The Greg Stier Youth ministry Podcast
episode 1 | March 2021
the state of Christianity with Mark Matlock
Do you ever worry about religious clutter and what the Christian world looks like today? How do we talk to people about our faith in and out of work? How do we revolutionize the church and Christianity as a whole?
Welcome to the first episode of The Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast – formerly Gospelize with Greg Stier. During this first episode, Greg Stier sits down with his old friend Mark Matlock to discuss everything Christianity – focusing on the current state of it and the Church.
0:00:06.8 Greg Stier: Welcome to The Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast. I believe in the power of the gospel and the potential of teens, I believe the best way to get a teen to grow is to get them to go… So I encourage you to subscribe to this podcast, if you haven’t, rate it, review it, get the word out about it. We wanna help spread the word to as many youth leaders tuned in as possible, so they can build a youth ministry that results in every teen everywhere hearing the gospel from a friend and I’m really excited about this new format of this podcast, and excited for the guest we’re gonna have today as well as in the future. I wanna share with you a little bit about the guest we have today, his name is Mark Matlock, he’s been working with parents and pastors and teenagers and non-profit leaders for almost 30 years, he’s spoken to over one million teenagers, so you know he can speak and keep adults attention because he’s spoken to so many teenagers, written more than 20 books to parents and teens, and most recently he’s co-written Faith For Exiles, which I highly recommend.
0:01:17.4 GS: Wrote it with David Kinnaman from Barna. It’s a ground-breaking book that really helps to identify the distinctives of young people that really retain their faith over the long term and thrive, not just survive, and I know all that’s true, the former bio… But I just wanna say this, Mark Matlock is my friend. I’ve known him for about 25 years, and it is an honor to have him on this kinda kick-off to the Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast. Mark, thanks so much for tuning in today.
0:01:51.8 Mark Matlock: Hey, thanks, Greg. It’s gotta be probably at least 25, if not more, ’cause I think when we first met, I don’t think my son was born yet and he’ll be 24 next month, so…
0:02:00.7 GS: Oh my goodness.
0:02:01.5 MM: Yeah.
0:02:01.9 GS: It was at the Dawson McAllister conference.
0:02:04.2 MM: It was. At Riverside…
0:02:05.4 GS: At Riverside Baptist.
0:02:07.3 MM: Yep. In Denver.
0:02:09.6 GS: And I was just kinda dreaming about…
0:02:10.2 MM: Now has a stadium.
0:02:12.0 GS: Yeah, that’s right. I was kind of dreaming about doing these Dare 2 Share conferences, didn’t know if I could do it, I went to the Dawson McAllister conference, watched this guy like sit on a stool for an hour at a pop and just mesmerized these teenagers… I couldn’t believe it.
0:02:32.9 MM: I was just looking over to my side ’cause at that event. I remember you gave your first… To Dawson, your first version of the manual for Dare 2 Share.
0:02:44.3 GS: That’s right.
0:02:44.6 MM: I was just looking on my shelf to see if I had it within arm’s reach, I don’t… It’s down in my other office, but…
0:02:49.8 GS: Oh my goodness, Man, time flies and you were like the magician, the entertainment, doctor… Was it Dr. Doom?
0:02:56.5 MM: Dr. Dare. Dr. Dare.
0:02:57.8 GS: Dr. Dare.
0:02:58.9 MM: Yes.
0:03:00.1 GS: That’s right. It’s probably where I got the name Dare 2 Share is from one of your sketches.
0:03:04.0 MM: You copied me in so many ways, Greg, it was so flattering.
0:03:07.9 GS: Well, back then it was… We were called warriors for Christ.
0:03:11.1 MM: That’s right.
0:03:12.3 GS: Yeah.
0:03:12.9 MM: WOC.
0:03:14.1 GS: Yeah. Oh my goodness. Anyway, so so glad that you’re on here and man, I think the first time we co-did something was at Saddleback?
0:03:24.0 MM: Yeah, it was for the purpose-driven youth ministry conference, I just finished my first research project with Barna, and that was looking at teens and evangelism, and then you were speaking about it and we kind of… I did half and you did half.
0:03:40.8 GS: Yeah. It was, I kinda described back then, you were the stat guy, I was the inspiration guy, I was like Spock and Kirk, and you’re like…
0:03:48.5 MM: It was like, I was the left brain, you were the right brain.
0:03:51.2 GS: That’s exactly right. You’re like, “Here’s the formal reasons we should do this, here’s the impact.” And I’m like, “Fire, let’s go, let’s do it.” But we really kinda hit it off. And I think that relationship and that synergy over the years, over the decades, has been a powerful combination, I really counted it an honor to have you as a friend and as a partner in the ministry, and for those of you youth leaders listening, Mark has really spoken into my life and into our ministry at Dare 2 Share, so I’m very, very grateful to have you as kind of our kick-off person interview on the new podcast format. So thanks again for being a part of it.
