We live in a world that loves the sensational. There is so much information out there; the way to get attention is to say something that stops people dead in their tracks. Gen Z has picked up on this, and they can take sensationalism to another level. But, how we respond may be more important than what they say.
Now I think there are a few reasons why students do this. One is that they are trying to see if they can trust you. If you respond with shock and disapproval to what they say, they can write you off and tell themselves, “see, I knew they wouldn’t understand.” This doesn’t mean you should agree with them, but how you respond builds or loses trust.
Another reason is they want to intentionally push you away because they don’t want to trust or be close with anyone. This student needs to know you will love them despite decisions they may or may not have made. Once again, this isn’t about approving their behavior; it’s about the opportunity to win their ear so they will hear the Gospel —how we respond matters.
Fear is about us; curiosity is about them. Let me explain:
When a student says something that we don’t understand or makes us uncomfortable and we stop the dialogue, we make the conversation about us and our tolerance to the issue and not them and what they might be going through. When we have a conversation from a place of fear, we can do more damage than we intend.
I have made the mistake of doing this before, which is costly. I didn’t know how to respond, so instead of being curious and asking questions, I got scared and shut the conversation down by leaping to why their actions were wrong. Now we must get to wisdom and truth. But think about it, what goes down better with a student? When you tell them what is wise and true, or in conversation, they conclude that there is a wiser decision to be made or that what is true may be different than what they think is?
In moments where students ask you scary, complicated questions, curiosity can be your best friend. Youth pastors are some of the most creative people I know, and in many ways, we have to be. We are always looking for new ways to connect with students, so why not use that same creativity when they say or do something that we don’t understand? Here are a couple of reasons why I think curious questions are better:
1) You don’t have to have the answer
Students think about things we sometimes don’t even have a context for. That in itself completely catches you off guard. Asking questions means you don’t have to know how to respond. That’s a lot of pressure off your shoulders.
2) Questions allow you to find out what’s behind the question
People don’t ask questions for no reason. Figuring out the motive can help you discern how you should respond. The right answer at the wrong time is the wrong answer.
Proverbs 15:23 NIV –
23 A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!
3) Questions allow them to discover why they believe what they believe too
Have you ever said something out loud and then realized it sounded dumb? Well, students will have those same moments too. But we have to create space for them to say things they think and feel for this to happen. If we get afraid and shut the conversation down, we stifle these moments instead of applying curiosity and pressing in.
4) You have more clarity on how to share the Gospel with them
When you get down to the core issues of why a student believes what they believe, you get a peek into their longings, hopes, and dreams. The proclamation can be incredibly effective when you can speak to these things with the Gospel.
Curiosity can take difficult questions and turn them into doorways to the Gospel.
Jordan Francis is a team member of Reframe Youth in Phoenix, AZ.