youth talking theology

May 8, 2008

Just found this post in my drafts, wanted to post it a week or two ago, and somehow didn’t, can’t remember why…

Last week I had one of the best, but also most shocking, youth evenings. It all started when we read Psalm 1 last Sunday with the young high school leaders, and the Psalm only opened up difficult questions. They wondered what it would mean if they are not to dwell with “sinners”, since they know so many people with different believes, and then they started asking questions about theodicy (why do God allow bad things to happen). I didn’t answer the questions, but on Thursday we again read the Psalm with the whole group, and with the high school leaders leading the groups, they simply discussed what they heard, and the questions it made them ask.

The little room was buzzing as the 20 kids was discussing theology. Ons group talked about theodicy, another about how we address different religions, and yet another about the debate about science and faith. Obviously they wouldn’t have formulated their questions using these academic terminology, but that is what they were discussing.

When I stopped them they still wanted to talk, but I moved the conversation to the whole group. They started sharing what they were talking about, asking the questions that really bugged them, and at the same time providing quick answers for their friends.

What really shocked me was that our kids have nearly no tools for discussing God. Many would say: “The Bible says”, but no one would read a text and ask that we listen to what the text say. They use a slogan theology, stating slogans which supposedly are true, and building a whole idea from them in very crooked ways. Maybe worst of all is that very few of them know how to listen to something and evaluate what is being said; after a long conversation I finally ask if I can maybe give some thoughts, everyone went quite, and I said a few basic things which I thought might help, but as soon as the conversation continued, they continued using their slogans. But here and there spots of light appear, with a few coming later on to continue the conversation, asking what I meant with some of the things I’ve said.

Point is that teenagers seem to like discussing theology, or at least, they like talking about God or spirituality or the supernatural or something. But the ways in which this is done provide a very dangerous ground for their friends, because they feed each other with ideas which can be harmfull (I think). Answer is not to start preaching the supposedly “whole theological truth” to them, as if I know it. Many have tried, and many have failed. We need to provide a space where young people can talk about God, and it’s amazing that we have somehow created this safe space. But we also need to help them form a contructive way of approaching questions about God. Not neccesarily a set of answers, but just some tools which would guard them against slogans like: “God did this to test your faith”, when “this” refer to a family member that died…

Any success stories out there of how young people’s theology (way of thinking about God, not neccesarily doctrines about God) was formed in a positive way?

Well, for the youth ministry guys out there, I like following this blog, although it has nothing to do with this current post and my struggles…


10 Responses to “youth talking theology”

  1. Ronald Says:

    I’ve a suggestion, but it involves teaching grade 7 pupils Greek (and MAYBE Hebrew). Errr…no wait…

    But I do not think it would be bad suggestion to up their Sunday school classes a bit – I mean, giving them a bit more (factual) info on the Bible. Your keen observation on them making their statements legit by using “The Bible Says” terminology is only too true. However, it could be just as disastrous if people DID start using Bible verses, since then it would probably amount to nothing more than so-called “tweezer-exegesis”.

  2. David Says:

    I am going slightly off topic here, but I just want to say that you have an awesome blog. Truly an interesting read.

    Having looked at the daily posts from Muti I decided to take a look at your post about ‘postmodernism’ after which I decided to subscribe to your RSS feed as well as linking to you from my blogroll.

    Have a great day!


  3. Cobus Says:

    Thanx for the compliments and the link, I’m reading your blog as I’m typing this…

  4. Street_nerd Says:

    Hey Kobus

    Thanks for the post, definitly some really dificult question that we need to wrestle with. Here are a few musings arising from my experience (more with university students than teenagers but still relevant to the discussion).

    I think one of the defining characteristics (especially true of teenagers/young adults) is their exposure to a plurality of information resulting in a destabilised/plural sense of reality.

    In this kind of environment I am not sure that the task should be to tell them what to believe ,because for every opinion there is an equal and opposite opinion. Rather our task should be teaching them how to believe (an option which takes away our power and places it in the hands of the one engaging in a spiritual journey).

    One of the things I have noticed with high school matriculants, is that when they go to varsity, they often loose their faith/reduce it to a very private experience/or harbour serious doubts about it due to the fact they have been told what to believe. Varsity then provides (in most cases a compelling argument)as to why what they believe is wrong, resulting in ‘a loss of faith’.

    I think we fail our teenagers when we dont equip them with tools to deal with (completely legitimate) questions that arise in their varsity experience.

    Faith in the 21st century requires people to be aware of different narratives, and still choose to live within one of those narratives (in our case Christianity). This requires an ability to deal with difference, ambiguity, complexity, uncertainty and mystery. I dont think our current approaches help these kids to deal with these realities (which they will encounter when they go to varsity. Our failure to do this results in the huge exodus we are expereincing in the church of ‘young adults’. This response is turning out to be longer than i thought, i will leave it here…

    Thanks again for your thoughts, and the great questions you raise.

  5. Cobus Says:

    thanx for the comment, I think you are right that our task shouldn’t be to simply give answers, but to give tools to live faith…

    But this is the more complex thing to do. And it seems not to be attracting vast numbers, and is not that easy to explain why we are doing things the way we are doing them… maybe I’m just oversensitive at the moment, I think tomorrow will see another post on youth ministry. A whole new approach to youth ministry is needed, I’m getting more and more convinced of this.

  6. Street_nerd Says:

    definitly, the complexity lies in the fact that to train people in a way of believing takes away the ‘leaders’ power, in the sense that we treat people as mature people able to make descisions and take responsibility of their own life and faith. It also become less ‘quantifiable’ in the sense that our objective is no longer to ‘download’ right belief into our people (which is measurable and quantifiable).

  7. Street_nerd Says:

    sorry, i sent it before i was finished. I think our objective becomes more about ‘creating space’ for safe exploration and this is where i think our efforts should be concentrated. Creating space is about asking good questions,questions that lead to vitality and discovery.

    I look forward to another blog on this discusion.

  8. cobus Says:

    Moving away from the measurable and quantifiable opens the question of “Why?”, simply because this needs to be answered when congregations ask “What are you then exactly DOING?”

    It’s strange actually. Youth Ministry is supposed to be on the edge of ministry, but in church we are making the move away from “program-driven” ministries, but Youth Ministry seems to be lagging behind on this…

  9. Kowie Says:

    What monkey see, monkey do. In most cases you will find that the parents of these children are also unable to discuss a biblical / theological issue. Most will also not be able to give reasonable argument with biblical references. Children follow the example of their parents – although unwillingly. What they see and learned in their homes is what they will use in an argument.
    I am not currently involveved in youth work, more with young adults. I will however contact somebody who has moderate success with highschool level youth.

  10. cobus Says:

    You’re absolutely right. And sadly we have generations of Christians who, although they might be wonderful Christian people, do not have the ability to put their faith into words, and to talk to someone else about it, and these people are our Sunday School teachers.

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