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Allow imagination and story to take center stage in your youth ministry! The Bible is full of stories. From the ""In the beginning..."" narrative to Jesus' parables, stories embody biblical and theological content in ways that sink into the imagination, take root and grow. Ministry pundits refer to our culture today as having ""lost its story."" Through neglect or rejection, generation next seems unplugged from the church's core beliefs. For the most part, young people simply do not feel part of the ongoing, communal story. Paradoxically, this has occurred when youth have fully embraced social networks that connect the world in self-obsessed ""I"" narratives. This world is starving for a story bigger than what you find on MySpace and YouTube. ""...Young people are bombarded on all sides by voices claiming to have something they need,"" Arthur writes. ""Sophisticated consumers, they're naturally resistant to anything that appears to be manipulating them into certain behaviors or beliefs - Christianity included. Somehow, we must 'steal past watchful dragons' in articulating the gospel. That's the task I explore in this book."" She shows how youth ministry can be planned as a transforming series of story moments instead of programming and worship as storytelling instead of a familiar form that's lost its ability to enchant. Furthermore, Arthur suggests that faith is an ongoing story arc in which the postmodern church is another chapter. Ministry that interconnects the heart, mind, soul, spirit and story will invite youth (anyone, really) into a larger story - the Story - and into God's waiting arms. Through Arthur's guidance, offering ""a splash of theological artistry"" as one reviewer writes, your church can reclaim the imagination's role in spiritual formation and reclaim the church as the living story. What kind of story is your church telling?
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Sarah Arthur is the author of numerous youth resources, including ""The God Hungry Imagination: The Art of Storytelling for Postmodern Youth Ministry"" (Upper Room Books) as well as the bestselling ""Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey through The Lord of the Rings"" (Tyndale). Before launching her freelance career, she served for seven years as the full-time youth director of Petoskey United Methodist Church in northern Michigan. Arthur is a national speaker about issues related to story and spiritual formation, as well as a volunteer youth leader. She frequently writes youth resources for the United Methodist Publishing House. Her articles have appeared in Relevant, Good News and devo'Zine. A recent graduate of Duke Divinity School, Arthur now lives in southern Michigan, where her husband Tom serves as pastor of Sycamore Creek Church.Review:
Just when you think all books for youth ministers are either cheesy, redundant, or simply unhelpful, Sarah Arthur pens a gem, The God-Hungry Imagination. Evident by the subtitle, this book offers youth ministers a new vision and approach for ministry in a postmodern context through the art of storytelling. This work is not a step-by-step guide, but a reworking of the entire framework of youth ministry.
Arthur emphasizes the importance of story, an intrinsic aspect of the Christian faith, but an aspect often overlooked in ministry, especially youth ministry. Arthur intends the book to be a supplement to the insightful work, The God-Bearing Life, by Ron Foster and Kenda Creasy Dean. She says that while The God-Bearing Life addressed the need for community, this book addresses the need for meaningful content in ministry with teens.
Arthur weaves together her personal experiences and insights along with the sociological work on the faith of teenagers from the book Soul Searching by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. She begins with Smith and Denton s finding of pervasive teen inarticulacy about their faith, and moves through the importance of storytelling and language the Christian enculturation of youth. Repeatedly and unapologetically, Arthur stresses the importance of a distinct Christian language for teenagers (Yes, Christians speak a different language and live in a different culture!) If teenagers can t speak the Christian language, they do not know the Christian story. If they do not know the Christian story, they don t know how Christians are to live. She suggests the loss of the Christian story and language among even churched teens leads to the loss of any unique Christian identity.
Her solution to the pandemic of narrative deficiency? The idea of youth ministers as bards, as story-weavers. Youth ministers primary task is to tell the Christian story, to reclaim the imagination as part of spiritual formation, and to reclaim the Church as God s on-going story. She divides the book into five sections, introducing the notion of youth ministry in a postmodern context, stressing the importance of imagination, defining the idea of story, calling youth ministers to be storytellers, and broaching some potential practical concerns of the reader. Through these chapters, Arthur connects the ingredients of narrative character, plot, setting, tone, and form to scripture and then to our worship; story underlies them all. She offers a helpful nuance to prevailing youth ministry thought that while the current push for relational ministry is still important, it is not enough. Ministers must also engage with the narrative nature of the Christian story, because it is narratives that shape and form the lives of not only teenagers, but all of us.
Arthur avoids the downfalls of many emerging books on youth ministry, or books on emerging youth ministry. She assumes a certain level of familiarity with current notions of culture and theology, but carefully describes and proscribes needed nuances and correctives. This is a book that would be insightful for all ministers, not only those who engage with youth. I highly recommend The God-Hungry Imagination to any one working with youth, or anyone interested in narrative theology and ministry. I believe this book can help make a significant shift in the way we think about and approach ministry in the 21st century. --Kristopher Norris
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