Evangelizing Youth in a Selfie Age

Evangelizing Youth in a Selfie Age

A panel with Jackie Hill Perry, Cameron Cole, Glen Scrivener, and Stephen Um


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Cameron Cole: Lord God, thank you for your goodness and your loving kindness. We thank You, Lord, that you’ve made us alive together with Christ and that You’ve raised us to be seated with him in the heavenly realms where we pray that You would bless this time that we would see the goodness and the grace of Jesus. And we pray, Lord, that we would be at edified and sanctified for the sake of glory of the name of Christ Jesus. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

All right, well, today, we’re going to be talking about discipleship and evangelism to young people. And so, when we talk about young people, we’re primarily talking about late elementary age, all the way into college age. And so, we have a host of people from a variety of contexts. And so, we’re all going to speak about the task of discipling kids, whether that’s our own children, or if you’re in children, youth, and family Ministry discipling and evangelizing kids in that realm.

And so, again, my name is Cameron Cole. For 14 years, I’ve been the director of children, youth, and family at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. I’m also the chairman of Rooted, which is a ministry that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. We have partnered with The Gospel Coalition for the last seven years to produce content about parent discipleship and youth ministry on The Gospel Coalition blog.

And so, Jackie, would you like to introduce yourself?

Jackie Hill Perry: Hey, I’m Jackie. And I write, speak, talk a lot on social media. For that reason, I have a lot of millennial friends and people to talk to. I also served as a female mentorship coordinator at a nonprofit in Chicago for some time that sought to mentor at-risk teens.

Glen Scrivener: I’m Glen Scrivener. I am an evangelist working in the U.K. I’m from Australia originally. And I spend a lot of my time going around university campuses in the U.K. and also producing media that is particularly consumed by older teens.

Stephen Um: My name is Stephen Um. I’m the senior pastor of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Center City Boston. And I guess the reason why I’m on this panel is I get to speak to a lot of university students.

Cole: Great. So it’s not an obscure fact that the church has had a tough time with the discipleship of young people over the past generation. There are a variety of studies, but somewhere in the range of 70% of kids who grow up in the church, do not return to church after high school. And so, the first question we have is where have we seen problems with and failures in the way that parents and churches have presented the gospel to young people?

Stephen, do you want to start us off with that?

Um: I think we need to be more concerned about addressing the issues of the heart than we are about behavior modification. Not that behavior modification is unimportant, but we need to model to our children in the church and also in the home that the way we think about every dimension of life in ministry is centered around the gospel.

So, that is the way we look at life and the way we look at our ministry and the way we look at our families is rooted in what the gospel is. So, the way that we parent and the way that we communicate, we have to show our children that the gospel is distinctly different than just behavior modification or some religious expression, but it is a real-life relationship with Jesus Christ.

And I think because that hasn’t been modeled as well in our churches and in our homes, a lot of our children get this illusion whether by hypocrisy or inconsistency and they don’t see how their parents are really relying upon the sufficiency of Scripture for all things.

And so, they see it more as we go to church on Sundays but they necessarily do not see how it shapes the way they do everything in life.

Scrivener: I think off the back of that, a gospel-centered youth ministry is so vital. I remember in my teenage years, I grew up in a church-going family, and I remember giving my life to Jesus about 1,000 times in my teenage years.

I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. I think from about age 14, it was sort of the first time, at a big sort of conference like this, and it was a very melodramatic giving of my life up to Jesus, and that didn’t seem to work because I went home to the mirror and I didn’t see a shining light behind my eyes or a halo above my head or a funny feeling in my stomach.

And so I prayed again and again and again. And I think the passage of my teenage years that haunted me was the God in the Gethsemane. Because I had the bracelet that said, “What would Jesus do?” And apparently, Jesus would go into a wooded place and bury his face in the mud and give his life to God in an incredible act of self-surrender and service. And I thought, “Well, that’s what I need to do.”

And I would volunteer to walk the dog into a forest and bury my face into the mud and give my life to God, and give my life to God. And I’d run home and I’d try to see if there was a difference, and there was no difference. So I prayed again and again, and my youth leaders were continually telling me to give my life to God, to give my life to God. And I think by about the 950th time, you know, how do you think I was feeling about God, you know, just taking my life from me?

