A Generation on Fire

By Interviewed by Bob Paulson, Editor, Decision   •   June 27, 2008

Q: Tell us about the ministries you were involved in before Inhabited.

A: I started out thinking that I would end up in Russia. I went there quite a bit with the Teen Mania youth missions organization. Then they offered a trip to Atlanta, to work in the inner city. That trip changed my life. While I still loved foreign missions, there was a mission field here where I had no language barrier. I could sit down with people in my own culture, and there’s complete freedom of religion.

When I got back home, I started a ministry for inner-city elementary kids. My mom really helped me. We’d help the students with their schoolwork and tell them a Bible story at the end. The kids had no discipline whatsoever in their home lives; their parents were strung out on drugs. There were a lot of challenges to face, but it was very cool to be able to do that ministry. We also started taking our church youth group along. Every Friday night, we’d go out to the streets of Houston and talk with kids. People might not see the connection between that ministry and a Christian rock band, but it helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. I still view this as my mission trip.

Q: What issues are kids facing these days?

A: We’ve found that when we sing about abuse, kids come out of the woodwork. I look out and they’re crying, or afterwards they’ll talk about what they are dealing with at home. A lot of kids don’t know how to talk about it. I think that’s a really big problem in America.

Knowing what’s available to youth on the Internet now, I’ve written a few things on the Web site about the challenges youth face with pornography and similar topics. We’ve gotten feedback from kids saying, “I want to talk about it at church to our youth pastor, but I can’t. I can’t.” People really need to reach out to young people and help them with these things. Kids have a lot of temptation growing up. A lot of them carry around guilt.

One thing that is in my heart to do through our record Love is to reach out to kids in the church. In conversations with youth, I find that a lot of their ideas about God and the church are off. They have legalistic views. Christianity is not just a bunch of rules–this is Jesus our Savior, who came to give us life abundant and eternal. These are liberating commandments for us to live by. I tell kids, “Don’t let who you were yesterday define who you are today. If you’ve made mistakes, realize that your past doesn’t define you. Keep pressing on, turning away from sin and walking with God.”

I encourage kids to realize their potential as Christians. The Bible says that God looks throughout the whole earth, seeing who it is that He can use. He does not look on our outward appearance. He looks at the heart of man. If we could just get ahold of that–it doesn’t matter what color you are, whether you’re rich or poor. God is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV). If you want God to use you, He will, if you’ll surrender to Him. He’ll take whatever talents you have and He’ll use them.

Q: Do you see areas where the church is failing youth?

A: There are obviously a lot of people doing it right. But I think sometimes youth are overentertained. That might sound kind of strange coming from me. But I really think kids are overentertained, first outside of the church. Then the church tries so hard to be cool, and they just have pizza and games. They’re trying so hard to be cool that they don’t really share with the kids. I know there are different methods for reaching people, but if we don’t give them the truth, we’re failing them.

Q: Which topics on your site are hitting a nerve?

A: Just by our e-mails the No. 1 topics are abuse and cutting. I’ve found over the eight years of this e-mail ministry that a lot of the kids who cut themselves have also been abused. Often, it is coupled with an eating disorder, too. Teens don’t know how to deal with that, and so they try any method of escape.

Many of our songs come from an e-mail or from someone I meet after one of our shows. One story that has always stuck in my mind is a girl who said, “I go to church every Sunday. My dad raises his hands to God, and everybody thinks he’s a great man. He comes home and abuses me.”

We try to tell these kids, “God is our Father, but He’s not like your earthly father. He is on a whole different plane and He’s not out to hurt you.”

Q: You’ve said that when we truly meet God, “we’ll refuse to be contained in the four walls of our church. There’ll be an unquenchable fire within us to reach out to the hopeless.” Tell us about that.

A: When we did street ministry, we would have kids in our youth group who hadn’t ever done that sort of thing before. We found that when young people are ministering to others, they’re being changed, too.

One way to combat overentertainment is to give kids ideas for reaching out to others. We’ve started a Web site where we post project ideas for youth to start serving others. Every month, people come to the site to share how they took the assignment and showed love in their community.

If kids are given the opportunity to reach out to people, it will light a fire, as it did in my heart long ago. As Christians, we should be reaching out to people everywhere we go.

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