“Uncertainty is a wonderful reminder of that nagging little detail which I often forget, which is that I am not God.”
Developmentally, the capacity for abstract thought sets in around late puberty. This neurological fact is among the most delightful parts of my job. It is also why youth ministry is so crucial. The understandings that teenagers have about abstract concepts such as Grace, Hope, Faith, Love, Death, Justice, and Salvation are under construction and vibrant and volatile and intensely relevant to them. Developing that understanding feels pressing and urgent, and fundamentally important to making decisions about their life and future.
And yet, when I tell people I work in youth ministry, they often respond with their own stories of adolescent faith, either how the church guided them or, unfortunately often, with how they left the church in adolescence because they had questions, doubt, uncertainty, and struggle that the church had no answer to or patience for.
Most all adult Christians can report periods of doubt — and statistically, most doubt starts around middle school, right when that capacity for abstract thought sets in and a child has to decide for the first time whether he or she really believes any of this.
So instead of being scandalized or offended by the doubt of youth, we should seek to engage it. Telling a youth, “oh, that’s normal, it will pass” is no more of a useful response to doubt than “don’t ask those questions.” Those doubts may seem fleeting to the adult, but they are part of the construction of a teenager’s ideas about who they are, who God is, and why they exist at all. At The Refuge this week, we will be talking about engaging the normal, though important, experience of doubt using three questions (pulled from youth ministry scholar Dr. Andrew Zirschky’s research on adolescent doubt in faith development):
1. Today, what can’t you believe?
2. Today, what can you believe, but doubt?
3. Today, what can you believe?
By giving our teenagers the language with which to engage their doubts, and a community that is not afraid of, or dismissive of them, we hope to spur conversation that leads to a faith that is not shaken or derailed by those doubts, but strengthened through them.
We hope you’ll join the conversation!