And it was really only aged about 20, I got down with a friend reading through Luke’s Gospel, and we got to the God in the Gethsemane, and I said, “I can’t handle reading this passage because I can’t do it like Jesus.” And my friend said, “You know, Glen, do you think you’re Jesus?” And I said, “Well, no, not 100%, but you know, getting there.” And he said, “Glen, in that passage, you are not Jesus, you are Peter.”

And what’s Peter doing in the passage? You know, failing, rubbish, stupid, foolish Peter, and Jesus prays for him. And I thought, ah, and here is what was lacking for, you know, so many years of youth ministry, when I was just trying to foster and forge a vertical relationship with God and give it up to God and give it up to God and give it up to God.

And suddenly he told me, Christ did that for me. And the release and the service. And I just wonder, if in youth work, one of the reasons why we don’t reach out with the gospel is because we’re constantly trying to forge and foster that vertical relationship with God that’s already a free gift in Jesus. And if only we would know that and receive that, maybe we would flow out to the nations.

Cole: My story is pretty similar to yours, Glen, in a way that the gospel got you into heaven, and then after that, Christianity was just another form of performance. It was about trying really, really hard for God. That’s what it meant to be a Christian. And so, quite honestly, you know, I grew up in a suburban, I minister today, and I grew up in a suburban setting where people do things like bribe college admissions officers to let their children into college.

That’s the holy grail. And I really was just a performance addict, and my religious experience in the church really just kind of reinforced that. And I really came to a point when I was 22 years old, I basically had a nervous breakdown. And the thing that healed me and set me free, and this was as a person who grew up going to church every single Sunday of my life, even in college, even in graduate school, was my pastor saying to me the gospel is rest, the gospel means that Jesus carries the burden of your life, and the gospel means that you’ll never have to impress anyone again.

And so to hear that the gospel actually had relevance to me as a Christian was when I really came alive in Christ. And so, I think that, to your point, Stephen, there can be this…we can kind of, in some ways, just contradict and undermine that original presentation of the gospel if we don’t let that message of grace saturate the whole life, the whole Christian life and the whole process of discipleship.

How about you, Jackie?

Hill Perry: Yeah, I think it seems to me that one of the faults of how the gospel has been presented is that I think it’s been assumed that the gospel is only supposed to affect us and not affect our neighbors, our neighborhoods, our homes. And so I think it’s disorienting even in our culture now where it seems as if the gospel has only changed how you love the other people in your church but not the others that are outside the church, not the immigrant, not the oppressed, not the prisoner.

And so, I think that makes the gospel very unattractive. When it seems that how did God make you holy but you don’t love well? So, I see that the most is that they don’t want our God because our God doesn’t seem to reach outside of the four walls of the church.

Cole: Great.

Um: And if I could just add to that, Cameron. I think the doctrine of the union with Christ is so important in helping us to understand the relationship between justification and progressive sanctification. It is the work of Christ that provides rescuing grace to overcome the penalty of sin, but it is the life of Christ that provides the rescuing grace to overcome the power of sin.

And I think that oftentimes we simply think about the justifying work of Jesus and it’s something that has happened but there isn’t this ongoing work of the spirit as we think about what it means to be in union with Christ to overcome all of the struggles that we have on an ongoing basis and overcoming the power of sin.

He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

Cole: That’s a great point that takes us to the next question. In your particular context, what benefits or aspects of the gospel do you find really resonate with the kids that you minister to?

Hill Perry: These kids are depressed. They have a lot of anxiety. I think I saw an article today that after I think 1997, the anxiety and depression rates went up. I don’t know if that’s because of YouTube or what. But I think, I had a conversation with a student, I was at a college…no, high school in Montreal, North Carolina two weeks ago.

And she said, “What is it about Jesus that I’d need to believe the most when life is hard?” And I said, one, that’s a great question to ask. I was like, I think we can be encouraged by the fact that we have a God who stepped into suffering. You know, that He was not in heaven seeing the suffering of the people because of sin and death.

And now that’s affected us and told us to, you know, just get through it, just charge through life, you know, cast your anxieties on me, don’t trip. But He condescended and He became a man of sorrows. And so, we can look at him and know that He gets it. We can look at Him and know that He was God yet sorrowful often. But we can look at Him and know that even in His sorrow, He had joy.

And so, I think that that’s one thing that I think our students need to see is that their God, our Jesus, is one that gets their pain.

Scrivener: I think Christ-centered theology, a knowledge of God that is focused on Christ is just so vital. I do a lot of evangelism with adults as well as youth, and my rule of thumb is always if someone is over 55 and they tell me that they are Christian, I don’t believe them, at least, not right away.

