Mr. David Kinnaman: You know, it’s – it’s a really important realization. And this data that, you know, there are a lot of people lose their faith and God still cares about them. You can still pray for them. You can still ask the Lord for wisdom about how to speak to them about spiritual things. But it’s also like it’s okay to let the Holy Spirit do It’s work in in the lives of our children. Even when they’ve lost their faith.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s David Kinnaman. And he has an encouraging word about trusting God with your teen and young adult children and, um, trusting them in their faith in Christ. He and Mark Matlock are back with us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we talked with our guests about raising your teen in a digitally saturated world. And I’m doing it. I know you’re doing it, John. And if you missed it, I want to encourage you to go back and listen to it. It was a great discussion. And we’re going to give some very practical tips today as we continue that discussion. Last time we talked about what they found in their research, what an exile looks like, and, unfortunately, only about 10% of young people, 18 to 29, identify themselves as resilient Christians. They’re doing the things that really build their faith, and they’re excited about their faith. The other 90% live on a different plane – prodigals, the habitual Christian, the nomads. And if you missed it again, go back. Download the app for the smartphone, connect with our website. You can get that here at Focus on the Family. We’re going to continue the discussion today and get more detail about that 10% that are resilient Christians.
John: And the book that really is the basis for our conversation today is called Faith for Exiles: Five Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. The authors are David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock. And we do have copies of that book. Just stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. David lives in California and is president of the Barna Group. Mark also works with the Barna Group and lives in Texas. They both have young adult children and, uh, I think there’s a teen somewhere in the mix as well.
John: They know this stuff and they’re living it as well.
Jim: David and Mark, welcome back.
David: It’s so good to be here.
Mark Matlock: Thank you.
Jim: I think you can sense a little bit of energy here because, again, so many of us, I’m living it, and I know literally hundreds of thousands, if not a few million of the listeners are living it as well. We left off last time as we begin to look at the five attributes. We covered, one which was the intimacy with Jesus. Mark, add to that for the new listeners that didn’t hear last time. Expand on that one.
Mark: Yeah. You know, you would think that if we are going to church with any kind of frequency that we’re experiencing Jesus in the same way, that we’re having fellowship with Him. But what we found is that just isn’t true. Every teenager that goes to church, every young adult that goes to church, isn’t having the same experience with Christ. And those resilients, which were our kind of exemplars for this, they are able to clear away a lot of the, kind of, religious clutter that’s developed and accumulated in our church services and our programs and our lives that kind of take us away from experiencing that. And they’re able to kind of get right to the heart of that. And one of the things that I think is – is just really interesting in this moment, um, is really looking at the relationship with Christ. We always say it’s a relationship, not a religion – um, Christianity. But do we always talk about it that way? So, you’ll remember, I was talking about that one individual I was engaging who was debating me about his faith and trying to convince me that God didn’t exist. Well, I chose to not engage him from an apologetic standpoint. I didn’t try to prove to him using reason or rational arguments. This is why you should believe in God. This is why you can have confidence that He exists. I say that is like round two. What I wanted to start with is: have you experienced Jesus? Have you met Jesus? Tell me about that. Because here’s a young man who’s grown up in the church. He’s getting ready to graduate from high school. And he basically has decided that all of this is a bunch of malarkey. And I’m trying to sit there and go, how do I convince him otherwise? My training was go apologetics on him. But what I realized was, I don’t know that he’s met Jesus. And if I can introduce him to Jesus, that’s the best apologetic ever. And so, that’s one of the things we have to think about when we’re doing this is not about trying to convince somebody, but it’s really about introducing them to Jesus Himself and helping them experience Jesus in their life. And that’s what we found those resilients have. And that way, when they go into their college experience, their work experience, into their life, Jesus is going with them, because that relationship is intact.
