“I still tell people about how great and accepting our youth group was,” a 30-year-old recently shared with me. When I was his youth pastor years ago, “Mike” never took the big step of becoming a Christian. Back then he described himself as an atheist-meets-Wiccan. He tried to dismiss the Bible with all the classic pushback, presenting our volunteer leaders with one doubt-whammy after another.
But Mike kept showing up to every Jesus-centered activity we offered. Friends had invited him to church, thinking we could convert him overnight. When it became obvious Mike wasn’t ready for that big step, we all determined to keep exposing him to Jesus. The challenge was to neither water down the truth nor drown him with debate.
I wish I could tell you that Mike is now a passionate Christ-follower. Honestly, I don’t know because we’ve only recently reconnected. But I do consider that good news. Because our youth ministry built a foundation back then, I still have an opportunity to invest in him now.
That’s not a luxury we can bank on. Eternity is a reality, so there’s an incredible sense of urgency to get teenagers “over the line” in trusting Jesus. When young people express doubts or won’t commit their lives to Christ, what are our options? Do we put them in their place with some theological auto-correcting? Hand them a book? Make them listen to a podcast? Or step back and become as hands-off as possible?
I’m still trying to figure that out. But I’ve learned we can prepare to respond when kids express doubts. Here’s how we responded to Mike back in the day, and to all the “Mikes” who’ve moved through my ministry since then:
- “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer to that today.” Share that you’re on a spiritual journey, too. Explain that it took you time and questions like theirs to get where you are today. Likewise, point out that you have room to grow—and are willing to. Follow up by asking, “What do you say we figure out your question together?”
- “If you were to share your question or doubt with Jesus over a meal, what do you think he’d say?” This is less about the “right” answer and more about exploring what someone’s response reveals about their view of Jesus. Point out that not everyone who brought questions to Jesus left satisfied, but they always left changed. He never overtook their ability to believe or disbelieve but always gave them something deeper to ponder.
- “Is this a deal-breaker or something you’re just curious about?” We sometimes forget that faith is a relationship with someone. Just as you don’t know everything about everyone you know, you can build something great out of what you do know. I like to invite students to list all their questions and then mark a few as the most important. Explore what you can with them, always pointing to Jesus.
- “Who else do you think might wonder about this?” It’s great to find synergy in community, so ask if teenagers are willing to do a short study together on a topic. It doesn’t have to be a one-sided presentation of apologetics; instead, aim for interaction so kids can bring their best thoughts and wrestle with questions in the context of Scripture.
- “What have you wondered about in the past that you eventually found a good answer to?” We’re all on a journey of discovering new elements to our faith, just as we come to see many different parts of life differently.
As a teaching metaphor, discuss a piece of artwork that’s only partially exposed in a picture frame. Seeing just part of it is like how we see Jesus: There’s much more to him, and our perspective of that fuller picture grows as we intentionally work to unveil the rest. That means the part of Jesus we know today is true, but not all of him. Even in heaven, elements of God will be beyond us, but we’ll see him clearly, face-to-face (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Can you relate? Who’s your “Mike”? How are you coping with doubts and resistance?