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The Think Tank: 100 adaptable discussion starters to get teens talking

The Think Tank: 100 adaptable discussion starters to get teens talking

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The Think Tank: 100 adaptable discussion starters to get teens talking

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Jan 15, 2016


God, the Great Storyteller, chose to communicate with us through story - in fact a great library of stories, filled with heroes, villains, sex, violence, intrigue, sacrifice and redemption. The Think Tank gives young people an opportunity to explore their world through stories, and to relate it to the incredible story of the Bible - perhaps for the first time. Here are 100 stories designed to provoke discussion, followed by penetrating questions which relate the stories to biblical bedrock. The stories are in four parts: WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT? - Unbelievable stories, all absolutely true! INSPIRING INDIVIDUALS - Stories of celebrities, public figures and other people of note making a positive difference. WHAT WOULD YOU DO? - Ethics explored through stories, many based on real events. TALKING MOVIES - A major bonus: 25 movie clips that pack a punch with young people, and all the background and questions you'll need to facilitate discussion around them. This updated edition brings refreshed material that will speak to today's young people.
Jan 15, 2016

Sobre el autor

Martin Saunders has been a man for over 40 years. He’s a youth specialist and serial creator of resources and events for both youth leaders and young people. He’s part of the leadership team of Youthscape, a national charity working for the positive transformation of all young people. His previous books include Youth Work from Scratch, The Beautiful Disciplines and a football-based novel which FourFourTwomagazine called “Christian claptrap (one star)”. Martin is married to Jo and they have four children. They live in Surrey, where Martin is currently Youth Team Leader at St Mary’s Church, Reigate.

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The Think Tank - Martin Saunders



Eight years is a long time in youth ministry. When I wrote the first edition of The Ideas Factory, the first of my two books of discussion starters, the economy was still looking pretty good, we’d just welcomed over 2,000 youth workers to a dedicated national event, and there was an air of optimism all around.

Quite a lot has changed since then.

The financial crisis, and ensuing recession, has had a devastating impact on the sector; certainly in the UK, and probably a lot further afield. Churches decided that the first cut they would make would be the youth worker; others merged the distinct roles of youth worker and children’s worker together in a sort of crazy cost-saving fudge. Christian organizations had to radically downsize their staff numbers; some disappeared altogether.

Outside the Church, the story was even more brutal. Youth work roles melted away in many towns, often leaving no youth services available to the young people left behind. One major British city replaced all of its statutory youth work provision with a one-off £1 million grant fund for the voluntary groups that would have to stand in the gap. That money is of course long gone; the need remains and has indeed intensified.

Although voluntary groups (of which faith-based organizations such as churches make up the vast majority) have been relied on to fill these huge sinkholes in provision, they’ve not always found financial support easy to come by. That’s been especially true for Christian organizations, especially those that list the promotion of the Christian faith as an explicit aim.

So while the needs of young people haven’t lessened, our ability to meet them has been seriously undermined by the financial picture. And while a sort of recovery may mean that churches find the pressure on their coffers slowly easing, the continuing commitment from the governments to austerity and funding cuts suggests the burden on the voluntary sector is only going to increase.

That’s not necessarily bad news of course; local communities and councils will increasingly look to the church as a provider of youth and children’s activities. It is, however, something we’re going to have to get our heads around, and fast (for a basic guide to setting up church-based youth provision, check out my book Youth Work From Scratch).

The seismic shift in the financial picture isn’t the only change we’ve seen. In a related story, the number of people leaving youth ministry appears to hugely outweigh the numbers incoming. The workforce seems to have dwindled; the major youth ministry events in the UK are now attracting closer to 500 youth workers – a long way now from 2,000. That’s educated anecdote for now (although at time of writing, Youthscape is currently undertaking a major piece of research into the numbers of youth workers and young people involved in the UK church – check out www.youthscape.co.uk for details) but there’s no doubt that while the numbers of people enrolled in youth ministry training courses has fallen dramatically, we’ve also seen many youth ministers – both local church workers and higher-profile national specialists – leaving the sector. Many of the older heads have moved on; there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of new blood coming in… in employed terms at least.

What this almost certainly means is that youth ministry is becoming slowly de-professionalized, and in many places being handed over to volunteers. Again, this is not necessarily bad news, provided those volunteers can be found, envisioned and trained properly. Indeed, as a reader of this book you may well be one of the new emerging army of volunteer youth workers. Hello if so. Hooray for you. You’re the cavalry!

