Middle School

Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

Before it was released, I was asked to write an endorsement for Joshua Becker’s new book for students, Living With Less…An Unexpected Key To Happiness.

I declined.

I felt the message was a bit too extreme, and presented a lopsided case for a life of minimalism. I was afraid that without somebody to help them chew on the content and the ideas proposed most teenagers would be left feeling overly guilty for the lifestyle they have inherited. I (mostly) loved the message….just wasn’t sure I loved the method.

I still stand by that assessment…and obviously the above paragraph IS NOT the type of endorsement an author wants on the back of his book. BUT HERE’S THE DEAL: It’s a great book. It’s a book that I think every teenager needs to read IF they have somebody to help them navigate the counter-culture ideas Joshua suggests. So on second thought, I should have figured out a way to right an honest endorsement about a much needed subject.

Invite teenagers into an epic adventure with Jesus. Check out Pierced: The New Testament today!

Buy this book. And then consider buying a copy for a few of your more mature 8th graders and ask them to read it for themselves then meet you at Starbucks to talk about it. I guarantee it will be a fantastic discussion.

I thought it would be worth letting you hear a little bit about Josh, his journey toward minimalism and the book so we conducted a quick little interview:

Hey Josh, Can you take a moment and introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure thing. For the past 14 years, I have served as a Pastor of Student Ministries at churches in Wisconsin and Vermont. Currently, I serve as one of the pastors at Journey Church in Peoria, AZ.

But on the side, I write about the lifestyle of minimalism inspiring others to live more life by owning fewer possessions. Four years ago, after spending most of my life living a pretty typical suburban lifestyle, I came to the important realization that my pursuit and accumulation of material possessions were robbing me of true life. They had become the great distraction to my most important pursuits. As a result, my wife and I set out to intentionally remove everything from our home that we didn’t need or absolutely love. And our online journal, Becoming Minimalist, quickly became a home for over 100,000 monthly readers who have discovered the joy of living with less.

How did your transition into minimalism come about? Was it a quick transition or over a period of time?

Both, I guess. The decision happened in a moment. I was cleaning out my garage during a beautiful Vermont weekend we had set aside for spring cleaning. My 4-year old son was in the backyard alone on the swing set asking me to play with hime, but I kept responding, “I can’t buddy. I need to clean out the garage. I have to do this first.” After a few hours of this exchange, I commented to my neighbor (who was also outside trimming the bushes) how much energy it takes to own a home. She responded by saying, “That’s why my daughter is a minimalist. She keeps telling me I don’t need to own all this stuff.”

I looked at the pile of dirty possessions sitting in my driveway. Then, I looked back at my son alone on the swing. And in that moment, I clearly recognized how I had allowed my “stuff” to distract me from the things that were the most important to me. And I was in! I remember thinking, “I’m not sure what minimalism means exactly. But if I means I’ll have more time and energy for the things that are most important, I’m in!” It all happened in a matter of seconds.

Ultimately, the removal of our excess possessions would take longer… many months to be exact. Eventually, we’d end up removing 70% of our personal possessions and move into a much smaller house because of it.

Has this transition had any spiritual impact on your life?

Absolutely. At first, it was just about removing the clutter and making space for more valuable pursuits. But it quickly became a spiritual journey in every way possible. At first, it was easy taking van loads of unneeded stuff to Goodwill. But by our fourth or fifth van load, we started to ask ourselves some pretty difficult questions… starting with, “Why exactly did we buy all this stuff in the first place? What were we hoping it was going to accomplish in our lives?” It definitely required some heart-searching. Eventually, we began to wrestle with concepts such as contentment, gratitude, and generosity as well.

But mostly, we began to see Jesus’s teaching on money and possessions in a brand-new way. We began to recognize that most churches today have too easily excused His clear and simple teachings. We have begun to recognize that Jesus’s call to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” or to “not stockpile treasures here on earth” was not a call to sacrifice and worldly misery in exchange for a better life during eternity. They were invitations to a better way to live in the present… just like everything else He taught.

Thanks for sharing your heart with us. Tell us a little bit about the book, Living with Less: An Unexpected Key to Happiness.

In the book, we invite teenagers and young adults to discover the practical benefits of living with fewer possessions. It is a stage of life full of opportunity and promise. And I believe the minimalist message has great opportunity to influence their future decision-making before they buy the big house… the fancy cars… or pursue the dead-end job just because it comes with a large paycheck. I believe most young adults desperately long for greater achievements in life than owning a bunch of stuff.

Relying heavily on the teachings of Jesus and our personal experience of minimizing possessions, we argue there is absolutely greater joy to be found in owning fewer possessions than can be found in pursuing more. The book concludes with very practical steps that any college student, high school student, or middle school student could implement today to experience the same joy.

There are already a number of books available that address the topic of materialism. How is this any different?

Good question. Thanks for asking it. Most religious books written on the topic of materialism discuss the evils of consumerism and seeking the world’s pleasures. I wanted to write a book that didn’t just discuss materialism from a negative view, but praised minimalism from a positive view by clearly articulating the practical benefits of owning fewer possessions: less debt, less distraction, more freedom, more opportunity.

In many ways, it’s not a book about materialism. Instead, it’s a book about minimalism. I wanted to invite teenagers to embrace a more abundant way to live. I wanted to encourage them to rethink the teachings of Jesus Christ. And I wanted to use it as a springboard to call the American Church to start taking Jesus’s teaching on money and possessions more seriously.

Students around the country are resonating with its message. And youth pastors, leaders, and volunteers are finding it to be a valuable resource as well… not just in their ministry but in their life as well.

How service-minded are your teenagers? Take this short quiz to find out!


  • Erik w/a "K" says:

    I agree. Great book! Incredibly challenging content and it would be good to come alongside a student to talk through what they read. Good assessment Kurt.

  • […] was first introduced to the idea of minimalism several years ago by Joshua Becker through this article. I really liked the idea and began decluttering around my home and in my office. However, we […]

  • Leave a Comment

    Please keep in mind that comments are moderated and rel="nofollow" is in use. So, please do not use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name, or it will be deleted. Let us have a personal and meaningful conversation instead.