'So what?' Helping young Aussies who don't care explore faith

Can I share a confession with you?

I feel like I’ve been taught a bunch of answers to spiritual questions the young people I hang around with aren’t asking … and don’t care about. Have you felt that?

I remember hanging out with this group of teenagers who had no faith background. We were on a day trip exploring secret beaches, cool caves and amazing sunsets.

Eventually, I remember asking Ben: “So, what do you think of the whole Jesus thing?”

I really appreciated Ben’s answer: “Mmm to be honest, I don’t really care. I don’t think about that stuff at all. It’s like, ‘So what?” [We’ve adjusted a few of Ben’s favourite four-letter words.]

But I noticed something else.  It was like my question was a total category error for Ben; like there wasn’t even a box or space in his mind for these bigger questions.

Ben’s ambivalence and indifference towards Jesus, faith and spirituality is increasingly common. A 2019 study by Youthscape, a leading youth ministry organisation in the UK, wanted to know what ‘big questions’ young people were asking. Were they the same questions answered by traditional apologetics, and if not, what were they? [1]

What Youthscape found surprised them.  The young people they interviewed weren’t really asking big questions at all. None. [2] Equally challenging was that the participants interviewed had no desire to engage in those conversations either. [3]

It was like my question was a total category error.

My conversation with Ben has always stuck with me. It’s motivated me to think differently about how we stoke spiritual curiosity for young Australians. How do we shift indifference and irrelevance for a generation of young people who are in a very different space culturally and spiritually?

How do we meet Ben where he’s at? What would it look like to take a few steps back? What are the questions behind the questions?

These are some of the head-scratchers my conversation with Ben has kept me pondering.

In the months that followed, Ben’s “So what?” became my friend. Most helpfully, it forced me to go back to Ben and listen more.

I discovered that for Ben it didn’t matter if the Bible was true, or if proof of the resurrection existed.

“So what?”

Or the classic, “Where will you spend eternity?”

“So what?”

Ben’s worldview didn’t include a belief in an afterlife, so the question was a category error and a non-starter.

Instead, as I listened more to Ben, I came to realise that Ben did have deeper questions; they were just different to the ones I was hoping for and was prepared for. Ben had this hunch that the happiness binge our culture is obsessed with wasn’t working and he wanted something better. He worried about the existential threat that climate change poses, and wanted help to support his friend who was struggling with their mental health.

James, Ben and friends’ vehicle

Ben was looking for something different. His spiritual quest wasn’t for truth; he wanted something (someone?) beautiful. I just wonder how an obscure Jewish rabbi from the 1st century might meet Ben where he’s at?

As we journeyed, I learnt how much Ben loved stories and chats, and loved being heard!  He demanded raw authenticity from me, loved being invited along to do what he called ‘Jesus stuff’ with me, like serving marginalised folks or volunteering with Red Frogs, and he wanted to do that stuff with others. Ben appreciated my long-term availability to him, and always let me know when he felt like I was treating him like a project or had stopped going off-script with him.

I’d love to tell you that Ben has become a follower of Jesus. That hasn’t happened. Ben’s still exploring spirituality and faith. But, hang on, there it is, right?

It’s no longer “So what?”

James Baker, CEO and Creative Director of XP Films

James Baker, CEO and Creative Director of XP Films

What would it look like to begin to journey with those young people in your own context?  Are you brave enough to ask yourself, “So what?”

James Baker is the CEO and Creative Director of XP Films.

XP Films just released season 1 of a new digital series that helps young Aussies explore life and faith. Here’s episode one:

[1] Youthscape Centre for Research, No questions asked (2019)
[2] Youthscape Centre for Research, No questions asked (2019), 14.
[3] Youthscape Centre for Research, No questions asked (2019), 35.