Jim: That is so powerful and so on point. I mean, but we do. I think it’s just – I don’t know, it’s a human trait to want to win the argument, right? And we default to that posture rather than saying, “Wait a minute, what is this faith in Christ all about?” Let’s move to this second practice of these resilient Christians, a cultural discernment. And David, I want to come right back to you, because you have a story about your friend Seth who discovered that his daughter was searching the Internet for depression. And this is really close to my heart. Here in El Paso County, the high school that our boys have gone to, along with a few other high schools in the area, have had a – just this terrible increase in teen suicide. And, you know, the whole country is grappling with that. But this – this example really caught my attention. What happened to your friend Seth? And what’s the larger significance under this cultural discernment piece?
David: He’s a great friend of mine. Planted a church from the West Coast of California to a brand new city and a new cultural context, all sorts of change that their family went through. And, um – and so, he’s – he told me how his daughter he found the search results that were, you know, like, “signs I’m depressed” and how to – you know, how to think about the depression and anxiety she was experiencing. And his heart dropped because he realized that he had not been there for her. And I tried to reassure him. I said, “That’s just an example of where screens are discipling.” Um, one of the convictions and conclusions of this study is that screens disciple. Well, how do we use that? So, first, you know, we have to be active and engaged in the lives of – of the young people that are in our lives, our own kids, grandkids.
Jim: Friends of our kids.
David: That’s right. Especially now, we have to be people who are willing to help understand and – and live into the anxiety of this generation. And you raise this when you talk about suicide. There’s all sorts of social research now that’s showing this generation is just under assault when it comes to depression, suicide, mental health issues. The good news of this is this generation is very open and willing to talk about it. They’re open and willing to have counseling and mental health support and mental health days.
David: How can the church really minister in an age of anxiety? How can we as parents, you know, just sort of acknowledge, yeah, this is an anxious time, especially now during coronavirus?
David: Um, you – you know, everyone’s lives are disrupted. And so are our kids, especially so.
Jim: Let me – let me put some parameters around that. The CDC, you know, just a while back released a report that they did and they found that 25.5% of people, 18 to 25, had experienced suicide ideation or serious thoughts of suicide in the last six months. That’s a group of 30 million people. So, 25% is seven and a half million people between the ages of 18 and 25 that have had suicide – serious suicidal thoughts. That should alarm all of us. What is going on? And we need to find a way, especially as Christians and believers, that God is the giver of life, that this is a gift for us to experience.
Mark: Well, you know, when you think about this idea of cultural discernment in digital Babylon, we’ve got basically teenagers that are sitting in front of screens. And once again, we’re not anti-screen, uh, but we just need to be mindful of what’s happening there. They’re taking in narratives. They’re taking in stories about a world that’s been created without God most of the time. And so, the only reference that they have to deal with some of their problems are in a way that doesn’t include God. So, one of the questions that I would ask my kids when we would listen to music, when we watch a television show, even something really innocent like The Brady Bunch – okay? – on reruns, “Is where’s God in this?”
Mark: The – the question about “where is God?” gets them thinking. Where is God in this? Especially, I have young creatives, so when we go to museums and things, I’d ask them those questions. “What does this tell us about God?” “What does this tell us about their perception of humanity?” Getting them thinking about that and discerning culture through the lens of God’s presence and His engagement in our world. Um, that is a real important thing when it comes to that feeling of isolation and loneliness. Asking themselves a question, “Where is God right now?”
Jim: Yeah. And that’s a great reminder. Sometimes a challenge can be as parents we get the “Oh Dad” response, right? But plug ahead. Keep asking the question. Because it…
Mark: That’s right. Love the eyeroll.
Mark: Lean into it.
Jim: Because it does make an impact on young people. Even your consistency in asking that question communicates a conviction on your end.
Mark: Well, you know, when Mike Brady’s, you know, trying to solve the family problem there, right? I know this is a real throwback, but we watched a lot of reruns…
Mark: …Because I love classic television.
Jim: Hey, I watched the originals.
