This past Sunday night, our student ministry gathered for our weekly ministry. We're a small group, as our church is barely 3 years old, with a mix of backgrounds and tradition. Add to the top of those factors, we are a young group. However, I was so impressed with our students that I had to share what we did and what I found myself being reminded.
We started the school year looking at the topic of identity and image; looking towards God as our creator and master engineer. Individually we are unique, one of a kind, the workmanship of God; fearfully and wonderfully made. From there we launched our new series, our S.H.A.P.E. series. If you're familiar with anything Doug Fields, you are familiar with S.H.A.P.E.
S.H.A.P.E. is a series designed to help students find their place in ministry. How to use the gifts, talents, passions, and abilities to serve others. But beyond the opportunity to serve others, the S.H.A.P.E. concept is also a great way to help answer the, 'What will I be when I grow up?' questions that students begin asking in the high school years.
This past week we started talking about Spiritual Gifts. Probably one of the more difficult topics to discuss with anyone in the church, due to the varying interruptions and practices relating to Spiritual Gifts. I went in determined to teach God's Word to the best that the Spirit would allow, then trust that we don't find ourselves in the middle of the ocean in a dingy with no way to get moving again.
But much to my surprise, the students responded in an incredible way. They were into it. I mean, really into it. Now I have taken on a number of difficult topics over my many years in youth ministry with other groups. Some topics struck the chords of some student groups, while totally missing others. I once taught a marriage, sex, and dating series with a group and the students went crazy for it. It was one of our most attended, most effective series. Then a number of years later when bringing the topic to a different group, the series was a total bust. Weird students not wanting to talk about dating and sex...
I was reminded that students can handle the tough topic issues of faith and theology.
4 Things I saw...
<strong>1. Don't be Afraid to Take on Tough Topics...</strong>
Now sex and dating is one thing. It's a tough topic because you're dealing with what can be intimate and personal issues. But what about the topics of theology. Predestination. The Trinity. Free Will. The Will of God. Grace. Sanctification. Revelation and End Times events. These are topics that are not only tough to teach, but the opinions and viewpoints are as many and as different as the snow flakes that fall in February. But don't be afraid to take on tough topics. They are in the Bible and at some point will be addressed.
<strong>2. Be Prepared...</strong>
If you decide to tackle a tough topic, you have got to do your homework. There are many, many things from the Bible that I am comfortable opening my Bible to and teaching on the fly. But when it comes to theological positions and practices, I always take the time to study and prepare. Never wing it. Depending on your situation, you might have to consider not just what scripture has to say but how you church leadership or denomination interrupt, teach, and profess what is in the Bible. Taking the time to properly study and understand what you are about to teaching is vital to the spiritual lives of those in your listening audience. There can be real and difficult days ahead if you speak without having a good grasp on your topic.
<strong>3. Don't fake it...</strong>
One of the hardest things to do as a leader is admit that you don't have the answer. You never know what teenagers might ask. And sometimes, they ask really good questions. But the worse thing you can do is hear a question, not know the answer, and try to make it up or fake right on the spot to save face. No, instead, be honest. Let them know that you don't have the answer. I mean, come on, some of these tough topics are really tough. And some of them come with questions that are not just hard to answer, but they don't have any answers. I had a seminary professor one time say in class, that perhaps on of the best theological answers we could ever offer is, "I don't know." There are things about God we will never know till we are on the other side of glory. So in dealing with tough topics, that bring up tough questions, don't fake it.
<strong>4. Leave them Wanting to Know MORE...</strong>
I remember as a student, at a summer camp, we as a cabin told our counselor that we wanted to study the book of Revelation as our cabin devotion that week. I think part of we wanted in doing this was to try to stump our counselor who at the time was a seminary student. He willingly agreed. (Sucker) But the amazing thing that came out of our week at camp was not some complete understand and theological stance on End Time events, but a desire to want to know more! Tough topics are tough because we don't always fully understand them and that leaves us asking more questions.
After our time Sunday night looking at Spiritual Gifts, our students left looking forward to next week. And isn't that partly why we do what we do? To see student develop a desire to know more of God's word?
Are you willing to tackle the tough topics? To take your students beyond the feel good stories and topics that make student ministry fun and easy? Dive down with your students into the theological depths of God's Word and teach them how to ask tough questions, wrestle with difficult topics, and seek after the God who's thoughts are not our thoughts, who's ways are not our ways! And watch as God opens up the hearts of your students to His word.