Because there’s such a thing as nominal Christianity. You know, I’m not rude about it, I don’t poke them in the chest and say, “You know, sing a few hymns or something.” But it has been easier for an older generation to look at the labels that are out there and pick the Christian label and put it on and go out into the world. And we know there’s such a thing as nominal Christianity.

But I speak to a lot of under 25s, and when they tell me that they’re an atheist, I don’t believe them. And for the very same reason. Because it’s very, very easy today to go to a shelf full of labels and to find the atheist label and to put it on and go out there into the world, and you haven’t done more than five minutes of philosophical thinking about, you know, materialism, but you’re an atheist.

You know, are you really? Well, it’s just an identity that helps you to navigate the world a little less frictionless, a little more frictionlessly. So, there is such a thing as nominal atheism. And so my question to over 55s is you know, “Which God do you believe in?” My question to under 25s is, “Which God don’t you believe in?” And usually, they end up describing some distant individual high on power, low on personality, kind of, a Thor figure with a thunderbolt ready to hurl.

And I just say, “What? Sounds like Thor. I don’t believe in Thor. Can I tell you about Jesus?” And I’m always using the phrase the Jesus God. I picked it up from an Iranian woman who’d sort of escaped from Iran when she became a Christian. She’d become a Christian because her uncle had given her a copy of the gospel. She read through the gospel and she got halfway through Luke’s gospel.

And she said, I realized that God cannot be the god of the ayatollahs, he must be the Jesus God. I love that phrase. I’ve been using that phrase ever since that moment. So, I do think the big doctrine that I’m just always preaching when I’m speaking to youth, in particular, is let’s be talking about the Jesus God. When I say God, I’m picturing, most particularly, I’m picturing a man on the cross with his arms wide open to the world bleeding for his enemies.

I don’t know what you’re thinking of when you think of God, but I think if we are to really shape our thoughts in Christ and in Christ crucified, then that’s the sort of thing that we should say, and it’s the sort of thing that’s really compelling, especially for the youth.

Um: When we think about the baseline cultural narrative among young people, not only millennials but this new generation called iGens. What we realize is that they have a great concern for justice, speaking into injustices and having a concern for those who are marginalized and vulnerable. And the Bible has a lot to say about that. So, scholars have said that it is important for us to find a point of agreement or what we would call an element of contact with our baseline cultural narrative.

That’s exactly what Paul did when he spoke to a non-Jewish or non-Christian audience, whether in Lystra in Acts 14 or Acts 17 in Athens. That’s exactly what he did. He found a point of reference, reference of identification. And so I would say the baseline cultural narrative, for many of them, would be justice.

And I think the aspect of the gospel that is able to make contact with that would be the incarnation, right? When we think about the three non-negotiable, the essential elements of the gospel, it would be incarnation, atonement, and resurrection. And so, I really press into that, the incarnational ministry of Jesus and how he was concerned about reaching the quartet of the marginalized and the vulnerable and how he brought healing and restoration for those people who were in need.

Cole: Yeah, I found, in my context again, over kids… I’ve had probably over 1,000 kids go to my youth ministry and I still have not had a child not go to college right out of high school, still batting 100% on that. So that gives you a sense of what my children are like. And so, one thing that I emphasize quite a bit with them is the active obedience of Jesus. It’s not just that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, it’s that Jesus lived a perfect life for you.

Like, that was a necessary part of your salvation. And so, something I’ll say to kids on a Sunday night before we dismiss is, “Remember that Jesus has already lived this week for you perfectly. He’s already lived this week on your behalf perfectly.” And you know, we certainly are not, you know, saying to kids, “You don’t have to obey the Lord, you know, you don’t have to live a life of sacrifice for him.”

But we find that for our kids to really come to love and appreciate Jesus, to hear that he has already lived a life that they feel like they’re expected to live every day and that’s reinforced via media and social media and their parents, their schools. It’s a very, very freeing and compelling thing for them to hear that not only did Jesus die for their faults, but that Jesus also lived this perfect life when so many of them are striving to measure up to perfection in every way.

So you know, as we talk about trying to lead kids to Christ, you know, we often see that there are idols that they cling to, that they don’t want to let go of in order to surrender their self to the lordship of Jesus. And so, what are some of the most common idols that you’re seeing in your context that kids are really clinging to that are a challenge to them to let go of to come and follow Jesus as their lord?

