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How to Answer Students’ Questions that Leave us Speechless

Leneita Fix —  October 24, 2013 — 7 Comments

 

questions 2In the past week I have had different youth ask me these questions:

  • What do I say when my parent’s tell me I’m never going to do anything with my life?
  • I think I’m gay, and my parent’s told me they don’t want me to be. What do I do?
  • Why does it seem like no matter what I do, God feels so far away?
  • My brother was in an accident. I prayed that God would save him, and he died.  Why would God do that?
  • How do I like myself? I don’t know how.

From time to time I will sit in on one of our volunteer-run small groups. The leader was doing a great job of leading a hearty discussion, until one of “those” questions came up. What surprised me slightly was that reaction was in fact not a reaction at all.  Pretending like they didn’t hear it, they let it hang in the air for a second and shifted the conversation elsewhere. Afterwards the small group leader admitted the question overwhelmed them so much they didn’t know what else to do.

These are the type of questions that intimidate even the most “seasoned” youth worker. There are elements we learn to address, but the reality is there is something deeper going on than the “surfacey” answers that we provide.  Many times it would even be easier if “one” question came at a time.  However, in the average small group questions breed more questions.

So what do we do in those moments when a question hits us in the gut?

Avoid the Jesus Juke, But Tell The Truth:

I call it the “scripture bomb.” It’s when we just fling a Bible verse at a situation and hope it helps. Sometimes it does. More often I have found the real issue is knowing how to practically apply those to your life. Tell them what Jesus is saying, but allow them to know it may not feel as simple as it sounds.

Allow Them to Feel Without Getting Stuck:

Part of adolescence is feeling and questioning deeply.  Sometimes they ask something that stirs us deeply. Why would a parent tell a child they are going to be a “nothing?”  Siding with them or placing judgment can actually fuel the already precarious fire. Instead, listen, love them, and let them get out their feelings. Try to avoid “siding” and point them to the reality that bitterness can suck the life out of us. Help them to see other perspectives that might help them to see beyond the current situation.

Allow Them to Wrestle:

Jacob wanted a blessing.  He held onto God until he had an answer.  If you don’t know the “WHY,” then tell them.  Let them know if it is something you still wonder about.  At the heart of most “Why/How could this be?” is really, “Jesus I need to know that you’re real, show me.” Be willing to help them seek God with their “whole heart,” and wrestle with Him through the situation until they find Him.

Twenty-two years into ministry and the answers to the above questions DID NOT roll off my tongue. I had to pray the Lord would give me His answers while still addressing them head on.  I also had to believe God is big enough to have the answers. Sometimes (many times) our job isn’t to have the answer at all.

How do you handle “those” questions?

Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix

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Leneita Fix is the Director of Ministry Development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years. In addition she has launched the coaching and resource organization, Front Line Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace serving those who work with families living in survival mode. The early years were spent in camp ministry, suburban and rural youth groups. With the Lord’s moving the last 17 of those years have been spent ministering in three different urban areas to primarily unchurched families (New Jersey, Virginia, Florida back to New Jersey). Her responsibilities have included Bible based program direction for children ages 5-18, curriculum writing, staff training and recruiting, discipleship, resource creation and speaking to national audiences. Her passion is to raise up workers in practical, relationship-driven methods while remaining in the trenches with the youth and families she loves. Her goal is to help others understand every student living in a survival mindset can and will be transformed in Christ. One of her greatest joys is serving in ministry as a family with her husband three wonderful children, and her niece. Simply she resides among her friends in the city just living life as a family that loves being there. You can contact her at leneitafix@aslanyouth.org.

7 responses to How to Answer Students’ Questions that Leave us Speechless

  1. The one that blew me away was during an anonymous ‘text in the questions’ session.

    “When does the hurt go away?”

  2. I wouldn’t try to give a full answer in a small group setting.

    I’d say something empathetic, and that we need to talk it through. Something like: “Wow, that must have really hurt. It’s a tough question that I really can’t answer right now in small group. Why don’t we go out for hot chocolate after the group is over.”

    That gives you time to think and pray and allows you to give the kind of one-on-one attention a hard question like that deserves.

    • Leneita Fix

      William-
      This is so true. I love that- and really encourage my team mates to do that within their small group setting. I think we do need to process, but also gives you the opportunity to let them know that you heard them.

  3. It’s all about knowing the context. Some questions (like the examples listed above) are deeply personal & mean lots is going on beneath the surface. But not all tough questions are created equal.
    We had a 6th grade student ask last night “Why do scientists say that dinosaurs are millions of years old when they’re not in the bible and the bible says God made the world in 7 days?” We were able to stop discussion for a moment to address this, which allowed other students to model helping others out. But by approaching the question in an empathetic way while they are younger, it allows our students–and leaders–to know how to respond once they get tougher and deeper and more personal. At least that’s the goal.

  4. Leneita Fix

    Adam-

    Great point. There are different types of “tough questions” Some are just hard to answer because we don’t know the answers to those things. Some are hard because they reveal pain. I also find it’s ok to say- “Let’s dig into that idea together.” I like that you are allowing other students to give their input as well. I think (and I’m sure you are) with questions- like the one you mentioned we have be careful not to let the simple question turn into a full on student debate- if they are not being respectful. There are no “stupid questions,’ sometimes just ones we have no clue about.

  5. Tony Myles

    Brilliant (as always).

    Just wrote our leaders about this last week. I think the tension is we float in between “Do we spend time on that?” to “Do we solve that?” Sometimes asking questions in themselves are what’s most important, and students need to know that.

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