Fuller Youth Institute

FYI

Photo by Massimo Ankor

Today’s guest blogger is Matthew Lumpkin, an ordained baptist minister and Fuller alum who feels called to work in technology building systems that encourage people to be more human. He teaches an adult Sunday School class at Altadena Baptist Church where he's attended with his wife and two girls for nearly 8 years.


“My cousin is gay but she also loves Jesus, reads her Bible, and goes to church. Can we talk about whether or not that’s even possible?”

I had just asked the class for their burning questions, the ones they’ve always wondered about but didn’t feel they were allowed to ask at church.

To my surprise, over half the class spoke up in agreement with more examples of people from their lives who they know, some they love, who also are living this apparent paradox: gay and Christian. They wanted to understand better how to think about, talk to, and love these people in their lives.

During my time in student ministry and leading this adult Sunday school I’ve tried to make room for these kinds of burning questions. But with some trepidation about this particular topic, I agreed to prepare a series of lessons about gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and questioning people (“gay,” for short), the Bible, and the Church.

Can I Ask That? was the first resource I went to because I knew it had a chapter about being gay and being Christian. I also knew that FYI had a reputation for balancing accessibility, good work with biblical texts, and pastoral sensitivity to the real ways these hard questions intersect real people’s lives, especially the lives of students.


Four Things That Surprised Me

1. Setting boundaries on our tone actually worked

Before we began addressing the actual topics, we spent some time describing the kind of conversation we wanted to have. That is, a conversation that was faithful to the character of Jesus. We agreed to speak about gay people as though they were in the room. In several cases we knew they actually were. We agreed not to doubt anyone’s faith or make ultimatums about what one another “had to believe” to still count as a “real” Christian. Along with several guides on owning our own feelings and listening with the same charity with which we want to be heard, these made up our “Agreement of Humility and Respect.” I was convinced we would fail at these, but keeping them posted on the wall enabled us to keep the same kind of conversation as people came and went from week to week. One of the reasons we are afraid to ask divisive questions (especially at church) is that we are afraid of the conversation devolving into opposing camps in battle. The stricter boundaries on the kind of conversation we all agreed we wanted made people feel safer to say riskier things and engage.

2. Praying for and caring for one another enables a different kind of conversation

Perhaps most importantly, we continued our regular practice of beginning our weekly meetings by sharing the ways we believe we’ve seen God at work in our lives that week, and the things we are worried about that we would like one another to remember in prayer. Even when I strongly disagree with your position, if you pray for my sick child, and I pray for your dying mother, it changes how we approach one another. By enacting community and care, we were primed to listen with openness and empathy.

3. Health care professionals offer interesting experience to the conversation

One of the first questions the group wanted to address was: “What does science have to teach us about gay people and gender?” This question was posed by a retired public health nurse. She had some idea about the kinds of genetic disorders that can cause someone with XY (male) chromosomes to never develop secondary sex characteristics or male genitalia.

Accurate numbers of babies born in the US with some ambiguity in their genitalia are hard to come by. The best estimates are between 1 / 1000 and 1 / 500. Another retired nurse in the class who had worked in neonatal intensive care said that number seemed low as compared to her experience. She had seen quite a few babies with ambiguous genitalia and was heartbroken to see how often parents push for surgical revision based on what is visible at birth. We found that talking about making room for kids born between genders in our communities of faith was much easier than talking about “gays” or “lesbians,” especially for folks on the conservative side. It’s hard to blame a baby for how they are born.

4. Welcoming questions welcomes people with questions

The biggest surprise to me was that by making room for these questions and by treating them thoughtfully over a year, we made room for people who weren’t even part of the group to talk about it too. It was almost as if the space that we made in that basement classroom extended beyond it.

Because people knew we were wrestling with this, young people in the church came out to me and to other adults in the church. Adults shared stories of sexual questioning. Parents who had kept their children’s sexual identities quiet felt free to talk about them with me, members of the class, and others at the church more openly.

Regardless of how you feel about the appropriate role of gay people in the church, it’s hard to see it as anything but good that a young person who is experiencing same-sex attraction feels they can remain a part of their community of faith while they work to understand it. 

Because when you welcome questions, you welcome people with questions.

When the answer to “Can I ask that?” is “Yes,” then so is the answer to the question, “Am I welcome here?” And if we do that long enough, with humility and respect, then we make room for the Spirit of God to transform us into something resembling the character of Jesus.