Scrivener: I think it’s difficult for everyone in every age, but the dangers of narcissism are just huge, especially in a social media age and especially for younger people. And of course, the thing about the Narcissus myth is that Narcissus wasn’t just in love with himself, he was in love with the image of himself.

So think that’s something very interesting in an Instagram age that we fall in love not even with ourselves, but we fall in love with the curated image of ourselves that we project out into the world. And yet it’s so empty, it’s so hollow. So you’ve got this really interesting disjunction between an investment into an image and at the same time the prizing of authenticity.

You know, everyone wants to follow on YouTube the most authentic vlogger who says, “Hey, guys.” And you know, if you can fake authenticity, you’ve got it made, I tell you. But that’s this age. This age is so hungry for authenticity and maybe it’s because we’re all front, we are all show, we’re all taking the selfie 17 times and putting the filter on it and getting it out there.

So I think, falling in love with our own image would be at the top of the list for me.

Hill Perry: Right, it’s all the same. What have you dealt with? I don’t know. I think one thing that I see, I guess two things, one would be just kind of this addiction to doubt.

Like, the wrestling for the sake of wrestling, but never really wanting to come to a conclusion on something that you have to now submit to. And so, it’s like, ah, having all these questions of the text which you should have, having all these questions of Jesus which you should have, but when you get, you know, some type of resolve or some type of answer, now, you have a question of the answer where it’s like you don’t even want the answer, you just are addicted to questioning it.

And so, I think I see that a lot. I think that’s an idol where it’s, like, you really don’t really want to know. I don’t know what that is.

Cole: Yeah, and on that note, I think I find myself for a lot of kids where they’re kind of caught in the same position. It’s really a matter of not wanting to give up autonomy.

You know, I feel that the world celebrates human autonomy and self-rule as a virtue. You know, to do what you want to do is really the most virtuous thing. I have found it just so puzzling that when Bruce Jenner transitioned that he was given the Arthur Ashe Award for courage by ESPN when he had left his wife, he left his wife and left his family and done something that, you know… If let’s say that he had run off with another woman that would be criticized and condemned. But because there was some sense that he was being true to himself and that he was really embracing human autonomy, for whatever reason it was celebrated as a virtue. And so, I think for a lot of our kids, something I’ll say in bolder moments is, you know, what are you going to have to give up if this Jesus stuff is true.

And you know, I think really what you’re going to have to give up is doing whatever you want. You know, if Jesus really rose from the dead and the Christian story is true and the Bible is God’s word, that means you can’t go around partying and smoking weed and sleeping around. Like, that’s just not part of it. You have to submit yourself to the lordship of Jesus.

And so, I think that you know, what really is the core of sin wanting to be our own lord, I think that autonomy because it’s so celebrated and embraced by the culture, maybe the biggest idol that I encounter in trying to lead kids to Christ.

Um: For sure. Yeah, I mean, what I have to share is essentially everything that you’ve shared already.

And I think a major idol for this younger generation would be comfort because they are so individualistic, right? Every generation has been individualistic but this generation…

Let me commend to books to you. For those of you who are parents, and if you have children who are born between 1995 and 2007, they’re not millennials, they’re iGens. And they’re the ones who are entering into the university. The reason why there have been all sorts of disinvitations and so on and so forth is because this younger generation is so consumed with comforts. So those two books, one would be Jonathan Haidt’s Coddling of the American Mind and the other one would be Jean Twenge iGens.

And what they highlight is that there is an oversafetyism that these young people want. This generation wants oversafetyism. So, they have medicalized everything, they refer to harm. Even if it’s not real harm, they will respond to perceived harm and also they’ll say, “I don’t feel safe in this setting.”

And so, they don’t want to be challenged with anything that will make them feel uncomfortable. So they believe that somebody who disagrees with them is a potential threat to them. We used to call that intellectual inquiry and having the willingness to be able to respect all sorts of diverse views. And so, this generation really wants to hold on to comfort. I heard Keller say something like this.

He said, “There’s a liberal individualism and a conservative individualism.” And that is for… A liberal individualism is that they have essentially co-oped to some Christian ideas such as just justice and caring for the poor, but they have taken it and extrapolated to its extreme end.