0:04:32.0 MM: Yeah, if I could just take a moment and talk about our friendship too Greg, ’cause I think it’s really significant, ’cause some people would often think of us as sometimes being in competition with one another because we were both running conferences, sometimes in the same cities on the same weekends, almost across the street from each other, and we never had that posture toward one another, we were always there to champion one another, we shared ideas and insights freely back and forth, we’d call each other and pray for each other.
0:05:00.1 MM: And that kind of camaraderie is uncommon… I remember… I think, I don’t know if you remember me saying this, but I’d gone to a thing that was honoring Bill Bright… No it was honoring Billy Graham with this Bill Bright award. And Bill Bright’s wife, Vonette, she got up and talked about the friendship, the Billy Graham and Bill Bright had with one another and how that informed their ministries. And I sat there and thought, “Who do I have that’s a friend like that?” Not that you and I are like Billy Graham or Bill Bright, but I was thinking about, “Who do I have a friend, like for a friend in ministry like that?” I was like, “I think Greg is the closest thing.” And I remember calling you and saying, “Some day when we’re old, I hope that people say that we were good friends and supported one another well and challenged each other to do good works with our lives.”
0:05:54.4 GS: Yeah it’s awesome.
0:05:55.6 MM: I’ll say every youth worker finds that person, that friendship…
0:06:00.4 GS: You really do need it, yeah…
0:06:00.9 MM: If they can find somebody that they are connected to, that they can do that with.
0:06:04.5 GS: And I think because we were both in the conference ministry and producing curriculum, we could relate with each other’s challenges, hurts, opportunities, threats, and youth leaders in the trenches have a lot of things in common, and you need at least one person in your life like that really, really do so. Mark, I’m grateful that you’re one of those people, and as we kinda look back, I guess at the closer to 30 years of youth ministry, what have been some of the significant changes in youth ministry, in your opinion compared to today?
0:06:44.8 MM: Well, I think in the ’80s and going into the ’90s, I think we saw some of the golden years of youth ministry in the United States, and I think Church Planting actually disrupted youth ministry quite a bit, a lot of people were seeing these mega churches, these platforms that speakers and pastors were having, and I think a lot of some of the brighter stars of youth ministry that were really able to connect to a younger generation as they were coming out of seminary or as they were going into their mature phase of life, they were going, “Wait a minute, why be a youth pastor? I’ll just be a church planter,” and so we actually kind of had what I would call a glut of talent in a way of people that were really called to youth ministry, and when you look at the Baby Boomers before, those of us who are X-ers. That generation actually said, “You know what, we’re gonna be youth ministers for life. We’re not going to see this as a stepping stone or the place that we pay our dues, we are going to live in this space.”
0:07:52.6 MM: And I don’t know if that was right for them to feel that way, but I do know there was a core of individuals that are still impacting youth ministry to this day, the sages of youth ministry that made a commitment like that when they were in their 20s, and I think that’s really significant and we kind of lost that, so there’s a little bit of a gap that happened there, we also saw disruption theologically with the… I guess the examination of evangelicalism, conservative orthodoxy, and people exploring that, that was a disruptor that happened in the late ’90s and into the 2000s, that I think started making people question, what are we doing in youth ministry? And then the other thing would be, and I really noticed that this leading YS into its 40 to 50 year arc of its Ministry was that youth ministry wasn’t such a novelty anymore, it was actually integrated more in with the church, and churches actually did have a better view of it. And so the posture of a youth pastor to the church changed in some ways, and some of that was good and some of it was maybe not so good, but those are some of the ARCs that I’ve seen kind of shift over the years.
0:09:17.5 GS: That’s really significant. Let’s talk a little bit about that first ARC with youth leaders for life versus now, just going straight to become church planters, I was a church planter, I’m pro-church planting, but I was a youth leader before I was a church planter, and I really think it’s a challenge, just sending out church planters that don’t have experience saying, “Yes, sir,” when you at work at a church as a youth leader, you’re under a leadership structure and you kind of figure out how it works. And I actually think some of the best lead pastors we have now were great youth leaders, because they learn the system, and as I’ve always said is, you can leave youth ministry, get in the youth ministry and leave, but once youth ministry gets into you, you never leave, even if your title changes, you know, I don’t think somebody who becomes a church planter or was a youth pastor becomes a church planter or a lead pastor is a sell out. I think when you are a youth leader and you really love teenagers and you become a lead pastor, you really become a youth leader with authority and a budget, right?
0:10:33.2 MM: Well, anyways, that’s why I think we saw the progress, ’cause we did see a lot of pastors that either had a high view of youth ministry or had come out of that and they were like, “I’m gonna do this differently.” And so it kind of changed the tone of it. Yeah.
0:10:48.6 GS: Yeah. That’s interesting. I do believe there was that philosophical… The whole emergent movement was a big… I think disruption, it really got people questioning about the power of the gospel and the authority of God’s word, and it really sent, take a lot of youth through this reeling, and I do agree that third ARC of inter-generational youth ministry as part of an overarching kind of family ministry philosophy, which has got a lot of good things involved with it, and there’s some healthy healthy youth ministries that run that way, but also there are some ones that are insulated from the real world and it becomes a little bit, I think, less effective on reaching unreached kids with the Gospel of Christ. So here we are now in this current youth ministry climate, and you wrote a book that you and Kinnaman wrote a book, I think was ground-breaking, because before there was like…
0:11:46.2 GS: You Lost Me and UnChristian and kind of what’s wrong with our current youth ministry strategy, we’re not keeping these kids, but then, Faith for Exiles, is this expose in a good way of what’s working for these young people that are retaining their faith and if I remember right there were five key elements that identified, I think what you called a Resilient Disciple. First of all, what do you mean by Resilient Disciple? And then what are those five key elements?
