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The importance of a questioning environment

We need to create space for questions. Young people are very good at reading the cultural environment they find themselves in and conforming to it. If home or youth ministry is not an environment in which questions, challenges and alternative opinions are being welcomed, explored and handled respectfully, it’s unlikely that teenagers are going to think about whether they have questions, never mind pluck up the courage to ask them.

I can remember one youth event when I decided to do an ‘Ask any question’ slot instead of a talk. To my discouragement, the young people were either not able to think of questions or completely indifferent to asking them. It wasn’t because they didn’t have questions. It was because we had never really done this before. It had caught the teenagers unawares and unprepared. When we started to make big questions more regular the young people got comfortable with the concept and we discovered that they had endless questions to ask and thoroughly enjoyed asking them.

I would go even further than Phoebe in saying that we do not just need safe spaces within youth ministry to allow young people to ask questions. We need to integrate these qualities into the everyday fabric of our culture, in which leaders respect a young person’s individual needs and spiritual journey and model in themselves the reality of building faith by exploring (and never suppressing) our questions.

The importance of showing the relevance of questions

Youthscape’s research also brought to mind the need to demonstrate the relevance of big questions to young people. Perhaps the problem with a Grill a Christian type event is that it already assumes that young people see the relevance of worldview issues. This research suggests this is not always the case. It may mean we need to start a little further back by helping our children and young people to realise why big questions matter in the first place.

Most people struggle to engage with any topic that they don’t really feel affects them. But the moment you put your finger on something they really care about, just watch how engaged they get! The young people in this research appeared most engaged with religious questions / activity when it had clear relevance for them in terms of their dying loved ones. We need to explore creative and stimulating ways that help our young people see the connection between big questions and the things that really matter to them at this point in their lives. If we can do that, the questions will come.

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