After they leave our ministries

For years, one of my high school students wrestled with the story of Jonah.

She knew it well – at least the Sunday school version of it. She'd grown up hearing about how Jonah disobeyed God and got swallowed by a big fish. While inside the fish, Jonah had a change of heart. So the fish spit him out and he went and did what he should have done to begin with: Preach to the people of Nineveh.

As a child, this student accepted the story of Jonah at face value (like most of us do). But by the time she got to high school, there were a lot of things that troubled this teen about Jonah.

Why would a good God cause such a bad storm?

How could God abandon his servant, Jonah, in the belly of a fish?

Was the time inside the fish God's way of punishing Jonah?

Since Jonah eventually ended up doing the thing he didn't want to do, does that mean he didn't really have a choice in the matter? Did Jonah really have free will?

Throughout her years in high school, this girl wrestled earnestly with the story of Jonah, which in a lot of ways, seemed to be her Biblical nemesis. Eventually, she even used the story of Jonah to lead a discussion about fate vs. free will for our high school ministry.

Even so, her questions remained.

I lost track of how often we'd talk about her questions together. In many ways, I became this student's co-doubter. I created a safe space for this girl to raise her questions and occasionally helped guide her to some answers.

Despite this, I felt like this was a situation where we'd take two steps forward and one-step back – something that I think is so often true of faith in general and youth ministry in particular.

Eventually, this student took her questions with her to college, where she continued wrestling with them.

Read the rest of this article here. 

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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