0:12:18.3 MM: Well, if we take a look at this book and see it as like the third in David’s trilogy, starting with UnChristian, going to You Lost Me, and then the so. UnChristian is looking at the climate of Christianity in the cultural context. How are people perceiving Christianity? What’s that impact? What could that mean? You Lost Me was kind of looking at the dropout problem and trying to look at it in a more nuanced way. A lot of people were looking at… And I was involved in a lot of the analysis and some of the writing, even on You Lost Me, but not in this deep of a way as Faith for Exiles was actually co-authoring.
0:13:00.0 MM: But You Lost Me, everybody knew there was a drop-out problem, but they didn’t know what it meant, and David helped go in and say people aren’t leaving all for the same reasons, and so we need to understand why, and we need to understand why this is unique, because a lot of people are like, “Well, everybody kind of ditches Church when they go to college and then they come back, when they start having families. The problem is, this generation is getting married and having families much later, and so they literally are adopting a new script for their lives that really… They don’t just swing back to, “Okay, I took four years off, and now I’m getting back my life.” It’s more like, “No, I’ve started a new rhythm, and church is not a part of that rhythm.” What does that look like? So…
0:13:40.7 MM: So Faith for Exiles, what we were looking at was there’s the shift that’s happened in our culture, we are now in a post-Christian culture in the United States that we’ve seen… We’ve reached the rise of the nones, and the atheist, agnostic group has reached proportions.
0:14:00.9 GS: These are youth leaders. When you say rise of the nones, you don’t… You’re not thinking about Catholic Nuns rising up to start a revolution.
0:14:08.7 MM: Thank you.
0:14:09.5 GS: Can you explain that?
0:14:11.6 MM: Yeah, we’re talking about those that say, “I don’t belong to a… “
0:14:13.7 GS: Eventhough it’s a really cool mental picture, I just had a memory, a non-revolution.
0:14:21.2 MM: What we’re talking about, people that just say, “I’m nothing, I don’t have any spiritual label or category put on myself, so they wouldn’t even put atheists necessarily on as a label, I’m just a nothing. And so we’ve seen that number rise very steeply over just the last decade, so that phenomenon has created the Post-Christian context that we’re now living and we’re right on the front end of it. There’s still a lot of Christians in America still, a lot of people going to church, even though church attendance has been on the decline still, an amazing amount of people go to church in the United States. So you can’t discount that or turn a blind eye to that. There’s still a lot of people going to church. But it is decreasing. And so we are going, there’s the shift that’s happening. Making disciples. And so we call this Digital Babylon. That, this disruption that we’re experiencing, not just the United States, but across the globe, is this digital Babylon where we’re now defining a new secularism, a new awareness, there’s a new pluralism, where we’re aware of diversity like never before, diversity has always been with us, but we’re not experiencing on the frequency or the depth that we used to experience it. We were always kind of partitioned off in our little communities and our little kind of bubbles of homogeneity, and now we’re experiencing all of this.
0:15:47.0 MM: So all of a sudden, there’s this fear of missing out, why is one of the most secure generations feeling so much anxiety, depression, loneliness, failing to… Feeling like they’re not successful. A lot of that’s because they have all of these options, and where most of us felt like, “Well, I have five options with what to do with my life,” they’ve got 500 options and they’re worried about picking the wrong one, and so that adds pressure and stress to their lives, so this is what we’re facing. So how do we disciple in that context where the majority of the population isn’t necessarily on the same page with what Christianity is all about, what it means and how it’s lived, and so that was kind of the context that we were looking at, so we wanted to look at those people that were 18 to 29 years old that have remained faithful in the church, like why… Who are they, how many of them are there and can we figure out what may have contributed to that? And…
0:16:46.7 GS: Just to throw in, Mark, I think it’s brilliant that you guys did that because it’s so depressing statistically to kinda see that just a drop, but then you guys are analyzing, “Okay, what are the characteristics of those that thrive? And how do we multiply that? Talk about those five areas.
0:17:09.5 MM: Yeah, so the five things are… And they’re gonna sound really simple, but they are… So let me just back up a moment. Just say there are four categories of what we call exiles that we were looking at… They’re the prodigals. Those are the people that are ex-Christians that say, “At one time, I considered myself to be a Christian, I no longer do.” It’s not just… They’re not just not going to church. They’ve disassociated with Christianity. That number, by the way, has doubled over the last 10 years, so that kind of rise of the nones that we see has really showed up between when we did You Lost Me and when we did Faith for Exiles. So 22%…
0:17:47.7 GS: Put a mental picture, you put the mental picture in my head again.
