I was recently at Weinerschnitzel eating one of America’s finest meals—the tube steak kabob…affectionately known by connoisseurs as a Corn Dog. As I moving to my seat, I see a high school student reading the Da Vinci Code. I asked him, “How do you like that book?” Honestly, I thought that it was a very easy question and I would get a very quick response! That’s not what happened!
I expected this guy to say, “It’s an interesting read… not as a good as my chili cheese dog with onions. Have a nice day. Go about your business. Don’t you know this is Southern California and we don’t really want to talk to strangers here?”
Instead, this 17 year old perks up and says, “I love it. I believe it. The church is corrupt. Priests and pastors are all a bunch of phonies—you know that big church down the street? All they want is your money! You know which one I’m talking about?”
Well, I knew which church he was talking about—the one I where I’m the pastor to students—kids like him. Interesting perception. Our church looks good on the outside and I can see how he connected money with the look. He’s not the first to perceive it that way and he won’t be the last.
I said, “It sounds like you’ve got some pretty strong feelings about the church—where do those feelings come from?” For the first time in a long time, I asked a pretty intelligent question (a lot of times I say, “Uh…what school do you go to?” and think I’m a relational giant). Once again, this intellectual didn’t shrug off my question with a teenage grunt. Rather, he talked about his feelings about the church.
I listened. And listened. And listened. This kid had a story! A wild one. A sad one. One that has not only turned him off from church…but also from God.
One of the areas that I’ve been trying to grow as a youth worker is to be more blunt and upfront with my questions and equally as assertive with my listening. I’ve really been learning that kids want to talk about their spiritual stories and feelings (especially those outside the church) but few people (especially adults) care enough to ask.
I want to challenge you to ask some deeper questions if this doesn’t come naturally to you (it didn’t to me). Ask them this week. Maybe tonight at youth group. Ask a probing question and then listen to their story. As you listen don’t have an agenda. Just listen.
After you listen, you might be able to share some pieces from your own spiritual story and shed light on God’s amazing love story. Probably, somewhere between those three stories is an intersection of faith. As I spoke with this kid I realized that he likes to read (I know, you’re thinking, “It was a teenager?”) so I went out to my car and got him a copy of my pastor’s book, Purpose Driven Life. [If my pastor reads this I want him to know I have one with me at all times ?]
I told his guy, “If you read it, call me…I’d love to talk about it. I work right up the street at that church and I make enough money to buy you lunch—as long as you don’t eat more than 2 corn dogs.” He smiled. We exchanged names and I wrote my cell phone number inside the book.
He hasn’t called yet…but something about our time together makes me think he will. I’m praying he does. I’m also praying that you’ll experience a great spiritual conversation this month with a teenager because you asked a great question and were slow to speak. Kids are waiting for a caring adult to listen…to really listen. I can do that. So can you! Let’s commit to being a part of youth ministries where listening to kids is a high value.