Fuller Youth Institute

FYI

Photo by greg pths.

I hadn’t heard or preached a sermon about Jesus' transfiguration before, and it sounded like fun.

I approached the passage nervously though. I’m new to frequent preaching, and our church is just a little over a year old, but it’s growing with lots of people new to the faith. What would people think of this story that even I found a little odd? Jesus on a mountainside with clouds, a booming voice, and two guys show up who have been dead for centuries?

Instead of just wondering what people were thinking, I asked them to text their thoughts and questions and, in real time, they would appear on the screens during the message. The questions were good, but nothing I hadn’t expected:

Why Elijah and Moses and not someone else?

Why did Jesus just take Peter, James and John?

If Jesus is God, why is he hearing God’s voice distinct from himself?

All good questions, but then there was this:

I have to be honest. This story just seems like a fairy tale to me. Is it okay to doubt?

Three words stick out in this text message that should haunt every pastor and youth worker alike:

Is it okay…?”

They are pleading words. “Is it okay…?” are words that reveal deep struggle. They are words that underscore a key ministry premise I’m convinced about: People are dying for permission to doubt.

The truth is that doubt hits all of us. It lands somewhere on a spectrum ranging from unrelenting force at one extreme to a nearly imperceptible subconscious soundtrack at the other. Doubt exists in every human being. We spend our lives either allowing doubt to come to the surface for air, or neatly locking it away in a hidden cage.

After that transfiguration sermon, I decided that I am going to talk about the importance of healthy doubt until these people fall over and scream, We get it! Stop!

As a senior pastor, I assure you that adults need to hear “It is okay…” just as much as teenagers. They almost can’t receive enough “doubt permission” from us because, somewhere in our hearts, it seems too good to be true that God would be so good and gracious as to allow unbelief without retribution.

The teenagers you work with may have another barrier to processing doubt. That barrier could be you. Ask yourself: Are you okay with doubt? Or are you threatened by it? If so, why? What does that say about God? What does it say about the church?

If we take the words “Is it okay…?” seriously, we’ll create an environment of questions. People of all ages need a church culture where the words, “I’m doubting God” are never met with shame.

The people around you are dying for permission. So lean in. Don’t wait, but instead be the instigator of the toughest questions, and see what surfaces. You hold the key to something unbelievably valuable—the key to give permission and affirm, “It is okay...”

Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Curriculum

FYI Webinar with Dan Kimball

Photo by greg pths.

If you could ask God any question, what would it be?

That’s a question I love asking teenagers.

It’s worked so well for me that I encourage leaders and parents to try it out also.

My friend Carlos decided to give it a shot with his small group of middle school boys. At first, they said nothing. Crickets. And fidgeting. So Carlos distributed index cards and pencils and let the boys write down their questions. It worked.

Carlos showed me the stack of index cards so I could see them myself. I flipped through them; they were the types of questions I normally hear. Except one.

This middle school boy had written, “Why would God allow half my family to die?”

Carlos saw the card I was staring at. He touched the card and said, “It was my son who wrote that card.”

It had been a terrible two years for Carlos’ family. First his daughter died of a congenital heart disease. Then his mom died, and then his sister. No wonder Carlos’ middle school son felt like half of their family had died. But he had never said it that way out loud.

Sometimes we don’t know what our young people are wondering. Until we ask them.

That’s why I’m so thrilled that FYI is releasing Can I Ask That? Volume 2. The response to the first Can I Ask That? curriculum has been so strong that we wanted to give leaders and families additional tools to use to help young people wrestle with their toughest faith questions.

I love the questions we’re addressing.

  • Is it wrong to doubt God?
  • Is hell real? How could God send someone there?
  • Can I do something so bad God won’t forgive me?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is sex outside marriage wrong?
  • Why is it so awkward to talk about Jesus with my friends?

In our families and our churches, students are asking these questions, with or without us. I’d rather it be with us.

What else do you do or say to try to help young people open up about their big questions and doubts?