Mark: Yeah. And, uh, I remember, though, you know, when they’re solving their problem and I go, “Where is God in this?” And my kids are like, “Well, they’re just solving their problems.” And I go, “But no. They’re not looking to Scripture. They’re not praying together as a family.”
Mark: They’re working out this problem in 26 minutes, minus commercials.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Mark: So, it’s like, you know, is this reality here? You know, because what we would do in our home is, we would look at the Word of God. We would pray and ask God to help us have peace between us if we’re in conflict. And so, by doing that it helped them understand and see there’s a world that exists that doesn’t include God, but that’s not the world that I live in.
Jim: Right. And, in fact, you give three practical ideas for practicing discernment. What are those three? Real quick.
Mark: Yeah. One of them is just asking that question, where is God?
Mark: The second is what claims is this movie, this song, whatever, kind of, making about life?
Jim: Hmm. What worldview? Right.
Mark: Yeah. What’s it – what’s it saying is true? You know, hey, we fall in love. We have sex. Is that true? Uh, this is what a man is like. Is that really what a man is like, the way they’re projecting masculinity? Um, and then the third question is where’s hope and redemption found? And so, is it found in Christ? Is it found – so, it’s always helping them see what’s absent in what the world is making. So, we weren’t saying, “Don’t watch this. Don’t do this.” But it was, “Let’s think about what it is that we’re doing.” And I think that helped them understand how to engage the world around them.
David: I remember a time with my daughter Anneke, where at dinner we were talking about cynicism and – and the role of cynical characters for comedic relief. And, you know, in – in sitcoms. And my daughter, Anneke, the lightbulbs were going off, because she was like, “I remember trying to be funny and make jokes with the family in – in the way that I saw these characters making jokes, but it never really went anywhere…”
David: “…Because we weren’t – we didn’t practice in cynicism in the way that – that show did.”
David: That’s a good example of cultural discernment. So, how do we as people who are, you know, committed to Scripture, committed to living faithfully for Christ, live, you know, sort of in the world, but not of the world? That’s the whole message of being in exile. We’re – we’re trying to be faithful like Daniel did, and other exiles in Scripture to interpret, you know, what’s happening in our culture, not just to consume that entertainment, but actually think actively about what Scripture says and what it means to live a faithful witness in light of that.
Jim: Yeah. And, you know, again, I want you to respond to this. The astonishment that I have, and I think most people have, when you look at that research, your four core categories, that resilient Christians, that’s 18 to 29-year-olds – only 10% of them have that kind of – I guess we could say that Biblical worldview. And I want to ask that question – the other 90%, what happened? I mean, they were going to church with their families. They fell into their 20s, sort to speak, and they walked away from their faith. Or it’s lukewarm or, you know, they’re going to church because it’s socially appropriate. I want maybe my future spouse to come from the church, or I want my future children to be a part of the church. I can’t understand all that…
Mark: Well, cultural discernment is very hard, because you’re having to live in this tension, right?
Mark: So, it’s easier to regulate it and just say, “We will watch these things and we won’t watch these things.” And so, we make a bunch of black and white kind of family pronouncements. But what we don’t teach our kids to do in that is they learn to follow the rules. They don’t necessarily learn how to think through the tension of culture and faith. And, uh, that’s, you know, one of the things I think happens with a lot of those habituals and the others is they – they go, “The rules are overwhelming, and they don’t make sense. That was a really good movie. Why couldn’t I watch that?” And to help them integrate that is really what’s, uh – what’s key.
John: Well, we’re talking today on Focus on the Family with David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, and their book is called Faith for Exiles. We do have copies of that here at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And you heard us talking about the tragic issue of suicide. Um, when you’re at the website, be sure to check for the link to a special podcast series we’ve created that addresses that topic.
