“Steve, that log’s moving!” cried a 10-year-old camper as we walked to the lake. Turns out it was really a 9-foot bullsnake. A few days later, another camper bravely corkscrewed a mammoth snake around his body. Such opportunities can’t go to waste.
Early the next week, I staged a scene. A man dressed as a wildlife official pulled me off the camp bus, and we had a serious-looking conversation. Then I told kids the notorious black mamba snake had been sighted and had probably laid eggs around camp. I needed help finding all the eggs intact. With some fear and a ton of excitement, the kids poured out of the bus and began searching. Soon, from all corners of camp, I heard screams of panic mixed with glee. (I’d actually spray-painted 20 cantaloupes black, which looked quite convincing.)
There’s tension in creating tension. With too little tension, young people get so bored their eyes glaze over. With too much tension, they become overwhelmed, anxious, or distrustful. Gathering fictitious snake eggs certainly wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t real enough that the kids panicked or I received angry calls from parents. The only point was having fun, and we cut up and ate the cantaloupe “eggs” at the end of the adventure.
Creative tension is the best kind because it keeps people leaning in, engaged, and wondering what will happen next. You can incorporate creative tension in three areas:
Your teaching—God’s Word is jarring, with sordid and messy stories containing built-in tension. Teach them that way. The Bible doesn’t need added drama, and whatever you do, don’t water it down.
Your relating—We’re programmed to relate in tension-decreasing ways, but Jesus almost always caused creative tension among his listeners. Quiet kids need to be drawn out and given opportunities to lead; more assertive kids sometimes need to be held back. For certain young people, giving them attention doesn’t serve their best interests; others, however, need all the attention you can muster.
Your walk with God—God is a mystery. What mystifies you? How is God surprising you and showing up in unexpected ways? What are you wrestling with and questioning? How is God wooing you with his grace or kindness? When he feels absent, how does that cause tension for you?
With just the right amount of creative tension, your ministry and relationships will stay vibrant and invigorating.