How well do you want to be known by the students in your area for having tough but needed conversations?

I think where a lot of ministries (not just youth ministries) who struggle with having having deep, real, raw, confrontational conversations about things of this culture, beliefs that are different from what we believe and people whom are different from us. I tend to hear from students who don’t “do church” I meet at schools that church handles things one of two ways (broad generalization I know) of:

  • Don’t talk about it
  • Talk about it, but way too harsh

It’s our goal as leaders to have the tough conversations, speak truth in love and graciousness, and still have those students feel like they want to come back after that conversation is done; to make them want to come back and have them still invite us into their lives to pursue Jesus.

If that is not our goal, what are we doing? If we speak the truth with no love we are just jerks and it’s not the Gospel. We we speak just love and no truth, we are just nice people and it’s not the Gospel.

I don’t think we in our ministry have this down yet but we are working our way towards it. I want our ministry to be a place where any student feels like this is “home” to them but they know what we believe, why we believe it and will challenge them on what they believe as well. Does every student we have agree with what we believe and teach? Heck no. Do they feel like they can have open and hard conversations about it? I think they can because it’s happened.

I know because I have talked to the gay students in our ministry. I have talked to students who are transgender and trying to figure this whole Jesus thing out. I have talked to the students who are doing things in relationships and don’t see anything wrong with it. I have talked to students who were invited by a friend who practice another religion at home or on the weekends. The last thing I want to do (and believe Jesus modeled this) would run them off with aggressiveness of what He believed or not challenge them to follow Him and leave their life of sin. He entered into conversations.

So as I have been processing all of this, here are thoughts in my hope to either challenge how we all have tough conversations about tough things or it is just a good reminder and refresher for you and your team:

You can’t change anyone. You don’t have that power. I don’t have that power. The Holy Spirit has that power. I think we just need to remember that before we even enter into any conversation. “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT)

Blankets are great for sleeping, not for statements. Don’t use blanket statements. It is really hard to make general statements about a topic or people group when you talk to an individual. I think we are first and foremost called to love and everything else is a conversation. Each student has a story. Their story is not like the others who believe or think the same way as them. We should know and think through tough conversations and have a certain thought process to respond with, but… when you are staring at a student knee-to-knee eye-to-eye you might think about your approach differently. So have that conversation and keep it to that person.

Listen more than you speak. Every student has a story, we need to listen to it. I have experienced many a times where people are not listening to me because they are just thinking of what to say next. In order to have students who believe different, or behave different, we want to make them feel like they belong. How do you do that? By listening. Make them feel like a person, not a project. Students, regardless of who they are, want to know they can be heard and known and listening to their stories and getting to know them personally will then give you the ability and permission to speak into their lives.

Challenge them to know why they believe what they believe. We know what we believe and why we believe it. Most students know what they believe but don’t know why. Most students base belief on what they feel, not what they know what is truth. I tell students who don’t believe what I believe, “We can disagree, that is great, but I won’t let you not know why. If you are a Jesus follower, why do you believe _______ is okay and true?” It just creates more great conversations and allows you t listen more and engage in more great, real, open conversations.

You can disagree and still like each other. We live in a culture where people think where if we disagree with certain beliefs, we cannot be friends. I hate that. We need to teach our students we can agree to disagree, challenge them on their beliefs and actions and it does not detour them from knowing they are loved and welcomed in our group in order to keep on pursuing Jesus. I love what Andy Stanley says about Jesus. “People who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus.” Do people who are nothing like you, believe like you, like you? Can you be friends?

If your ministry is anything like mine, you don’t want to shy away from the questions students are asking and talking about the things they want to know. I think it’s our responsibility to address those things but address them in a way where the students who do not believe, or even disagree with what we teach to… actually want to come back when we teach because they know they are known and loved by the people their first who want to help them follow Jesus and be there for them when they have questions when Jesus contradicts what they believe themselves.

Let our ministries be one of the safest places for students to have real, honest, raw, spiritual conversations about Jesus.