3 Essential Postures for Walking with Students Through Hard Questions

Yesterday, we looked at the cataclysmic changes that happen in a person’s thinking at about age 12. (If you missed it, click here to read it before this post.) We asked, “What are the implications for us, as leaders and parents? How do we help them walk through this cataclysmic time?” Here are three postures:

  1. This is a brand new skill for them—they don’t know how to use it yet. Be gracious to them. As a youth pastor, I’ll often receive questions from students that feel like a personal attack. I watch as other adults stiffen their back and get defensive. Parents of teenagers experience this all the time. But we must remember that these are genuine questions, even if they are often poorly delivered. Abstract thinking is a new skill for them–be gracious! They don’t mean the question as rudely as it sounds.
  2. Because this is the first time they’ve considered this question, they’ll tend to assume no one else has either. Enter the question with them. Prior to this stage, they don’t have the ability to think in abstract thought—or to hear others thinking in abstract thought. So, when this ability suddenly happens, it feels like they’re the first person to ever discover it. A bit of arrogance tends to come along. When I encounter this in a teenager, I’ll often respond, “That’s a fantastic question—I’m really glad you’re asking it. I remember when I asked that question, and how important it was.” Notice how I affirm the question, and gently remind the student that others have also asked that question.
  3. Either we engage these questions, or someone else will. Ask the question for them. This is perhaps the most important point of all. As youth leaders and parents, we’re often scared by these questions. We’re tempted to push back against these questions, to label them as rebellious or evil or damaging. But we have to remember that God created people to go through this stage. He deemed it necessary and good. If we silence or reprimand the young person asking these questions, they’ll simply take these questions elsewhere. And they’ll assume we’re scared of these questions because we can’t answer them, and that our faith is false. In fact, even more than answering these questions, we need to ask these questions with our students, so that we prepare our young people to wrestle with the deep issues of life. Our students must know that we know that these questions exist. It’s essential that we model the good thinking and honest wrestling that these questions demand.

One of my friends in university experienced two very different reactions to his questions. The son of a pastor, he began to have deep questions about his faith during his high school years. He shared his questions and doubts with an adult he trusted. The mentor replied, “You can’t have those doubts. You’re the son of the pastor. Everyone looks up to you. You’ve got to get it figured out.”

Can you imagine the confusion and pressure this put on him? He was the leader of the worship band, and the leader of the student leadership team. He already felt tremendous stress about having these questions. What a terrible—but tempting—response!

Thankfully, my friend took the next step and took his doubts and concerns to his dad. He said, “Dad, I’m not sure I believe in God anymore.” His dad paused, then smiled, and said, “Son, I’m glad you have those questions. And the God I serve is big enough for your questions. Keep asking them—you’ll find answers.”

Today, my friend is a pastor himself. I’m sure glad his dad (and youth pastor) helped him navigate his transition into the world of abstract thought. May we, too, walk with students amidst their questions.

(PS–This is Part 5 of a series titled YOUR Students–An Inside Look. Click here to see the rest of the series.)

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