Posted by: Brian Musser | October 23, 2014

A Safe Place to Ask Questions

This is the edited script for my sermon from the Foundry on Sunday 10/19/2014 during the 10:30 AM service.  You can see the video of that service on the Foundry’s YouTube channel here.

WARNINGS!!

1) I pace a lot in the video and annoyingly wander off screen often.

2) Spoiler Alert:  I’m sharing this same sermon Sunday night 10/26/2014 at the First Baptist Church of North East, MD.  

A Safe Place to Ask Questions

As the Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel University I have the unique privilege to work with individuals who are in a very specific time of their lives.  I work with young adults.  Early adulthood is significantly different than any other life stage.  What does it mean to be a young adult?  How are young adults distinct from any other age group?  Hopefully, a better understanding of who young adults are will allow us as the church to reach into their lives and minister to them.  The question I am most interested in is: what type of place does the church need to be to connect with young adults?  Although, I work mostly with college students I am intentionally discussing young adults on broader terms.  This includes college students but is true for those who have chosen not to attend college and have gone straight into the work force, signed-up for the military or are on a different journey than university life.

To begin let’s look at two ages that we definitively know are not young adults: an eight year old and a forty year old.

  • What does an eight year old girl think about boys?
  • What does a forty year old woman think about men?
  • When you ask an eight year old boy about what they are going to do with their life, what kind of answers do you expect?
  • What kind of answers would you get from a forty year old man?
  • When an eight year old girl is somewhere they do not want to be how do they handle the situation?
  • When a forty year old woman does not like her surroundings what does she do?
  • How does an eight year old boy decide to spend his allowance?
  • How does a forty year old man make a financial decision?
  • How does an eight year old girl figure out what is true?
  • How about a forty year old woman?

The answers to those questions should be different.  If they are not, that would be a sign that something is wrong.  There is a maturing process that happens over time in our lives.  In childhood we are childish.  That is the way it should be.  We act like children.  When we are adults we tend to be more mature.  If everything in the growing up process happens well we act like grown-ups.  That is also the way it should be.

Part of this growing up process is being a young adult.  Some scholars have referred to it as “developing adulthood” or “emerging adulthood.”  I would define it as the time in life when a person is in the process of answering several key questions in their life that will determine their path for the foreseeable future.  Young adulthood is defined by the questions.  In some of us it can begin as early as 16.  In others it can linger until we are well into our 30’s.  Some individuals stagnate in this process and may never fully emerge as full adults.  Others may feel trapped in the process and sense that they have not successfully answered the questions.  And then there are some that will cruise through the questions without difficulty arriving at a sense of being grown-up well in advance of their peers.  Finally, some may avoid the necessary questions all together and remain childish.

Being a young adult is about the questions.  

  • Who do I really want to become?
  • How do I navigate personal and professional life?
  • How do I work toward undefined goals?
  • Will someone love me?
  • Can I be more than one type of person at the same time?
  • Who will be there for me?
  • Why is the world so screwed up?
  • What do I have to do to fit into my culture? Do I want to try that hard?
  • What about sex?
  • Do my actions really make a difference?
  • Do I need friends?
  • Do I want to be married? Why? To whom?
  • What responsibilities do I have to my community?
  • Is God asking anything of me? Do I have to answer?
  • What is the meaning of money? How much is enough?
  • Is there a master plan?
  • What should I do for work?
  • How have I been hurt? Will I ever really heal?
  • What do I want the future to look like—for me, for others, for my planet?
  • What is my religion? Do I need one?
  • What are my real talents, preferences, skills, and longings? How do they all work together?
  • When do I feel most alive?
  • Where can I be creative?
  • What am I vulnerable to?
  • What are my fears?
  • Am I being unjust?
  • Am I responsible to help solve the world’s problems?
  • Will I always be stereotyped?
  • What do I really want to learn?
  • Do I want to bring children into the world?
  • How do I discern what is trustworthy?
  • How do I know what I know?
  • Where do I want to put my stake in the ground?
  • Where do I want to invest my life?

Tim Elmore in Leveraging Your Influence: Impacting College Students for Christ says that there are five categories of questions that young adults are figuring out as they navigate maturity.  These categories are religion/worldview (What do I believe?  Why do I believe it?  How certain do I need to be?), relationships (romantic, familial, social, the world), location/home (Where will I spend my life?  How long will I stay there?  How much will I connect to where I am?  What type of place will it be?), career/education (What am I going to do with my life?  What do I need to do so that I can do what I want to?)  and lifestyle (How should I live my life?  How does what I believe affect what I do?  What is enough?).

So now if young adulthood is about asking and answering questions what type of place must the church be in order to connect to young adults? 

It must be a place where it is safe to ask questions.  It must be a place where questions are encouraged.  It must be a place where thoughtful answers are able to be developed.  And if we not only want to connect with young adults but we want to be ahead of the curve it must be the place where we engage young adults with the questions that they need to be asking.  What would this kind of place look like?

