Steve Jobs, Back to School, and Why Doubt Belongs in Your Youth Group Curriculum
As a young boy, Steve Jobs attended a Lutheran church with his parents. At age 13, he asked the pastor, "If I raise my finger, will God know which one I'm going to raise even before I do it?"
The pastor answered, "Yes, God knows everything."
Jobs then pulled out a Life magazine cover depicting starving children in Biafra and asked his pastor, "Does God know about this and what's going to happen to those children?"
The well-intentioned pastor answered, "Steve, I know you don't understand, but yes, God knows about that."
Jobs declared that he didn't want to worship such a God, walked out of the church, and never went back.
As we at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) learned from studying 500 youth-group graduates during their first three years in college, Jobs's story is far from unique. In our Sticky Faith research, geared to help young people develop a Christian faith that lasts, a common narrative emerged: When young people asked tough questions about God at church, often during elementary or middle school, they were told by well-meaning church leaders and teachers, "We don't ask those sorts of questions about God here." While they rarely storm out of the church like Jobs did, they end up believing that the church is not big enough to handle their tough questions, and thus neither is God.
According to our research at FYI, this suppression of doubt can sabotage a young person's faith. Contrary to what many of us might believe, students who feel the most free to express doubt and discuss their personal problems actually exhibit more internal and external faith indicators in high school and college. Doubt in and of itself isn't toxic. It's unexpressed doubt that becomes toxic.
Giving young people of all ages the chance to share their deepest thoughts is important as we approach fall. Elementary and middle school students returning to school inevitably face new questions, ranging from why would God put me in classes where I have no friends to why God would make me this way (for young adolescents, "this way" covers the gamut of learning disabilities to acne).
For high school and college students, the questions become more provocative and challenging. The doubts of the students in our Sticky Faith research tended to cluster into four types of concerns (listed in no particular order):
- … Does God exist?
- … Is Christianity true/the only way to God?
- … Am I living the life God wants?
- … Does God love me?
Interestingly, the first two types of responses focus on classic questions of apologetics. The second two questions are much more personal and individual. The polarity in these four responses has convicted me, as a mom and church leader, that as students head to school, I need to create space for both types of questions.