And therefore they’ll say, “Hey, you know, it’s good to take care of those people who are vulnerable but don’t tell me what to do with my body.” And that’s essentially where we’ve come to, where this generation is saying, “Hey, it’s great for me to be a part of that, but if you’re going to disagree with me, especially as it relates to my body or as it relates to my money, for those who are conservative individualists, I don’t want to be challenged that way. I want to remain in my comfort.I want to remain in this worldview and I want everyone else to assimilate to what I believe.”

So that could be one.

Cole: That’s great. I’m getting a lot out of this panel, I don’t know if you guys are. So, one thing that’s becoming an increasing challenge to pretty much everyone in the ministry is sharing the gospel in a secular age. 50 years ago, 6% of college students, when they enrolled identified as having no religious affiliation.

In 2015, 30% of students identified as having no religious affiliation. So, what advice would you give to people in evangelism in a secular and post-Christian age?

Scrivener: It’s interesting when you press into those figures about the nones, not the N-U-N-S but the N-O-N-E-S that…

Like, there was a Pew Research poll done in 2017 here in the States, and people asked, you know, do you believe in God, and I think 80% said did, but of the 20% that said they did not, they then pressed in and said, you know, do you believe in some kind of higher power. And at least half of those said, “Oh, yeah, absolutely, but not God.”

And then when they pressed into those who said they did not pray, a majority of people who said they did not pray, when they were asked, do you ever talk to God, they said, “Oh, yeah, I talk to God.I just don’t pray.” I think, oh, that’s interesting. Whatever you thought prayer was, maybe stop doing that and just talk to God. That would be quite a good thing, right? So, people don’t know what they think.

And when they present as no religion, I’m an atheist. When people present as an atheist, quite often, I’ll just ask, “Oh, when’s the last time you prayed?” And they said, “Oh, actually I’m praying for my mom. She’s going to the hospital.” And you know, “Ah, got you,” right? But there’s a nominal atheism, and I do think we are a little bit too cowed by statistics and figures.

One of the ways that outreach happens in the U.K. on campuses is the students, the Christian students, want to put on talks and then they invite evangelists like me to come and speak. And they’ll basically troll the student population with the most inflammatory talk topics imaginable. Like, why does God hate these people? Glen Scrivener will explain. And I arrive and there are massive posters. And they would have come for the free pizza and yet… Just give them the free pizza, I just want to talk about Jesus. But there was one time, it was why does God hate women so very much or something like that.

And the wise thing they did was they got a woman to come and speak to that topic. And she did a brilliant job but I was in the audience watching. And there was a Q and A session afterwards. And one guy from the atheists and secular humanist association picked up the microphone afterwards and he just dominated the Q and A and just asked all the most aggressive, angry questions about homophobia and sexuality and gender and what about hell, what about holy war in the Old Testament.

And she did a brilliant job answering the questions, but everyone’s shoulders were up around their ears and some poor student had to get up afterwards and sort of say, “Well, time for lectures. Everyone, hope you come back tomorrow.” And everyone’s shoulders were still up here. And I just turned to the guy who’s next to me and I said, “What did you make of that?” And he said, “Oh, I wasn’t listening to that girl with the microphone. But my granddad died last week, and I’ve just been wondering what life’s about. Do you have any thoughts?”

And I did, I had a number of thoughts. And so, we had a conversation for an hour. I looked around and all these students were getting into conversations with all these “apparently”angry atheists. And I mean, the guy I spoke to came back that night and became a Christian that night and, you know, he’s still walking on with the Lord. And my motto ever since then is that the guy with the microphone does not speak for the room.

And so now, I agree too, because you know, the mainstream media does not speak for the nation and the statistics are not the person who’s in front of you. So, however, cowed we might be the rise of the nones or whatever, just talk to your neighbor. They’ve just lost their granddad and they’re wondering what life is about, you know.

Don’t be too worried about the cultural trends. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.” So turn to your neighbor, and you’ll find that they have spiritual needs.

Um: Yes, Charles Taylor in his book Dilemmas in Connections, he’s a world-renowned Canadian philosopher and he’s written a lot on secularism. And he says that when you think about secularism, it’s simply saying that any comprehensive view of religion has no space in public discourse.

That doesn’t mean that our culture has not co-opted or borrowed or adopted Christian ideas. And so, late modernity has adopted all sorts of Christian ideas. So, we have to be keen on observing what those ideas are to be able to find a point of reference.

