“Because doubt isn’t toxic to faith. Silence is.” – Fuller Youth Institute
Every youth minister has experienced that feeling in the pit of their stomach when a student asks an impossible question. The feeling is something like excitement mixed with nausea mixed with poor timing.
Excitement because your students are grappling with real and difficult issues. The fact they spoke their questions aloud is especially exciting because it means they trusted you enough to ask, and that they are wrestling through important things on their own.
Nausea because, really, how should you answer these questions? Do you answer with your opinion, your best guess of what the students’ parents would say, what your senior pastor says, a blog post you read recently, or not at all? Should you try to explain the issue away in vague theological terms? Perhaps you should give a personal anecdote on how you once thought the same thing? Maybe you should just keep your mouth shut?
Poor timing, because these questions come up late at night, on difficult days, just as an event you are leading is starting, or immediately after you lock the church to go home for the night.
Hard questions are just that: hard. They are uncomfortable, provide no easy solution, and can raise issues in our own minds. And so sometimes we accidentally or purposefully find ourselves saying, “Not now, not here, not that”.
“Can I Ask That?” by Jim Candy, Brad Griffin and Kara Powell is a curriculum that embraces hard questions and the students who ask them. The leader guide walks youth ministers and adult volunteers through facilitating these difficult conversations in a loving, approachable way.
It is not a curriculum that focuses on getting everyone to agree. In fact, it is less a curriculum and more of a launching point. Students are questioning and whether they bring their questions to youth group, social media, or their peers depends largely on where they feel safe enough to ask. “Can I Ask That?” helps equip adults in creating these safe spaces.
In using this curriculum in a group I found it was a slow start honestly. Thankfully, the leader guide included stories of real life situations so I didn’t have to A) make up absurdities or B) be tempted to ask a student to reveal their own inner struggles for the purpose of group discussion. From the highly relatable story, we moved into reactions (e.g. what do you think about the story? What would you have done in his shoes?) and discussion about faith, God and life.
Though not in the curriculum, I always started with a ridiculous, non-threatening question (e.g. what animal would you be for a day, which job in a circus would you prefer, what is the ideal time period and why). This gave everyone a chance to talk, and practice with questions that had no strings attached.
Discussion was slow in starting, but it started. And continued. I used “Can I Ask That?” in a group of all high school girls last summer, and it has helped pave the way for our youth group as a whole to become a safe place where doubts, and more significantly, doubters, are welcome.
Review of Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God & Faith by Jim Candy, Brad Griffin, and Kara Powell. Published by Fuller Youth Institute ISBN: 0991488008