0:17:50.4 MM: Yeah, there is, those nones, the rise of the nones…
0:17:52.0 GS: Those nones.
0:17:52.9 MM: They will rise up, and then we’ve got the nomads. Those are people who say, “I still consider myself a Christian but I’m practicing my Christianity outside of the church, so I’m not a part of the church community.” Those who have walked away from the church, but not necessarily Christianity, now we know that there is not much different from them and a prodigal, other than the fact that they identify with Christianity, so they’re pretty far out the door, then we have who we call the Habituals, those are people that are going to the church pretty regularly, but when we ask them just basic questions about just basic Christian orthodoxy, they don’t have a good understanding of it, and when we ask them questions about how central their faith is, to how they make decisions and choices and live their lives, it’s not central to who they are, that group makes up 38%, and they are in our churches, or at least they were before the pandemic, and they were in our churches coming almost weekly, so there’s a great frequency to that group’s participation.
0:18:57.0 MM: Then we have the resilients that make up about 10%, and that was that kind of exemplary group that we were looking at that have retained their faith and have learned how to navigate it, stay in the church in the midst of all the craziness. So that 38% is who I’m really worried about because David and I kind of felt like they have their hand on the door and they’re just waiting for a reason to walk through it. And so we have the opportunity to help them dig deeper roots and really connect with God before they walk out the door. Well, the pandemic may have been that event, we don’t know yet, it’ll take us a while to really figure that out, to turn the knob on the door and actually walk through the door again.
0:19:40.0 MM: So I’m really concerned about that group, and let’s face it, this is a world event that has touched everybody, not one person has not been impacted by this pandemic. So it’s hard when you as a minister or a ministry leader are trying to take care of your own family and then have to worry about your flock too. So it’s not like some crisis where leadership might be intact, but congregants or a portion of the congregants aren’t, and so you’re able to go meet their needs. Everybody was having to respond to this, which means that we are right now, as things are kind of getting back into normal rhythms of some sort, even if they’re a new normal, we need to really work on building those relational connections because we are getting reports on our research during the pandemic, that most people aren’t feeling personally connected to leadership in their churches, fewer than 15%, four months in the pandemic, had had any personal connection with the leadership… Pastoral leadership in their church.
0:20:46.5 GS: Wow.
0:20:46.6 MM: So yeah, it was surprising, and all generations. So there’s a lot of work to be done. I’m not putting anything on pastors or ministers for that, because we were all having to deal with personal… Our own families too.
0:21:03.1 GS: Sure, sure.
0:21:03.7 MM: But now that we’re getting beyond that, we need to start really focusing on…
0:21:07.2 GS: Double down on that, those personal relationships.
0:21:10.9 MM: Yeah, so the five things were… So experiencing Jesus was the first thing. Resilients… So the reason it was important for me to share with you those four groups is because resilients and habituals are very different from each other, even though they attend church at about the same frequency. So you can’t just look at church attendance and the fact that, “Hey, I’ve got teenagers coming to church, or even college students that are coming to church, and believe that you have a formed disciple. That is not a good enough indicator, you have to go deeper, because when we ask them questions about their connection to Christ, their experience of Jesus, resilients described a relationship with Christ. The others did not show that same kind of depth by double percent…
0:21:55.7 GS: So a habit, a ritual, but not necessarily a relationship.
0:22:00.0 MM: Right, right. And the way that we described experiencing Jesus, removing the religious clutter from our lives so that we can actually experience Christ. Let’s face it, our churches, our religious institutions have amassed a lot of clutter since Christ rose from the dead and ascended back into the heaven after giving us the great commission. And this pandemic actually gives us a great opportunity to curb that clutter. I kind of look at right now as what’s happening is a garage sale where the church can take everything out on the lawn and decide what do we wanna keep? What stays in and what do we get rid of? And I think that is what every church needs to be thinking about right now.
0:22:42.3 GS: It’s like an episode of Hoarders, Holy hoarders.
0:22:46.1 MM: Exactly. [laughter] Yeah, the three piles, right? I’m gonna give this away, this I’m gonna keep, and this we’re throwing away, right? Make three piles. That’s kind of what this moment is for the church. And I think pastors that are trying to rush back to get back to normal, and leadership that’s looking to get back to normal, they’re missing a huge opportunity because we have an opportunity to reset the spiritual rhythms of our faith community. And because we’re gonna lose some people, the people that come back are gonna be the most willing to lean in, we can take them a layer or two deeper. And so we need to look at that.
0:23:23.4 GS: I love that.
0:23:23.5 MM: The second thing was meaningful relationships. Now, you would think that the habituals that are coming to church pretty frequently are probably coming because of relationships, but once again, when we looked at the resilients and the habituals, huge difference in that relationship experience. So that personal connection with people was not there. Now, it’s interesting ’cause Jesus would say, two greatest commandments, “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Sure enough, the two practices that we saw, experiencing Jesus, meaningful relationships, they’re two of the five.
