In their third book based on the Growing Young research, Kara Powell and Brad Griffin describe every teenager as a walking bundle of questions. They observe, “Sometimes kids’ questions leak out and are muttered aloud. More commonly they remain bottled inside a teenager’s curious mind and conflicted soul. Either way, we’ll never activate this generation if we don’t understand their most pressing questions.”
The authors go on to describe the complexity of questions young people ask, and then focus on three major themes that young people’s questions tend to fall into. Who am I? Where do I fit? and What difference can I make?
These questions are best described in three words: identity, belonging and purpose. As parents and leaders of young people, our job is to direct them away from answers to these questions that come from popular culture, friend or social media and towards answers rooted in Christ’s view of who they are and who He made them to be.
Identity: When young people question our view of ourselves, we can find answers like I am “what others expect” or “I am not ______ enough.” What our young people often need help learning is that they are enough exactly as they are because of Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient. It was complete. Accepting this basic fact helps them grow closer to who God has made them to be—when they accept that they are enough, not because of what they’ve done, but because of what Jesus did for them.
Belonging: When young people question their connection with others, it is a belonging question. Belonging questions often ask, “Where do I feel safe to be me?” or “Where do I feel like I’m needed?” It is one thing when they’re safe to be themselves, but how often do they feel safe to be themselves at church? Is it safe there? Are they allowed to “fit” there without judgment or criticism? When we realize that church is people, that people are messy, we become a safe place for people to be people. When that happens, young people will find that they belong with God’s people too. But we have to communicate it as a place of safety for them before they will see that they can “fit.” If we communicate anything other than that, we need to re-evaluate our priorities and how safe we really are.
Purpose: When young people begin to question their contribution to the world, this is a purpose question. They are often told that they will make a difference when they’re helping others. Or they’ll make a difference when then they stick to other people’s expectations and standards. But a Christ-centered answer tells them they have been invited into God’s greater story, and He has crafted them to be uniquely capable of taking part in that story in only the way they can. Using the talents and abilities that God created in them for sharing the Good News of Christ is the best way to dive in deep into God’s story.
Powell and Griffen and their team asked over 170 questions to young people, but in real life young people are much better at asking questions than answering them. Perhaps the best answer we can give to a curious young person is “I don’t know; lets find out together!” It invites them into the solution. It gives them a role and responsibility to partake in finding Christ-centered answers. And it models appropriate sources for answers, and gives them a scaffolding to help them build better questions in the future. May we never stifle questions, but lean into better answers along side our young people’s curiosity.
Powell, Kara, and Brad M. Griffin. 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager: Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections. Ada: Baker Books, 2021.