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Doubt belongs in youth ministry

Doubt belongs in youth ministry

A study by Fuller Youth Institute shows that directly confronting doubt and fundemental questions of faith is essential for effective ministry to young people.

Christianity Today’s Her.menutics blog:

…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):

1. Does God exist?

2. Is Christianity true/the only way to God?

3. Am I living the life God wants?

4. 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.


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Thank you Ann! (as I slip you a fiver under the table)

Laura Toepfer

Ann Fontaine

Confirm, Not Conform is an excellent program. I highly recommend it. (and am not a paid spokesperson LOL)


I’m a broken record here, but if this interests you, if you think this is worthwhile, please check out Confirm not Conform. I’m totally biased, being the managing director, so take this with whatever size grain of salt you wish. But truly, it’s a great framework for asking these kinds of questions.

Laura Toepfer

Bill Carroll

Kant notwithstanding, existence is at least a grammatical predicate. And the sentence “God exists” had a truth value grounded in the necessary truth of the judgment that God exists.

Bill Dilworth

I think we may have a tendency to over-identify doubt – seing every difficulty or question as a doubt. As Newman said, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.

There is value and virtue in questioning and exploring difficulties. As far as I can tell, there’s no great virtue in doubt, per se.

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