0:24:01.3 MM: Now, a lot of pastors have told me when I’ve shared with them, they’ll go, “Oh, we do that.” And I’m like, “But if you look at the numbers, you’ll see that people that are coming almost every week are not having the same experience personally with people”. And the way that the resilients described the men and women in their church, was that these are people that I want to be around and aspire to be like. So this shows that the whole church is being winsome for the cause of Christ, and so that’s something that we need to look at.
0:24:36.8 MM: The third thing was cultural discernment, is somebody able to use scripture to evaluate, and make sense, and navigate the world around them? The fourth thing was something we call vocational discipleship, which is the ability to integrate the role of faith in my workplace. That is more than, “I have a bible study at lunch or before work starts once a week with some co-workers.” It’s seeing your vocation as a calling, as a mission field. This is something that those of us that our career vocational ministers sometimes overlook, is that people that are working every day out there, they’re not living to just give money to ministry. They want to somehow actually be the hands and feet of Christ as well. So how do we look at our careers that way?
0:25:35.3 GS: And really helping young people to… We call it a Dare 2 Share, a call to mission.
0:25:41.0 MM: Yes.
0:25:41.4 GS: Everybody’s called to mission. Some are called to missions.
0:25:44.1 MM: Right.
0:25:45.7 GS: But everybody’s called to mission, whatever your calling is. There’s a go and make disciples element to that, and it sanctifies your every day work. I was a roofer for eight years, and what I realized midway through, man, this is my calling right now. I remember my boss, Kenny Sanchez stopped me one time, ’cause I was really discouraged, and he goes, “Stier, I know you’re called to be a preacher some day, everybody on the roof knows you’re called to be a preacher some day, but you’re called to be a roofer today.” And it radically transformed my view of work and sanctified it. And I think teenagers and 20-somethings really need that.
0:26:28.7 MM: Well, what I found… ‘Cause I used to do… When I would do invitation altar call-type situations, I would always do that call to ministry. And I actually changed it the last 10 years of doing youth ministry. And the reason was I felt like it was creating a false dichotomy, that… Well, if you’re… And I’ve met so many ministers that say, “You know what? I thought I was called to ministry when I was younger. But you know what? I don’t know that I really was, I think I was just called to give God everything that I was, this was just the only option he gave me. And so I fell into it.”
0:27:10.1 MM: And then the pastor goes, “Okay, you need to be a pastor, or you need to be a missionary, you need to be a worship leader, you need to be… Let’s go through our little checklist of vocations that you can have in this space,” rather than really helping people integrate, “Well, who did God make you to be? Where can you best serve? Oh, you’re in the medical field? How can you heal people? Be a healer like Jesus, heal people through medicine? How do you bring that holism to that experience? If you’re into the sciences, how are we using food to protect the Earth, to be good stewards of creation, to maybe create more bountiful, nutrient-dense foods for people that are starving or are in droughted areas?”
0:27:55.5 MM: There’s all these ways that they can literally live on Earth as it is in heaven in just about every vocation imaginable. How do we help people, and young people especially, see that? We have… A little over a third of youth group attendees tell us they wanna go into a STEM-related field, so science, technology, engineering, mathematics. That is a field that is typically… Goes against. [chuckle] That shouldn’t be, but that’s typically the way it’s postured, right? “Those scientists, they hate God.” And so they’re going into an area that is very challenging to live out their faith, have we prepared them for that?
0:28:42.4 GS: Yeah.
0:28:43.2 MM: Have we helped them really navigate that space?
0:28:46.4 GS: And have we abandoned those areas? And now a lot of those places are spiritually dark. My wife was a public school teacher for the last 26 years, and she was a light in that school. And she’d always hear people, “Why don’t you teach at the Christians schools?” And she said, “I love Christian schools, our kids go to a Christian school. But if all the light leaves the public school, where are these kids are gonna be? We need to shine a light in their school and… ” Well, let’s get to that. What’s that fifth area? This is the one I’m of course “super-excited” about.
0:29:19.2 MM: Yeah, I put it the last so that you wouldn’t cut me off, and… [chuckle]
0:29:22.0 GS: There you go, you’re a smart man.
0:29:22.8 MM: You let me finish all five. Yeah, yeah.
0:29:25.0 GS: Exactly.
0:29:25.9 MM: That’s living on counter-cultural mission.
0:29:27.8 GS: Woo-hoo!
0:29:29.1 MM: And one of the things that we noticed about these resilients is that they understood that following Jesus was going to mean from time to time having to take a stand against the culture. When we think about resilient disciples and we think about discipleship in digital Babylon, we’re thinking of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, we’re thinking of Esther. We’re thinking about people that… Following God into different levels of intensity, there’s a lot of things we don’t know, but they’re… Can these moments that I like to call moments of epic trust, where you can go with the flow for a while, and you can kind of… But some moment, it comes down to, “Am I honoring God or am I disavowing God?” And in that moment, something powerful happens.
0:30:19.7 GS: Yeah.
0:30:20.4 MM: And obviously, we have fantastic stories in the Old Testament of that. But they’re not always these huge moments, sometimes they’re very small and intimate as well. But they’re moments with our family, with our friends where God shows up in the other person’s life in a way that they didn’t expect through our trust in Christ, in God, to glorify himself in that moment.
