Addressing Faith Doubts In Youth Ministry

Teenager sitting on their bed feeling doubts

We’ve all been there in youth ministry where a student asks a question or poses a challenge to Christianity that we’re not totally prepared to answer off the top of the dome. That’s a hard place to be because, let’s face it, none of us likes to look stumped in front of a group of teenagers. But, more importantly than the possibility of our ego being bruised, none of us wants anything that happens in our environment to negatively affect the students attending youth group—like a fellow student leading them away from Christ with their doubts and arguments against our faith.

I think that’s probably why some of us shut things down whenever a difficult question is asked. Now, don’t get me wrong, to some extent that kind of response is an old school (generational) response to tough questions. There’s a decent chance you don’t respond that way or train your leaders to respond that way when difficult questions are asked. But I still think addressing what’s behind that kind of mentality is going to be helpful, because the unhealthy lens that leads leaders to shut down difficult conversations about faith doubts is the same unhealthy lens that leads leaders to be worse parents, spouses, employees, and friends. So stick with me for a minute, and we’ll unpack a gospel lens to help us address the faith doubts of our students in youth ministry.

When my 10-year-old son was in Kindergarten, he asked a lot of questions. He actually still asks a lot of questions, but that’s neither here nor there. When he was younger, he asked what felt like TOO MANY questions. It was constant. And often times I would find myself getting mad pretty quickly with his near constant stream of questions.

I told myself I was mad because he needed to learn to be quiet.

I told myself I was mad because he was being too nosy.

I told myself I was mad because he was trying to monopolize everybody’s attention, and that’s unhealthy behavior.

But all of those reasons were crap. Excuses. Fig leaves to hide what was really going on in my heart. You know why I got mad sometimes when my son asked questions?

I got mad because he often asked questions I didn’t know how to answer (or at least articulate to a five-year-old), and it made me feel inadequate as a father. Shutting down the conversation wasn’t about him. It was about me.

I think for some of us youth pastors, shutting down hard faith conversations isn’t about the students, it’s about us.

We can pretend it’s about protecting the other students, but it’s not. It’s about protecting our ego.

We can pretend it’s about teaching maintaining everybody’s faithfulness to God, but it’s not. It’s about maintaining our sense of control.

We can pretend it’s about ignoring the distracting tangent, but it’s not. It’s about ignoring our own feelings of inadequacy.

When you’re seeing through the lens of pride, control, or inadequacy, the faith doubts of students will always be a threat.

And this is why we need a gospel lens for life. It’s because the X’s and O’s of ministry aren’t determined first and foremost by little tips and tricks. The X’s and O’s of our ministries are first and foremost determined by the condition of our heart. God through Christ wants to get in there and deal with your need to look put together. God through Christ wants to get in there and deal with your need to maintain control. God through Christ wants to get in there and deal with your feelings of inadequacy. And until you let Him, any tips and tricks to helping students through their doubts is going to be hollow and forced because it’s not coming from a place of genuine transformation in Christ.

So if you’re feeling like you might be seeing through some of those unhealthy lenses in this area of life or any others, I’m begging you to begin learning what it means to see through the lens of the gospel. Your students need a healthy you to shepherd them, and for you to not be a healthy you is to ignore the beauty of what Christ purchased on the cross.

If you’re interested in learning more about what seeing through the lens of the gospel means from my particular vantage point, head to gshades.org/book.

Mike Haynes is a full-time youth pastor and the creator of G Shades Youth Ministry Curriculum. Feel free to reach out to Mike anytime over email at mike@gshades.org
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