The Seven Sins of Talking About Jesus With Your Teen
When our kids are little, talking about faith is relatively easy. We read Bible stories. We ask Jesus into our hearts. We pray together for him to watch over our family and friends, and to help us when we're afraid.
And then the hard part starts.
Sometime around eleven-years-old they begin to ask questions. Hard questions. Real questions about things like death and sin and salvation. And they start to challenge the beliefs you've taught them, and express doubts.
This doubting and challenging can be scary for a parent, and sometimes our instinct is to bare down even harder, attempting to reinforce faith and lessons about following Jesus with more urgency bordering on sternness. And why wouldn't we? Our kid's relationship with Jesus is the defining relationship of their life. We want them to have a solid, life-long connection to him. That said, can we just confess for a minute that we feel out of our league with these "apologetic" conversations? We're not youth pastors or seminary students. We're parents, full of our own doubts and challenges, thank you very much.
The truth is that there's no magic formula for talking to our teens about Jesus, but there are several things that can hinder our efforts--and we can tackle those. So for your consideration, here are seven sins to avoid when you're communicating with your teen about faith, doubts, and Jesus:
Seven sins to avoid when you're communicating with your teen about faith, doubts, and Jesus
- The Sin of Winging It. Teens ask hard questions, and it's not the best policy to just try to wing your answers. Even if you feel confident in your ability to tackle tough topics, and you are good at trusting the Holy Spirit for inspiration, they'll still catch you off guard. A little bit of prep can go a long way, like playing out potential conversations in your mind, talking out answers with your spouse or friends, and preemptively researching a few questions/answers online. It's work, but your teen is worth your best effort, and they'll know if you're only giving their questions a partial effort.
- The Sin of Conjecture. Conjecture--which is an opinion made from incomplete information--is an inevitable part of trying to explain the many mysteries of God’s word and his ways (as much as we'd love to understand everything God does, we never will). But be careful. Avoid the easy temptation to teach conjecture as if it were true--to answer using merely opinion or guesses instead of what you know Scripture teaches. A key to being a good communicator is winning the trust of your teen, and too much conjecture in the wrong areas undermines trust.
- The Sin of Seriousness. Take God’s word seriously. Take the opportunity you are given to teach it to your kids seriously. But don’t take yourself too seriously! Teenagers like to laugh. They like to hear you tell an embarrassing story. They need God’s word to be a source of hope; a life preserver. King David said, “I was glad when they said let’s go to the house of the Lord.” If your answers are marked by seriousness, severity and scowls, your teen isn't going to be happy to hear it.
- The Sin of Lecturing. I’m preaching to the choir on this one, friends, because I’m really, really good at creating "talks" that are one-directional (aka sermons). A clue that you're in lecture mode is that you're the only one talking and your teen is just nodding their head (or worse, staring into their phone). Remember that a good lecture is never as effective as a good conversation, so ask questions and let your teen talk, too (even if you don't love what they're saying).
- The Sin of Being Too Creative. All things being equal, it's always better to be clear when communicating with your teen. Don’t get lost in the creative analogies or metaphors. The world’s most awesome object lesson isn’t awesome if it isn’t easily understood and helps drive home an important lesson.
- The Sin of Boredom. The only thing worse than trying to be too creative is deciding creativity isn’t important at all! Young Life founder, Jim Rayburn, once said, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.” I like to say, “The gospel is meant to be good news, not a good snooze!” Yes, God’s word stands alone and doesn’t need us to spice it up. Yes, it’s sharper than any two-edged sword. And yes, most teenagers don’t yet understand those truths and need us to present it in a way that is engaging, interesting and irresistible.
- The Sin of Certainty. Teenagers have doubts. God’s word is mysterious. Life is a challenge. God can feel distant. There are times (lots of them) to teach God’s word with confidence and certainty because there's a lot to be certain of! But, there are also times to admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there's a certain amount of uncertainty in our faith journey. Teenagers need to have confidence and a sense of the certainty of God’s presence in their lives, but they also need real stories and confessions that highlight the uncertainty comes with following Jesus. Here’s a tip I try to follow: Only be certain about the stuff I’m certain about! If you're not certain, it's okay to say so.
Do you have any additional tips to share with other parents who have a questioning/doubting teen? Share your ideas in the comment section, below.
By Kurt Johson. Kurt Johnston has been a youth pastor since 1988 and currently leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. Widely regarded as one of the most trusted voices in youth ministry, Kurt loves to encourage other youth workers and has written and created over 50 books and resources with that goal in mind. In his free time, Kurt enjoys surfing and riding dirt bikes in the desert with his wife and two children.
**This post was adapted for parents from this article on YouthMinistry.com.