And so, it’s not very difficult to speak with a professing atheist or people who are a-religious, because the thoughts that they have, even though they don’t realize it, many of those thoughts are connected to a Christian idea that has been adopted and co-opted. And so this is why I think that progressive Christianity is very, very dangerous. They don’t know the distinction between Biblical orthodox Christianity and a co-opted version that seems to assimilate and accommodate to what the baseline cultural narrative is.

So I think that the situation that we’re in is not hopeless by any means. People say, “Oh, no, you know, we should perhaps consider the Benedict option and isolate ourselves and so on and so forth.” I really think that God uses opportunities and moments like this for us to be able to speak the gospel into those ideas which have already been borrowed from Christian ideas in the past.

So, I think that those are things that we can consider.

Hill Perry: Your question was about encouragement?

Cole: This was a way of [inaudible].

Hill Perry: I’m sleepy, I haven’t… That’s in my thought, I’m sorry.

Cole: You’re cool, you can get away with that.

Hill Perry: I appreciate that. You’re so kind.

Cole: So, you know, we’re talking about, you know, navigating the waters of sharing the gospel in a secular age.

Hill Perry: Beautiful. So, I think primarily, for me, it is encouraging. I think somebody could be discouraged by the statistics, but if anything, it means that people are being more honest. And so, I think because people are very clear on what they believe and what they don’t believe, we have more to work with.

So for me, it’s easier for me to do ministry in places like Boston or Portland or New York, these places that people would call secular, than it is for me to do ministry in Texas and Memphis and Tennessee, because I have to now get through all of this like religious jargon that they’ve never even submitted to in their entire life. And so for me, I’m encouraged they’re like, “Oh, you will see it and you know it, good.”

We can do something with that. But also, I think one encouragement would also be is that this is secularism and all of that is not primarily an intellectual or academic issue. Should we educate ourselves? Should we know how to defend the faith? Should we know how to contend for the faith?

Sure. But the things that people are grabbing a hold of and believing are coming out of a passion. And so for me, it’s sitting with somebody and saying, “Why do you want this to not be true?What is it about God that you don’t want him to be God? What is it about salvation that you don’t want it to be only one way? What is it about sexual ethics that you think is…?” So, getting to the root of the unbelief, I think, gets beyond the academic level and more a passion, heart level that I think allows us to speak into some deep-seated things that Christians probably haven’t talked to them about.

Cole: Great. And I think, you know, secularism just is not really working very well for people.

Hill Perry: No.

Cole: People are anxious, people are depressed, people have no sense of meaning or purpose in their life. And so, you know, we can absolutely dominate those topics, right? We, I mean, in terms of redemption and joy and companionship of the Holy Spirit in union with Christ, like, we have the market, and Jesus has completely dominated the market on those things.

And so, I think one thing we can get very caught up in sharing the gospel is purely operate at the intellectual level, like get into intellectual matches and, of course, intellectual side is important. And at the same side, at the same time, I feel like apologetics that really resonate with people at the heart level. And that really reveal to people how hopeful and how life-giving and joyful it is to follow Jesus.

I think if we operate at the heart level in our apologetics and evangelism, I think that we really offer people that they are not going to find in this humanist worldview that most are living under.

Um: And to that end, Cameron, every individual, whatever their ideological worldview might be, they struggle with problem emotions, right, as you’ve shared already.

Everyone struggles with fear, insecurity, anxiety, depression, despair, boredom, anger. We all wrestle with this. And if you get to the underneath, the root issue of all of these problem emotions, you’re going to find deep-seated idols like approval and power and influence and control and comfort.

And again, there’s no other system or reality that speaks so well into those issues and providing a remedy and resolution for problem emotions and deep-seated idols than the gospel. So, you’re right, it’s not just an intellectual issue. Sometimes, that is just a smoke screen because people don’t know how to deal with some deeper emotional stuff.

Cole: Amen. Well, in a similar vein, I think one of the biggest conversation pieces that comes up when talking to people, this day and age about the gospel or about Christianity is issues of gender and sexuality. And so, do you have any advice to offer people on how we navigate those ways in a manner that’s Biblically faithful and honest and that’s also compassionate and redemptive?

I mean, has anyone like, maybe written a book on the topic, perhaps?

Hill Perry: I was trying to be humble.

Cole: Anybody win the TGC, book award on this topic?

