How to Help the Next Generation Navigate Difficult Questions
A rigid Christian culture neither offers honest answers nor encourages transparency, and in the long run it damages young people who are genuinely seeking answers. Jesus welcomed difficult questions and inquiries with openness and grace. Our young people, who are growing up amidst a hostile secular culture, have difficult questions about the existence of God, human sexuality, marriage, the use of controlling substances, secular music, the reliability of Scripture, differing forms of worship, and their disinterest in formal church structures as they’ve experienced them. These questions are rarely asked but often wrestled with, and wise parents and leaders will draw these questions and struggles out (Prov. 20:5). How can we help the next generation navigate difficult questions?
Avoid Becoming Defensive: It’s not a help to young people when older respected church-goers become defensive when their generation’s lack of love and contradictions are pointed out. In my experience I’ve found our young people desire genuine answers to life’s complexities and the church’s hypocrisy. They are seriously trying to align the grace and truth of Christ with their underwhelming religious experience. And they need to be able to voice their observations. Canned religious answers and shame tactics do nothing to resolve these tensions (Jn 9:28-34). We have failed to create a safe culture where our children can receive help to navigate vexing questions and difficult life experiences. We have failed, in part, because we have tolerated empty form and lifeless devotion so long as people’s standards align with ours and their fashion and musical tastes don’t change too much. We’ve settled for style and form without expecting any life or substance. We’ve expected our children to be comfortable walking through the museum of early nineteenth century Christian antiquity and relate with archaic language as a worship medium because that’s what our religious experience was connected to and what we’ve been comfortable with. But often parent’s concern seems more attached to their child’s lack of opportunity to play their instrument on Sunday, an instrument the child has practiced most of their life and lessons the parents have paid for, more than a concern with whether their child is growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. We don’t even seem to care about the disconnect our children experience every Sunday and the frustration that quietly builds within them when they sense empty form and judgmentalism to the same or greater levels than what they’ve experienced in the pagan world the week before. We need to answer their questions honestly without becoming defensive.
Admit When Your Benchmark is No Longer God’s Word: Since we have believed animated gestures, bold theatrics, and a fast rate of speech in preaching are synonymous with sincerity and earnestness, we’ve expected them to believe this too. But they’ve discovered these can be disingenuous and the product of training and lifeless habit. Since we’ve believed talent and technique are synonymous with Spirit-giftedness we’ve expected our children to believe this too. But they’ve questioned the hollowness of self-serving performance in the context of local church and ministry. Since we’ve embraced decisionism and glowing statistics as true gospel effectiveness we’ve expected our children to accept this too. But they have questions about the tactics, have felt the manipulation and intimidation, and are asking if there isn’t a more wise and loving way to share Jesus with unbelievers. Our children have discerned that nominal Christians have made an idol of personal preferences and that the expectation of deference is often a one-way-road that leads directly back to them. Our young people are considered unspiritual because they won’t conform to the accepted religious culture. But they’ve not sensed a reciprocating deference as an example of what’s expected from them. We have told them God’s Word is our benchmark and final authority for faith and practice, but our children have seen where this is not always the case. As a result they question the sincerity of this conviction from those who excuse certain Scripture away because it doesn’t fit within the man-made borders of preferred Christian practice (Mt 15:2,6). We need to admit when we’re making wise cultural decisions in matters where godly people differ and when it really is a matter of core doctrine clearly taught from God’s Word.
Listen with Your Heart Not Just Your Ears: Is the local church our children are part of a safe place to ask difficult, even awkward questions? Have we listened to their concerns? Have we taken time to hear their hurts and disappointments? Are we approachable, fair, and gentle? Have we allowed differences of opinion on matters of preference? Have we cared enough to listen to those who have been watching us for years? If we would listen carefully and enter into their frustration then we won’t be surprised at their disappointment with our zealous splashing of whitewash on tombs (Mt 23:27-28). If confuses our children when we do the very thing Jesus condemned. Our practical atheism has a negative effect even when our children don’t say anything. When this happens all our truth-claims come under scrutiny, and rightly so. How do we expect our children to respond when they show genuine passion to follow Christ and walk in the truth but are often treated with suspicion and become the topic of clandestine conversations because their love and expression of following him doesn’t mirror the expected cultural norms? How do we expect them to feel when we’ve ignored them and failed to invite them to share life with us? It’s amidst the normal stuff of messy life where our children will begin to see our genuineness and begin to share their heart with us. Listen with your heart not just your ears.
Respond With Grace and Truth: How would Jesus interact with our children and answer their difficult questions? He would respond with the same grace and truth showed to the sinful woman at the well, to religious Nicodemus, to the blind man who was put out of the synagogue, to the rich young ruler, and to his disciple who rejected him. Where there is true rescue from the tyranny and guilt of sin there will also be a culture of praise, thankfulness, love, unity, humility, gentleness, acceptance, and honesty. Jesus said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23–24). He said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63). All kinds of people were attracted to Jesus because he was full of grace and truth. People observed him and understood the loving nature of the Father. People desired to be in Christ’s presence and share life with him for a reason. There is no artificial substitute for grace and truth. It’s compelling!
Expect the Unexpected: We assume the next generation will simply do as they please. In many ways they’ve already been written off. But they’ve proved us wrong. They’ve earned our trust and the church is growing with earnest and passionate young Christ-followers. They are beginning to example to us what worship in spirt and in truth looks like. Are we humble enough to learn from them? Our children are willing to overlook a lot they don’t prefer if they could actually experience Christ’s love, unity, humility, gentleness, and honesty lived out in the church before them. They would experience this in a variety of different ways if we would align our life with Ephesians 4:1-6: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Get Back On Mission: Let’s get back on mission and begin caring less about our opinions and comforts and caring more about Christ, His Word (Col. 3:16), and the next generation who will take our place. Make disciples, and begin with the young people closest to you.
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