Young People, Big Questions

Paul Raushenbush on the spiritual needs of teens.

Paul RaushenbushPaul Raushenbush, an ordained American Baptist minister, is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University and a Beliefnet columnist ("Ask Pastor Paul"). In this email interview, he tells us about his experiences as a youth minister and his first book, "Teen Spirit: One World, Many Paths."

You've been a youth minister to suburban kids in Seattle to street kids in Brazil. How do teens who write to you online differ from those you've worked with in the past?

What troubles teens is very much the same, so the biggest difference may be that the street kids I ministered to in Brazil can't afford computers. The young people who email questions to Pastor Paul have access to the Internet, and that determines a little who they are, but mostly where they are. I have received questions from the Middle East, Australia, India, England, and of course, the United States.

How does being online change how you minister to teens?

Being online also forces teens to articulate the issues in clear language, because they are writing instead of speaking to me. That makes my job easier. So does the protective cloak of anonymity the Internet also allows them. They can be brutally honest about what is troubling them, because they have less fear of being exposed or judged. Of course, the problem with doing anything online is that you don't have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions and understand the whole picture. Because of the lack of complete context, I tend to answer questions that are more general so that my answers might help a wide range of young people in addition to the particular questioner.


What are the those who write to Pastor Paul concerned about?

The questions that concern young people are pretty much the same as those that face older people. The table of contents in the book shows questions about everything from "Will my dog go to heaven?" to "Where was God on 9/11?" Young people have questions about death and helplessness, feelings of unworthiness, how to negotiate sex and relationships, family and friends, how to deal with people of a different religious tradition and the challenges those other traditions might pose for some of their own beliefs-these are just some of the most common.

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Interview by Paul O'Donnell
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Related Topics: Love Family, Teens