I love Jesus.

That’s probably not surprising to you. As a youth worker, I’m guessing you love Jesus, too. What’s more, I’m guessing you want the teens in your congregation to love Jesus. But what happens when they don’t?

Because let’s face it, there are probably teens in your ministry who don’t love Jesus… Or even like him. There may even be teens in your ministry who claim to hate Jesus. I recently found myself in a conversation with one such teen, who told me in no uncertain terms, “I hate Jesus!”

When teens make comments like those, it’s easy to react. It’s easy for our defenses to kick in. But it’s important they don’t. Instead, view bold statements like “I hate Jesus” as an invitation into deeper conversations with teens.

Whenever a student claims to dislike or hate Jesus, ask them to tell you more. Why do they hate Jesus? Which Jesus do they hate? Often, teens who claim to despise Jesus simply don’t know Jesus. Or they know the wrong Jesus – a Jesus who, unlike the real Jesus found in Scripture, hates certain groups of people. Truth be told, I don’t like that Jesus either. I often tell teens that and then offer to introduce them to the real Jesus found in Scripture – the one who fiercely loved people, hung out with unpopular people, and met needs whenever he saw them. That Jesus is pretty irresistible.

Sometimes, what you’ll find when you ask teens why they dislike Jesus is that they don’t actually dislike Jesus at all. Instead, they dislike the hypocritical church they’re a part of or the parent or grandparent who constantly tries to force Jesus on them. When that happens, acknowledge their feelings. Then ask why they think Jesus is so important to that family member. If possible, actually engage that family member in the conversation with you. As you do, invite the family member to share why Jesus matters to them. Doing so often creates greater understanding between family members.

Occasionally, teens who dislike Jesus have no reason for doing so. If that’s the case, engage in ongoing conversations with the teen. Let them know there’s a place for them in your youth ministry, regardless of their questions or their feelings about Jesus. Challenge them to respectfully articulate their feelings but at the same time, to respectfully listen to those whose opinions about Jesus differ from their own. Invite them to ask questions about the Jesus they encounter… Both inside and outside the walls of your church.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Jesus never shies away from the questions of someone who’s honestly seeking him. In fact, he promises that those who seek will find.

Dare I suggest that those who are vocal about their dislike of Jesus are actually seeking him?

In their book, Soul Searching, which is based on findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and Patricia Snell conclude that religion is nothing more than a “lifestyle accessory” that is relegated to the “background” of a teen’s life. According to them, “religion is simply not important or relevant enough to everyday life to warrant any real discussion”.

That’s not true for teens who boldly say, “I hate Jesus!”

For those teens, Jesus is important enough to warrant real discussion.

May we have the courage to honor that. 

So, rather than be offended by their passion, boldly engage teens in conversations that point them to the real Jesus of Scripture, trusting that when they meet the real Jesus, they, too, will find him irresistible.