 

Purchase your copy of the new curriculum

A family’s experience with Can I Ask That?

 
 

 

In Defense of God

That’s what we called our Wednesday night series on a handful of big questions students were asking in our youth ministry. Why does God seem so mad in the Old Testament? How could a good God send people to hell? It felt like a black hole of ever-gathering doubt. We thought we would teach our way out of that hole by helping students learn better answers, or at least the best answers we could come up with.

That was 1999. And while I’m sure this approach honored the questions, looking back now I wish we had done less “defending” of God and more letting God be God. More freedom to process and explore.

Less answers. More conversations.

Not that answers are all bad, but when we start with the answers, we short-circuit the process of growth that young people need if faith is going to become their own. Our Sticky Faith research highlighted the importance of asking questions and sharing faith struggles. Students who felt like they had a safe place to be authentic about these doubts actually showed stronger faith across the transition out of high school.

This week we release Volume 2 of Can I Ask that? More Hard Questions about God and Faith. The biggest response we heard from Volume 1 was “Give us more questions!” So we went to leaders and students to help us nail down another set of pressing topics young people want to explore:

  • Is it wrong to doubt God?
  • Is hell real? How could God send someone there?
  • Can I do something so bad God won’t forgive me?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is sex outside marriage wrong?
  • Why is it so awkward to talk about Jesus with my friends?


Designed for small group sessions, this field tested Leader Guide/Student Guide pairing is also perfect for Sunday School curriculum, retreats and camps, intergenerational classes, parent/teenager discussions, and more. We are absolutely stoked to get this in your hands.

Because we don’t need to defend God. We just need to remember that God is in the questions. Our job is to help young people look without fear.

 

Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Curriculum

FYI Webcast with Dan Kimball

As we celebrate the release of Can I Ask That? Volume 2, Join Kara Powell and Dan Kimball, pastor and author, for a FREE LIVE WEBCAST. They will be discussing the importance of engaging young people’s difficult questions about God and Faith. As eight years of Sticky Faith research on teenagers has shown, it’s not doubt or hard questions that are toxic to faith. It’s silence.   

Join us LIVE as we dive into how we can respond to the hard questions young people are asking.

Dan is the teaching pastor at Vintage Faith Church as well as the Director of the Regeneration Project at Western Seminary. He is the author of several books including:

Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion

They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations 

And also the upcoming:

Crazy Bible? Exploring the bizarre, chauvinistic, anti-science, violent, hateful-sounding parts of the Bible (and why you can still trust it is 100% inspired by God and a guide for life)

We will be live April 15th at 11:00 am PT.

Watch live here:

 

 

While you wait:

Read about Can I Ask That? Volume 2

Win a FREE Bundle of Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Resources

Photo by Martin Neuhof.

Can we talk about something later?

When you hear those words as a youth ministry leader, your internal alarms probably start ringing. That question can lead to anything from I think I’m gay to My parents are getting a divorce to I’m not sure if I believe in this God thing anymore.

We don’t know until we let them ask.

Our research at FYI uncovered that being able to ask about hard questions and struggles is connected with faith that lasts. So we created a high school curriculum called Can I Ask That? to help leaders create space for natural conversations about hard topics.

We have been so pleased with the response from leaders, parents, and teenagers to Can I Ask That? over the past year. We knew there was a need for dialogue-based curriculum addressing doubts and hard questions like this. What we didn’t know was just how hungry leaders would be to take this study and run with it.

Here are a few snapshots of the ways Can I Ask That? is being used:

  • Small group studies and Sunday School curriculum
  • High school retreats and camps, including senior/graduate retreats
  • Intergenerational classes
  • Parent/teenager discussions
  • Christian high school Bible/theology classes
  • College and young adult small groups

Our team has been particularly inspired by a story from Dr. Tod Bolsinger, Fuller’s Vice President for Vocation and Formation. Tod and his daughter Ali, a high school junior, read the books together last year. Ali shared, "I love it because it doesn’t tell you what to think, but gives you tools for how to think.” Given the freedom to ask questions in the context of a guided discussion, Ali and Tod were able to have much more open and honest conversations. Those talks led to other questions, and led to Ali wanting to study the series again with a group of peers. Tod shared, Can I Ask That? asks really good, even fearless questions. That empowers teachers (and students) to know that Christianity should inspire questions, not squelch them.”

