Insights from experts on how to answer kids’ toughest questions
You’ve heard it before: That question from a child that stops you cold and leaves you searching for the right words to answer. Kids grapple with tough questions every day-about their faith, their relationships, their fears. Some of those questions can stump even the Bible-savviest children’s minister!
We pooled a team of Christian experts who know kids-and then threw them some of the toughest questions kids ask. Here’s their candid advice about how to answer.
“Why does prayer sometimes work and sometimes doesn’t?”
Teach kids the truth about prayer. It’s not a “gimme” list or bargaining chip or quick fix. Prayer is time spent talking with and listening to God.
Every prayer isn’t going to get the answer we want on earth. We won’t be able to see some of the prayers working in our lives until we’re in Heaven.
Prayer isn’t like a Christian rabbit’s foot-rub it and get your wish. Prayer is communication with God who sees the big picture in our lives. Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want because God knows it wouldn’t be good for us. Other times people who aren’t following Jesus do things that affect us. God won’t make them do right things. Everyone has the free will to make bad choices, even if we pray that they won’t. But we know Jesus is always with us
when we walk through difficult, hard, or hurtful places.
It can be frustrating when God feels silent, like he’s not listening. Imagine walking up to an elevator and pushing the “up” button. After one minute, the average person gets impatient if the door doesn’t open. Three minutes seems like forever. Prayer can feel that way. Often we don’t just want God to answer our prayers, we want them answered now. God does open the best doors to the best places, but in his time.
We must be careful what we teach kids about prayer. To talk about prayer “working” makes it into a pragmatic and sometimes quid pro quo exercise. Teach kids about all aspects of prayer, not just intercession and petition.
“Is it okay to lie if the truth will hurt someone’s feelings?”
There really are absolute truths! Exodus 20:16 tells us not to lie. It doesn’t say, “Do not lie, unless…” Teach your kids to speak the truth in love and to trust God when it comes to doing the right thing.
It’s always better to deal with a specific situation than to give a general answer to a general question. If we paint too
broadly, we don’t really help where the ‘rub’ is. Kids don’t need platitudes; they need real help for real tough situations.
God tells us we’re not supposed to lie. Sure, we don’t want to hurt people, but the truth is if you truly love and care for someone, there’s a way to tell the truth.
As a rule, lying is wrong. However, sometimes we tell the hurtful truth when we could just not say anything, or say something truthful that doesn’t hurt. “Those jeans make you look really fat” is better not said. How about, “That shirt is your color for sure!”
What a great thing when a child is afraid to hurt a friend’s feelings! Celebrate the child for being a great friend-and tell the child that part of being a great friend means telling the truth, even when it’s difficult. -Amy Dolan
“Is it okay to doubt some things in the Bible? What about doubting God?”
Have kids record things others may not find believable but they know are true based on personal experiences. When kids see proof of protection against bullies, the miracle of killing Goliath with one small stone becomes real. Correlate Scripture with what your kids are facing to help them discover the truth of God’s Word.
Sure! God wants us to use our brains, to question things that don’t make sense, and to use Bible study, good teachers, and mature Christians to help us understand everything we can. But there are some things we just can’t know for sure. We believe with all our hearts that God is trustworthy, and that allows us to make that leap of faith and accept what we can’t prove.
When children have opportunities to bring their deepest questions to God, their faith will most likely grow and become more personal. Don’t be afraid to encourage children to explore their faith, because God is strong enough to handle all of our greatest doubts and fears.
Everyone at times can have doubts. But doubts don’t change truth or upset God. Often when we can’t see or feel something, we doubt if it’s real. But just like air you can’t see-God is there. Put another way, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence in things not seen.”
I don’t see why the clothes I wear matter to God; the Bible says God looks at your heart. My friends all have hip clothes; why should I dress like a nun?”
Our clothes reflect our heart. If our clothes say look at me, it can send a message that we’re proud. If our clothes say instead I enjoy life, our joy is evident to the world. Clothes are meant to protect and reflect our personality. Hip is fun as long as our clothes don’t lead others to have wrong thoughts.
You don’t have to dress like a nun-or a streetwalker. There are lots of fashions in between. Ask yourself, “If I were introducing Jesus at a school assembly, what clothes in my closet would I be ashamed to wear?”
No one has to dress like a nun who isn’t one. But wearing clothes that cross the line-even if friends are-doesn’t help
others, help you, or honor the God who made you.
I’m not sure appealing to modesty will get you anywhere with older elementary girls. This is a place where role models can be helpful-perhaps some teen girls who dress stylishly but modestly in your church who the younger girls think are cool.
“I don’t feel brave talking about Jesus with my friends, and sometimes I even get embarrassed. Is it really that important to talk to people about my faith?”
It’s hard to talk about Jesus when you don’t know how. A great starting point is to show your friends Jesus’ love-serve them, care for them, be a great example of Jesus to them. When you keep consistency in your life, an opportunity will come for you to answer your friends’ questions about why you act differently than
We talk about things that are important to us, but we don’t go around thinking, for example, I must find a place to stick skateboarding into this conversation. I must! Right now! Instead when everyone is talking about sports, you talk about skateboarding. The same with Jesus! Think of it as permission evangelism. The person brings up a subject or a question that lets you know she or he wants to talk about spiritual things. Pray that Jesus will put you into conversations where it is natural and easy to talk about him.