At the risk of sounding gloomier still, we’ve also seen a change in the cultural temperature since the beginning of the last decade. In the past, most young people grew up in homes that were either sympathetic to Christianity, or else at least ambivalent about it. Now my seven-year-old returns from a playdate to tell me that her friend’s parents have been explaining why her faith is nonsense. Many children grow up in atheist homes which make them suspicious of the church’s motives when we try to engage them.

It’s no surprise then that we’re also encountering young people who have fixed (and antagonistic) views on Christianity earlier too. The New Atheist and secular humanist movements are beginning to have a powerful impact on young minds; the questions we face from young people are often harder, better researched and designed to trip us up. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; rather a young person who wants to engage on the question of faith than one who simply can’t be bothered.

So a lot has changed. And this heavy combination of blows to youth ministry’s gut can feel pretty hard to take. It’s not all bad news though as I’ve suggested, and it’s not All Change either.

For a start, and most importantly of all, we still serve the same unchanging, everlasting and undefeatable God. He’s not finished with young people, or with the church that seeks to serve them. He is at work in our communities, schools and families in ways that we can’t see and might never know. His mission is unrelenting, whether we choose to join in with it or not. And when we do, amazing things continue to happen.

In the last few unsettling years I’ve heard stories of near-revival; of the power of God breaking out among a group of young people. I’ve marvelled at the transforming lives of the young people in my own church, some of whom are among the most incredible world-changing, dead-to-self, hope-drenched wonders I’ve ever encountered. And I’ve watched as in the UK the Soul Survivor youth festivals have continued to attract over 20,000 young people every Summer, and each year more than a thousand of them make a commitment to follow Christ. Stop and read that again, because it’s easy to skip over that extraordinary figure. Even in the context I’ve described, over a thousand British teenagers are choosing to put their hope in a man who lived, died and rose again 2,000 years ago. Jesus isn’t dead, and the faith of his followers isn’t either.

God hasn’t changed and our message of hope hasn’t changed either. We still believe (don’t we?) that God loves young people totally and unconditionally; that he longs to be in relationship with them, and that he wants to transform and redeem the hardest parts of their lives. We are still the hope people, the Good News people, the Resurrection people; even if at first glance the odds look bleak.

There’s one other thing that hasn’t changed since I wrote these two books, and that’s young people’s ravenous appetites for story. Cinemas are continuing to enjoy record teenage attendances; the Young Adult fiction industry is burgeoning; teen drama continues to be a significant element of American and British television. Young people still love grappling with narratives, and serious ones too: the current trend for post-apocalyptic young adult fiction shows teens are far from vacuous in their story taste. Young people continue to use stories to think, talk about and make sense of the world, and in youth ministry, they’re the big way in. Stories act as a big front door to talking to young people about their lives, our own, and the giant sweeping narrative of God that connects us all.

These books still make sense; they’re still, I hope, a useful tool for ministry among young people. A few other things in the world have changed too; that’s why we’ve updated some of the stories and cultural references. Jade Goody, the tragic reality TV star, no longer makes sense as a cultural sign-post to young people; talk of CDs and DVDs has been updated to include the innovations of Spotify, Netflix and Blu-Ray discs. What I hope you’re holding then is an up-to-date resource which covers some of the big issues and questions facing young people today, and provides a relevant way-in to talking about them.

What will youth ministry look like in another eight years? It’s hard to imagine, given the shifts we’ve seen recently. One thing is certain: God will still be God, and he’ll still be at the heart of his church’s work with young people. My hunch is that story – the medium through which we so often understand and know God better after all – will still be enduringly fascinating too.

Martin Saunders, September 2015



Story is everywhere. We create it, consume it, and take part in it every day. Story is important – it helps us to make sense of our lives, the world around us, and each other. We understand life as a story, and we use story to describe that life to one another. Whether it’s in our consumption of media, our conversations with friends or even our own inner monologues, story is an irremovable element at the heart of humanity.

God understands this. More than that, he is the Great Storyteller. He is constantly creating it in millions upon millions of ways, every day. Every human life carries the divine spark of creativity not only in the creation of another unique individual, but in the story that individual goes on to map out over the course of their life. So this is life on Earth: billions of stories, all constantly crossing over into one another; connecting; combining; clashing; giving meaning to each other. Imagine viewing that from God’s perspective – truly the most complicated plot line in literary history!

