For the longest time in youth ministry, we have, like "big church," preached a message that we expected youth to listen to. Within this framework, all of us have tried different things to keep students engaged. We may shorten the message, move around the format of the service, or have youth teach (which I think is fantastic).
I think something we may all underestimate is the ability to have conversations with students. It's not just conversation for conversation's sake, but dialogue that is Gospel-centered and directed towards getting to know students.
As we all know, the Gospel is offensive. It goes against everything our culture tells us is true about ourselves. So it will be offensive when we have conversations with students and get to the Gospel eventually (because, let's face it, that's why we're talking to them). But if they see that we care about them enough to have a conversation in the first place, maybe, just maybe, they'll be more receptive when we finally get around to sharing the Truth with them.
And actually, what we have found is when you give them space to share what they think, they don't get offended that much; they listen because you did!
I think a major hang-up for youth leaders is that we don't want youth to learn wrong things about the Bible. The problem is they already are. To take it a step deeper, we don't want them to come to youth groups and learn wrong things about the Bible. So we avoid conversation because we think conversation opens up the possibility of someone saying something weird and people believing it.
Trust me, I have had my fair share of strange things being said in the youth ministry context!
Here's the thing: conversation leads to learning something about the Bible, so if our goal is for students to understand Scripture, then dialogue is essential. This generation is constantly asking questions; what we need to do is help them understand what the right questions to ask are. If we're not careful, we inadvertently teach students to be afraid of conversation. We give them the message that questions are wrong and that they should take what we say as truth without question. Which essentially means they won't take it at all.
When a student asks a question about the scripture that it isn't trying to answer, ill often explain this and then reshape their question and ask if that resonates. From here, we can add something to the conversation for everyone while validating that individual student.
For faith to grow, there must be room for questions. Those questions can only be answered through conversation. So if we want students to have a deeper understanding of Scripture, an exchange is key.
I don't know
Another thing about questions is that sometimes students will ask you something you can't answer. We feel pressure to have all the answers, so this is a tough spot.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to say, "I don't know, but let's find out together." This shows students that it's okay not to have all the answers and that faith is a journey. It also allows you to learn alongside them, which will only serve to deepen your relationship with them and build trust.
I like to think about conversation as an opportunity to demonstrate genuine faith. Faith doesn't call for us to have all the answers but to trust in the character and nature of God based upon the solutions we already have. We don't have a faith that's blind, and this will be helpful for students to know. But we have a belief that says, "I don't know, and I trust that God does," in certain situations. This speaks to the authenticity students need to see in our age. In other words, have conversations, ask the questions you can, don't answer the questions you cannot, be who you are in Christ, and trust the Holy Spirit to work in ways we can't comprehend.
So I guess my question for you is this: how can conversation play a role in your youth ministry?
Jordan Francis is a team member at Reframe Youth in Phoenix, Arizona.
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