What do I say when a student asks a tough question?

By Youth Specialties on March 11 2014

You know the one.

The question that catches you off guard in the hallway just as you’re stepping into youth group. The one that comes by text around 11PM just as you’re shutting down your phone to collapse in bed. Or the question right at the end of Bible study when you really don’t have time or energy to entertain it.

The good news is that these questions are actually voiced. In our Sticky Faith research, we learned that about seventy percent of students in ministries like yours have big questions about God and faith. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of them say anything to anyone. That means a lot of big questions remain quiet.

And as it turns out, our data suggests it’s not doubt that’s toxic to faith. It’s silence.

So take heart when you get that hard question. You’re a trusted safe place for a teenager to share something real. Our research also shows that those who feel safe to share in their youth ministries tend to have stronger faith after high school.

With that in mind, here are three things you can say to that student before you even respond to the question itself:

  1. First, other teenagers and adults ask these kinds of questions all the time.
  2. Second, it’s not only okay to ask hard questions, but it’s actually important—some say essential—for your faith journey.
  3. And finally, God can handle it. God isn’t anxious about your questions, struggles, or doubt. I don’t think you should be either. So thanks for asking.

When you’re caught off guard, sometimes you need to defer a response until later. But if you can affirm the student with those three points, they’re going to feel heard and cared for, and that can buy you some time to think (and maybe study and pray) through a more specific response when you follow up.

At the Fuller Youth Institute, we’ve partnered with our friend Jim Candy to create a small group curriculum called Can I Ask That? Born out of a desire to help kids express and explore their tough questions about God and faith, it’s a field-tested 8-session series that you can use with high school students. In Can I Ask That? we tackle hard questions about homosexuality, women in leadership, and violence in the Bible without giving pat answers.  

We wrote this curriculum in response to leaders like you, who have the courage to have conversations like this:

Can I Ask That? Hard Questions about God and Faith from Fuller Youth Institute on Vimeo.

Whether you get hard questions all the time or your students tend to clam up and keep their doubts silent, we hope this resource can spark helpful dialogue around tough issues.

Find Out More

To purchase the Student Guide Click HERE

To purchase the Leader Guide Click HERE

Join the conversation on Twitter: #CanIAskThat?


Picture of Aaron Helman

From Aaron Helman on March 14, 2014

Kara and Brad-

Thanks for this. You’re spot on. I think there are probably a few questions that we should expect to be asked at some point, so that we can preemptively prepare ourselves to deal with it.

I shouldn’t be caught off guard when someone asks me what the Bible says about homosexuality, heaven-or-hell, etc… Someone’s going to ask me and probably soon. I wrote about that here:


Picture of Joe Bigliogo

From Joe Bigliogo on May 07, 2014

The problem isn’t the questions it’s the answers. And remember too that many questions are often rhetorical and qualify more as objections or arguments. Good questions make more effective statements than what commonly passes for answers.

  1. Remember me?
  2. Send me an email when someone responds.