Hill Perry: I was trying to be humble. I think it’s imperative that the conversation does not center around sexuality but it centers around God who created sex, God who created people. Growing up in church being someone who was same-sex attracted, I saw only…

It seemed that the only reason that I was to turn from it would be because I should do right, I shouldn’t go to hell, I shouldn’t do wrong. But I always, in coming to Christ, I wondered if anybody would have just told me about the beauty of God, if I would have repented much quicker. They never casted a vision for this is the reason for your turning, this is the person that you are turning to, and this is the person who will give you hope, and this is the person that will give you power to flee your temptation even when you walk with them.

And so, I think that’s really what our culture needs is to see and understand God. And I think in understanding God, then everything else makes sense. So, if it’s, why should I not give in to my same-sex desires? Why should I obey Jesus? Because he’s good. And he created your body for himself. And the body was not meant for sexual immorality but for somebody.

Who is that somebody? For the Lord. And so, he’s not telling you to turn from something that you suppose is good to turn to something that is bad. If God created sex, then surely, He has to be better than it. And so, I think casting vision, I sound like John Piper but casting feeling… But really, like, showing that God is so good and so big that even if it hurts, even if there is some grief from you detaching from the flesh and living the way that you used to live, even in all of that, God is being really good to you to tell you to stop.

And so I think that’s what we need is just sexuality underneath the goodness and glory of God.

Cole: Awesome, that’s really good.

Hill Perry: Thank you.

Cole: You should think about writing on that.

Hill Perry: I should.

Cole: I would say, I think one thing that’s important, and when I… This is a major shift in the way that I have to do sex education, like, twice a year for 14 years, that’s 28 times, I can no longer blush. But anyhow, I no longer talk about sex as a category in and of itself. I talk about sex as a subcategory or one component and form of intimacy that God gives us.

Because you have to remember that, you know, what people are really longing for as sex is connection and intimacy. And the world upholds sex as an idol. And really honestly, the world, kind of, conceived of sex in the way if you will not be fulfilled, you will not flourish, and you will not feel any sense of connection and fellowship unless you are sexually active.

And so, you know, for when we talk about, I just try to communicate to people that sex is just one form of intimacy that God has given us to be enjoyed in marriage. And there are all kinds of other forms of intimacy, with the greatest of those being found in intimate fellowship with Jesus. And so, that’s part of how I try to kind of frame the conversation.

Get away from letting sex be a category in of itself, but talk about sexuality in a broader category of intimacy and fellowship.

Hill Perry: That’s good.

Scrivener: Lots of things to say on the topic, but one thing to encourage evangelists and youth workers with is that it might not be as big an issue with the person you’re talking to as you think it might be.

So, in the U.K., they did a massive survey, it was sponsored by the Church of England and The Evangelical Alliance and Hope, which is a very large kind of fellowship of churches, asked a lot of non-Christians, “Would you associate any of these adjectives with Christianity?” And one of the adjectives was homophobia.

And 7% said they would. 7% would associate Christianity and homophobia in a very unchurched, very secular nation. And that always shocks Christians. Christians always say, “They haven’t asked my friends. If they asked my friends, it would be 97%.” And you’re like, “Well, I think they did the survey, I think they went through due diligence. Let’s maybe listen to that and let’s not let that issue disqualify you from turning to your neighbor, from just turning to the youth are who in your care and actually talking to them about Jesus.”

Because I think, there can be this thought in the back of our heads. Everybody thinks we’re bigots. We can’t open our mouths about Jesus. And we actually, we censor ourselves when, if statistics are to be believed, there’s 93% of people who aren’t even thinking about that. So you know, that’s just an encouragement to keep sharing and not let the thought that you might be considered a bigot stop you.

Hill Perry: That’s good.

Cole: I’m going to, to turn the page here, we’ve talked so much about evangelism to kids in the world, and we haven’t talked a whole lot about evangelism within the home. And so, you know, as kind of, let’s spend the remaining five minutes of our time there.

What advice would you give parents about sharing the gospel with and discipling their own kids?

Hill Perry: I don’t think I’m qualified for that.

Scrivener: Me neither.

We’re all looking to you, Stephen.

Um: No, oh, boy. Believe it or not, I have three daughters, two of them are millennials and one is an iGen. And so, I say that from preschool to about fifth grade, they respect you and they honor you as they should, and they’ll listen to you.

So you have an opportunity to be able to always have a point of reference there. They’re going to church, they’re going to Sunday school, they have an awareness of who God is and Jesus. And so, you simply talk to them about these sorts of things. But as they get into middle school, junior high, and high school, as they start trying to think a little more independently and as they’re being influenced by what the culture is saying, you can’t just simply speak the truth, you need to continue doing that, but you also need to be able to be aware of their social context.

