A Biblical Approach to Our Students’ Climate Change Anxiety

We asked veteran youth pastor and Rooted Steering Committee emeritus Dave Wright to examine the effects of climate change anxiety for our teenagers. First he examined the stress Gen Z feels about climate change;  in this piece Dave will outline the gospel hope we can offer students through study of God’s Word. 

Helping students work through their climate change anxiety means being informed about what the culture is telling them and teaching them to respond through the lens of the gospel. The issues students are facing are being fueled by very divergent opinions. Many youth leaders find topics like this extremely difficult to address without students glazing over and tuning out.

For most students, climate change is a social justice issue. This is not merely an obvious statement but it’s important to grasp because the issue directly interacts with issues of poverty, race, inequity, intersectionality, etc. Some of the loudest voices in our society on issues like climate change embrace a very different worldview from that of the Bible. The lens through which some see this subject is that of a world where everyone falls into a category of oppressed and oppressor. While that’s not a universal statement, it’s largely true of the loudest voices on the subject. What that means for us who disciple students is that we need to help them disentangle a complex web of ideas in order to see clearly on any of them.

Teaching on Controversial Topics

Before we open God’s Word to explore controversial or polarizing issues, we need to make sure our setting is right. Our youth groups and Bible studies need to be places where students can speak freely and care deeply for one another. Our ministries need to be safe spaces in the best sense of what that means. A truly safe space is one where divergent views can be expressed with grace and love. Students need to feel accepted for who they are. There is often significant vulnerability in expressing views that others may not agree with. Our students need to know they will still be loved and accepted even if they hold to ideas that others don’t. Pray for this environment on a regular basis, and don’t just pray for that alone or with your leadership team but also with the whole group.

Years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from teaching a seminar for high school students at a camp. My goal was to help students understand how the Bible shapes our worldview and I suggested that much of that comes from the opening chapters of Genesis. We explored the significance of creation, the roles and relationship between Creator and creature, the image of God, etc. The first controversy I stirred up was mild. Because many of our students hold to an evolutionary view of creation, I presented just enough science to make a case for the plausibility of a young earth and six-day creation. I did this delicately just to make them consider the idea, not to suggest that what they believed was wrong. I assured them that many faithful believers hold different views on these matters.

The second controversy was more intense than I anticipated. Suggesting that God made humans beings male and female and in his own image and that God does not make mistakes did not sit well with those who knew someone who identifies as transgendered. I stirred up a hornet’s nest and saw just how much students think with their hearts rather than their heads. I share this story to say that I have reevaluated my approach to teaching.

When opening Scripture to speak to difficult issues, it may be best to view it as an exploration rather than a sermon or message. Our approach should be to use a lot of questions in exploring Scripture. The goal will be to help students see for themselves what the Bible says and grasp what that means before we move toward application. Students need to see that God’s word is authoritative. As we move along, it is worth stating clearly where we find common ground. We need students to see what we agree on. Where possible, let’s help them see the gospel relevance of all passages we study. We also need to create a healthy understanding of other views. By that I mean we avoid the temptation to make straw man arguments or mischaracterize others’ views.

Getting Started With Creation- Teaching Points

The creation narrative is an important starting point because it is so foundational to everything we will explore. What do we learn from Genesis 1? What does it mean that God created? What relationship does a Creator have to his creation? How does God create? What does that tell us about God? Does the creation sequence teach us anything? What does it tell us when God declares his creation good? What do we learn about humanity from the creation of Adam and Eve? How are they different from the rest of creation? Looking at Genesis 2, what further details do we get about creation? What is the created relationship between God and humans? What roles were Adam & Eve given in God’s creation? Look at John 1:1-5 to bring Jesus into the creation narrative.

Having observed the facts of the creation narrative, it’s worth making sure we grasp all the implications if they have not come up already. Seeing that God created the world helps us understand our part in caring for the environment and being stewards of the earth (Gen 1:28).

Our identity is found in being not only created by God but made in his image (Gen 1:26-27). We were each uniquely made before we were born (Ps 139:13-14). We should all take seriously our role in caring for God’s creation.

The fall in Genesis 3 is the natural next step to explore. What do we learn about here? How do things change as the result of sin? This is also a good place to connect the gospel to our exploration. We are sinful by nature (Eph 2). We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). We are a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17). We are reconciled to God and to one another in Christ (Eph 2).

The flood narrative is important to this conversation, so we explore Genesis 6-8. What do we see that sin has done to the world? How does God reckon with the evil and corruption? What promises does he make after the flood? We find reassurance that God will not let his creation destroy itself (Gen 8: 21-22).

Encourage your students to think through any possible links between the flood and the gospel. What is the connection between the flood and baptism? (1 Peter 3:20-21) How does Jesus describe his death in Luke 12:50?  Is the flood pointing to something greater? (Colossians 2:12-14)

Once we have explored passages, review what all we have learned about God, humanity, creation, and redemption. There is much foundational doctrine to be discovered in these passages. What are the implications of God’s sovereignty? His providence? Man’s sinful nature? What does the creation, fall, redemption, new creation storyline of the Bible tell us about our planet and our role in it?

Now, given all that has been learned from Scripture, how does the nature of God relate to the issue of climate change? Should we take the rebellious nature of mankind into consideration when we hear from either climate alarmists or deniers? What does being made in the image of God and tasked with stewardship of creation tell us about the importance of the issue? Is it possible that most people want what is best for the planet but just don’t agree on the predictions or possible solutions?

Finally, as we approach polarizing topics, especially politically charged ones, we need to continually monitor the setting and tone of the conversations. Always be prayerful. Imitate Paul in his epistles by opening meetings with and continually encouraging an atmosphere of grace, mercy, and peace. We need this tone in our ministries if we are going to address any topics contrary to the spirit of the age or polarizing in nature. Always affirm all that we hold in common despite differences of opinion or conviction. A loving community of believers can hold different perspectives as long as we are in agreement about the gospel and the authority of God’s Word.

Dave Wright is the Coordinator for Student Ministries in the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. He previously served churches in suburban Chicago and Cheshire England. Dave has written extensively for a variety of youth ministry publications, contributed to The Gospel Coalition blog and authored a chapter in the book Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. He blogs occasionally at engagingeverygeneration.com.

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