Saturday, February 18, 2006

the 9th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt discouarge honest questions

Now do not get me wrong. I would be real surprsed if someone ever actually vocally said, "Do not ask honest questions!" Or if they made it clear by saying, "NO honest questions asked in this place!" No, that is not the issue at all. The discouragement I am talking about is that discouragement which is unsaid but employed through a variety of means which makes it impossible for a student to ask the questions that are burning on the inside to get asked.

How is this done?

Shut don't go up but prices do. Let's face it, time is valuable when you are dealing with kids. The mistake I make the most happens when kids ask me questions while I am trying to teach. Maybe I am alone in this but I generally react as if the question is a distraction to an otherwise perfect specimen of biblical exposition. Hell comes up in the lesson somehow and then I get a slough of questions on hell. "What is hell like?" "Who is in hell?" "Do bad people go to hell immediately when they die?" And what do I do? I usually try to get on with the lesson while never really answering the question.

No safe places. One of the things I learned while I was in seminary I learned from another youth pastor who I was volunteering under. He wanted the youth ministry he led to be a "safe place" for kids to come an spend time. The idea was they would never ask honest questions if they did not feel safe - socially safe in that environment. And if they cannot ask honest questions they will never really listen to honest answers. This of course was modeled on L'Abri...which was genius of his to do. It was not a place where sin would be judged, where dress would be ridiculed or laughed at. It would be a place of encouragement and social comfort. Sin would be dealt with and idols would be smashed but only by the teaching of the scriptures. If Jesus is for losers then losers need to feel comfortable at Bible Study. The problem is that this is not usually the case. How many Goth kids feel comfortable in the typical Bible Study? Not many. of course there is only so much you and the kids can od to create a safe place. But it is necessary for students to feel safe enough to aska question that might open the window so that others might catch a peek of their breaking heart.

How do I break this commandment?

Get real. I hate when people talking about being real. Something is far too cliche about the expression. But I will say that it rings true. People hate anything that smells of fakery. Honesty is compelling and winsome. I try to be as honest about my sin as is responsible. If kids know you are struggling with sin they will be more likely to admit their own weaknesses. Vulnerability is at a premium in ministry. Without it we are only scrathing the surface of what can be accomplished. Now I am not talking about lots of group hugs and what-not. By calling ourselves Christians we have said to the world we are sinners in need of grace. No brainer? Well, yeah, but this is really hard to actually talk about for some people. Sin in the aggragate is very easy to discuss. But in the main, most people get real squemish when talking about real problems and real struggles. And honest answers will only be given if the asker sees the answerer as honest.

Who me? One of things we want our kids to be is themselves. We want them to stop trying to be like everyone else. God created them with gifts and personalities and looks that are unique. We want them to be glad they are who they are. However, what if we are always trying to be what we are not. It is intextricbly linked to the job of a youth pastor that we will be intimdated by some kids. And this intimdation will manifest itself sometimes by not us not being ourselves.

We try to make ourselves more palatable to the tastes of some kids for awhile and then others at another time. They may never notice when we do this. But what they will notice is if we can shrug off all the criticism about how we dress and talk. They will notice if we do not calculate our behavior so as to be seen as cool. That kind of honesty will result in an envvironment where kids feel safe to be in their own skin no matter what questions they need to ask.

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