And if that’s not part of the discipleship, if that’s not part of what you do as a parent, you say, “Oh, that’s the responsibility of the church.” What’s going to happen is they’re going to go to college and then you’re going to be utterly surprised that they have abandoned their faith or they have assimilated into mainstream culture and you’re going to wonder why that they’re not continuing to grow in their faith.

So I think it’s the responsibility of the parent to be well equipped, to be able to understand the social context. Again, this iGen generation, remember, iPhone 2007, Facebook 2006, Twitter 2006, Instagram 2010, Snapchat 2011, this is the first generation that has grown up with social media.

So they don’t know of any other reality. So, if you’re not aware that iGens, the ones who are in high school, who are freshmen or sophomores in college, don’t want to use Facebook, if you don’t know why they don’t want to do that, why millennials do that, and why they just want Snapchat, then you need to read some books and you need to prepare and equip yourself.

Jean Twenge’s book is really helpful in this regard, but I think that has to be part of the discipleship.

Hill Perry: So, I have a little advice.

Cole: Yeah.

Hill Perry: Real smidge. I have a 4-year-old and a 10-month-old. So, 10-month-old doesn’t know anything, so I can’t speak to that. But the 4-year-old, our primary active fellowship is over Daniel Tiger. So I’ll say what I am trying to do and what I hope to do.

What I’m trying to do, me and my husband, have been kind of talking to her about things over dinner, about sin, about God. One, I think some people, it seems as if like– So I’m trying–I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. And so, a lot of the ways I’m trying to model, I guess parenting, discipleship, is to the ways that I was discipled.

But also learning from all of my friends that grew up in Christian homes and trying not to do what they told me their parents did. So, one thing is it seems I guess didn’t start early enough in facilitating conversation that didn’t always feel preachy. And so, like, having conversation and her having the freedom to push back and the freedom to wrestle, because when she’s 15, 16, 17, 18, I don’t want her to have to depend on me to come to conclusions about what the Scriptures are saying.

That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t come to me and all of that, but I still… Christianity is a hard thing. There are some stuff that you…when you’re in Leviticus and you don’t know what the heck this is, you got to somehow figure it out yourself. But also, I think just talking to her on a level that she could understand but also not doubting that she can’t understand. So what I mean by that is she’s four.

And she told me, we were talking about God. She said, “God isn’t real.” I said, “Why isn’t He real?” And she was like, “Because I can’t see Him.” So, that makes sense. I said, “But can you see grandma?” She said, “No.”

I said, “Why not?” “Because she’s not here.” But is she real? “Well…” But I’m using terms and language that she gets, but I’m not treating my child like she’s stupid and only talking to her “Do you know who God is?” I’m not doing that to my baby because I understand that God has given her brains, she is an image bearer, and he has made her a communicator and so Myla can get it.

And so, that’s why I’m trying to do. I don’t know.

Cole: I think two things I would say on the… to parents on this. Anyways, I as a paid Christian who, you now as children, youth, and family, I have a lot of times feel this pressure like I’ve got to save my kids.

You know, like, it’s incumbent upon my performance to model a godly life and to share the gospel with as much clarity as possible such that I will save my kids. And I have to remember over and over again that like God loves my child more than I do, and God is infinitely more effective to rescue my child from sin than I am. And so, to actually trust God to be a better parent than me.

I’d say also, too, probably most powerful form of evangelism that you can have as a parent is to frequently confess your sin and apologize to your child especially when you have lost your temper with your child or you’ve been unfair or you’ve been insensitive to get down on your knees and say, “I need to apologize to you. I sinned against you. And you know Daddy is a sinner and Dad needs the grace of Jesus Christ every single day.”

Because especially for someone like me who works in the ministry, there’s such a risk of coming off as a huge hypocrite to your child if you try to act like you’re perfect and you don’t a humble yourself and show that you’re as depraved as they’ll ever be and that you’re as dependent upon the grace of Jesus as they’ll ever be.

“The thing about the Narcissus myth is that Narcissus wasn’t just in love with himself; he was in love with the image of himself. I think that’s very interesting in an Instagram age—we fall in love not even with ourselves, but with the curated image of ourselves we project into the world. And yet it’s so empty, it’s so hollow. So you’ve got this really interesting disjunction between investing in an image and, at the same time, the prizing of authenticity.” — Glen Scrivener

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.


Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.