Have you ever had a student ask, “If God is good, why does He allow pain and suffering in the world?” This is a valid question, and teenagers everywhere are asking it from a genuine and broken place. Every day, they see the effects of sin in the world around them. They have mental health struggles, they hear about the latest mass shooting, they experience the loss of a family member, they encounter bullying, and they want to know why God feels distant when they hear about His goodness and love in youth ministry. They are in desperate need of hope in the midst of their pain.
We see the evidence of this need for hope in our Global Youth Culture: U.S. report. One in fourteen teens said they have attempted to take their life in the last three months and one in three report suicidal ideation. Nearly two in three teens reported feelings of loneliness, more than half reported high anxiety, and nearly half reported depression. These numbers are more than statistics. They represent real students who have more questions than answers – students who walk through the doors of our churches every week.
So how do we begin to extend hope as we address this reality as youth leaders and pastors?
Begin with the Gospel story
God made a good world. But, because of human rebellion and sin, it is now broken. Because of this, we suffer within this now-broken world, but God shares that suffering in Christ. Thankfully, Jesus gave us his Spirit and can give us comfort and peace in the midst of our pain, but he also gives us hope for a future where he will make all things new. We know we will endure heartache, pain, and trauma, but we can endure it with hope. John 16:33 reminds us that we will endure trouble in this world, but we can have peace and hope in the midst of it. Romans also speaks to this and says: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
For a youth pastor, the theology of suffering is a great area of study, and the effects of trauma on childhood cognitive development is also a good area of research. But oftentimes, students are not looking for complex answers. Instead, they are asking “why” because behind their “why” is a desire for peace and an “answer” they did not know they needed. This answer is found in the simplicity of the Gospel story where true hope can be found.
Share your story
The Gospel message is where we begin, but how has it impacted your life? When did the Gospel give you hope in your own life? Did you feel like the world was against you? Was your family dynamic broken and dysfunctional? Stories are a powerful tool to use when speaking with students about their painful experiences. Show them practically how God transformed your life when you were in a desperate situation in search of hope. When Christians boldly proclaim what God has done in their lives and how this power is still at work today, it can change a student’s mindset, and God can begin to do something new in their heart.
This reality can be seen in different church settings. A pastor can preach a powerful message, but then they share a personal story about how the Holy Spirit changed their lives and the atmosphere in the room radically shifts. You may have shared your story many times, but remain faithful to remember and to share what God has done in your life. Revelations 12:11 says, “They triumphed over the accuser by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Never doubt the power of the testimony of God’s work in your life.
Allow students to share their stories
When students have been personally changed by the Gospel and are given an opportunity to share about what God has done, it can provide a different kind of hope and expectancy for other students who are experiencing deep grief and pain. They will see that God is moving in the lives of their peers – not just in the lives of adults and leaders. So how do we do this?
1. Create space for testimonies
Make it a habit to have students share about what God is doing in their lives. When preparing the order of the service, ask yourself if there is a student in your youth ministry that has been growing in their walk with Christ. Have you seen the tangible evidence of God working in and through them? If you do not know the answer, seek out students and ask them, “What has God been doing in your life lately?” The answers might surprise you.
2. Be creative
There are many outlets for students to share their testimonies. If they are a writer, they could share a story or poem. If they are musical and write songs, ask if they would be willing to share a song. Maybe they are creative with digital media. Ask if they would like to make creative testimony videos they could share with the youth ministry. If students do not want to do these activities by themselves, encourage them to put a team together. This way, students will be sharing their stories and discovering or using the gifts and talents God has given them at the same time.
Through the power of the Gospel story, we are set free from the bondage of sin, our lives are transformed, and our minds renewed. Boldly proclaim this truth to your students and be willing to share about God’s faithfulness in your personal story. This hope is accessible to all people and has the power to change the trajectory of your student’s stories – showing them that God is good despite the brokenness we see on earth.
- Begin with the Gospel and how God came to share our pain and suffering in the death of Jesus.
- Dive deeper into the theology of suffering and the hope we can find in the midst.
- Consistently share your testimony and have students share their stories to stir up hope among your youth group.
- Check out our small group series “What is Sin,” “Sharing the Gospel,” and “Our Hope” on Feed.Bible to dive deeper into these topics with your students.
- Find more information and practical steps on how to address mental health struggles by following this link: CRISIS MODE
- The Feed Team is available and would love to connect as you seek to make changes in your youth group. Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.