0:30:45.0 GS: So you and I talked when you were putting the book together, “Faith for Exiles,” how evangelism really captures that moment of epic trust or risk, because when a teenager shares Christ, especially with a friend, just like Abraham put Isaac on the altar, they’re putting what means most to them on the altar in that moment of epic trust, that moment of epic risk and their faith and their actions work together, their faith is matured by that willingness to do that. And so how would you respond to that? Because when…
0:31:22.8 GS: As I talk to youth leaders about that idea, you can see the confused look in their eye, like, “Well, evangelism’s something you get to after years of spiritual maturity,” and we kinda flip that and say, “You know what? When you get your students sharing their faith, they own their faith earlier and quicker, because they’re depending on the Holy Spirit, and they’re taking that epic risk to trust in God.” How would you respond to that?
0:31:46.3 MM: Well, I mean, it’s Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego standing before Nebuchadnezzar. And he’s telling them he’s gonna chunk them into the furnace, and he… They go, “Hey, we don’t need to defend ourselves, the God that we serve is able to save us. But even if he does not, we are not gonna bow down and worship that idol.” Why would they do that? Because they knew the power of God.
0:32:16.0 MM: They knew that he was big enough, that he could protect them and rescue them from that fire, but he knew that even if he didn’t, he was powerful and mighty, and that that was his will that that was how they ended their life, and they were okay with it. That’s incredible trust, right there. It goes both directions.
0:32:34.6 GS: And just to throw in, that’s the Old Testament version of evangelism, because everybody listening to that, they knew, they were saying, “There is one true God and He is able to save us, and even if He doesn’t, we’re not gonna bow,” that was Old Testament evangelism right there.
0:32:55.0 MM: It absolutely… Well, think about it, every leader of every nation under Babylon was there at that moment. And when they were getting ready to throw them into the fire, they didn’t go, “Well, hey, I think I’ve seen this before.” No, they all stuck around. And what did they go home talking about? “You’re not gonna believe what happened when we were in Babylon. These three guys got thrown into a furnace and their God, the Hebrew God, Yahweh, He saved them.” That story was told and evangelism occurred. And that’s that moment of trust that happens. Now, how do you get to that place though? Evangelism is a very important part of that, because when we trust God, that He really has people’s… He wants them to be saved, and He wants to change and transform their life.
0:33:41.9 MM: The reason we don’t share our faith, I think, is because we don’t really believe that. Because if you see that God changes people’s lives, how can you not let another person know that? And so, seeing that is really important, and I think the problem is we have such an impotent gospel right now to where it’s like, it is a belief system, and when teenagers are going, “Well, I can do this with my time, I’ve got 24 hours to spend. I can do this with my time or I can do this with my time.” They’re going, “Which one is just incrementally better than the other thing?” And if you have an impotent gospel and an impotent church, you’re going, “Not that thing. I’d rather do something else.” So if we really believe that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is living in us, then that means that anything that we do as a church should be incrementally better than what else is going on out there.
0:34:47.3 GS: Or maybe, exponentially better.
0:34:51.6 MM: Right. That’s my point, is it’s gotta be at least incrementally better, but it’s more than that, right.
0:34:55.7 GS: Exactly.
0:34:57.6 MM: But if we’re living into it. And so we’ve been doing this a long time, and sometimes you don’t prepare when you’re sitting in front of a group of teenagers. And I did this one time, I did not prepare well. So I did the old, “Hey, take out a piece of paper, and I’m gonna ask you a question. I want you to write your answer… ” And so the question was, “If you knew that Christ was coming back next week, what would you do different?” And what I was expecting they’ll all say is, “Well, I’d stop doing everything I normally am doing, and I’d tell all my friends about Jesus,” and I was gonna jump up on the coffee table and say, “You don’t know when he’s gonna be back, you should do this all the time.” That was the plan. But when I opened up my first piece of paper, it said, “I would get married so I could have sex.”
0:35:42.0 GS: Wow, okay. There you go.
0:35:43.0 MM: And so, yeah, I’m like, “Alright.” So I opened the next one, it said the same thing. Third one, same thing. Fourth one, I look at one of my adult leads, he’s like, “Well, at least they wanna get married before they have sex.” And he goes, “You’re doing something right.”
0:35:54.1 GS: Progress. Progress.
0:35:55.3 MM: But my plan was… But then I realize something, oh, my goodness, in these students’ mind, having sex is better than being in the presence of God. And I thought, church should be better than sex. You know what I mean? In people’s mind, if we’re not doing that, and let’s face it, if you are…
0:36:15.6 GS: That’s another book title, rise of the nones, and Church is better than sex, next two books by Mark Matlock.
