Should youth workers give teens the answers or the questions?

Not long ago, I stumbled across a youth ministry curriculum called Answers Bible Curriculum.

Answers Bible Curriculum

Now, to be clear. This is NOT a review of this curriculum. I've never used this curriculum. As you'll see, I'll also never buy it.

Nevertheless, the name and product description of this curriculum deeply disturbed me. According to its product description, “Answers Bible Curriculum is a chronological Sunday school curriculum that covers the entire Bible every four years. It answers key questions that confront the adults and children in your church, and it provides a powerful overview of God’s Word. All ages are equipped with 'faith proofs' to defend the Bible and to honor Christ as they apply Scripture.”

While there are some people who would probably be delighted by this description, I am not one of them.

I want teens to know Scripture, have a high view of it, and honestly engage with it. But I'm not convinced that equipping “all ages with faith proofs to defend the Bible” is the best way to do that.

When we teach Scripture as a series of faith proofs, we remove the mystery from Scripture. We also remove Scripture's story and narrative - the very things that make Scripture naturally engaging. Instead, we reduce the Bible to a series of proofs to be memorized, in the same way a teen might learn a proof in high school geometry. Even without explicitly saying so, this teaches teens that the Bible is a textbook, which isn't, I think, the most compelling (or life-changing) way to approach Scripture.

Additionally, when your goal is to equip all ages with faith proofs to defend the Bible, you're immediately putting teens on the defensive. In doing so, you're teaching teens how to argue with other people about their faith but not how to engage in open, honest dialogue that might enable them to listen to and find the value in others' perspectives. What's more, when you teach people faith proofs to defend the Bible, you're teaching them that the Bible needs help; that, without someone to defend it, the Bible simply cannot be trusted. 

Beyond this, however, what troubles me about this curriculum is its name: The Answers Bible Curriculum.

In a healthy youth ministry, it's not (or at least it shouldn't be) our goal to ONLY give teens the answers. It's not our job to demonize questions. (After all, Jesus NEVER did. Instead, he raised more questions, often answering one question with another. In the process, he routinely dignified people's humanity.)

As youth workers, it's our job to raise questions in teens, to encourage them to wonder about their faith, articulate their doubts, and ask questions – even the ones that have NO answers. When we do this, we invite teens to explore their faith in a way that encourages them to go deeper and deeper into it. 

When we invite teens to ask questions, we show them that faith is a lifelong journey in which you never have all the answers. We demonstrate that it's okay to continue questioning their faith as they see and experience new things. 

When we invite teens to ask questions, we foster a relationship with them, implicitly promising to be co-doubters in their faith journey who help them wrestle with their questions.

When we invite teens to ask questions, we teach them to be honest with God and each other. We show them that faith isn't a class that has to be passed but a way of life, a lifelong adventure in following Jesus. 

When we invite teens to question, we embrace the mystery of our faith. What's more, we model the definition of faith found in Scripture: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

As a youth worker, most days, I don't feel like I have all the answers. Nor do I want to pretend I do.

So, no. I'll never use a curriculum based on giving teens the answers. I will, however, work hard to foster questions in teens and then join them in using Scripture to honestly wrestle with them. 

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To help students wrestle with Scripture, check out my devotional, The Real Jesus!

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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