The Toughest Question a Student Ever Asked (Part 2)
Over the next few weeks, the LeaderTreks Blog will be running a series of posts addressing the tough questions students ask and the best ways ministry workers should respond. To kick off the series, we asked several youth ministry leaders to share with us the most difficult question a student ever asked them. I think you’ll find their responses both thoughtful and humble. You can find Part 1 of this post here. –Kyle Rohane, Former Editor at LeaderTreks
Do you think I’m going to hell?
Aaron Thompson, Pastor of Student Ministries at First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Illinois
“Do you think I’m going to hell?” asked a vocally atheist friend of one of my students. I don’t remember much of the conversation before or after that question, or even where we were when it was asked. Most of what came before or after pales in comparison to the shock and fear I felt when it was asked. There were more ways to get the answer wrong than to get it right. On the one hand, I ran the risk of judging and condemning her in a way that would usurp the role of Christ as judge. But on the other hand, I faced the danger of being dishonest about my personal feelings and about the teaching of the Bible.
I waded carefully into an answer, stammering through most of it. I told her that eternal destinations weren’t my decision. They were Christ’s. “But,” I confessed, “I believe the only escape from the trappings of sin—whether personal, social, or eternal—is in Jesus.”
I wasn’t sure how that would play. I hadn’t told her she was going to hell (because I couldn’t). But I had said that Jesus (who she rejected) was my only hope in this life and the next. To my delight, she appreciated the answer. I learned from her that even when a conversation is tough, gracious honesty is best. She and I had many more conversations, and eventually she made a confession of faith in Jesus, though she still had reservations—and of course, more questions. Today I’m not sure where she’d place herself on the spiritual spectrum. She probably wouldn’t call herself a Christian, but neither would she identify as a vocal atheist. I trust and hope that more gracious and truthful conversations with Christians might someday fully win her to Christ.
Will you be our spiritual dad?
Chris Maxwell, Director of Spiritual Life and Campus Pastor at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia
Our first few conversations were fun—at meals, between classes, and at ballgames. I asked the three guys to stay for a few minutes after one of these games so I could ask them a question: “Do you guys want to begin meeting intentionally to talk about real life issues?” All three agreed instantly. They wanted time with me. But I wasn’t merely concerned with their schedules. I asked what they hoped to get out of these meetings. “Pastor Chris, I just want to learn from you,” said one student. “Me too,” said another. “I think you can help me overcome some of my personal struggles.” The third guy was quiet. Tears appeared in his tough-guy eyes. He asked, “Can you be our spiritual dad?”
None of these students had ever been mentored by an older male figure. One of the guys had not seen his father in 10 years, and his memories of those times with his father were not good. Another had a dad too busy to build a relationship with anyone in his family. The one strong enough to reveal his weaknesses to us had experienced abuse from his father.
He had more to say: “You’ve talked about how our relationships with God are influenced by our relationships with our earthly dad. If that’s true, all of us need some help.” His friends agreed. So we started meeting—in my office, at restaurants, in my home, in a church. We looked at pictures from their childhoods. We studied the Bible. We prayed and practiced spiritual disciplines they had never experienced before. We asked God to heal the deep wounds from their distant dads.
I recently received a note from the student who first said yes to the meetings:
This last year has been fun—not just whipping you in basketball, picking on you, and making up stories to tell Mrs. Maxwell. Those were fun, but the most fun was when we talked about some stuff that didn’t feel very fun at the time. Even though I had a father, I really didn’t, you know? I never understood how angry I had become, and I sure didn’t know how messed up my view of my Heavenly Father was. I needed to talk about it with someone I could trust. You took time to put up with us jerks and love us even when I’m sure you didn’t feel like it. Anyway, I just needed to thank you. We sang one of those songs I don’t really like in worship today, talking about God as our “Father.” I finally realized that I like singing those words after all.
Is there such a thing as right and wrong?
Rob Trenckmann, cross-cultural youth worker with Josiah Venture in Hungary, Central Europe
Jacob (name changed) had come to youth group because he liked a girl. Smart, funny, and good looking, he thought himself to be wise beyond his years. He was used to impressing people with his big vocabulary and clever philosophies. One time he asked, “Is there was such a thing as right or wrong?” But he wasn’t really asking, because he already had an answer: “I think people simply do what they think is best. You make your choices, I make mine, and neither of us should judge the other.”
Questions are rarely impersonal, but we often treat them as if they are. Many questioners feel comfortable sitting in the land of abstract ideas. They launch question grenades into conversations and run. Invite them to bring their hearts to the conversation. Dig to find the real person hiding behind the abstract questions.
I could have taken this student through a logical argument about why utilitarian ethics break down under scrutiny. I could have brought up Hitler or communism or the Rwandan genocide. But I decided to push it personal. So I asked about him: “If you went home from youth group tonight and your mom was dead on the floor because someone had murdered her, was it just the murderer’s choice? Would you be okay with that?” I wasn’t trying to force an argument or make him defensive. My goal was simple: kindness. What was so kind about my response? It made the conversation personal. I needed to show that I cared for the person, not just the question.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More