In response to stories like Tod and Ali’s, we will be launching Can I Ask That Volume 2 on April 15th, releasing six more questions that in-the-trenches youth pastors helped us select based on real questions from students like yours:

  • Is it wrong to doubt God?
  • Is hell real? How could God send someone there?
  • Can I do something so bad God won’t forgive me?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is sex outside marriage wrong?
  • Why is it so awkward to talk about Jesus with my friends?

If the question is, Can I ask that? The answer is yes. You can ask that.

Learn more about how you can win a FREE Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Leader and Student Guide bundle.

Enter to Win Your FREE Bundle Here

We can’t wait to get our new curriculum, Can I Ask That? Volume 2, in your hands! We think you and your students will love it.

To celebrate its release, we are giving away 2 FREE bundles of the latest curriculum to help you and your ministry get ready for the big launch on April 15th!

Each bundle will contain one leader guide and five student guides of Can I Ask That? Volume 2: More Hard Questions about God and Faith.

Entering is easy the part. Starting TODAY:
 

1. Post a hard question about God or faith that you have heard from a student on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

 

2. Use the hashtag #caniaskthat

 

3. Tag @stickyfaith on Twitter and Instagram and Sticky Faith Family on Facebook

 

It’s THAT easy.*

We will announce our winners April 15th during our webinar with Dan Kimball at 11:00am Pacific and posted later to our Sticky Faith Twitter and Facebook account.

 

Learn More About the Can I Ask That? Series

 

*Rules of entry

  • No purchase necessary
  • One post per day will be accepted. More than one post per day will not be counted in the contest.
  • Must post through Twitter/Facebook account using hashtag #caniaskthat
  • Participation limited to United States and Canada
  • Contest ends 4/14/15 at 11:59pm PST
  • Each winner will receive:

1 Leader Guide of Can I Ask That? Volume 2

5 Student Guides of Can I Ask That? Volume 2

  • Winners will be notified through our Sticky Faith Twitter and Facebook account on April 15th

Photo by Jason Mrachina

Today’s guest post is from Matthew Humphreys, youth pastor at Trinity Church in Salem, Oregon. Matthew is a Fuller grad and was part of a Sticky Faith Cohort in 2012.
 

Can parents and teenagers grow in faith together … at church?


We discovered an opportunity right under our noses to try out that idea at our church. While there are significant life stage differences between high school students and parents of adolescents, the tools that encourage spiritual growth and everyday interaction with God don’t have to be that different between the two.

It started by recognizing that one of the classes that met every Sunday morning was primarily composed of parents of adolescents. I began working together with the class leaders to equip this group with the language of Sticky Faith and to look for intentional curriculum to encourage parents’ faith development. As we reviewed curriculum options, we began to consider occasionally utilizing an approach that encouraged parallel discipleship. Parallel discipleship is when two groups are receiving similar teaching and application at the same time.

Using Fuller Youth Institute’s free Sticky Faith Every Day curriculum, our high school class and the Parents of Adolescents class gained tools for an everyday faith in parallel. As a result, parents and students were able to work collaboratively on living out the faith practices discussed in class. 

There have been times in the past when we experimented with combining our high school class with other adult classes, with mixed response from both groups. However, by engaging them in their own environment (separate from their parents), our high school students were better able to hear the material as relevant to them. In a sense, the opposite was also true as parents were better able to hear the material for themselves first and their family second. 

In my experience, sending students home with an assignment for the week requires some form of accountability if we hope anything will come of it. By teaching the series in parallel, it provided accountability for both the students and the parents, and both reported engaging the assignments. A number of parents also shared that they were more eager to talk with their kids about the material, because they knew it was similar and created some great points of conversation. Some families were actually more likely (and made more of an effort) to come during those weeks because of the engagement created by the unique approach to learning.

