One of the top influences on a student coming to faith today is in the space they are given to ask questions.*
In a time of life as a university student when you are being positively trained to investigate, debate, research and question all that you are learning, it is no surprise to discover that finding space to ask questions around faith is a key factor in students meeting Jesus today.
The emphasis here was not about just getting right answers, but about the freedom and safety to ask any question, however silly it might have sounded. Even when the students talked about finding answers, it was always in the context of preexisting relationships and community and it was an ongoing exploration, not a one-off conversion.
As you are probably aware, apologetics has moved away from being about proving God and things about Christianity through right answers or better logic. It is much more about building bridges of relevance and relationship in order to connect a person to the very idea that God might be real, and closer and actually on their side. This was reflected in the ways the students I interviewed described their experiences too.
Here's what some of them said:
“I had so many questions, I literally wrote down 20-30 questions!”
“I didn’t feel judged, I felt like I could ask the silly questions”
“I find it helpful to hear people offer their view and then give time and space for questions”
“It was important to let me have the breathing room and patience to work it out, which fortunately I did!”
“I was basically just running around uni asking people loads of questions and everyone was very patient and great and gave me lots of different perspectives”
If you’ve heard any of us at Fusion talk about the Discipleship Deck or the DMC deck (deep and meaningful conversions), you’ll know that we have been majorly exploring how we ask questions as mission.
Jesus asks 307 questions in the gospel accounts. He is asked 183 questions, of which he only answers 3 directly. Jesus used questions all the time to get people curious about the Kingdom of God and he felt no pressure to be right or even to answer! This is such a good challenge and a real relief to most of us who might have been nervous that we might get asked something we don't know. No worries, be honest, explore together what the answers might be, and enjoy the journey of seeking out more of Jesus that comes with not just parroting out stock answers you got taught without wrestling for them yourself.
How confident are you to let your mates ask questions and not feel pressure to know it all?
How confident are you to ask your questions? Even the ones that you think are stupid or too scary to look at because you’re worried it might undermine your whole faith?
How might we create better spaces for people to ask their questions in our church community, especially new people or those exploring faith for the first time? How uncomfortable would it be to suggest an entire Sunday or small group focused on asking questions and engaging in honest discussion, even though we'd not be in control of where it goes?
In Jesus we have the answer, but he is a person not a formula, he is a living active presence with us by his Spirit, not a full stop at the end of a neat sentence. And he is not afraid of your questions or the questions of those yet to know him, he is inviting you to start a conversation with him.
*These statements are taken from research completed for my Masters degree in which I explored commonalities of students coming to faith in Jesus in England today. I gathered data from a spread of institutions, geographical locations, church expressions and interviewed an equal number of male and female students, with some diversity in background and ethnicity as well. Although my findings have limitations and my scope of data had to be small, I believe what I have discovered is still very useful for local churches seeking to share Jesus with students and so this blog series explores the top 12 commonalities discovered. Enjoy!