The questions seemed confusing and cumbersome at first, to be honest. But then, something happened. We wrestled with understanding the words at first, and as the conversation continued, the questions unfurled. They were like hard cubes of sugar that splashed awkwardly into our group, but then slowly dissolved, expanded, and transformed our circle into a sweet, open place of heart-felt sharing. It is in these open spaces that the Holy Spirit can move in and through a group, bringing healing and hope.

That is what happened yesterday in our High School leadership team meeting. I introduced three questions to the group. These are questions that I picked up from Jessica Duckworth at a workshop she gave during the Luther Seminary Mid-Winter Convocation last week. Duckworth told us that the church must attend to the newcomers at the periphery of the congregation and invite them into these questions. We must not force answers upon them, but actually listen to their responses. It is at the foot of the cross, where the ground is level, that spaces open up and God’s grace expands to all people and enfolds them into God’s listening. In this listening we will discover that God is breathing new life into the church as the Spirit draws people together.

These are the questions:

  • For what in your life are you seeking promise?
  • For what in your life are you seeking courage?
  • For what in your life are you seeking forgiveness, mercy, and steadfast love?

Imagine a group of high school students and adults–14 in all–honestly discussing these things. That is what I had the privilege of doing yesterday afternoon with our leadership team. This experience prepared them for when our normal youth gathering happened a few minutes later. I led all the students through a dwelling in the Word in Romans 12:1-2 and then they broke out into the Tribes to engage in these questions. The leaders reported afterwards that they had some of the deepest conversations they’ve had all year.

I am so encouraged when a group of high school students fully engages in silence and a slow reading of the text. Their lives are so busy and frenetic most of the time. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give them is silence and a slowing of the pace. We dwelt in Romans 12:1-2 and they read the words and phrases out loud as they felt led. It was beautiful. I love those moments.

Putting Duckworth’s theory into practice with our students helped me realize this truth again. The church is called, not to provide ironclad answers, but to invite people into honest conversations. When we open ourselves to each other and to the mystery of life in God’s community, broken and opened up at the foot of the cross, then the Holy Spirit can move through the broken spaces, provide healing and courage, and we can breathe again.

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