As a youth leader and teacher of semi-interested teens, you have a third alternative besides either hoping they are safely in the faith or writing them off as a loss. You can penetrate their world when you start to uncover what they actually believe.

My husband and I want to share some practical suggestions from our experiences.

1. Let’s say you are concerned about popular music’s effect on your young people. Have a party and invite them to bring their favorite records. (Not their favorite Christian records—their favorite records.) You will catch knowing glances and a few snickers and probably get, “You don’t want to hear my favorite records!”

What you learn: that if you intend to tell your young people the evils of popular music, you are not cautioning against some insidious influence out on the fringe of their consciences: you are talking about their favorite records. Imagine a systematic put-down of your favorite TV shows or your best-loved books. Do you feel your defenses rise? If so, you may distantly agree that your choices have their negative side, but you still intend to go on living with them. The kids are no different. Sharing your students’ feelings you can treat them more tenderly as together you examine the influences in which all of you steep your lives.

2. Opinion polls are effective—if students know you aren’t (a) only testing their retention of Sunday school material, or (b) planning to show the results to the pastor.

I was enlightened by a sex questionnaire I used with a youth group in a conservative evangelical church. Asked about sexual activity in or out of marriage, most students checked the statement, “This is up to each couple’s conscience, and what they decide will be right for them.” Most also believed ...

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