Wanted: All kinds of stories

On my youth ministry's recent mission trip to Milwaukee through Youth Works Missions, we spent an evening with Life Changers International – a ministry to former gang members in inner city Milwaukee.

During our time with Life Changers, a panel of speakers shared their testimonies.

One panelist described how he joined a gang in order to experience the family he'd never had. 

Another talked about his heavy addiction to drugs.

Still another shared how she'd survived a suicide attempt.

Multiple panelists described their time in prison and the crimes that got them there.

All talked about meeting Jesus and about how their lives had changed as a result. 

Their testimonies were incredibly powerful.

As a Christian, I rejoiced in this.

As a youth worker, however, I cringed. 

Why?

Because I feared my kids would begin comparing their testimonies to the stories of these panelists and that in the process, they would deem theirs unworthy.

After all, though my students have experienced pain, most of their stories do not include dramatic before and afters. Most of their stories of faith begin not with, “On the day I got arrested for shooting two people...” but instead with “I grew up in church.”

Compared to the stories of the panelists they heard at Life Changers, most of my students' stories seem rather boring. Or if not boring, then at least ordinary. And in a world that constantly tells teens they must be “extraordinary” in order to gain the competitive edge over their peers and succeed in all facets of life, who wants to be ordinary?

Though our Christian world tends to elevate the dramatic, I'd argue more people probably relate to my students' stories than to the panelists from Life Changes. Their ordinary, somewhat boring stories do in fact matter – to others, and to God.

Maybe that's why Scripture is filled with all kinds of stories. Like the panelists we met at Life Changers, some of the people we meet in Scripture have extraordinary tales, with dramatic conversions and turning points. Others lived an ordinary life, humbly remaining faithful to God in all they did. Both are important because both showcase God.

And that, I think, is what we need to remember about testimonies.

Testimonies aren't meant to showcase how extraordinary we are; They're meant to showcase how extraordinary God is. 

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, 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 the forthcoming 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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