In response to last week's post about how a fear of offending people keeps teens from talking about their faith with others, a reader reminded me how at that age, even if he'd wanted to talk about his faith with others, he wouldn't have known how.
Indeed, when asked “What keeps you from talking about your faith with your family and friends?” as a multiple choice question, 40% of the confirmation students I recently surveyed at my church said they didn't know how.
Now, to be clear, I'm not advocating that as youth workers, our goal should necessarily be to produce a bunch of street evangelists. I am, however, suggesting it's problematic that teens don't know HOW to talk about their faith with others. After all, teens talk about what they care about. What's more, one of the ways they take ownership of their faith is by talking about it. As Kenda Creasy Dean says, “We speak our faith into being.”
With that in mind, here are 4 things you can do to equip teens to talk about their faith – and more specifically about Jesus – with others.
1. Let teens talk during youth group. To do this, talk less yourself. This is one of many reasons why, years ago, I stopped giving traditional youth ministry talks. Such a practice reduces teens to passive listeners rather than engaging them as active learners. In contrast, experiential activities and discussions invite teens to talk about their faith in a safe, loving environment where they can learn and benefit from the wisdom of trusted adult leaders as well as their peers.
2. Dig deep into the questions teens have about their faith, and more specifically, about Jesus. It's not enough for us to teach through – or even discuss – a basics of faith or apologetics curriculum with our teens. While such things can be a great starting point, no two people's faiths are exactly the same. This means that teens are not necessarily asking the questions such curriculums are posing, which means that such series may be answering questions teens don't actually care about. To prevent this, routinely give teens the chance to ask honest questions and to influence your teaching calendar. When teens have the opportunity to genuinely wrestle with and figure out how to answer their unique questions of faith, they feel much more confident addressing those same questions with their friends.
3. Explain what you quote. In a recent blog post, Andy Blanks talks about the importance of providing students with “some basic phrases that articulate core theology.” Here's my problem with that. I work at a mainline church where a standard part of our worship service is the recitation of a creed. Teens from such denominations know these creeds. In fact, 73% of the language teens used to answer the short-answer question, “Who is Jesus?” in the research I did for The Jesus Gap is from the creeds. Even so, only 44% of the teens I surveyed believed Jesus is God. Therefore, even though creedal language shapes how teens talk about their faith, many don't understand what it is they're actually saying. So, when you hear creedal language, dig deeper. Rather than assume teens mean what you think they do when they say phrases from the creeds, ask, “What does that really mean to you?” Force teens to translate church language into their own vernacular. Such a practice challenges teens to actually think about what it is they're saying and professing, something that helps them take ownership of their faith as they decide for themselves what they believe and why.
4. Give teens a chance to practice talking about their faith and more specifically, what Jesus is doing in their lives. Let's face it, there's truth to the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” When it comes to talking about faith, hopefully we're not striving for perfection. We are, however, attempting to help teens become comfortable talking about their faith. The more we give teens the chance to practice doing just that, the less scary and intimidating it'll be for them to take advantage of the opportunities they have to talk about their faith with others and the more ready they'll be to actually mention Jesus' name in public, confident they can talk about him in a way that won't offend others.