Recently, a new youth worker told me about how, after taking his first job in youth ministry, he decided the best way to begin his ministry would be to do a series addressing his high school students’ questions about their faith. His first week on the job, he explained what he wanted to do, handed out blank paper, and invited students to write down a question about their faith. Much to his surprise, not a single student wrote down a question. Seeing this, he reiterated that he really wanted to hear their questions and assured his students they wouldn’t be judged for them. Still, no one wrote anything. Eventually, a student explained, “We just don’t have any questions about our faith.”
In recounting this story to me, the youth worker asked, “How can students NOT have questions about their faith?”
It’s a common question and one I’ve wondered at various points in my own ministry. Shortly after beginning ministry at my current congregation, I, too, asked my high school students to share their faith questions with me.
I got NOTHING.
As a continual questioner, my students’ lack of questions flabbergasted me.
What I’ve since realized is that if we want our students to ask questions about their faith, we have to cultivate spiritual curiosity. Here are 7 ways you can go about cultivating spiritual curiosity.
- Invite questions at every gathering. Since not every adult welcomes questions, make it clear you do. Since asking questions requires vulnerability, teens won’t ask questions unless they know it’s safe for them to do so. So, every time you’re together with teens, explicitly say, “This is a safe place to ask questions. When you’ve got one, ask it. You won’t be laughed at or judged for it, no matter what it is. Chances are good that if you’re wondering something, someone else is too.” Of course, if you say this, you have to mean it. You’ve got to be willing to be interrupted in order to welcome any and all questions without judgment.
- Dig into Scripture together. Because most youth workers have a never-ending supply of questions about their faith, we often expect teens to as well. But you can’t ask questions about something you don’t know. For teens, a lack of spiritual questions isn’t so much a sign of spiritual apathy as it is an indication of a lack of spiritual knowledge. So, pull out your Bibles and start investigating Scripture together. As teens become more familiar with the stories of their faith, they’ll start asking questions.
- Deliberately point out confusing and hard things in Scripture. Even teens who have grown up in the church won’t necessarily have questions about their faith. Why? Because they’ve been taught to accept everything at face value, without questioning it. So as you explore Scripture together, ask teens questions about the confusing or hard things you find. Doing so will give teens permission to ask their own hard questions while at the same time, giving them space in which to wrestle with the facets of Scripture that are troubling or, at the very least, challenging.
- Play devil’s advocate. Disagree with people. Present the opposing side of an argument. Doing so will foster spiritual curiosity by encouraging teens to think critically about their faith.
- Don’t be the answer person. Instead, when someone asks you a question, turn it back around to the group. Challenge teens to wrestle through their questions together in community. As they do, guide their conversation.
- Share your own doubts & questions with students. I recently sat down with a group of students from another ministry who shared with me an encounter they had with a leader who openly shared his doubts with them. In doing so, this leader made a huge impact on the students, who talked about how so often, the adults they hear from seem to have faith figured out. For them, it was much easier to relate to someone who didn’t. Hearing a leader share how he worked through his doubts gave these students permission to vocalize and work through theirs. The same is true in our ministries. When we share our own doubts and questions with students, they’ll be far more likely to share theirs.
- Don’t feel like you have to tie every lesson up with a nice neat bow. Sometimes, faith is hard. Not everything in our world makes sense. Evil exists. As a result, questions cannot always be satisfactorily answered in a 15-minute message or a 90-minute small group. It’s OK to leave teens with questions at the end of your time together. When teens leave with questions, they’ll learn that faith is just as complex as the world in which we live. They’ll learn to embrace the mysteries of God. What’s more, when teens leave with questions, they just might be compelled to continue talking about and wrestling with their questions with family and friends OUTSIDE of church or by digging into Scripture on their own. Not only will doing so foster more spiritual curiosity, but it will also foster a deeper faith as teens learn for themselves what they believe and why.