I just got back from a week at a dude ranch in Colorado. It was a celebration of my mom’s 70th birthday, and we gathered 17 Joneses of three generations for a week of horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and eating lots and lots of beef. It was the perfect family vacation (and I’ll post about it more in days to come, including my victory in barrel racing at the culminating rodeo).
I’ve got two brothers, each with a spouse and kids. As in many families, we were raised in the same faith (centrist Protestant), but we’ve gone our separate ways somewhat. Each couple is raising their kids differently, which causes interesting conversations when we get together at times like this.
One of the things that my nieces are particularly interested in is talking about God, especially with a theologian. One of my nieces attended Young Life camp earlier in the summer, so she was particularly keen on talking to me about God and Jesus and faith. She and I chatted a bit, and later she told my mom, “After talking to Uncle Tony, now I’m totally confused.”
Of course, that wasn’t my intention. In fact, what I mainly did in the course of our conversation was to ask questions — to turn her questions back on her. This wasn’t so much some postmodern deconstruction of her questions as it was the most effective form of youth ministry that I know.
One of the things that most frustrates me about church life is how quickly people abdicate their hermeneutical authority to clergypersons, and how quickly and easily clergypersons take up that authority. This abdication and embrace is exacerbated by denominations, bureaucracies, and hierarchies, but it’s also prevalent in “low church” settings, and even in house churches.
The questions of faith are among the most vexing existential questions that human beings ask. And the church has done a great disservice to young people by using monological, didactic teaching methods to impart the faith.
Adolescents are inherently question-askers. We inhibit their faith development when we conclusively answer their questions, rather than walking with them into deeper questions. In fact, it’s obvious to me that the reason the church has lost virtually the entire generation of millennials is that we gave them high school answers, and when they got to college, those high school answers were no longer sufficient. So they bailed.
Instead, we should have given them the tools to further investigate the existential questions that are inherent to the life of faith.
Because, although you outgrow the answers, you never outgrow the questions.
This post is a part of Patheos’s “Passing on the Faith” series. Go to the series to see posts by Phyllis Tickle, Mark Yaconelli, Ivy Beckwith, and more.