“Pastor, if I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I raise it?” Thirteen-year-old Steve attended church every week with his parents. This particular Sunday, he had stayed after the worship service to ask his pastor this pressing question.
Answering The Questions of Youth
The pastor replied, “Yes, God knows everything.” Troubled by African children suffering from famine, Steve then pulled out a Life magazine cover depicting two children tormented by starvation.
He asked the logical follow-up, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those kids?”
The pastor gave a similar response: “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”
If you were Steve, would you be satisfied with the pastor’s answer to your question?
Knowing The Youth Behind The Questions
He walked out of his congregation that day and never again worshiped at a Christian church.
The good news is that Steve was drawn like a magnet to his faith community, and his pastor specifically, for answers to the dilemmas that most troubled him.
The bad news is that his pastor’s response repelled him from his faith community. More importantly, the pastor failed to grasp the question behind Steve’s question.
Similar to youth in your congregation or more importantly your family, Steve wasn’t merely asking a question about the nature of suffering. Likely behind Steve’s inquiry about children in Africa were more personal questions about life and faith.
Empathy is the essence of what it means to care. It’s the willingness to go to hard places with people.
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash
What Youth Like Steve Want
Perhaps Steve wondered why God would allow the suffering he himself had experienced in his thirteen years, which included bullying at school, financial struggles at home, and most painfully, being relinquished for adoption by his birth parents.
As Steve was trying to make sense of the pain in our world, he wanted his pastor to understand and help him make sense of his own pain.
Maybe you’ve heard of Steve.
His last name is Jobs.
Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, Inc., was a churchgoing teenager who wrestled with big questions. He sought out his church to help him get answers, but he felt misunderstood in what he was really asking. Imagine if Steve had been given a different answer.
Empathy Is Our Work
Youth like Steve swimming in the deep end of challenging questions view the church as merely splashing around in the shallow end.
Churches that grow younger dive into the deep waters of teenagers’ and young adults’ lives. How? Empathy.
Empathizing is the work you do to understand youth. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about the world, and what is meaningful to them.
In other words it’s sitting on the curb of a teen’s life, celebrating their dreams and grieving over their despair.
And anyone – and any church – can do that.
APPLICATION: Growing younger at church isn’t as much about lights, music, or clothing as it is about genuine care – empathy. How are you doing with empathy? Please leave a comment below. Watch for future posts on developing empathy.
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This is a profound post for our family at this time. Empathy is all we have during the tensions of youth when parents and teens face off on so many issues. In our world, I try to be as empathetic as possible and likely fail to hit that mark many times but the goal is to let them know that I’ve been in there shoes with varying circumstances but I’ve had their questions and concerns before also. I don’t tell “stories of old” but I do reference my own mistakes willingly and openly so they understand that we all fall short so they are wholly forgiven and still loved when they do too. For the faith in our family, we certainly do not live it out as well or as deeply as we should in front of our children so I do wonder if they’re seeing Christ in their home until I hear them having compassion on another youth at school or church who seems to have wandered off their path. They express concern, pray and advise their friend, with compassion, how they’re straying. It isn’t about how I’m raising them wholly, I see God’s hand on their lives and I can only pray that they continue to turn to Him in everything they do. North Pointe has been a huge part in my children’s development and they have found primarily empathy and compassion there! Any time they have found less they’ve come to me to discuss what they’ve seen and allowed me the opportunity to explain the exception to the rule in our congregation. Usually it ends with having empathy for someone who has misunderstood Jesus’ message to love everyone.
Thank you Norh Pointe for pointing the way for my youth and please know each of you are treasured for your empathy with our family!