One Big Lesson Learned From a Failed High School Romance

Meeting Students Exactly Where They Are

Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Curriculum

  

Photo by Martin Neuhof.

Today’s guest blogger is Jason Heppner, a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (‘11 MDiv, Youth, Family, & Culture), he is the Family Ministry Director at Glendale Presbyterian Church in Glendale, CA, coaches baseball for Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta, CA, and frequents any and all coffee shops that sell and offer Stumptown Coffee.

Can I ask that?

No.

Oh…

(End of conversation.)

How often have you heard this type of shut-down conversation take place between an adult and a curious teenager?

“No” can take different forms. It disguises itself so you may not think you’re shutting down the conversation, but to the student it’s the same thing:

  • Let’s talk later.
  • Not now.
  • …  because that’s what the Bible says.

Saying, “No” means the moment has ended and doesn’t deserve to move on.

But what does “No” accomplish? Well, nothing really. It represents a lack of creativity, time, and desire for engagement. Momentum is halted and deeper relationships are thwarted.   

So let’s change one word of that conversation to encourage ongoing conversation: “Yes.”

Suddenly, we have endless possibilities.

  • Yes” communicates to the student that you’re a safe person to share with.
  • Yes” encourages the student to ask deeper questions.
  • “Yes” removes barriers that almost all students have as they approach youth leaders and youth pastors regarding faith, sexuality, and relationships.

Can I Ask That? says, “Yes” over and over again to extending deeper conversations with students about God and faith. It’s a resource that actually resources the youth leader with responses to questions that have historically felt scary and, honestly, questions that sometimes seem impossible to adequately respond to.

Have you ever had a student whose questions were so thought out and deep that you wondered if they thought about anything else? Jake was one of those students for me. He had a lot of questions. What’s God’s role in my life? How does my pursuit of Jesus define who I am? Where am I going in life?

I had the privilege of walking (sometimes running) alongside Jake navigating through questions, reading and studying the Scriptures together, and having conversations over flavorless coffee and mocha lattes about how this all goes together.

Jake’s questions and thirst for life remained constant, but Can I Ask That propelled him in a direction that I didn’t know was possible. It bolstered him to take the lead on forming a Student Leadership Team in our ministry. He got other students to attend our Tuesday evening gathering where we talk openly about Scripture, faith, and the complexities of life. He steps up to serve his peers, comes early to set up, engages thoughtfully in small groups, and is always willing to serve and lead. He continues to ask questions, and brings others alongside him who also ask questions.

Students were already asking these questions; they were just looking for a safe place to address them. All I had to do was say yes.

Photo by Amanda Tipton

We had dated for one month, and I knew there was a problem.

She had mannerisms I didn’t like.

She was so head-over-heels for me (or at least that’s what I thought), it was actually quite annoying. She wanted to spend every spare moment together; I wanted to hang with my friends.

I was a high school senior and I had major doubts about this romance I found myself in.

But I kept those doubts to myself. I endured a few more months of this relationship and then ... I couldn’t handle it any longer and broke up with her. She was devastated, and completely surprised.

In our important relationships, whether with friends, spouses, co-workers, or even God, why do so many people keep doubt inside?

Doubt should evolve in any serious follower of Jesus. In that sense, doubt is good news. Only someone wrestling with faith on a deeper level will care enough to ask some of the faith’s toughest questions.

But, like a senior boy who hasn’t figured out how to express himself, we often keep it inside. It’s not all relational naiveté though. There are some legitimate reasons we fear expressing our doubt:

  1. Doubt produces conflict. Admitting doubt almost always leads to hard conversations. For those who fear conflict, doubt means submitting yourself to potential discomfort.
  2. Doubt admits the relationship is in jeopardy. Most of us realize that relational doubts can lead to the end of a relationship. Doubts usually mean we are saying something is (potentially) wrong and, if not satisfactorily addressed, the relationship will change or end.
  3. Doubt opens the doubter to potential criticism. Expressing doubt could lead to feeling like an outsider in community. The friends of this high school girlfriend were my friends too. If the relationship didn’t go well, it could mean the end of the community that I was a part of.

The same three barriers attempt to prevent us from verbalizing doubt in the church. We fear the energy required in the conflict of doubt, the admission that seriously addressing doubt has negative ramifications, and the potential of being excluded from the community we love. So we keep our mouths shut.