The series was designed to equip participants to engage in various spiritual practices that develop an everyday kind of faith. The goal of the parallel class experience was that parents and students would both choose to put into practice what they had learned, and then encourage each other through follow-up conversations and goals. It was helpful that the curriculum included handouts with simple directions for immediate application and conversation guides.

Parallel discipleship is most effective when the follow-up conversation is within 3-4 hours of the class. The high school student leaders worked hard to create an effective response, but this did not happen for parents. We learned that it is helpful to begin and/or end with both groups together so that they are able to truly catch the vision for the shared journey and have space to process together.

Have you ever tried parallel discipleship across generations? How did it go? What did you learn?
 

Photo by Greg Rolfes.

 

Take Our Engagement Survey

 

We want to know more about you and your interest in FYI.

Why, you may ask? Because we want to serve you well. We want to know both what we can continue to do well AND what we need to do differently so we can better meet you where you are.

By taking this 5-7 minute survey, you will be entered in a drawing to win a $100 Amazon Gift Card and a free download link for a full copy of our latest curriculum, The Sticky Faith Family Guide Video Curriculum, Season One (a $25 value).

 

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Deadline for entry is April 20th at 11:59pm PST.

This post is part of a series celebrating the release of the new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’re interviewing parents who serve, think, and write about faith, family, and ministry.

This week I’m so pleased to ask our dear FYI friend Dr. Steve Argue three questions. I’d really like to ask him about 20, but we’ll stick with three for now. Steve is a pastor and theologian in residence at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a Sticky Faith speaker, trainer, and our Cohort Coaching Director. Together with his wife Jen, Steve is the parent of three adolescent and emerging adult daughters.
 

1. Steve, now that your second daughter is in college, what has surprised you about what your kids’ transitions out of high school have been like for your family?


I often hear parents who say they are surprised that their children are so different, even though they come from the same parents! I think we’ve realized that our kids don’t come from the same parents! The “parents” of our oldest daughter are perpetual rookies at each stage of the parenting experiment. The “parents” of our second daughter are a little more seasoned and, honestly, a little more chill! As a result, our two daughters’ transitions to college were different for all of us.

The transitions have also been different in that our two college daughters went to very different schools. Kara is an art major at a Midwest Big Ten University. Elise is a biology major at a Christian liberal arts college in southern California. When we dropped Kara off for the first time, we felt completely on our own moving her in, felt like we were throwing her into the deep end, and I think we held on a little bit tighter. When we dropped Elise off, there was a day of family activities with a sending ceremony, and by the time the day was done, I was ready to go!

There was one surprise we shared with both our girls: the goodbye. Both of them, in their own ways, made it very clear when it was time for us to go. I think we’ve learned to be sensitive to that and respect the “goodbye moment.” For both, it felt wonderful and terrible all at the same time! But, we realized at this moment that we were the guests of their new homes, and were aware enough to leave on their terms.

The best advice we received was from the college president at Elise’s school. He reminded us as parents that, during these highly crucial transition times, parents tend to default to logistics–Did you pack this? Did you get that? and on and on. He reminded us that the best thing parents can do is to let the logistics go and just speak encouraging words to your child. Let your parting words over dinner or in front of the dorm be, “We believe in you; We’re proud of you; We are excited for you; You can do this; God brought you here …” I have found this advice not only brilliant for saying goodbye, but helpful for every time I interact with my daughters now. The meaningful conversations happen when we make space for them to share about what they’re learning, discovering, doubting, or believing. When they are home on breaks, we make sure we work to make this space possible. For Kara, we find this space over really good coffee. For Elise, we find this space over an adventure run.
 

