I’ve spent almost 40 years mentoring men, many of them young men – high school and college age. Then a number of years ago, my wife Susan challenged me to mentor our grandchildren. So I have. We started Papa school.
Over the years, I found one of the problems with teaching young people, roughly age 15 and over, is that I would start by trying to teach them information that I wanted them to know about God and the Bible. That made sense to me.
But, I quickly realized that a far more effective way of teaching was to ask them for dangerous questions. By that I mean asking them what questions they have about God and the Christian life, and start from there.
Why can that be dangerous? Because they may ask you questions you may not be prepared to answer off the cuff. Questions like;
If Christianity is true why do so many Christian marriages fail?
Why do Christians believe God created the world in six days, when everything we know about science says it was millions or billions of years!
How do we know, or you know, for a fact the Bible is true?
Why is it evangelicals in America appear to care more about their own rights and prosperity, than for aliens and the poor?
How can you say God is good, when good, innocent people die every day by the thousands of hunger, disease or war?
Tough questions Nevertheless, unless we’re willing to ask our children what questions they have about God and give them honest, thoughtful answers, just teaching them doctrine is not enough. So where do you begin?
Email or text your older children, or grandchildren and ask them what questions they have about God, Christianity, ethics and the Bible. Encourage them to ask any questions, even those that show they might doubt what they’ve been taught by their parents. I keep a running list, crossing off the subjects we covered, and adding others they bring up.
Tell them why you are asking them and what you intend to do with their questions. Tell them you’d like to gather them together for a meal, pizza, whatever and discuss one or more of their questions.
If they ask question you personally don’t feel equipped to answer, call pastor or another spiritually mature Christian. Do the research. Write out or outline what you believe the Bible teaches and why. Write down your own questions that come up and research those as well. This is a great opportunity for your biblical worldview to expand and mature. I have three criteria for my teaching. I want to be;
True to the Bible (Don’t dummy-down the Bible. If God said it, I believe it.)
Intellectually honest (Be ready to admit you don’t always understand why God does what he does.)
Gracious in my answers (Be humble and kind toward others who disagree with you. )
Gather your children together and begin addressing their questions. Begin by thanking them for their courage in even asking these questions. Make the entire process safe for them to explore faith. Do not ever make them feel guilty about what they believe currently. I have an understanding with their parents that these sessions are like Las Vegas. “Whatever goes on here, stays here!” Betray that confidence and you’re done.
As you meet, you may sense, some of your children or grandchildren will be unconvinced with your answers. Don’t ever try to talk them into what you believe. Just tell them with conviction why you believe it. I’d suggest meeting with them separately to hear them out and help them explore their faith. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:14-15
Use the Bible as the starting place for everything you teach. This may shock you but many Christian kids today do not have the same confidence in the Bible, or are as familiar with it’s teaching as you are. You can view that as a problem, or an opportunity.
Contextualize your teaching. I will often begin answering their questions by giving and example or story from my own experience to set up the teaching to let them know, I too have struggled with these same questions. That often leads me into teaching basic theology. I make a practice of teaching them theology I don’t agree with, and why. I’ll generally voice it this way; “There are other Christians who love God and take the Bible seriously, who believe “X” I want you to know what they believe and why, so you can choose for yourselves. But here’s what I believe and why……..”
We are the spiritual leaders of our families. Their education about the things of God are ours to both teach and to live out. What a privilege and responsibility! Please do not leave this up to their youth leader or pastor. My experience is youth group teaching is often Christianity lite. It’s your duty to put flesh on the gospel and if you do and when you do, you will be leaving a legacy for generations to come.
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7
How following Jesus works in real life.
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