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine pulled me aside. This friend was seen as a leader in the church, a “pillar.” She was someone people respected—she got things done and worked tirelessly for the cause of the church.

“I don’t think I believe in God, really,” she said to me in a hushed tone, even though no one was nearby. “I don’t know who else to tell, but I’ve never really experienced God in any way that would make me sure life isn’t just a random accident.”

I thought about my response for a moment, then offered, “Tell me more.”

Her courage to be vulnerable, combined with a response that didn’t shame, led to a healthy and hopeful dialogue about faith.

Could this conversation happen in your ministry? What kind of environment are you creating for young people’s big questions?

The death of my high school romance started with silence, not doubt. Silence kills. Choosing silence results in the very harm we were trying to avoid in the first place.

Don’t let silence be the story teenagers tell later in life.

  

Meeting Students Exactly Where They Are

Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Curriculum

FYI Webinar with Dan Kimball

 

Photo by Khushroo Ghadiali.

Today’s guest contributor is Lisette Fraser, a wife, mom of 2 middle school students, and a 16 year youth ministry veteran serving as Pastor of Student & College ministries at Glenkirk Church in California. 

I think the thing I love most about youth ministry is walking alongside students as they discover faith. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways. For example, I’ve been blessed to serve as a volleyball coach in a local school. Through the relationships I’ve built with these girls, a few of them started coming to church and have even made deeper faith decisions.

One of my greatest joys is leading a small group with these gals. We meet every other week to pray, study, and do life together. I love these girls and I want them to have an open, honest, and deep faith. We have tried to provide a space where they feel safe, where they know they can ask any question, and where they are invited to discover faith on their own.

After Bible study one night, I asked the girls to share any questions they had about God and faith. What was surprising was how incredibly articulate and thoughtful they were in response. They wondered things like the validity of the Bible, how God feels about women, where science and faith meet, and how God sees all kinds of different people.

Looking back over their list, I laughed when I realized that the questions they were asking were the same questions addressed in Can I Ask That?

As we’ve worked through the book, I love that it meets each student, no matter where they are on their faith journey. I’ve got gals with a committed faith, others with no idea of what faith is, and everything in between. And yet each student has been captivated by the content of Can I Ask That? They love the book, the layout and, most importantly, how easy it is to engage. It is thoughtfully written in a way that levels the playing field. No one knows more than anyone else, and together we have a guide to thoughtful conversation.

The first week of our series we looked at the question, “What is the Bible, anyway?” A couple of students in our group got their first Bibles ever as Christmas gifts this year, and it was so cool to see them growing closer to Jesus by discovering the background of his Word. At the same time, a couple of our girls who had grown up in the church had the opportunity to make another significant step in the journey of making faith their own.

Each of us learns each week. We laugh, we argue, we wonder, and we learn. And no questions are off limits.

 

Download a free sample

As a parent, there are few things I want more than to see my kids become people who love and serve others with the heart of Jesus. This is a scary thing to want.

If I’m honest, I want them to become these people without experiencing a lot of personal pain, loss, or risk. But in my stronger moments, it means I hope God disturbs my kids’ sense of identity, their understanding of how they fit in the neighborhood and world, and how they live out their calling.

We live in these tensions a lot as parents. Comfort, safety, and assurance of security often vie for dominance over the downward way of Jesus that calls us to give ourselves away in service to the poor and marginalized.

We need help navigating this tension. That’s why we’re so glad to partner with our friends at Compassion International on a new project, Step Into My Shoes.

Step Into My Shoes is an invitation to experience life through the eyes of a family across the world and process what it means for your family’s life in your own neighborhood. No passport required. The FYI team has been working alongside Compassion’s Advocacy team to create a resource you can use to create discussions at the dinner table, at bedtime, and through fun hands-on family activities. Here’s a video explaining why we created this experience for you:

 

 

 

The Family Kit includes a written guide, DVD, and more to help you lead your family through this four-step experience.

If you are a church leader, there’s also a group starter kit that includes all you need for adapting the experience to a local congregation, including a 75% discount on individual family kits.

To be clear, the goal of this project isn’t to get you or your church to sponsor more kids through Compassion. While that might be a step you want to take, the hope is simply that each family and each church will take one next step—whatever that step might be, locally or globally—toward helping children in need. That’s something we can all rally behind. Join us on this journey!

Photo by greg pths.

I hadn’t heard or preached a sermon about Jesus' transfiguration before, and it sounded like fun.

