I Believe: Teaching Youth the Faith

February 19th, 2012

It was the opening drama. The theme was the cross, and the youth were doing a “Saturday Night Live” style presentation. One of the youth playing the preacher pontificated, “Jesus Christ died for your sins!” Another youth walked in front of him and said, “Yeah, but what has He done for me lately?”

That drama took place thirty years ago, but the question continues to haunt me. Especially in the season of Lent, looking forward to Easter. The focus is on Jesus, on the cross, on salvation.

Our youth still wonder, What has he done for me lately? What is this salvation business all about? What difference does it make today that Jesus was crucified almost 2000 years ago? Sometimes they ask, “Does God even care about me?" These are not flippant questions. They’re deep, serious, and heavy.

Youth want to talk about faith questions in depth. They want to explore possibilities and alternatives. They want adults to help them explore possibilities and then to help them put things together, so they can see the big picture.

So, what qualities does an adult need to help youth deal with deep questions?

  • An openness about life and faith (which does not mean lack of faith)
  • A willingness to not know the answer
  • A willingness to let youth “try on” a lot of different possibilities (including some that may sound pretty bizarre) without judging them
  • An ability to listen to a discussion and then summarize the main points
  • A willingness to express his or her own faith as part of the discussion

What are some practical ways to do it?

A senior high class was talking about God and I discovered my two favorite questions were: “Why?” and “What is the question behind that question?” That second question pushes youth to explore assumptions, to get to the root of the issue.

I also discovered that, once youth had raised the questions, explored possibilities, tested ideas, argued with each other, they were more than willing to listen to some pretty heavy background and theology from me. Not that I gave them answers. I gave them information, which sometimes raised more questions.

I told them about the way other people in the church had raised the questions and answered them. I shared my faith. My favorite saying turned out to be, “Here’s what I believe. You don’t have to believe it, even though I think it’s true. I just want you to know what one adult believes about that issue.”

We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot. We’re looking forward to more and more of that kind of learning. Because, in five weeks, we never got through all the questions that were raised about “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”

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