Letting teens influence my youth ministry's teaching calendar means that sometimes, we talk about topics I have no interest in or even real knowledge of; Topics that if, it were solely up to me, would never in a million years make our teaching calendar. Last night was one of those lessons.
We talked about aliens.
That's right. We talked about aliens and faith – two things I would never have dreamed of putting together.
Even though this topic has routinely come up during the last several years worth of brainstorming with my student leadership team, until now, I've intentionally avoided it. When it showed up again this year, I admitted to my student leaders I had no interest in the topic and said “If you want to talk about it, one of you has to lead it.”
Despite the fact that we regularly have student led discussions, I thought that would be the end of it.
Two of my student leaders stepped forward to co-lead the discussion, one of whom (a senior who will be majoring in aeronautical engineering) has literally wanted to have this discussion for four years. Given their interest in this topic, I walked through my normal process with them to coach them in writing and leading the discussion.
The resulting discussion actually covered a lot of ground. My leaders began simply by posing the question, “Do you believe in aliens?” As you might imagine, some people did and others didn't.
From there, they showed a clip from CNN about the Heaven's Gate Cult – a group that committed mass suicide in the late 90s – who believed their leader was the second coming of Christ and that after death they'd reach an alien space craft following Comet Hale–Bopp. Rather than allow people to simply watch this clip and conclude “Those people are crazy!”, my discussion leaders instead used it to prompt a thought-provoking conversation about some of the things Scripture actually says about the second coming of Jesus.
From there, my student leaders moved onto a series of questions about whether or not Jesus came ONLY for the redemption of humans OR if in fact, aliens do exist, Jesus might also have come to save them.
This, for me, was the most fascinating part of the evening. It was clearly a question that no one else in the room had thought about.
Even so, or perhaps because of this, it prompted dozens of other questions – some about aliens and some not – from the other teens. Teens wondered about God's role not just in the creation of earth but in the creation of the universe. They also questioned whether or not aliens are sinless; Whether or not God could have incarnated himself multiple times; Whether or not God's love expands to the entire universe or if it's focused only on people; And whether or not the Bible is relevant to ALL things or if there really are aliens, there might also need to be a Bible: Mars Edition in order for the message of Jesus to be understood by them. Throughout this part of the night, every question prompted six others. Quite honestly, it was a beautiful thing.
Interestingly, this part of the discussion also engaged a few teens way more than they've been all year, in particular, teens interested in science fiction – a reminder to me of the value of having teens influence our teaching topics in order to ensure our topics are diverse.
As their last question, my discussion leaders asked teens “What did you learn tonight? Or what surprised you about tonight?”
In response, one teen talked about wanting to go stare through a telescope for several hours, contemplating all we had talked about and God's role not just on earth, but throughout the universe.
Another said, “I had no idea how we were going to talk about aliens and faith. I couldn't figure out what the Bible would have to say about that.”
In that moment, I was reminded of why we have these kinds of discussions – even though I sometimes do so reluctantly.
We have discussions like these because I want teens to see that faith is not separate from the rest of their lives – or even from things like aliens that are prevalent in pop culture but may initially seem irrelevant to faith. I want teens to see and learn that faith intersects with ALL things; That when we read Scripture not as a rule book but as the story of God, it's relevant to ALL things.
It took talking about aliens and faith to remind me of this.
It's a lesson I won't soon forget.
I hope the same is true of my teens.