0:36:21.8 MM: Well, if you’ll remember when we were traveling with Dawson, we did this walk with Christ through eternity thing, where we were talking about what is eternity like? We had students writing us letters going, “Do I have to go to eternity? That’s a long time. That freaks me out. I think I’d rather just have my soul extinguished than have to live forever.” And I was like going, “Oh my goodness, why are they saying this?” And it wasn’t just one or two, it was like, we got a lot of letters like this. It was because they were thinking that eternity was gonna be like church, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
0:36:55.8 GS: Or like those old bagel commercials where you’re sitting on a cloud eating a bagel, playing a harp. I think we’ve failed to paint a picture of eternity and heaven and hell, and all this, to the cross, all that Christ, when we paint a clear picture of that… I think teens their eyes tip upward. They get pumped up and excited about it.
0:37:15.5 MM: Yeah, well, it should be exciting. This should be the thing that I want to be a part of all the time, and doing, and so that, to me is… And man, I throw the challenge out there. It’s a challenge to myself. When I’m engaging people, am I engaging them on a level where they’re like, “Man, I’d rather spend time with Mark than anybody else.” That’s kind of the desire when… People getting to church early, just ’cause they wanna be there and they wanna get a good seat. Are we presenting our interaction when… I want… These are people I wanna be with and spend time with. I think that’s really important, but back to your point, sharing your faith, you see people’s lives change. And so if you’re not sharing your faith, you’re not going to see people go from light… Or go from darkness into light. You’re not going to see people go from death into life. And once you see your friends doing that, you don’t want anything else.
0:38:19.5 GS: Game over. Rise of the nones from that moment on. It’s rise of the nones.
0:38:26.0 MM: Trust me, I’ve tried less bold ways of doing the faith thing, it just doesn’t work.
0:38:33.6 GS: Yeah, it doesn’t.
0:38:33.7 MM: At some point, you have to say, “Can I tell you about Jesus?”
0:38:37.9 GS: Exactly.
0:38:38.5 MM: You have to share the good news. And if it’s…
0:38:40.9 GS: And Mark, I’d be glad to walk you through how to do that. Hey, as we wrap up.
0:38:46.6 MM: Greg is playing with me many a time.
0:38:48.8 GS: Many a time, yes.
0:38:50.2 MM: To receive Christ. Yes.
0:38:50.6 GS: Okay, as we wrap this up “Faith for Exiles,” a book that I just really encourage everyone to pick up. Any other, like… How would people connect with you personally, Mark, through social media?
0:39:05.6 MM: Yeah, I don’t do a lot of social media stuff, I’m not really great with that. But right now I’m working a lot with Barna. We’ve got some Gen Z labs that we’re doing, and some hybrid church labs that we’re doing. So you can keep your eyes there at Barna access. We have some actual e-courses that are part of implementing the research… A lot of people do great insights, but what do I do with this? And so we’ve created some tools to help people actually implement that in their conference.
0:39:32.1 GS: So where would they go? Where would they go to…
0:39:34.7 MM: To Barna.com, and it’s in the Barna access program, it’s… Or FaithforExiles.com will take you to those resources as well.
0:39:42.8 GS: Yeah, I really encourage youth leaders: Dive deeper into this stuff. Get “Faith for Exiles.” If you have not read the book, go through it. Mark, thank you so much for being a part of this has been fun for me personally and informative. I always learn new things and new words when I talk to you. It’s like you’re like… It’s like an episode of “Good Will Hunting.” You’re Matt Damon, and I’m Ben Affleck. It’s like, “This is my cousin. He’s wicked smart.” So thanks for being my wicked smart cousin.
0:40:15.6 MM: Well, I’m proud to do it, Greg. Thanks for just everything you do to help this generation, know Christ. I always tell people: There are very few people leading the cause to help teenagers share their faith and to see teens come to Christ, and you are definitely one of the major banner carriers for that, and I just appreciate your devotion and your consistency and your focus, thanks.
0:40:40.1 GS: Oh, praise the Lord, man. Love you, thanks for tuning in. We’re gonna switch to a segment called Ask a Youth Leader right now because it’s called the Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast, but I haven’t technically been a youth leader in a local church for 30 plus years, and so I’m inviting in my good friend, Pauline Ebert. She’s a part-time youth pastor at Fusion Community Church, it’s in Cobleskill, New York…
0:41:14.4 Pauline Ebert: Cobleskill.
0:41:15.4 GS: Cobleskill, New York, and she served there for the last six years, leading her students to share the Gospel with every teen in upstate New York. So Pauline, thanks so much for being a part of this.
0:41:27.2 PE: Oh, this is definitely an honor, by all means. Thank you so much, Mark, for just all of the years of service for the Lord and advancing the Gospel to students and working with Barna group to give us these resources. It’s definitely amazing stuff.
0:41:45.0 GS: Awesome stuff. So just… I’m asking a youth here, what did you think of all that Mark just shared with us about “Faith for Exiles” and the centrality of those five different areas? What really popped out to you as a youth leader in the trenches?
