too many supposedly “relevant” VBS or youth programs themed on a cheez-wiz Hollywood movie, I am hungry for this book. Sarah Arthur is a rare find. She is attentive to the needs of young people and eager to convey the richness of an orthodoxy that defies simple relevance. My eldest daughter, eager right now to answer whether Star Trek’s cybernetic character “Data” has a soul, presses her church teachers to tell stories that intersect and complicate the popular stories to which youth are privy. Sarah Arthur will be a gift to those who help youth to know their own soul, and to know it saved in ways that invite us into a lifetime of story-searching and telling.
- Amy Laura Hall
Duke Divinity School
Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics
Director, Doctor of Theology Program

Faith remains a vital part of most Americans’ lives, but conveying that timeless message to new generations is a challenge, especially now that our culture is so fragmented and so many messages compete for our attention. In her new book, Sarah Arthur argues persuasively that pastors, teachers and parents should reach back and reclaim the powerful narratives that were so important in reconnecting earlier generations with the faith. Standing in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner, Arthur explains why it is so important to connect teenagers today with some of the timeless narratives handed down to us. It’s in remembering those powerful stories that young people begin to connect the seemingly scattered elements in their own lives with a far larger, global community beyond the walls of their congregations. It’s time to set aside any lingering anxiety that evangelical Christians may still harbor about our narrative imagination, she tells us, and trust in the faithful influences of stories that already have swept thousands of lives into the family of faith.
- David Crumm
Detroit Free Press Religion Writer

"Large and Startling Figures"?

Flannery O'Connor, the great southern fiction writer, in discussing how American culture has become numb to true religious faith, wrote, "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures" (Mystery and Manners). After an evening watching "Spiderman 3" at the local $1.50 theater, I wonder if the cultural tide has shifted rather too much in the large-and-startling direction. Rather than subtlety and indirectness, we now rely on the shock-and-awe method of storytelling--e.g., our Superhero's enemies pray to crucifixes in church even as our Superhero attempts to rid himself of evil up in the belltower. (Afterwards, Spidey even takes a shower, prompting my husband to whisper sarcastically "baptism?") I'm guessing O'Connor would be appalled.

Fifty years after her generation, I wonder if we've become much too attached to our large and startling figures. Perhaps we should retract a bit, look into the microscope rather than the telescope, take a step back from the grotesque and become wise as serpents, innocent as doves again. Postmoderns have become numb to whatever appears on a two-story-high screen, to the goosebump method of capturing the imagination. What if the church went for the gospel writ small? And what does that look like anyway? Stories of everyday people taking out recyclables, welcoming the stranger, tutoring a child--life in miniature, in all its iconographic details...Life as icon, as worship.