I approached the passage nervously though. I’m new to frequent preaching, and our church is just a little over a year old, but it’s growing with lots of people new to the faith. What would people think of this story that even I found a little odd? Jesus on a mountainside with clouds, a booming voice, and two guys show up who have been dead for centuries?

Instead of just wondering what people were thinking, I asked them to text their thoughts and questions and, in real time, they would appear on the screens during the message. The questions were good, but nothing I hadn’t expected:

Why Elijah and Moses and not someone else?

Why did Jesus just take Peter, James and John?

If Jesus is God, why is he hearing God’s voice distinct from himself?

All good questions, but then there was this:

I have to be honest. This story just seems like a fairy tale to me. Is it okay to doubt?

Three words stick out in this text message that should haunt every pastor and youth worker alike:

Is it okay…?”

They are pleading words. “Is it okay…?” are words that reveal deep struggle. They are words that underscore a key ministry premise I’m convinced about: People are dying for permission to doubt.

The truth is that doubt hits all of us. It lands somewhere on a spectrum ranging from unrelenting force at one extreme to a nearly imperceptible subconscious soundtrack at the other. Doubt exists in every human being. We spend our lives either allowing doubt to come to the surface for air, or neatly locking it away in a hidden cage.

After that transfiguration sermon, I decided that I am going to talk about the importance of healthy doubt until these people fall over and scream, We get it! Stop!

As a senior pastor, I assure you that adults need to hear “It is okay…” just as much as teenagers. They almost can’t receive enough “doubt permission” from us because, somewhere in our hearts, it seems too good to be true that God would be so good and gracious as to allow unbelief without retribution.

The teenagers you work with may have another barrier to processing doubt. That barrier could be you. Ask yourself: Are you okay with doubt? Or are you threatened by it? If so, why? What does that say about God? What does it say about the church?

If we take the words “Is it okay…?” seriously, we’ll create an environment of questions. People of all ages need a church culture where the words, “I’m doubting God” are never met with shame.

The people around you are dying for permission. So lean in. Don’t wait, but instead be the instigator of the toughest questions, and see what surfaces. You hold the key to something unbelievably valuable—the key to give permission and affirm, “It is okay...”

Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Curriculum

FYI Webinar with Dan Kimball

Photo by greg pths.

If you could ask God any question, what would it be?

That’s a question I love asking teenagers.

It’s worked so well for me that I encourage leaders and parents to try it out also.

My friend Carlos decided to give it a shot with his small group of middle school boys. At first, they said nothing. Crickets. And fidgeting. So Carlos distributed index cards and pencils and let the boys write down their questions. It worked.

Carlos showed me the stack of index cards so I could see them myself. I flipped through them; they were the types of questions I normally hear. Except one.

This middle school boy had written, “Why would God allow half my family to die?”

Carlos saw the card I was staring at. He touched the card and said, “It was my son who wrote that card.”

It had been a terrible two years for Carlos’ family. First his daughter died of a congenital heart disease. Then his mom died, and then his sister. No wonder Carlos’ middle school son felt like half of their family had died. But he had never said it that way out loud.

Sometimes we don’t know what our young people are wondering. Until we ask them.

That’s why I’m so thrilled that FYI is releasing Can I Ask That? Volume 2. The response to the first Can I Ask That? curriculum has been so strong that we wanted to give leaders and families additional tools to use to help young people wrestle with their toughest faith questions.

I love the questions we’re addressing.

  • Is it wrong to doubt God?
  • Is hell real? How could God send someone there?
  • Can I do something so bad God won’t forgive me?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is sex outside marriage wrong?
  • Why is it so awkward to talk about Jesus with my friends?

In our families and our churches, students are asking these questions, with or without us. I’d rather it be with us.

What else do you do or say to try to help young people open up about their big questions and doubts?

 

Purchase your copy of the new curriculum

A family’s experience with Can I Ask That?

 
 

 

In Defense of God

That’s what we called our Wednesday night series on a handful of big questions students were asking in our youth ministry. Why does God seem so mad in the Old Testament? How could a good God send people to hell? It felt like a black hole of ever-gathering doubt. We thought we would teach our way out of that hole by helping students learn better answers, or at least the best answers we could come up with.

That was 1999. And while I’m sure this approach honored the questions, looking back now I wish we had done less “defending” of God and more letting God be God. More freedom to process and explore.