2. Your PhD research is focused on emerging adults. How has that research shaped your own parenting?


What’s been interesting is that as I have done my research, I’ve bounced my theories off my daughters, and they’ve been able to help me articulate what I have seen, and what I may have missed! Two things stand out. First, my own research and reports we have read in the media about sexual assault have been tremendously disturbing to me as a researcher, pastor, and father of daughters. This has led to us having some important talks about sexual assault on campus, drugs and alcohol, and relationships. These have not been fearful conversations, but ones where we have talked about what it means for them to be women in society, what empowerment looks like, and how to seek wisdom as they navigate non-structured college time (some call this “night campus” or the non-classroom time when college students are making choices about friends, relationships, and free time).

My wife, Jen, is especially great at asking our daughters about their friendships–who they’re hanging out with, where they are from, what they are like. This is not helicopter parenting, because we’re not trying to control their lives. Instead, we’ve reminded our daughters that we ask questions of them because we’re interested in their lives! As our girls have realized this is true, I think they’ve become more comfortable with sharing with us. In fact, just this weekend, Jen got a text from Elise at 2:30AM saying, “This is the craziest concert I’ve ever been to!” This evokes a lot of emotions in her parents, but we’re choosing to take this as a compliment that Elise would choose to share it!

Second, I have become increasingly aware of the need for college students to “leave” as much as “connect” their faith journeys. My research has highlighted the need for college students to differentiate themselves from their familiar church experiences, parents, and adult relationships as they begin to form their own opinions about faith, life, and purpose. This does not mean they’re leaving church or foregoing the important relationships they’ve developed. It means they’re learning to relate to church, parents, and adults differently. Too often church and adults treat emerging adults at college as though they’ve never left for school, and I think this is discouraging to them. They want adults in their lives, but they don’t want to be treated like they’re still in high school. What was troubling in my research was the number of students who, therefore, had few adults to talk with about the things that were most important to them.

As a result, I’m less anxious about if my girls are connected to traditional forms of religious gatherings (church, parachurch groups) and more interested in how they are integrating their spirituality with their education, worldview, and relationships. I know that the process is important, and our role as parents is to journey close enough for them to access us along the way, but not to get in their way. When this happens, we short-circuit the process and we try to motivate our children through external influences rather than calling out their internal convictions. This is not easy! I have my own hopes, dreams, and opinions. But I’m realizing that my daughters’ journeys are helping me rethink my own assumptions.

Undergraduates whom I identified as having an “Integrating Perspective” learned to integrate their education, relationships, calling, and faith in a way that is mutually informing and holistic. Their faith is “self authored,” motivated by their own internal convictions rather than external expectations. Parents and churches have often misunderstood this process, but they must recognize that a maturing faith that lasts requires this important aspect in spiritual journey.

 

3. I know that one of your family mantras is “Tell me more.” Why is that so important to your family and how do you try to live that out? 


Haha! Yes. We have an art piece in our family room that says that. We don't have a TV in the family room. This is the space for conversation, not distraction (just to be clear, we have another place for the TV; we love movies). I think we need to remember as parents that the first question isn’t as important as the second or third question. A first question usually comes from our own agenda–we want information, clarity, or context. Second and third questions are responsive questions that emerge from the conversations. They show our kids how well we’re listening and really seeking to understand, rather than just interrogate.

I realized when our daughters went to college that I had to learn to talk with them differently. My job wasn’t to check up on them–Where were you last night? When did you get in? Did you finish your homework? My questions had to become ones of discoveryWhat was the best part of your week? What class is inspiring you? What do you like or not like about your professors?

Sometimes this happens through a phone call, FaceTime or face-to-face. Other times, it’s through text messages. I text my college daughters every day. I don’t expect them to text me back (we’ve talked about this). Sometimes they do. It doesn't matter. I just want them to know that we’re out there, thinking of them, cheering for them. That small connection makes our longer conversations less dramatic and more conversational. 

Maybe, for us, “Tell me more” is more of a posture than a solo question!

 

Photo by Lorianne DiSabato.

This guest post is by Matt Overton, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Ministry at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Washington, part of the 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort. Matt is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and has been doing youth ministry for 15 years in California, New Jersey, and Washington State. This post has been adapted from the original, which appeared on the CPC family website in Spring 2014.

