Questions

The quote reads- “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” This was on my high school english teacher’s classroom wall.  I remember staring at it for hours wondering who said it and what the heck it meant.  This morning I discovered that it was still there when I had the privilege of returning to said classroom for the first time since like 1996.  After recently reconnecting with my high school english teacher, he invited me to his world religions class to talk about christianity.

Before coming over he sent me a long list of questions to prepare for-which we for the most part never got to.  But I got to thinking about the questions which young people ask and how we as a church respond.  Some of the questions from the list were hot-topic-ish.  You know, interfaith dialogue, gay marriage, evolution/creation, etc.  What surprised me though, is that what we actually discussed was much deeper (though not to suggest that these mentioned topics are unimportant).  But you know the questions I’m talking about, they’re the same ones you ask, the ones that have volumes written about them and the ones which are still being debated in universities and seminaries all over the world.

Before talking with these students this morning I was thinking about our (the church’s) ability to field, answer and be patient with the questions of young people as they hammer out theology, philosophy, history, ethics..etc.  It’s all relevant to their processing an adult worldview.  Whether it’s gay-marriage or the trinity, we have a responsiblity to respond to the questions and concerns that young people have.  Here are some guidelines that I use when helping college students (and high school students) to wrestle out these things.

1- Be patient.  Go into the conversation knowing that you may never agree.  Whether it’s a christian kid hammering out faith issues in a way that sounds heretical or a non-christian kid who’s challenging your doctrine (or most likely some combination of the two!), remember that you have not always had your theology worked out.  In fact, you probably still don’t.  In fact, completely working out one’s theology may not actually be possible or desirable.

2- Engage the process.  If working out one’s theology is neither desirable or possible, does that mean that we shouldn’t do theology?  Of course not.  Do it and do it with them.  Get your hands dirty with the mystery of God.  Humbly processing with them makes you seem like more of an equal and allows for better dialogue, thus making truths more likely to stick.  Simply presenting truths and assuming that they’ll swallow it all up is not only ineffective in today’s context, but it can come off (and be) really arrogant.

3.  Use the Bible.  Probably should be number one… Either way.  Teach people to lean into scripture.  Not that the endless speculations, opinions and commentaries of Christian history are worthless.  Rather treat them as supplementary.  Model for them the process of biblical interpretation and applied theology.

4. Don’t get too locked into one theological viewpoint.  This is hard because we all have our fave’s.  Luther, Calvin, Augustine, …. Again you may already some things worked out, I know I’m pretty comfortable with some of mine.  But when these people get to an age where they need to question things like free will, creation and other topics, they need to have the freedom to consider the other side of a position without being labeled as, or treated like a heretic.  This is really connected to the patience thing.  Acknowledge the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy and let them dive in.  If you think about it-you, they and the whole Church will be better for it.

5-Don’t try to control the outcome.  Furthermore, don’t get upset if their conclusion is something that you don’t agree with.  The process of them asking and answering these questions is actually very important.  Pray that God sanctifies this process for his glory and his kingdom work in their lives.  We fool ourselves to think that God’s goal is to get them to agree with our theological positions.

6- Be thankful.  Who would you rather they hammer this stuff out with?  Ours is a blessed position.  God has given us this right- to guide this process and be present in their lives while they struggle.  Allow joy to guide your engagement with them.  Also-thank them for sharing and for doing so honestly.

I don’t pretend to have this dialed-these are just things I’ve learned.  Any thoughts you’d like to add?  What have I missed here?

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5 thoughts on “Questions

  1. Great stuff bro! I love the thought-proviking guidelines and the humble approach behind it. I guess it kind of boils down to – be a good listener and keep pointing to God’s Word (without “thumping” of course :). Thanks – Bill

  2. These are good guidelines for engaging with people are asking the questions. And, by “people asking the questions” I mean every young person we meet. David Kinnaman pointed out in You Lost Me that, “This is a generation hungry for substantive answers to life’s biggest questions.”

    You’ve given us some good pointers…I especially like #5!

    p.s. Sorry I double-commented on the other post! It didn’t give me any confirmation on the first comment, so I assumed it didn’t go through. I’m enjoying your posts.

  3. Just dropping you a comment, since I just read about 12 of your previous posts in one sitting!
    I am a college-aged student. I am 22, and I quit church when I was 14 years old. As I traveled through the confusing and lonely times of adolescence and college, I eventually was drawn into a church full of well-meaning (although ALL at least 30 years older than me) wonderful people! They ask me all the time what they should do to get more people my age into the church, and I feel frustrated that I can’t answer them.
    I know that for me, trying to talk to my peers about God and about church in general is very painful. They often like to make jokes about Christians, say how horrible we are, and how out of touch with reality, and how hypocritical… it makes me feel unsafe to “confess” that I am one of those shameful Christians.
    When I explain to my friends that I can’t stay up till 2:30 Saturday night, because I have a solo to sing at church Sunday morning at 9, they look at me with blank eyes. When I try to explain how my work with our food pantry is so important, the say “well who would need it? Doesn’t everyone get food stamps now?”
    I would love to be surrounded by more people my age. And it actually makes it sort of awkward to be the only active member of church in my early 20’s, since all my nice 60-year-old lady friends want me to be the poster child for “young adult involvement”. I keep wondering if I should go find another church with a richer crowd of young people, but I’m sort of attached to my pastor, choir director, fellow alto singers, sunday school teachers… and would feel horrible betraying them like that. We are a small congregation in a huge old building, and I would love to see that building filled again. I just have no idea how to help them get it back.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing so honestly. Your story is unique in some ways, but I resonate with it quite a bit. I had a similar expeience at the church I came to faith in and know first hand how hard it can be. Without know more of the story, my only advice would be to continue your connection with your current church, but try to find a young adult fellowship/bible study/group to connect with on the side. The grass being “always greener on the other side” might sometimes lead us to thinking that we’d have it better if we found a church with “__________” or “____________” (you can fill in the blanks with whatever you want, including “more young people”). However, remember that there are good things to being where you are at too. I’d bet that the relationships you have with the 60-year-old lady friends, pastors, choir directors, singers and teachers are pretty life giving. I’d advocate for not giving those relationships up while simultaneously addressing the need for fellowship with your peers. That is a real need too and needs to be dealt with.

      Let me apologize for any pressure that your church my place on you to help them figure out “young adult involvement” and what to do about getting your age group into the church. This is a compicated issue that involves several layers of unpacking. This is ultimately not just your responsibility. Get some of your 60-year-old lady friends and other leaders in the church to read some books with you. Anything by Chuck Bomar would be helpful, but College Ministry 101 and Worlds Apart (both written by Bomar) might be particularly useful. If you can get them thinking practically about their role in solving this issue, you’ll make some steps forward. It may be that your best bet is to make some changes now which will only make a difference in the next generation of young people at your church.

      God Bless your journey!

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