In a class for parents of confirmation students (primarily 7th graders), the question arose, “How do I answer my kid when they ask who gets into heaven?” Many parents nodded their heads acknowledging that they too had been asked similar—or at least equally difficult—questions. Like those parents, I’m sure you’ve been asked an array of difficult and, at times, uncomfortable questions by the teenagers in your ministry.
Like I told the parents: DON’T GIVE THEM THE ANSWER! Just like in junior high math class, you can’t just let someone cheat off of your paper. You’ve studied, done the research and contemplation, and come to a conclusion, so you can’t just give them the answer you’ve landed on!
By spoon-feeding students answers to questions like, “Who makes it into heaven?” or “Why did my friend’s dad die?” or “Doesn’t evolution prove that God didn’t create the earth?” we effectively tell them that they don’t need to learn, study the Bible, or make an effort to find truth. Let’s follow the example of Jesus, who allowed the disciples to watch his actions and hear his teaching but often answered their questions with a question of his own. Jesus also spoke in parables, which forced the disciples to think through and dig into Jesus’ meaning as he guided them along.
Now, please don’t hear that I’m asking you to abandon them or have them figure it all out on their own. We, as youth workers, are guides, coaches, and sounding boards. Here are a few things you should do in the process:
1. Listen—What is their real question? What concern are they trying to voice? Are they truly fearful of the solidity of their salvation or do they just want to see how smart you are? Show them that you are willing to hear their concerns by taking the time to listen to their question. Remember, it took a lot of courage for them to be vulnerable.
2. Ask—Ask your student what he or she thinks about the subject. What have they read or heard that leads them to their conclusion? What affect would the answer have on their faith?
3. Commit—Let them know that though you’re not going to give them the answer, you are going to search for it with them. Take a week so that you can both search for clues and then come back together to talk about what you found. (Recognize that this may be a long commitment so don’t commit unless you plan to stick with it.)
4. Offer—As you both search, offer them credible resources. Students can find tons of answers on Google, but can they find truth without guidance? Point them in the direction of faithful theologians. Share a good book on the subject. Not only will this help them find truth, but it will also show them that you’re still committed to helping them find their answer.
At some point, someone encouraged you to search for answers. When you did, certainly you came to a deeper understanding of God or a more firm footing in your faith. What questions are your students asking you? What helpful resources will you offer them?