A couple nights ago I had a conversation with a girl who is interested in going on one of our summer mission trips. She's about 15 years old, smart and really fun to hang around. I don't know her very well but somehow our conversation turned towards her opinion of Jesus.
She willingly and openly admitted she's not sure about this Jesus thing. She's not sure he actually existed or that it even matters. As we continued to talk I was really blown away by her transparency and willingness to discuss these things with the "youth pastor."
After reflecting on our conversation there are a couple of things I'm reminded of...
As youth leaders we must have conversations
Ok, for years authentic relationship has been the mantra for student ministry. Moving away from production to relationship has been the focus for a long time. I was reminded of the power of a conversation. The questions she asked were not addressed by any speaker from our stage and if they had there's a chance she wouldn't have paid attention. We need a lot of leaders to be present for these conversations. Conversations are typically more powerful than any song, video or sermon we can give.
Every student (and person) is created in the image of God
My friend has not yet been changed by the gospel but has a desire to help people who are hurting. Sure, her desire to serve and do good stuff isn't "righteous," but any desire a person has to help those in need probably comes from "Godness" in them. Part of our job is to seek out the "image of God stuff" in students and talk about why they actually care about others. And yes, every student we are serving was made in the image of God.
Students are still skeptical about Christianity
In the early 90's I was all about having answers to all the questions. As we moved to a more postmodern ministry we rightfully focused less on apologetics. Students were and are asking, "does it work?" instead of "is it true?" Even now we are focused on helping students "belong" before they actually "believe." Over the years I have seen more and more students come to faith because they experienced the gospel through community before they actually embraced the truth. This shift was actually positive for the church because it forced us to take a deep look at the authenticity of our lives (that's just my opinion). We couldn't just talk about following Jesus, we actually had to follow Jesus. The question of "is Jesus liar, lunatic or Lord" was replaced with "if Jesus is real does it make a difference in my life and the world around me?" Students answer these questions many times by what they see in the lives of Jesus followers around them.
Here's the point, we must be prepared to listen and answer the tough questions in the context of relationship. We must create an environment where students have the freedom and the space to question Christianity. Let's face it, our faith doesn't really make sense. Paul actually says it's foolishness to those who don't believe. There are and should be hard questions about the crazy stuff we believe.
So here's an idea. What if we provided a safe, interactive, anonymous opportunity for students to share and ask the tough questions? This week I'm on the hunt to find a free chat room program where students can sign in anonymously and ask whatever they want. Every week at the same time someone from our staff team will be moderating the chat room answering questions and entering into the conversations. Sure, sometimes the answer is "I don't know" or "it's a mystery isn't it?" but hopefully these discussions will lead to deeper face to face conversations with students who are struggling.
As you can see this is new to us. I know we're not the first to think of this so if you have any input or advice on how to do this effectively it would be greatly appreciated.