Student Ministry, Theology, and Thinking Well

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Thinking is good. Not thinking is not good.

I enjoy reading the writings of good thinkers. Good thinkers critically examine their ideas, consider the strengths and weaknesses of arguments, and follow assumptions to logical conclusions. Good thinkers help their readers to become better thinkers, leading by example. Good thinkers encourage questions, for they themselves are curious people. They aren’t content with shallow statements or unconsidered stances; they press forward into truth, and they call others to do the same. They, in short, love the truth.

Poor thinkers, however, stop short in the work. They desire comfort more than truth, and they are content once they’ve achieved their goal, even if questions remain unanswered. They may avoid difficult questions, stifling curiosity around them in order to maintain a peace of mind even if such peace of mind is ultimately damning. Poor thinkers may write more to overpower than to persuade, attempting to crush all challenges instead of engaging and answering them. Poor thinkers are content with the superficially profound; they don’t truly value truth, and they can become bullies of those who do. They, in short, do not love the truth.

I believe God wants us to be good thinkers, to let our minds be renewed and transformed in order to discern his will (Romans 12:2). We see that the believers in Berea were praised for testing teaching according to the Scriptures rather than accepting it blindly (Acts 17:11), and we read that Paul reasoned in the synagogue (Acts 17:16-17). I believe God gave us minds that we might think well, that we might get to know and love him who is the truth. I believe to stop short in the task of thinking is both unhelpful and unwise, especially in a world with many competing claims to truth.

For those of us who minister to students, the task of thinking well, of loving the truth, must be a primary focus. We serve a group of people who are consistently confronted with contradictory worldviews and superficial pursuits. Daily, students receive invitations to question their assumptions, to consider alternative understandings, and to find their own paths in the world. When we teach them from the Bible, we aren’t just adding to a neat stack of truth statements within a safe, Christian framework; we’re entering a battleground of assumptions and questions and emotions and concerns. When we call students to trust in Christ, we’re asking them to embrace the narrow path to life, thereby requiring them to abandon the wide path they see others traveling. We’re calling them to love the truth and to see through all falsehoods.

In such a context, our students can’t afford to be poor thinkers. With souls on the line, we must teach our students how to think, how to observe and evaluate the world around them without getting swept away. We must teach them how to love the truth. Theology can help with this task.

When we teach students, we need to understand that we’re teaching them to do theology. If we simply tell students what to believe without telling them why they should believe it, we’re teaching them to be poor thinkers and, therefore, poor theologians. Assembling an impressive structure of statements for them without giving them the tools to evaluate the structures won’t really help them. When challenges arise, they won’t know how to respond. By teaching them how to think, however, we’ll enable them to own their theology. This doesn’t mean they’ll approach God purely subjectively, of course. Good theology has objective grounding in God and in the Bible. But theology, for the thinking student, will become less an inherited structure of stances and more a living relationship with God himself. Theology itself isn’t just a list of truths and falsehoods (at least not one we can know exhaustively); it’s an ongoing process of knowing God, of considering all of life in light of him, and of living accordingly. And such a pursuit is full of love which draws us ever nearer to God.

So as you prepare lessons for students, consider your approach to teaching. Are you telling students what to think or are you teaching them how to think? Will students leave the youth group with a worldview that can’t survive questions or with a robust theology that invites questions and seeks answers? Will you instill in students a love of the comfort of an unquestioned structure or will you help them love the truth? I pray we’d be servants who help students to love the truth, to love theology, and thereby to love God.


Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Thanks to Will for the suggestion for today’s blog post. Happy Birthday!

Thanks to Jamie for her feedback on this post.

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