Have you ever had a hard time connecting with your teen about their relationship with God? Maybe you’ve experienced something like this after a Sunday at church: “Hey, how was youth group today?" "Fine…." "Did you enjoy the lesson?" "Yeah…." "What was the lesson about?" "God…..” And after 12 seconds of such riveting dialogue, the conversation is over, and you’re left feeling like your teen would rather have spent the last hour and a half at the dentist's office.
I don’t claim to know the dynamics of your relationship with your teen. I do know from my own experience and from the time that I’ve spent with other teens that they generally aren’t going to initiate sharing thoughts and feelings with you.
This kind of relationship does not have to be the norm. As parents and as youth workers, we need to learn how to dig a little deeper. Teenagers are in a weird phase of life—they aren’t children, but they aren’t fully independent adults either. And yet they still crave that independence that’s just a few years away. Because of those factors, they can be quick to dismiss any serious conversation. Maybe you've experienced those quick conversations, and now you rarely ask questions out of fear of being disappointed with the result. The answer is not to stop asking about their spiritual condition, but to start asking the right questions to understand what's going on in their heart.
On more than one occasion in youth ministry I have had the humbling experience of being on the receiving end of dead end responses after asking terrible questions!
I often experienced this during a small group session, when we would talk about the message I had just preached. The idea behind having small groups was that there would be great dialogue happening between me and the 7th–8th graders. After a month or so of sitting in a circle and asking what they got out of the message, only to hear crickets (talk about a humbling experience), I realized that I was the problem! Not that the message wasn’t impactful, but I wasn’t asking the right questions. Here are a few questions that I learned to start asking that really got the teens to open up and talk about what they had just heard.
1. What was the main thought of the message, and what did the Bible say about it?
I think it's important to ask open-ended questions because it forces your teen to give a summary of the lesson rather than being able to respond with a one-word answer. When we give an easy way out, it will most likely be taken. When we ask them what the Bible says about a topic, we reinforce the importance of the Word of God. We help our teens to formulate their beliefs not just on what the teacher said but what the Word of God is communicating.
2. How can you apply what you learned?
Information and knowledge are important, but our teens need to be encouraged to think about how they can apply the truths they are hearing. It might be uncomfortable at first, but don’t be afraid to get really practical. The smallest action is better than the biggest of intentions.
3. How can I help you live out what you are trying to apply?
This is a tough one to ask because the answer might not be one we want to hear! The reality is that God could be working in their hearts about areas that we are struggling with as well. Sometimes the way that we help them apply what they heard is to commit to the same decision they just made. This is such an important question to ask because this communicates that they aren’t alone in their quest to walk closer with God. You will be right there with them!
Once we start digging a little deeper and asking better questions, I think we will be surprised at how transparent and open they will begin to be. After you ask the questions, the tough work begins, but I believe these questions will help you as you strive to connect with your teens on a spiritual level.