As a youth pastor and a Dad I have an underlying principal that guides me in both those roles. It’s this: “I want to teach them how to think, not what to think.”
But despite my passion for it, that’s going to remain a nice t-shirt motto unless I’m really intentional about it. So, if it rings true to you and that’s what you want to do as a parent or youth leader too, here’s a few reminders for both of us.
YOU’RE NOT SAFE: As a default, your role has made you unapproachable. Ok, maybe you’re an aces parent and super cape wearing youth leader, but everyone around you is not. So that means that the title has baggage. If you want students to ask real questions then they need multiple places to ask those questions from lots of mentors and voices. Student will tell parents some things they won’t tell youth leaders and friends some things they won’t tell either and stuff they’ll tell youth leaders they won’t tell anyone else and around it goes. It takes a community. We must find and create one if we want real questions asked.
FOSTER DOUBT: You and I don’t have all the answers- to anything. So, if you want students to ask questions, then share some of your own. Play the role of devil’s advocate and flip a theological rock over every now and again. Ask some hard questions like “So, why would you pray to a God you can’t see?” or “If God can control an earthquake, then is God unloving when one kills hundreds of thousands of men, women, and kids?” Dig in and dig in deep. If we don’t create spaces where we can doubt and wrestle with real questions, we’ll only be teaching them what to think and not helping them learn how to think. Be ok with the unknown and the hard questions.. go digging for both. It’s where the real spiritual growth lies.
PROVIDE ANONYMOUS QUESTION CARDS: I’m always amazed at what students will write down and ask me in a group of 10 or 100, that they won’t ask directly. Our church staff even uses “anonymous question cards” when tough issues come up so people who ask what they’re really wondering. This is both weird and understandable to me. I really want safe places but I also have to acknowledge that 99% of environments are not safe from judgment and the fear of ridicule. We did this again last Sunday and I’ve decided a staple in my student ministry from here out will be anonymous question cards that students can write down and we’ll periodically address in youth group.
MEET ONE ON ONE: If you want to become safe, then there’s no substitute for relationship. There’s also no fast track to relationship. If I could challenge you to do just one thing on this list it’d be this. One on one times with my kids or students are the best way to foster and ask questions. They are the best time for me to both strive to become safe and to dig for deeper questions. They also don’t just happen and are rarely initiated by students or my kids. If I want them to be a priority, then they must be my priority and be intentionally sought out.