A Kindred Spirit Q&A

Jen Hatmaker is an author, speaker, wife and mother of five, whose books include For the Love and Interrupted. Before she spoke at the Young Life Celebration in Orlando, she sat down with Jeff Chesemore, senior editor of Relationships, to talk about grace, laughter and a shared passion for kids.

What's Your History with Young Life?
Right out of college my husband, Brandon, and I went into church youth work in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we had a vibrant relationship with the Young Life crew there. Young Life was thriving, so we worked closely with the staff and volunteers and asked how we could serve each other. Some of these kids needed a church; some needed Jesus and they wouldn’t come to us. So we were like, ‘Let’s trade around!’ We thought it was a phenomenal ministry to kids, especially those a traditional church ministry couldn’t get to.

Our own kids have been in Young Life since middle school. I would drop them off at WyldLife and bless the workers, ‘Go with God!’ Honestly, 200 middle schoolers ... I cannot!

Our kids have come up through the Young Life pipeline, we’ve gone to camps and I volunteered with YoungLives. It’s been a long road with Young Life and it has my highest respect and honor.
What Did You Learn About Jesus and Yourself Through YoungLives?
The list is so long. I worked in the number-one high school for teen pregnancy in central Texas, so we had a lot of young mommas. At first I was nervous, and I’ve worked with teens my whole life. I was nervous because we were in their setting, in their school. And then I realized they’re just kids like all of ’em. So we moved from what was a sterile mentorship space to just loving those girls and their babies to death. I think for me it was another reminder that God is very much paying attention, He’s very much at work, He’s very much in the margins, He’s very much in the high schools with them and their pregnancies.

I’ve been in church work my whole adult life, so a lot of my experience with God early on was very sanitized. Everybody behaves in church. So as we’ve gotten older and found God way outside the walls, it increases my faith and reminds me how far and wide and high God’s love is for us. It made me feel more loved to see the lengths God would go to reach these girls, who never in 20 billion years are going to walk into our youth group. He’s a good God and He’s after us, that’s for sure.

Why Is It So Important to Minister Out of Relationships?
I grew up just this side of fundamental. So the way I was trained to connect with people evangelically was apologetics. Those were the tools put in my hands. How to defend my faith. Well, I was good at it, but it was funny to find that with my skillful apologetics and Christian T-shirts (really awesome), people were not falling down around me getting saved! It was quite a painful deconstruction process to unlearn all that. We live in Austin, which is incredibly unchurched. We’ve lived here 15 years and raised our kids here. We have no other option, honestly. Even if I wanted to go around defending my faith, no one’s listening. We learned in the field what it looks like to connect with people as friends, as neighbors, and we discovered, ‘Hey, this is much more fun than arguing with them. I prefer this!’

What an amazing front door to talk about God. I don’t worry about having the right answers or great talking points to walk somebody through the Christian faith. When you love them and they know it, it bubbles up constantly. Everyone wants God. Everyone’s looking for meaning and salvation and hope; they just don’t trust organized religion to give it to them. And if they’re not coming to us, then we’re going to them with love and grace, not because they’re a project or agenda, but because we love them and God loves them. I’m so deep in that camp we even tell our people, ‘Don’t invite people to our church, just invite them to dinner. Let’s start there. Be a good friend; earn a hearing for the Gospel.’ We’ve seen this be so incredibly effective and meaningful, when people can find a safe space to wrestle it out with God.

In For the Love You Write "You Can Save Hearts and Lives with Grace." Say More About This.
I wrote that initially to my kids in an essay about all my dreams for their lives. I’ve always had eyes and ears and a real burden for the weird kid, the lonely kid, the sad kid, the broken kid. I know how incredibly hard high school can be.

So I was talking to my kids about what it means to extend grace. It can be small. The right word, the right phrase. It’s not magic. It’s not a monumental thing. But these small kindnesses you can extend to people who are so lonely and isolated can pull them right out of the mire. They can give somebody a reason to go on, to get out of bed, to walk into school, and of course that applies to grown-ups, too.

I remember little one-liners people have said to me at the right time, just when I was on the brink of throwing in the towel. I hope as a mom I’m training my kids to walk around and find those moments. One of the easiest things we can do for the Gospel is to just be kind and seed a little grace, especially for people we know for sure are not going to have much more that day.

Humor is Big in Young Life and You Obviously Have the Gift! How Does Humor Give You Life?
I appreciate the question, honestly, because I spent a great deal of my adult life in ministry. I come from funny. It’s in our gene pool. We grew up in a funny house. Humor was a real value. When I moved into ministry — and I’ll tell you right now I still struggle with this a little bit — I thought, “This makes me silly. No one’s going to take me seriously. It’s probably a liability.” So to this day I have to overcome that voice in my head that says this is nonsense, this is a waste of time, because it’s not. I learn better when someone has made me laugh and it makes me feel good, it makes me feel connected. Humor is good for us and there’s a place for it, and it doesn’t displace the Gospel and that’s what I had to finally come to terms with. It doesn’t take up space where something better should be residing. It’s a complement. It goes together.

So I’ll just always be that person, and I’m glad Young Life will always be that ‘org’ that makes room for fun and laughter. Life is already hard. We don’t need to inject nothing but somber spiritual sobriety in everyone else’s life. I’m glad you put a value on this. Kids don’t have to be taught this; it’s adults who get it all wonky, like, ‘Let’s just keep this deep.’ Well sometimes we just need to play a dumb game. I’m afraid it can’t be helped with me! Even if I wanted reform here it’s too late!


Some quotes from Jen’s talk at YL75 ...

“The next generation of kids that are growing up entirely postmodern, the soundbite for their generation would be, ‘I don’t have all the answers and neither do you.’”​

“Be a loving spiritual parent that kids want to imitate one day. It’s your very best offering.”

“I promise you, for this generation, well done trumps well said.”

“May we reach the next generation for Jesus by any means, wherever the Gospel rises, however and through whomever!”

“Heaven is going to be so much more crowded because of the faithful work of Young Life for 75 years, and may there be another 75 more.”