0:42:01.3 PE: Well, I gotta tell you, that was drinking from a firehose. There’s just so much good content there, and like Mark has said… We read these articles that come out about the state of the Gospel among students of their spiritual welfare, and what do we do about it? It’s such a big question. Well, what is it that I can do? What are one small thing that I can do after reading this book, or one small thing I can do after listening to this? And so as I was listening through this… I mean I’ve had two sheets of notes here. But one of the biggest things that stood out to me is the four categories that he explained. We have the prodigals, we have the nomads… The habituals. Wow! That staggered me. And I guess you could say that we probably know this to be true, and we don’t pause enough to actually consider “how can I reach them deeper,” right? And so they’re coming just because it’s the basic thing to do, right?
0:43:08.6 GS: So… But just to agree with you on that… I mean that seems like the biggest opportunity is how do we take that 38% or whatever that statistic was, and really get those five habits: How do they experience Jesus, build those deep relationships, vocational discipleship, taking epic risks, how do we get them to embrace those? That just seems like such a huge opportunity for youth leaders in particular.
0:43:36.9 PE: Yeah, absolutely. When you think about what is 40% of your youth ministry, and 40% of them are coming in through the doors just because mom or dad dropped them off, or because they were invited by a friend, or it’s something to do. I know for me starting out this year, many students were coming out in droves because it was actually something that they were able to do when all the sports and extracurricular activities were out. So… But how do we get that engagement with them? How do we reach them so that way when everything else opens up, this isn’t the less on the list.
0:44:10.5 GS: That’s really good. One of the things I was thinking about is we’re launching, along with the Go movement, this thing called Go Share Day, which is the last Saturday of every month. We’re gonna challenge youth groups around the world to go out and pray, care and share the Gospel, out loud with words in some tangible way, to kind of create that experience instead of just set a day to share live, or lead the cause, or a missions trip, or a once a quarter outreach on a regular basis, that opportunity to take those epic risks. And you’ve seen personally, in your own youth group, the power of really engaging kids to take those risks, to share the gospel. How has that helped strengthen their faith in the context of your youth ministry?
0:45:03.5 PE: Oh, wow. There is nothing that grows your faith more than that situation that causes a need to grow, and so when you are preaching to your students and you’re discipling them, and then you’d give them the opportunity to go out and share and just put some action behind their own faith, that’s when you see them scramble of, “Well, let me pull up the scripture. Well, let me refer to this” or “Let me… ” and they actually lean into this. And so, we’ve seen students start to dive deeper into their faith, dive deeper into the Scripture, have conversations at home with their parents that they’ve never had before, just simply because they’ve actually put it to action. And so, many people push back against me saying, “Well, you should never have a teenager go out and share their faith before they thoroughly understand the basic of theology.” But when you’ve got the G-O-S-P-E-L, when you have the basics, and you understand that, and you received Christ in your life for salvation, they have enough. They show us this in the book of Acts, they had enough, and the Holy Spirit filled them and they go out. And so I think we discredit just the power of the Holy Spirit that could be used through a teenager when we inhibit them from going out to reach your friends or to talk about their faith. So this is a fantastic thing.
0:46:28.9 PE: There’s many different things and like you said, having that garage fill of programs as not to go back to normal, we program so many things and I’ve seen this throughout 2020, where we couldn’t do all the things. And so, what could we do that could actually connect us with students, seeing as we couldn’t gather the way we could before? And so, we were very creative. We started to have hikes, where it can be relational with students, and actually talk to them, and counsel them through whatever they’re experiencing and the burdens that they had and that built those meaningful relationships. But we’re looking at 2021 going, “Okay. We are not going to just pile on the calendar. Let’s look at what actually gave students opportunities to grow.” And so now we’re really combing through all of that and things like, Lead the Cause and Live, were un-negotiable because those were actually opportunities that prove that students develop a deeper need to grow in those moments. So certainly, we’re looking at that.
0:47:39.0 GS: So those of you listening, who don’t know, Lead the Cause is a full-week summer program that Dare 2 Share does. They really take teens deeper into the mission, living out that counter-cultural mission, and Dare 2 Share Live is a once a year simulcast event where we mobilize teens to share the gospel. Pauline, thank you so much for being a part of this. How can youth leaders pray for you and your current youth ministry? How can they specifically pray for you?
0:48:07.5 PE: I would love for anybody listening to continue to pray for Infuse, that’s our student ministry, that leaders will start to own the call to live on mission and to see their community, and even students around them, the younger student, as a mission field to help reach them and to share the Gospel with them.
0:48:31.4 GS: Right, youth leaders, I really challenge you, pray for Pauline and Fusion, that God will just infuse that passion for the Gospel and mission and growth. And Pauline, I’m so grateful you’re part of this program today and I think we both learned a lot.
0:48:47.5 PE: Yeah, this was absolutely fantastic. I’ve already downloaded, while listening, the Faith For Exiles. So I can’t wait.
0:48:53.3 GS: Awesome and don’t forget, the rise of the nones. Just imagine these nones rising up. I don’t know where that’s going, but I’m excited about it. Youth leaders, I just wanna thank you for tuning in and being a part of this program. I wanna remind you that building a gospel, advancing disciple, multiplying youth ministry, is simpler than you might think. Thanks for tuning in.
Keep in touch
Subscribe to monthly podcasts plus weekly tips and inspiration that will help you build a Gospel Advancing Ministry.