God the storyteller chose to communicate with us through story. We sometimes take for granted that the Bible is not only a record of God’s engagement with humanity; it’s also a peerless work of literature. God could have chosen simply to write us a list of regulations for following Him, but instead he chose to breathe life into a great library of stories – filled with heroes, villains, sex, violence, intrigue, sacrifice, and most crucially of all, redemption.

One of the key purposes of The Think Tank is to give young people an opportunity to meet that incredible Bible narrative – perhaps for the first time. This volume of discussion starters contains 100 creative suggestions for helping to open up accessible entry points to scripture – not because the Bible isn’t interesting or powerful enough to speak for itself, but because recent generations have not, for the most part, been instilled with an appreciation of just how relevant and vital it is.

Yet, as central as the Bible is to the Christian life, it is only part of the story. The Old and New Testaments give us huge insights into thousands of years of the history of God’s people, but they rarely stretch into the infinite distances either side of that period. God is and has always been (a tricky concept for me, I’ll confess); his story did not begin with the creation of man. Similarly, the story of God’s people didn’t end with the lives of the apostles. Incredibly, the faith survived against all odds, and now takes in an estimated two billion followers worldwide. Thanks to Jesus, we have an eternal story to look forward to, as co-heirs of the everlasting Kingdom of God.

Youth workers have a role to play in helping young people to understand the extraordinary idea that they have a role to play in God’s unfolding story. This epic journey that takes in every Bible character and story from Genesis to Revelation – which weaves through the lives of every saint, martyr and hero of the faith and inevitably ends up in glory – somehow, somewhere we have a role to play in it. Essentially, though it might sound a little glib, working out our part in God’s story is the meaning of life itself.


Young people display a huge appetite for stories. Whether consuming book after book in the latest vampire or wizard saga, downloading movies (legally and otherwise) or immersing themselves in photo-realistic video games, teenage interest in stories has arguably never been greater. They learn about the world, about imagination and creativity, about right and wrong, from stories – and, of course, this can sometimes be very dangerous.

It’s not just fiction that captures the teenage imagination, however. With the advent of the Internet, people young and old were given greater access than ever before to a proliferation of stories, in a number and breadth that would previously have seemed impossible for one person to reach. Again, this had wonderful applications and terrible ones – users could reach into the lives and the stories of people all over the world; yet, they also had almost totally unregulated access to uncensored sex, violence and depravity, at levels from which most people would previously have been shielded.

The Internet as we know it today, however, is a very different beast to that of a decade ago. The most fundamental change came with the arrival and establishment of Web 2.0 – the point at which the Internet ceased to simply be a gigantic uncensored library of information, and became defined by its participants. We are the Internet is the phrase coined by a professor at the University of Kansas, and he was correct – with the rise first of blogging, user-generated content websites such as YouTube, and latterly social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the Internet has been given a human brain.

What social networks in particular have given rise to is something that digital experts call the grand meta-narrative. What that means is that there is a huge, complex, billion-participant story being created and recreated every day in the middle of the Internet. People take the interesting (and sometimes not so interesting) elements of their everyday lives and post, blog, tweet or upload them to the Internet where they become public property, creating an opportunity for others to respond. Blog comments, YouTube reviews and Twitter trends are all examples of how this meta-narrative – the giant super-story – begins to take shape. This is fuelled partly by traditional computer use, but increasingly through portable devices such as mobile phones. Today’s young people are a hyper-connected generation because they are always on – or seconds from accessing – the web.

There is a problem with this, however, and it’s a strange extension of the phenomena that the first wave of the Internet brought. When chat rooms, instant messenger services and forums first appeared, experts were concerned that young people were retreating into a digital shell, where they would choose online friends over physical ones, and hide behind a partly fictionalized avatar, pretending to be someone else. For the most part, that didn’t really happen; some marginalized young people chose to do this, but the majority maintained physical friendships as well as virtual ones.

What’s happened now, however, is that physical relationships are being continued at a lower priority than online ones. Young people see their mobile device as an extension of themselves – an inseparable body part – and check it regularly for updates on their social network profiles. Even if they are

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