What Happens When Teens Don’t Like Jesus?

Youth Specialties
October 13th, 2016

We’re excited to have Jen Bradbury as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations she’ll be navigating in her seminar: The Jesus Gap. Check out more information HERE.

I love Jesus.

That’s probably not surprising to you. As a youth worker, I’m guessing you love Jesus, too. What’s more, I’m guessing you want the teens in your congregation to love Jesus, too. But what happens when they don’t?

Because let’s face it, there are probably teens in your ministry who don’t love Jesus… Or even like him. There may even be teens in your ministry who claim to hate Jesus. I recently found myself in a conversation with one such teen, who told me in no uncertain terms, “I hate Jesus!”

When teens make comments like those, it’s easy to react. It’s easy for our defenses to kick in. But it’s important they don’t. Instead, view bold statements like “I hate Jesus” as an invitation into a deeper conversation with teens.

Whenever a student claims to dislike or hate Jesus, ask teens to tell you more.

Why do they hate Jesus?

Which Jesus do they hate?

Often, teens who claim to dislike or despise Jesus simply don’t know Jesus. Or they know the wrong Jesus – a Jesus who, unlike the real Jesus found in Scripture, hates certain groups of people. Truth be told, I don’t like that Jesus either. I often tell teens that and then offer to introduce them to the real Jesus found in Scripture – the one who fiercely loves people, hung out with unpopular people, and met needs whenever he saw them. That Jesus is pretty irresistible.

Sometimes, what you’ll find when you ask teens why they dislike Jesus is that they don’t actually dislike Jesus at all. Instead, they dislike the hypocritical church they’re a part of or the parent or grandparent who constantly tries to force Jesus on them. When that happens, say how sorry you are that that’s how they feel. Then ask why they think Jesus is so important to that family member. If possible, actually engage that family member in the conversation with you. As you do, invite said family member to share why Jesus matters to them. Doing so often creates greater understanding between family members.

Occasionally, teens who dislike Jesus have no reason for doing so.

If that’s the case, engage in ongoing conversation with the teen. Let them know there’s a place for them in your youth ministry, regardless of their questions or their feelings about Jesus. Challenge them to respectfully articulate their feelings but at the same time, to respectfully listen to those whose opinion about Jesus differs from their own. Invite them to ask questions about the Jesus they encounter… Both inside and outside the walls of your church.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Jesus never shies away from the questions of someone who’s honestly seeking him. In fact, he promises that those who seek will find.

Dare I suggest that those who are vocal about their dislike or hate for Jesus are actually seeking him?

In their book, Soul Searching, based on findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and Patricia Snell conclude that religion is nothing more than a “lifestyle accessory” that is relegated to the “background” of a teen’s life. According to them, “religion is simply not important or relevant enough to everyday life to warrant any real discussion”.

That’s not true for teens who boldly say, “I hate Jesus!”

For those teens, Jesus is important enough to warrant real discussion.

May we have the courage to honor that.

So, rather than be offended by their passion, boldly engage teens in conversations that point them to the real Jesus of Scripture, trusting that when they meet the real Jesus, they, too, will find him irresistible.

Jen Bradbury is the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. She’s the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus, The Real Jesus, and Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders. Jen blogs at ymjen.com and enjoys hiking, traveling, and playing games with her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope.

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.