Jim: David, I’ve got a heavy heart with that description of this, the seed falling on the ground, because all of us is committed Christian parents, if we’re living in that resilient parents space, you know that we’re born again, we have a relationship with Christ, we’re doing the things we need to do and we’re living our lives, hopefully, in such a way that we’re leading people to Christ, et cetera. That breaks my heart, because that – what you’re really saying is that some of our children obviously aren’t going to get there. I mean, it brings tears to my eyes, because that is the goal. I mean, one of the things I often say to my boys is, “I want to see you in eternity.” But the reality is for some people, that’s not going to happen with their kids. And I think what’s hitting me right now is the idea that we’ve got to do all we can do as human beings to till that soil in such a way that the Holy Spirit has the best chance of capturing our children. And if we’re doing things to prevent it – our, you know, rules orientation; our control, freak-out parenting type – what – you know? Wow. We’re – we’re actually contributing to the hardening of that soil.
David: Yeah. And to the lack of resilience in the lives of these young people. And that is what gives me such great confidence in the gospel today. You know, as a person who looks at culture and this generation, I’m so – I’m so grateful to see the emotion in your eyes, as we said here today, Jim, because, um, you know, a million a half interviews, a big chunk of those have been with this emerging generation. I’ve had the privilege and the honor and the sacred honor of listening to people’s loss of faith stories. And, uh, you know, there are times when it’s the soil. There’s times when it’s the, you know, the – the culture. There’s times when it’s actually the – the work of the church and self-righteous Christians who – whose hypocrisy drove people away from the gospel, who never heard the message of – of, uh, unmitigated grace that comes through the cross. And so, it should propel us to action. And at the same time, as we care even more deeply about what happens to this generation, we have to be careful not to just grasp on to control points.
David: You know, and – and just, you know, try to force people to become Christians. This is a time – this is, I think, the message of Daniel in exile. Daniel is used powerfully by God in three different pagan kings’ administrations. Uh, you know, starts with Nebuchadnezzar. But then there are two more administrations that come along.
Jim: And most likely he’s a teenager or a 20 something.
David: That’s right. And his practice of prayer, all of these deep, resilient things that he would have done, you know, to listen to God’s voice in exile, to try to practice cultural discernment, to try to influence, you know, his – his society for – God. You know, these are things that echo through history, you know. And so, even though there’s this is heartbreaking data on one level, it’s also really encouraging for us to see that there are ways that we can live a resilient life, that this next generation is watching what happens with us as older Christians, that they want to see, you know, who it is that they can hang out with and really believe that that person, you know, believes what they believe. Like, I think we have a crisis of trust in the church today. Who do I trust actually believes the things that Jesus says we should do and then lives them out?
David: And how can we as Christians, you know, come to the place of resilience in our own lives so that other younger Christians can live that kind of resilient life as well?
Jim: That’s well said. And again, we’re covering those five attributes that exist in that 10% of 18 to 29-year-olds that are really living a resilient Christian life. And we’ve covered two. The intimacy with Jesus and then cultural discernment. And what we were just talking about actually feeds into number three that you identified, which is meaningful, intergenerational relationships. So, this idea – that includes you parent – mom, dad. I mean, you are that intergenerational relationship. But in addition to that, are the people around your family, people that you trust – back to David’s point – who can be good influences in your young child’s life.
Mark: This is probably the one thing – you know, we talk about control, right?
Mark: And for me, I go back to that – the story of Abraham and Isaac when God asks that he sacrifice Isaac on an altar to Him, and then God redeems him and restores him. He says that I wanted to see if you really trusted Me.
Mark: And I think as, um, parents, we have to really trust God for the salvation of our children and not try to control it. And think that’s…
Jim: But it doesn’t mean disengage.
Mark: It doesn’t mean disengage. It doesn’t mean just throwing caution to the wind.
Mark: And this is one of the areas where I think we can, kind of, bring some of that in, and that’s in this meaningful relationships. We’re really looking at the scaffolding around – the relational scaffolding around the child.
