Tim Schmoyer, a youth ministry veteran and friend who blogs at Life In Student Ministry, wrote this guest blog post exclusively for MTDB (which we haven’t done before, but I’m open to it – send in your stuff, too). Good stuff in here about tough questions from students and your youth ministry:
Lately the Lord has brought several people into my life, both teenagers and adults, who struggle with their Christian faith. They’re asking questions like, “Is God real? Can He hear my prayers? Why don’t
I feel him in my life?” As much as I love those honest questions, our typical answers are not always very satisfying for those who are struggling. My recent conversations have taught me a lot about why
it’s important that we, as spiritual role models for teenagers, live out our theology in front of teens in very practical ways. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Build a relationship before blindly forcing theology on someone. Every student’s struggle is different. There’s no cookie-cutter answer for every question, so leave the Sunday school answers at the door and just listen. Learn about what’s going on in their life and intentionally connect Truth to it after earning their respect.
2. Actions really do speak louder than words. How we live our lives communicates a lot about our theology. We teach about the power of prayer, but does our personal prayer life reflect that it’s evident in our life? We tell kids how vital it is for them to spend time in the Word, but how much time do we personally spend in it? We all want students to reach out to their unsaved friends, but how many unsaved friends are we intentionally perusing ourselves? We need to apply His Word to our lives first so we can teach it with credibility later. Otherwise we’re contributing to their notion that maybe all of this is fake.
3. Avoid trite “Christian-ese.” Maybe it’s a boost for our ego to use big “meaningful” words, but it’s not worth alienating someone. Teenagers who are struggling in their faith don’t care if we know 20-syllable theological words, so let’s keep it simple. However, that doesn’t me we should try to neatly package scripture and theological principles in some easy-to-swallow canned message. Teenagers desperately want to know that there’s an element of mystery to the Word. They’re okay with conflict and tough questions. It usually makes them dig deeper.
4. Ask the hard questions with people who searching. Maybe that makes some of us feel uncomfortable because we like our theology all boxed up with no loose ends, but spirituality in general is very messy. Ask the hard questions with them. Don’t shy away or belittle the search because it’s uncomfortable. Sometime we forget that questioning is a search for discovery, not an offensive threat. For teenagers, that’s often the time where their faith stops being their parents’ faith and becomes their own, so go on that journey with them.
5. Perhaps the most important question someone can ask is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Don’t blow it off or give trite Sunday school answers. Listen to the pain behind it, the real-life stories kids have, and encourage their searching while pushing them to scripture for answers.
Having answers and knowing theology are so vitally important in youth ministry today, but it can have a negative affect if approached inconsiderately of the audience that hears it. Teaching theology is necessary, but maybe publicly living our theology for all to see is even more necessary today. Theology should be caught as much as it is taught.