I think scripture gives us a clear picture of such a place.

Luke 11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.”

Matthew 13:10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

John 9:2 His disciples questioned Him:  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Matthew 17:18 + 19 Then Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and from that moment the boy was healed.  Then the disciples approached Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Matthew 18:21 The Peter came to Him and said “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”

 

Jesus’ disciples asked him all sorts of questions.  They felt safe to do so.  They had an idea that they were going to get an answer.  Sometimes it wasn’t the answer they expected.  Their questions prompted some of the best recorded learning times in Scripture.  Jesus accepted and answered their questions.  He taught them through the questions they were already asking.

Are you a person that has developed relationships with others and especially with young adults that creates space for them to ask you important questions?  Is this a church that has intentionally created space for people to ask questions?  Do you give good answers to the important questions?  If our goal as Christians is to be like Christ and Christ taught the disciples, who were young adults, through the questions they asked him, is doing the same part of being like Christ?

Mentor young adults through their questions.

I would challenge you to purposely seek out a relationship with a young adult where you can mentor them through the questions they are already asking.  As a church, I would challenge you to develop some sort of process that connects adult mentors with young adult mentees.  It does not need to be a formal program with tons of numbers but those young adults that have been entrusted to you by God should be mentored.  If there are none then pray toward that end.

However; Jesus wasn’t just reactionary in how He taught through questions.  At times those around Him weren’t asking questions or weren’t asking the right questions.

Matt 6:27 Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?

Matt 15:3 And why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?

Matt 16: 13 + 15 Who do people say the Son of Man is? … But who do you say that I am?

Luke 6:46 Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I command?

Luke 10:36 Which of these three in your opinion was neighbor to the robber’s victim?

John 5:44 How is it that you seek praise from one another and not seek the praise that comes from God?

John 21:16 Do you love me?

 

In Scripture Jesus asks more questions than He was asked.  He wanted to make others think through what they believed and how they lived.  He not only answered questions.  Jesus forced his followers to deal with questions.  The church needs to be the place that encourages young adults to ask the questions that really matter.  We need to be the place that actively engages young adults with important issues making it so that they cannot ignore them.

Challenge young adults to ask the right questions.

Let’s look at one specific passage that will show Jesus at work answering and asking questions in community to disciple young adults.

Matthew 19:16 – 30

Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

In the parallel passage in Luke this person is identified as a ruler.  Later in this passage we learn that he is rich and young.  Jesus has created an atmosphere where this man asks this question.  Thinking through Elmore’s 5 categories of Religion/Worldview, Location/Home, Relationships, Lifestyle, Education/Career which one(s) of these categories could this question fall into? 

“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Jesus responds with a probing question that was designed to take the conversation deeper.  I’m not sure the young man noticed this question.  In a specific answer to the man’s question Jesus gives a very common and mundane answer.

“Which ones?” he asked Him.

Jesus answered: “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus again gives a common answer quoting the Old Testament giving the second half of the 10 commandments and summing them up with love your neighbor as yourself.  Which of Elmore’s categories are included in these commandments?

“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”

I find the combination of religious conceit and uncertainty fascinating in this statement.  He is both conceited in his religiosity but also desperate in his need.  If we take this rich young ruler at face value, we would consider him a good church kid.  Think about that.  Even the young adults who grew up in church and are still hanging out in our services are going through the same questioning phase that all young adults do. 

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

Which of Elmore’s categories are included in Jesus’ final command?

When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Then turning to his disciples he makes a couple statements that force a question.  In the Jewish worldview material blessings always meant God’s favor.  If you had stuff it was because God blessed you.  Since God blessed you it was safe to assume that you were right with God.  Since you had stuff and were right with God it was right to assume you would be in the kingdom of God.  Jesus does not let His disciples remain comfortable in these assumptions.

When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?”

Which of Elmore’s categories are included in the disciples’ questions and Jesus’ answer?

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

 

If we look at Jesus’ ministry on earth most of his time is spent discipling his followers and especially investing in the lives of the twelve.  Those twelve disciples were young adults.  They were young adults by age.  Their questions were young adult questions.  Jesus engaged them through their questions and forced them to deal with even deeper ones.  They were thinking through the same categories that young adults think through.  Jesus’ method of discipling the twelve was to create a place where questions were allowed, encourage these questions and force questions.  This is how Jesus did ministry on earth.

To do ministry like Christ it is important to minister to young adults through their questions.

Can you imagine a place like this where young adults come together in community and process the questions that they are working through?  Can you imagine if this group of young adults was being taught and mentored by individual adult church folk and/or the entire congregation? Can you imagine if this group was not only finding good answers to questions that society was making them ask but were forced to deal with the questions that Scripture raises?  Can you imagine if the church was the place that was producing the most mature and well-developed adults because we were intentionally investing in the questioning process that young adults go through?  Can you imagine if we were so good at it that the world noticed?

 

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