Less answers. More conversations.

Not that answers are all bad, but when we start with the answers, we short-circuit the process of growth that young people need if faith is going to become their own. Our Sticky Faith research highlighted the importance of asking questions and sharing faith struggles. Students who felt like they had a safe place to be authentic about these doubts actually showed stronger faith across the transition out of high school.

This week we release Volume 2 of Can I Ask that? More Hard Questions about God and Faith. The biggest response we heard from Volume 1 was “Give us more questions!” So we went to leaders and students to help us nail down another set of pressing topics young people want to explore:

  • Is it wrong to doubt God?
  • Is hell real? How could God send someone there?
  • Can I do something so bad God won’t forgive me?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is sex outside marriage wrong?
  • Why is it so awkward to talk about Jesus with my friends?


Designed for small group sessions, this field tested Leader Guide/Student Guide pairing is also perfect for Sunday School curriculum, retreats and camps, intergenerational classes, parent/teenager discussions, and more. We are absolutely stoked to get this in your hands.

Because we don’t need to defend God. We just need to remember that God is in the questions. Our job is to help young people look without fear.

 

Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Curriculum

FYI Webcast with Dan Kimball

As we celebrate the release of Can I Ask That? Volume 2, Join Kara Powell and Dan Kimball, pastor and author, for a FREE LIVE WEBCAST. They will be discussing the importance of engaging young people’s difficult questions about God and Faith. As eight years of Sticky Faith research on teenagers has shown, it’s not doubt or hard questions that are toxic to faith. It’s silence.   

Join us LIVE as we dive into how we can respond to the hard questions young people are asking.

Dan is the teaching pastor at Vintage Faith Church as well as the Director of the Regeneration Project at Western Seminary. He is the author of several books including:

Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion

They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations 

And also the upcoming:

Crazy Bible? Exploring the bizarre, chauvinistic, anti-science, violent, hateful-sounding parts of the Bible (and why you can still trust it is 100% inspired by God and a guide for life)

We will be live April 15th at 11:00 am PT.

Watch live here:

 

 

While you wait:

Read about Can I Ask That? Volume 2

Win a FREE Bundle of Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Resources

Photo by Martin Neuhof.

Can we talk about something later?

When you hear those words as a youth ministry leader, your internal alarms probably start ringing. That question can lead to anything from I think I’m gay to My parents are getting a divorce to I’m not sure if I believe in this God thing anymore.

We don’t know until we let them ask.

Our research at FYI uncovered that being able to ask about hard questions and struggles is connected with faith that lasts. So we created a high school curriculum called Can I Ask That? to help leaders create space for natural conversations about hard topics.

We have been so pleased with the response from leaders, parents, and teenagers to Can I Ask That? over the past year. We knew there was a need for dialogue-based curriculum addressing doubts and hard questions like this. What we didn’t know was just how hungry leaders would be to take this study and run with it.

Here are a few snapshots of the ways Can I Ask That? is being used:

  • Small group studies and Sunday School curriculum
  • High school retreats and camps, including senior/graduate retreats
  • Intergenerational classes
  • Parent/teenager discussions
  • Christian high school Bible/theology classes
  • College and young adult small groups

Our team has been particularly inspired by a story from Dr. Tod Bolsinger, Fuller’s Vice President for Vocation and Formation. Tod and his daughter Ali, a high school junior, read the books together last year. Ali shared, "I love it because it doesn’t tell you what to think, but gives you tools for how to think.” Given the freedom to ask questions in the context of a guided discussion, Ali and Tod were able to have much more open and honest conversations. Those talks led to other questions, and led to Ali wanting to study the series again with a group of peers. Tod shared, Can I Ask That? asks really good, even fearless questions. That empowers teachers (and students) to know that Christianity should inspire questions, not squelch them.”

In response to stories like Tod and Ali’s, we will be launching Can I Ask That Volume 2 on April 15th, releasing six more questions that in-the-trenches youth pastors helped us select based on real questions from students like yours:

  • Is it wrong to doubt God?
  • Is hell real? How could God send someone there?
  • Can I do something so bad God won’t forgive me?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Is sex outside marriage wrong?
  • Why is it so awkward to talk about Jesus with my friends?

If the question is, Can I ask that? The answer is yes. You can ask that.

Learn more about how you can win a FREE Can I Ask That? Volume 2 Leader and Student Guide bundle.

Learn More Here