From Doubting Thomas to Believing Thomas: How to Help Our Teenagers Deal With Doubts and Questions

Teenagers are like bloodhounds. They can sniff out inauthentic faith and a lack of transparency better than most. As youth pastors, our challenge is to show them what authentic faith looks like and give them clarity on the questions that they have. 

Now, this doesn’t mean we need to have all of the answers ourselves. The best way to answer a question that we don’t have an answer for is, “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” 

However, if we brush off questions and refuse to engage with our teenagers when they ask us things, we are doing them a disservice.

When our teenagers are sniffing around and asking questions, they aren’t doing it out of ill-intent, they are curious. We all have more information available to us via the internet than ever before. It’s easy enough for us to go down internet rabbit holes. Teenagers who are still emotionally immature (which isn’t their fault) can have a difficult time sifting through incorrect information. They need to be able to ask questions and search for answers, especially in church.  If not, their faith will be built on sand and not a solid foundation. 

Here are some guiding principles to follow so that the Lord can use us to firm up the foundational faith of our teenagers. 

Two Categories of Doubt

There are a myriad of reasons why teenagers have questions and doubt the claims of Christianity, but these reasons can be classified into two camps: emotional doubt and intellectual doubt. 

Emotional doubt stems from difficult circumstances that make it hard to believe in God. Is God really good? Does God really care about me? Why did God let my parents get a divorce? Why did God let my family move? Why did God let my grandparents die? Many of our teenagers come from difficult circumstances or have walked through hard things which can result in emotional doubts about the Lord. 

Intellectual doubts can be questions about the veracity of Scripture, questions about creation or evolution, or questions about whether or not Jesus actually died on the cross. There is an endless list of intellectual questions kids might ask about Christianity.

One particular disciple who gets an especially bad nickname gives us much insight on how to best handle doubts and questions. 

Thomas had a whole lot of questions when he heard that Jesus had been resurrected. When he was talking with the disciples, he told them that “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Jesus, in his grace and mercy, appears to Thomas and says,  “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe”  (see John 20:24-29) Thomas responds with pure belief. 

Thomas seems to have been a pragmatic person. His hang-ups are a classic example of intellectual doubt. He had a hard time believing that Jesus actually died and had been actually resurrected. Jesus’ response to him shows how we can respond to our teenagers when they raise important questions. 

How to Address Doubts

First, Jesus didn’t castigate him. One of the worst things that we can do is make our teenagers feel bad or guilty about asking questions. Shame can turn them away from Christ faster than almost anything else. But Jesus also didn’t brush Thomas’ concerns under the rug. Rather, he addressed his doubts head on, invited him close, and called him to trust. Ultimately, Thomas’ doubt led to him trusting in Jesus. When his questions were answered, he was able to see that Jesus is who he says he is and that He is faithful to his word. He learned that he wouldn’t be cast out for asking questions, but rather embraced in love. 

God gives all of us brains and intellect for a reason. He doesn’t want us to have blind faith, he wants us to believe and trust him at his Word. It’s our job as youth pastors to facilitate these questions, be well-versed enough in our own knowledge to be able to answer them, and ultimately point them to Christ.

So, here are some practical tips on how to handle doubts and questions:

The first thing is to get ahead of these questions before they are even asked. Every few years I teach a series I call Can I Ask That? I have the kids write down their tough questions and doubts (anonymously), I synthesize them together, and then we spend a semester addressing their concerns. This is an invaluable series not only because I can give biblical answers to their questions, but we are also teaching teenagers that it is okay to ask questions in church. 

Another thing we can do is encourage them to talk to trusted people and not the internet. Encourage your students to pose their questions to trusted adults. In the same vein, we can also encourage them to talk to God and search the Scriptures when they have doubts. The Bible has more answers to our questions than we realize. Our Creator doesn’t withhold information, he tells us everything that we need to know that “pertains to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). 

A third thing that we do when our teenagers bring us their doubts is challenge them to trust. While we certainly want them to ask questions and search for answers, there is a point in time, just like Thomas had, where they will need to trust in the Lord. Having faith in God means that we trust in what is unseen (Hebrews 11). 

At the end of the day, our greatest desire is for our teenagers to trust in Jesus, who took their sin upon himself, died in their place, and rose again. None of us can actually see Jesus, so it’s normal to have some questions. Questions aren’t bad and should be asked. If we don’t have the answers now, I’m sure we will in the future. After all, eternity is a long time. There will be plenty of conversations with our Redeemer as we enjoy his everlasting peace forever. 

Matt Brown Fam

Matt Brown is the Family Pastor over both campuses of The Gathering Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. He lives there with his wife, Kaylee, daughter, Isla, and two dogs, Annie and Oakley. In addition to his love for student and family ministry he enjoys hanging out with his family, watching the Chiefs and the Royals, hunting, fishing, and being out in God’s Creation.

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