What To Do With Controversial Questions

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A few months ago one of my high school students asked me, “Chris, do I have to choose between science and Christianity?”  As soon as I heard that question a part of me groaned internally because the answer is so much longer than yes or no.  So, I did what I always do and answered her with my own question, “Do you have to choose?”
A little puzzled, she went on to explain that a teacher in her school said that you can’t believe in God and science at the same time because one disproves the other.  I could see that his comment didn’t sit well with her and that she was looking to relief from the tension.
I told her that you need God inorder to have science and that many men and women have used science to show His power, greatness and amazing attention to detail.  It’s a question 10 years ago I would have been surprised to hear; but, her concern is one many teenagers face today.  And it’s not just science that teens are being challenged to choose over faith, there is an unlimited list where teens are forced to choose between God and you fill in the blank.  It’s putting tension and even straining their relationship with God and they are looking to you on how to respond.  So how do you respond when a teen asks you how they should choose?  You respond by:

  1. Listening To Them: It’ll be tempting to jump into the situation and help them resolve their feelings immediately.  And while you might have the right answer, it could backfire if you come off too forthright; therefore, listen and ask questions.  Get them to explain how the situation arose and why they are feeling the way they are feeling.  By listening to them first you build trust.
  2. Checking Your Heart: Whether the subject is political or just plain old controversial it’s going to provoke some emotion.  When teens come to us with “hot topics” it’s important that we respond with love, patience, gentleness and other fruits of the Spirit.  A teen will want to know your passions; however, too many emotions might send the message that you are upset with them and not the subject.
  3. Encourage Them To Go To God:  You want to affirm them in their search for truth, not force it upon them.  Acknowledge the tension that they are facing; however, show them how God is there.  Many times we want to give them the answers; however, there is greater reward in showing them how to get there.  When you show them how to find the answers you are equipping them with the habits to seek truth on their own.
  4. Consult Your Peers:  You don’t know all the answers and that’s okay.  If a teen gives you a situation that stumps or troubles you consult your peers in ministry and faith.  Just because you are the point person doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers, if you don’t know don’t make it up, let the student know you will do your best to find the answer.  Above all else, follow up.

When teens ask the difficult questions it can be unnerving and even a little frustrating; however, you need to see it as a sign that they trust you.  They are looking to you for answers and guidance and that is a healthy sign of ministry.  Youth ministers need to see this situation as an opportunity to not only answer a question but to equip and empower a future disciple.

What hot topic questions have you faced in your ministry?  How have you responded?