 

It's that time of year again. Teenagers everywhere are thinking about who they’ll ask to prom.


I remember the feeling of sitting in my room, preparing to grab the now-archaic landline phone to call THAT girl. Prom was a big deal in my community. Students often rented limos, and the venue had to be top-notch. Some students, with the financial backing of their parents, rented hotel rooms for the night. It was a bit of a spectacle.

Looking back at my own phone calls (and slightly more creative moments), those invitations pale in comparison to what I see from students in my community today.

Last spring CNN posted an article on the pressure some students feel when it comes to "promposals". It also explores the added pressure that electronic media adds to this dynamic. Try saying "No" when someone just spent four late-night hours decorating your lawn and car with all sorts of creativity. Or refusing an invite when someone just asked over the P.A. system during lunch and lined up three of their besties to help. It's liable to make a student appear heartless.
 

So how can parents and mentors help?


1. Help them talk about it. Teenagers are still developing at a whole bunch of different levels. But today’s teenagers in particular tend to have trouble with interpersonal communication and conflict resolution. This may be an unfortunate byproduct of their use of electronic communcation or it might be the result of our stellar parenting. They will need some listening ears and measured advice as they think through this. Trust the fact that whether your teen admits it or not, they need your input and presence. You might call and talk to another adult of influence in their life who can help them think through some of their choices.

2. The Asking. Talk them through how their method of invitation might make the other person feel. How well do they know this person? You might want to help them weigh out how much pressure a big invitation might put on the whole night. Do they really want to raise expectations? Will they have to outdo themselves the next time? Walk them through how to react if the person says "No". It's possible that too much pressure might cause the one they are asking to refuse.

3. The Rejecting. If your student is likely to be asked to prom, talk them through how to say "No" if asked by someone they truly don't want to go with. This might be especially true for your daughters. Empower them to know that they can turn someone down. Many girls feel the gender role pressure of not wanting to appear "mean". Help them push through this and be as assertive as they need to be. If they are assertive in the easy relationship stuff, then they may feel empowered in more difficult situations.

4. The “Good Enough" Proposal. One of our parents also pointed out that sometimes in "long-term" teen relationships, students are told their promposals are "not good enough.” Even in teen relationships, power dynamics and materialism are present. I have known married adults who have never learned to assert themselves when "nothing is good enough" for their spouse. It might be important to help your teen understand how to avoid being a victim or a perpetrator of the "nothing is good enough for me" scenario. You might help them avoid a life sentence of being dissatisfied with every nice thing their future spouse does, or the recipient of that dissatisfaction.

5. The Aftermath. Help your kids learn the importance of reconciliation or mending fences after the fact. It's possible that someone they ask could say yes in public only to need to say no in private later. Help your teen understand why this might be, and how to respond if it happens. Many students will do their best to dodge direct conversation with the other person if they reject a promposal or are themselves rejected. Reconciliation is an important practice in the Christian life, and generally it occurs most meaningfully when it happens face to face. Give them tips on ways to try to heal wounds. Help them hear the other person out if they have hurt somebody's feelings.

6. The Posting. Posting online is another trend attached to promposals. It might be wise to help your teen think through how they might do this without hurting a fellow friend who has not been asked or may have interests in the same person. This is fertile ground to help our students think about how to "love your neighbor." (This same advice could be applied to postings on college acceptances.)

7. Support Counterculture. Keeping things simple might also offer your students a chance to go against the grain. More often than not, the gospel calls certain values of our culture into question when most adolescents just want to blend in. Prom and "promposals" might be just the time for your teen to celebrate being different. Invite them to be different. Challenge them to find someone who is more interested in them than in the white noise of creative ideas they ripped off from a Google search! My senior year I rented a bus with 15 other couples for $10 each. It was cheaper, safer, and it was a great way to thumb our noses at the money culture of our community.


Promposals may be a hormonal hassle for most parents, but they also provide great learning opportunities and teachable moments. Promposals are not necessarily bad, but they can be tricky.