Usually when we’re embarrassed about Jesus, it’s because we think we have to do something “out there,” like preaching them a sermon. Instead, just live like Jesus. Be kind to someone everyone picks on, help a friend with homework, or listen to a friend who’s struggling with parents. Write love letters by your loving actions.
We put a lot of pressure on kids when we’re emphatic about telling them they need to talk about Jesus to their friends. It’s more important to teach kids about living like Jesus as an example to friends.
“I have lots of friends who aren’t Christians. Is that wrong? Does it make God mad?”
We can’t be a light to the world if we hang out only with other lights. God wants us to be friends with people who need him so that they can see Jesus in us. No matter how small your light is, when you go where there isn’t much light, yours will seem bright!
This actually makes God smile. How will we show others how worthwhile the Christian life is if we don’t know people who don’t know Jesus? The important thing is to live in ways that please Jesus, and when friends don’t, you do what Jesus wants you to do. And if certain friends are turning you away from Jesus, you need to turn away from those people.
I think God is thrilled that you’re a great friend. Jesus hung out with people who weren’t Christians-and the people loved to hang out with him because he loved them and told them about God. You can be like Jesus too when you hang out with your friends just by loving them and telling them all of the great things you know about God!
God wants us to be friends with people who are different from us. What does make God unhappy is when these friends influence us to live in ways that depart from Jesus’ values.
“My friends gossip about each other. Should I try to stop them or just keep quiet?”
Teach your kids to confront sin in love. If a child’s friend is a Christian, then kids need to speak up for what’s right. If their friends aren’t Christians, then kids should first pray for that friend and then tell the friend why gossip is wrong.
Being quiet and not joining in gossip is a good start, but in time, the child might simply express something like, “I’d rather not talk about them when they aren’t here. I know I’d be hurt if others were talking about me this way.”
If you feel bold, ask your friends if they’ve talked about you lately when you weren’t around. Then you might have a chance to stop gossip. Ask God to help you to be strong. It’s hard to take a stand for what’s right when others don’t see what they’re doing as wrong.
Start by asking, “What do you think about gossiping?” By encouraging the child to think about what she already knows about gossiping, she’ll most likely come to the conclusion that gossiping isn’t the best thing to do with friends. How rewarding for a child when she comes to her own conclusion and is motivated to act wisely!
You can’t “push” your friends into doing what’s right. But you can take the lead by walking away when they start gossiping. To stay says, “I’m with you in hurting this person.” So be known as the person who speaks well of others, and take the lead in finding positive things to say about others.
“Bad things have been happening in my life, and I feel like God is punishing me. Why does God punish people?”
Kids need to know that God corrects sin in our lives so we become more like his Son. Sometimes we’re punished to learn from mistakes. Sometimes bad things happen because we can learn from that as well.
God doesn’t punish people, but he does allow things to come into our lives to help us grow. One of the hardest lessons of life is recognizing that we seldom grow when everything is going great. Instead, we usually get lazy spiritually. God doesn’t cause our problems, sin and a fallen world do, but God is there to show us his love in the midst.
Take time to listen by saying, “Tell me more about the bad things happening in your life.” As you listen, show understanding and care, and take time to pray for the child. Then respond by saying, “I don’t know why bad things are happening in your life-but what I do know is that God loves you all the time.”
Here are two statements that simply aren’t true: Things are going good for me because I’m good; and Things are going bad for me because I’m bad. Sometimes we’re doing all the right things and still get slammed by life. Other times, people do wrong things and seem to get rewarded for it (like that friend who cheated and aced a test you struggled to pass). But cheaters don’t really win, and God hasn’t punished you because you have or haven’t tried hard enough. Life is tough and unfair sometimes, but those tough times can give you the ability to persevere until things smooth out once again.
Help the child see that he hasn’t been specifically targeted by God to be punished. This is a place to emphasize God’s love and that he only wants the best for us. Help the child see the good things in his life. Sometimes we fail to have gratitude for these things because the bad things overshadow them.
Karl Bastian is the founder of Kidology.org and an author, speaker, and trainer. He’s best known as “The
Ivy Beckwith, Ph.D., is the minister to children and families at Congregational Church of New Canaan in New Canaan, Connecticut, and author of Postmodern Children’s Ministry.
Amy Dolan is the children’s ministry leader for Willow Creek Association, the founder and leader of Lemon Lime
Kids, and a 15-year children’s ministry veteran.
Kandi Elliott is the director of children’s ministries at First Baptist Church of Lansing in Lansing, Illinois,
a presenter for Children’s Ministry Magazine Live, and a 28-year veteran children’s minister.
Marlene LeFever is the vice president of educational development at David C. Cook, the winner of the 2007
Distinguished Educator Award from NAPCE, and a 40-year Christian education veteran.
John Trent, Ph.D., is the president of the Center for Strong Families and StrongFamilies.com and author of The
Blessing and The 2 Degree Difference.
Lori Valenzisi is the team pastor at Bridge of Hope Church in Boardman, Ohio; a presenter for Children’s Ministry Magazine Live, and a 16-year children’s ministry veteran.