Right at the top let me say this: This isn’t an article where you find the answers to difficult questions. There are plenty of apologetics resources online that can help you with that. This is my advice for dealing with questions that are difficult for you in general.
I started volunteering with my parish’s youth ministry right after my confirmation, when I was seventeen years old. How much did you know about the Catholic church when you were seventeen? Probably as much as I did. Which is to say, very little. I took over the youth program a few years later. For the first few years I had to answer questions I didn’t understand all the time. I got to be pretty good at it. There is a way to do it with grace. A way that respects the question, the person asking it, and your place as a leader in the program.
The first thing you should know is that it is perfectly fine that you don’t know all the answers. Nobody does. Still, you are the person who is supposed to find those answers. You don’t want to get into the habit of telling your teens “I don’t know.” Doing this will make you ‘the person who doesn’t know things’ in their minds. You don’t want that. When someone stumps you with a question, use language that is stronger than “I don’t know.” You can say, “I don’t have that information right now, but I’ll text you later when I get it.” You can say, “Great question! I’m going to find that out for you.” You can say, “I don’t have an answer for you at the moment, but I’m going to get one for you.” Rather than making you ‘the person who doesn’t know things,’ these statements make you ‘the person who finds things out.’ See the difference? It is subtle but powerful way to change your approach to difficult questions.
The second thing I’d like you to know is you should always follow up on questions that stump you. It shows you are paying attention to the needs of your teens and it also makes you a better teacher by forcing you to learn something new. Whatever you do to remember things, do it for these questions. For example; when someone asks me something that requires a followup I immediately pull out my iPhone and make a note or even a reminder to ensure that I get back to that person. “Siri, remind me at 9:00pm to look up Sarah’s question about Islam.” Then, after I look things up that night I’ll make another reminder. “Siri, remind me to text Sarah about her question tomorrow at 5:00pm.” Or “Siri, remind me to give Sarah her answer Sunday at 6:00.” (Siri is my homegirl.)
The last thing I’ll say isn’t as big a deal, but it’s something I like to do. I will, as best as I can, let the person who asked the question know how I got the answer. When I have time, I’ll actually write or type out the citations. Where in the catechism I found the answer, or what article I read online, what verses are relevant. I like to do this last step because our goal as youth ministers is to prepare our teens to live the rest of their lives as good Catholics. The more we show them how to get the answers on their own, the more likely they’ll be to keep seeking and finding answers in the Church as they grow up. That’s what I like to think anyway.
Okay. There we have it. Three tips for answering difficult questions. 1) Use stronger language than “I don’t know.” 2) Follow up! 3) Show your work.
Do you have anything to add? Have other tricks worked for you? Let me know in the comments.