I take my hat off to the young people of today. Everyone is telling them who to be and what to think. Meanwhile, their education encourages them to reason, rationalise and evaluate texts, equations and hypotheses.
Questioning is a natural part of maturity, and should not only be expected in education but also in faith. I began my own journey of questioning after a series of circumstances caused me to lose my faith.
My parents have been pastoring the same church for 23 years. Growing up, I was taught that God the Father was unquestionably real, as were Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Church was a place where we served multiple times a week.
Church, for me, was an incredible place of growth and friendship, but also a place of pain. Our family experienced much agony within the church, from loved ones passing away to people leaving the congregation and severe relationship breakdowns. Although I was not involved in the nitty-gritty struggles of church ministry, I couldn’t avoid the knock-on effects of what my parents were dealing with.
At about 17, I decided I had experienced enough pain to justify not only being done with the church, but with God. I couldn’t reconcile the idea that a loving God would allow people who had been so faithful and had made major sacrifices to go through so much. More so, I couldn’t understand how God could allow me, simply a child in the midst of it all, to be so hurt. This God wasn’t someone I wanted to have in my life at all.
This is when I began to question my faith. I decided I was no longer going to blindly accept the ‘truths’ I had been told. I was going to critically examine the beliefs I had been taught my whole life. I resolved that God needed to be big enough to answer my questions or strong enough not to be offended at the raging of a 17-year-old.
So question I did, harshly and unrelentingly. I barraged my parents with questions: “Why should we serve a God who needs to be worshipped?” “If being a Christian brings as much pain (if not more) as being a non-Christian, why bother? I might as well have fun.” Day in and day out, I questioned. I presented reasons as to why I should exclude God from my life. My parents were surprisingly supportive of this and answered me with grace and patience, but it wasn’t answers I needed.
“God needed to be big enough to answer my questions or strong enough not to be offended at the raging of a 17-year-old”
My questions arose because I was hurt. I needed someone to listen to me, someone to see me; to say that what we had experienced wasn’t okay and that they would be with me while I worked through the hurt in my soul. Sadly, I didn’t find these people until three years later.
Throughout this season I had made a small bargain with God that if he wanted me to be a Christian he would have to come and get me, because I wasn’t prepared to move towards him. I felt like I’d moved towards him my whole life, reading the Bible every day, attending church at least three times a week and going to every camp my youth leader signed me up for. Now it was God’s turn.
And that’s exactly what he did. God revealed his goodness, sovereignty and healing power to me in many ways. As he did so, I began to take small steps towards including him in my life. It wasn’t the answering of questions that led me to open my heart to God again; it was him showing up in ways I didn’t expect or ask for.
I now work as a youth outreach worker for Ascension Trust’s 60/40 youth project. I have the privilege of journeying with children and young people as they ask questions just as I once did. I get to be the person who walks alongside them and introduces them to Jesus.
Young people don’t necessarily need the most gifted leaders; they need someone who is committed to pointing them towards Jesus. We should do our best to answer the questions they ask, and we need to study the faith we hold to in order to lead effectively. However, let’s understand that their questions may point to a greater need or hurt that only Jesus can answer.
It’s not a sign of weakness to admit we don’t have all the answers. Our confidence needs to be in Jesus and his ability to reveal himself to those we lead. God is not intimidated when his children question him, so why should we be?
Let’s do our best to answer their questions, while encouraging them to open their hearts to Jesus. One of our greatest strengths as youth leaders should be our confidence in Christ’s ability to meet every need of those we lead.