Three Ways to Teach Teens to Think Theologically

While knowledge does not equal love, it should cultivate an increasing devotion to God and gentleness toward others.

The more your teenager knows God, the better she should know how to love and obey him. The more she understands herself, the more she should appreciate God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice for her sin. Because God is good and kind, merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, the study of this good news should increasingly change the way Christians think about the world, respond to people created in God’s image, and follow Christ.

 

Teenagers notoriously fall on the receiving end of some pretty uncharitable characterizations. But in my experience, not all teenagers are automatically lazy, apathetic, aloof mooches mindlessly scrolling on their phones. Some teenagers are actually interested in engaging with more of life’s complexities. Is the church ready to help?

Some stereotypes are true. My freshman daughter will sleep until ten thirty if not roused from her slumber. She loves Marvel movies and texting her friends emojis and memes. Junk food is her friend. There are certainly undeniable elements of her teenager-ness. But not all teenage stereotypes are accurate; she is not lazy, apathetic, or aloof and she certainly isn’t mindless. If I assume all teens lack spiritual interest or motivation, I’d never get around to taking teen discipleship seriously.

As parents, pastors, youth leaders, and adults tasked with discipling the next generation, we must recognize that a desire to grow in godliness can indeed be developed alongside a teenager’s love for sleep, junk food, and emojis. Stop patronizing teenagers and take them seriously. Invite them, like the Apostle Paul invites Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, to think, “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

Teenagers are quickly becoming adults. Starving them from Truth and gorging them on games isn’t helpful in the long run. We can’t pacify them with watered-down, youth-sized versions of biblical teaching and counsel and expect them to develop adult-sized appetites down the road. Teenagers, when charitably given the opportunity, can exceed our expectations and grow in spiritual maturity. Whether from the pulpit or our own kitchen tables, here are three ways we can teach teenagers to bend away from theological ignorance, laziness, and immaturity, and teach them to think theologically:

1. Make Theology Approachable

Theology isn’t rocket science; don’t bill it as such. Our family recently visited a church where the pastor said in his Sunday sermon: “There’s a word I’m going to teach you that you won’t remember.” He went on, “It’s a theological term we don’t use in Christian circles or small groups often. In fact, only [Billy Jones] probably knows words like this.” The congregation chuckled. I cringed. The word that followed wasn’t unfamiliar; it was a common theological term that didn’t take a seminary degree to understand.

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