Monday, June 01, 2009

    On Youth Ministry & Open-Ended Questions

    Do you already have life, faith, God and the world figured out or do you hope to learn more in years to come?

    Ever wondered if you might have some of this faith stuff wrong? That what you believe today you may not believe in the future? I recently came across a post by a young youth minister who certainly has a great deal of certitude about what he believes. I wondered if I ever had that much certitude, especially when it came to faith.

    I started working in youth ministry in my early twenties and even though I was already a "progressive" Christian way back then (though we called ourselves "liberal" in those days), I suppose that there were many issues of faith of which I was certain that I was certain. Ministering to youth afforded me the opportunity to pass on those great inviolate truths to the teens I served. Looking back, I'm not so sure that was such a good idea. If I've learned anything over the last two decades, it's that I still have a heck of a lot to learn and the things of which I'm absolutely certain, especially in the area of faith, would barely fill up a tiny communion cup. This I know: God is love, God loves all, and the Jesus of scripture lived out this ethic the best he could (and was killed for trying). Beyond that, I'm open to discussion...with conservatives, liberals, non-believers, and others alike.

    So, I'm not so comfortable anymore with passing on "the answers" to teens. I'm much more wary about giving them certitude. I've changed my mind too often and learned enough to know that I've learned so little. My eyes have been opened to too many things to think I know it all now. The scriptures have opened up thoughts to me in my middle age that I would never have been open to hearing in my youth. The Spirit has moved in ways I could never have predicted and God has shown up in places and people I would have never have expected. So I'm content to help youth live with the questions, to wrestle with their doubts and learn to value the frustration of trusting, but not necessarily knowing, what this Christian faith is really all about.



    Brandon said...

    Thanks for the comment!

    Brian said...

    If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,
    (James 1:5-9)

    I say, give kids the answers, let them know what "your" opinion is when the issue is multifaceted, but they need answers. Encouraging them in doubt and frustration is not helpful.

    Marv Nelson said...

    That guy just sounds so angry...If I were a Darwinist...I'd basically hate Christians because his tone is all off. Do teens need answers? Yes. Should we answer the answereable ones? Yes...but all things must be done as 1 Peter 3:15 says: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect"

    That post was not done with gentleness or respect...just a few thoughts to ponder

    Brian said...

    Part of what I'm advocating here, I hope is to be open to learning new things, to finding out tomorrow that what you thought yesterday was not quite true or right. I see no problem with helping teens search for truth and wisdom. But handing them "THE" answers can often really mean handing them "OUR" answers. To tell them "This is what Christians believe" is never really an accurate statement as I can think of nothing about which all Christains believe (perhaps you faithful readers can!) I want to help young people be searchers of truth and wisdom, grounded in scripture and a faith community, rather than encouraging them to be a receptacle into which I pour the things I believe to be true today. But that's me...

    Marv Nelson said...

    I totally agree with that. It's a part of the "helping the teens own their faith". If we are constantly telling them what to believe, they won't know what they truly believe. Also, life-long learning should be everyone's goal, agree with you there too! There is theology I held to 3 years ago that I no longer think is right...learning is part of growing. Thanks for the thought provoking post. My earlier statement was simply stating that the original post talked about was brash and arrogant...

    Brandon said...

    Mary, I apologize if you think I sound angry.

    I try to speak truthfully which can sometimes offend. The Bible isn't just a book of love and humility, it's also a book of defense of attacks on God.

    Jesus Himself wouldn't tolerate Darwin's ideas and we are to carry on that sentiment; there is no gray area in the midst of evolution that we should tolerate.

    Brian said...

    Brandon, thanks for responding. I'd really appreciate hearing more about what it is you think Jesus would find offensive in Darwin's work. I guess I would tend to be more reluctant to know what Jesus would think about this issue (or many others, for that matter. Never was much of a fan of the WWJD trend).

    Brandon said...


    You could probably go all day in reasons why evolution would offend God.

    I don't think God made mistakes when He created life.

    Anonymous said...

    Protestants often get confused about whether our Bible or our theology is infallible. I would argue that most of what we label "the Bible says" is really theology and that nobody has a perfect, infallible theology. It's like the difference between nature and science (a theory of nature).

    When I work with youth I really try to keep some things open instead of teaching as fact, something which I myself may dispute in years to come. Historical events (i.e. the life of Jesus, Jewish history) don't fall into this category of course because I think reasonably certain belief is warranted unless better sources arise.

    Marv Nelson said...


    Does the Bible offend? Oh yes it does..however, when talking apologetics, 1 Peter admonishes us to administer the Truth with gentleness and respect. This means we listen to the opposition, not simply bashing their ideals...that makes them automatically defensive and Satan can more easily shadow the truth your trying to teach them. That's why Peter says we should answer people's questions about our faith with gentleness and respect. Saying that God created the world is offensive to some, though it is true. However, when talking to a Darwinist, you can be gentle and respectful with this truth.

    We NEED to teach teens this authentic, gentle and respectful way of bringing their faith to their friends. too many teens are trained to be argumentative people seeking to win an argument rather than a persons heart. Jesus went for the heart, not the argument. He didn't try to win a theorist debate, rather he came to seek and save the lost.

    That's what I'm, talking about.

    Brian said...

    cawoodm: Thanks for commenting. I have always been wary of the phrase "The Bible says..." as if the Bible speaks with one voice on any topic of issue. To me this is much like trying to argue that "The Library says..." when you're really stating something from a particular book in the library. And, after all, the Bible really is a library of stories, history, letters, poems, songs, parable, theology etc. I'd much rather persons argue "The Gospel of Luke says" or "The writer of Hebrews says" or "Matthew's Jesus says..."

    Brandon - I see that you have strong ideas regarding evolution and that's cool. I also don't think you should hesitate to share those ideas with your youth. My approach would simply be to leave space for the youth to disagree with you or to raise doubts about your position. Ultimately, they must "own their faith," as Marvin says and will, whether we like or not, create their own meaning out of what we share with them.

    Thanks all for commenting!

    Brian said...

    Good words. I do think that it is often part of the teen psyche, particularly those with a strong sense of faith, that it's all about winning an argument and convincing others that "my way is the right way and it should be your way, too!" With maturity comes an understanding,I hope, that faith is about much more than about how we picked the right team! About more than our being right and the non-believers being wrong (and getting punished for it in the end!.) And I would hope that youth learn the qualities of gentleness and respect, especially in matters of sharing the faith, because they see us modeling it.

    Brandon said...

    My blog isn't aimed a youth and you are jumping t conclusions that I do not allow disagreement or others ideas or that I promote arrogance. In fact, I have taught the contrary of arrogance time and again.

    I was comparing truth/good and lies/evil in that post, and I stand by it.

    Hope you guys can read more and understand my personality from more than just a straight-forward post against one of God's biggest threats. Once again, I thank you for your comments.

    This is my last comment, as I do not wish to get into an extended comment war.