Jim: Yeah. Good.
Mark: One of the things that’s happened is we become a connected, disconnected generation. We don’t know our neighbors like we used to. You know, it used to be growing up, you know, families would hang out together all day on a Sunday and go over to each other’s homes and things like that. People don’t do that as much as they used to. And so, what we’re looking at is how can I bring more relationships into my child’s life? What we found with resilients is that they were having much more networked relationships, many more connections with – intergenerationally with adults older than them. They had people in their life that were encouraging them spiritually, by you know, double digits.
Mark: So, the habituals and the resilients are going to church, uh, but the difference that they’re having relationally is totally different plans.
Jim: And again, the digital world is putting out that barricade.
Jim: You know, I can do this electronically. I really don’t need to communicate one-on-one, eyeball-to-eyeball.
Jim: Mark, I do want to bring in that – that index card, because this is where it fits. And some of the things, as you were leading a youth group, what they would write down – and talk about that exercise, because we can do this as parents and certainly as mentors to our kids friends. What did you do and what did you see in those responses?
Mark: Yeah. Well, first was I wanted to create a really safe place for doubt where young people could say, “I don’t know what I think about this” because was the safest place for them to explore doubt? It’s in church. It’s in our homes. And sometimes we shut that down and we don’t even realize how much we make it unsafe for our kids to share what really is going on in that internal dialog. So, as I started realizing this problem, um, I had this group of seniors and I gave them all index cards and I said, “Write something down on this index card about you that you probably think, I don’t know but I should know about you.”
Jim: Wow. Great question.
Mark: And, uh, they didn’t have to put their name on it or anything like that. They collected them up, stuck them in a box and then I went home and read them. And my heart just broke. I mean, these are kids I watched grew up in my church in so many of them said, “I really don’t believe any of this anymore. Um, I’m just waiting until I graduate to, you know, kind of, change a rhythm and I’m on my own. I respect my parents faith so much, um, that I don’t want to disappoint them.” But this was like half of the group.
Mark: And these are kids that had grown up in our church.
Mark: And it was the first time in my experience as a youth worker where I actually had the number of seniors go up over the course of the year as opposed to go down, um, because we were engaging…
Mark: …The topic and it was a safe place. And they were telling their other friends, “We’re having really meaningful conversations.” So, what started as a terrifying reality to look (chuckles) at what these students had written on these cards turned out to be an opportunity to guide them in their path and their experience of Jesus.
Jim: That’s so, so good. We are nearing the end here, and I do want to cover the other two. Training for vocational discipleship. David, describe that and what attribute that is, and what did you see?
David: Well, this is a, I think – a really exciting theme that we saw in the research, which is that if we can help people understand that God has made them for a unique purpose in the world and that could include pastoral or missions work, but it may also include being a pastor and doing mission work in another vocation or career. And so, the churches that do a good job of helping to vocationally disciple young people make a real difference, make a real resilient faith in and among young people. So, this includes helping to teach how the Bible applies to different careers. If you want to be a coder, if you’re interested in science and technology and engineering and math – we talked about this a little bit in the last episode – you know, how can you bring a perspective about Christian calling in those spaces? What about those who are called towards entrepreneurialism, starting businesses and nonprofits, and changing the world? How about young artists and creatives? And this has been – you know, we saw this in the “You Lost Me” research about a decade ago, that the church is losing some of the best and brightest, not just that we have become a gifted program for, you know, smart people, but like, if the church isn’t capable of helping a young person who’s gonna go off to a great school and study science or go off to a New York City to study fashion, like, God has so much to say about these industries. And so, we’ve just found so much of that lacking. And so, you know, great applications – buy books for your kids. Give them, you know, YouTube channels to suggest to watch and listen to. Find Christians in your community who are interested in the same careers that your kids are in. Get vocational guidance and help, you know, do assessment tools that help to say, what – what are you made for uniquely? What’s your underlying motivations? How can the church contribute to a better understanding of who you are and how Christ, you know, wants to use you in the world?
