As the apostle Paul finished up his time with the church in Ephesus he was confidently able to report, ‘I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God’ (Acts 20:27). Wouldn’t that be a great way to finish up a time of serving people you love. But sometimes there are topics that are super sensitive, topics which fill us with a fair bit of hesitation! However, it is good to talk about hard things because, in the end, every hard topic can promote great chats and even better they take us to the heart of the gospel.
So below are five things you might not want to talk about, but should!
Everyone we know will die (unless Jesus Christ returns), but death is still hard to talk about. Maybe it’s because, when you are chatting to a room full of teenagers, what you see is life and potential and so death seems out of place. Plus, if you have a teenager who has experienced the death of a friend or family member, you might fear bringing up bad memories and reopening wounds.
Nevertheless, we must talk about death because teenagers are not immune from death. About ten youth from the youth group I lead have experienced the pain of the death of someone close to them. Each time we talk about death I get a little worried but then every time I am grateful. While death is saddening and does cause tears to fall, the whole reason Jesus Christ came was to end death. Indeed, the gospel has seemed ‘most real’ when we have approached the subject of death.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that youth live on their phones. For a long time, when I was working out how to apply a bible text I would think about different areas where teenagers live their life – at home, on the sports field, at school and at church. But now we must add in the online world.
The online world is complex. It is a world that is private and hidden. It’s a world which is more addictive than some opiates. It is a world where youth are often dealing with dark problems without the help of a parent or guardian to cast much light. That is the nature of being able to hide your phone away.
So we must talk about devices and how to use them well for the glory of Christ.
In 2019 there was a lot of talk about the ‘Reproductive Health Reform Bill (NSW)’ and hence abortion. Abortion is not an easy topic to talk about. There was a lot of heat generated as the bill was discussed in public forums. I was wary of talking about abortion, not only because of potential conflicts it could raise, but also because of the pastoral implications for both the young women and men of our youth group.
However, I quickly learnt, that while I might be worried about talking about it, it was a common conversation for many of the teenagers in their peer groups at their schools. From what I am aware, I don’t think there was any prolonged time given at these schools to clear bible teaching on the ethical issues associated with the start and end of life. This means that for many young people, the most teaching they were receiving was from social media feeds or outspoken friends at school.
The bible has excellent and beautiful teaching about life. For sure it is counter cultural, but as we talk about abortion we talk about God’s great love for life. Plus, rather than shaping conversations around ‘rights’, we start to shape important conversations around the ethic of love.
This is another hot topic. The ‘transgender’ movement is alive and well. More and more teenagers are confused when it comes to talking about gender. In our culture, gender is fluid and biological sex makes no difference. This hits up hard against God’s design for the world.
Last year, we devoted four weeks to ‘Identity, Gender, Sex and Dating’. The teenagers came alive for these topics. They had loads of thoughts and big questions when it came to gender. We played a Taylor Swift song, ‘I am the Man’, and asked the youth to comment on it. Surprisingly, more boys than girls sensitively talked about how the song brought more confusion than clarity to the topic of gender. These four weeks taught me that the youth are keen to hear what God has to say and keen to talk about it.
So let’s talk about gender. Not only in contrast to what the world is teaching, but to show how it is good to live as men and women according to God’s design. Let’s not shy away from hard passages, like 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 2:12. If they are not taught as they are growing up, it will come as rude shock and potential stumbling block when they are older.
What’s more, we have an opportunity to teach the men in our groups to care well for women. Sometimes boys are less concerned about passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 (about different gender roles in church) because it is not their ‘problem’. But let’s lead the boys and show them the way of love. Help them to love their sisters by understanding deeply why these bible passages can be troubling for a young women but also why these passages are part of God’s good design.
I know it seems obvious but we must talk about Jesus Christ. In ‘youth group land’ we strive to teach in a way that is concrete. This can lead to our talks and teaching being heavy with application. This is good. Hearing God’s word should change us. But application-heavy talks can lead us away from resting in the beauty, truth and love of Jesus Christ.
So keep talking about Jesus Christ. Keep pushing deep into who he is and what he has done on the cross. As the hearts and minds of young people are captivated by Jesus Christ, God will do good things for his kingdom.