Jim: Let’s get the last one here. And, unfortunately, we got to do it fairly quickly, but it’s the countercultural mission to love and serve others. I mean, this is outstanding and so critical. But it’s this idea of serving.
David: Yeah. And it’s really where the rubber meets the road of faith. So, you know, we’re formed in our identity in Christ, where we have the mind of Christ is formed in Scripture. That’s countercultural discernment. We’re in meaningful relationships with others. We have a vocation in the world. But people could stop at those four practices, and if you don’t actually witness for the gospel, evangelistically pray for others – all of these important things – expect God to show up in a miraculous way. As I was finishing up this project, I was out in a in a shopping center with my son. And I remember this young woman who is helping us in the store sort of ambled up. I could tell she was limping, and I offered to pray for her. And my son looked at me like, what in the world are we doing here? Because that’s not – not my usual…
Jim: (Laughter) I can hear that.
David: You know? Let’s just say I remember his – his – like his head swiveled at me. Like, what in the world?
Jim: “Dad, this is embarrassing.”
Mark: And we pray for her. And I remember afterwards, my son, you know, sort of said, “We really believe this, don’t we?” Like, it was this really interesting moment where we practice countercultural mission. If we expect God to show up – this isn’t just words on a page. This is a real God who expects, you know, His people to, you know, sort of demonstrate, just like we see in the life of Daniel, a real belief that God is active and alive in the world. And we’re just – we get the privilege of being, you know, sort of agents of that kind of change.
Jim: Yeah, and ending on that high note, Mark, you both have witnessed what’s going on with young people in the missions field, particularly. Give us that story or that highlight and then we’ll close.
Mark: One of the things that we’ve come to realize is that exiles have these moments of epic trust where they have to literally put everything on the line for believing in God in this moment. We don’t know when those moments will occur. We don’t know exactly when they’ll happen. But we have to be demonstrating those things in our life and giving them an opportunity. Um, we have a generation that is excited about going into the world and making a difference and seeing really incredible things happen in the name of Jesus. These aren’t political battles. They’re not cultural wars. That’s not what living on countercultural means. It means living in these moments of epic trust in God…
Mark: …And demonstrating and displaying that trusting in God makes a difference and resilients seem to understand that. And there’s a moment that comes like Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in front of that image of gold Esther when she’s challenged by Mordecai to go and confront the king about the nation of Israel…
Jim: Knowing she could lose her life.
Mark: Knowing she could lose her life. These are the moments, and I believe that is we see a generation raised up in exile, they are going to have more and more of those moments and we’re going to see God do some incredible things and to reveal Himself to people.
Jim: Wow. I mean, this has been so good these last two days. David and Mark, a wonderful book, Faith for Exiles. It’s really aimed for that teen or 20 something. But I’m telling you, everybody can benefit from reading the content of the research that you’ve done. Thank you for those hours that it required to do this and to identify those four types of young Christians today, their struggles and their victories. And, uh, this is so good. Listen, if you can send a gift to help us in ministry here at Focus, monthly or a one-time gift, we’ll send you a copy of the book, Faith for Exiles, as our way of saying thank you to step in and be there with us to help other people. If you can’t afford it, get a hold of us. We’ll trust that others will cover the cost of that. Everybody should be reading this book, Faith for Exiles. And again, David and Mark, thank you for being with us.
David: Our pleasure. Thank you so much.
Mark: Yeah, thank you.
John: And you can donate and get your copy of the book when you stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And as we close, President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court vacancy will be part of a larger discussion tomorrow on this broadcast about the importance of expressing your voice by voting in the upcoming election. John Stonestreet and Tim Goeglein will be our guests and I hope you’ll join us tomorrow. On behalf of Jim Daly and the rest of the team here, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family as we help you and your family thrive in Christ.