Keying into the Culture
David Eaton, cofounder of Axis-a non-profit ministry that seeks to help the next generation have lifelong faith by resourcing parents and faith leaders-and Melanie Mudge, director of content and certification at Axis, tell listeners why Christian kids are leaving the faith. Eaton explains why parents must move away from behavior management and rule enforcement and focus on the truth that Jesus is life.
About the Guest
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David Eaton and Melanie Mudge, tell listeners why Christian kids are leaving the faith. Eaton explains why parents must focus on the truth that Jesus is life.
Keying into the Culture
Bob: What your kids are hearing—at church, what they’re hearing in the hallways of their school, or on Spotify®, or on the web—all of those are very different things. Which voice do you think is having the biggest impact in your teenager’s life? Here’s Melanie Mudge.
Melanie: A lot of my friends walked away from God. I mean, I was in youth group all the time—I walked away from God for a while. A huge part of it was that the gospel didn’t connect to their everyday lives. It seemed like something they do on Sunday and on Wednesday, when they go to youth group; but it didn’t seem to have any relevance.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 7th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. Your teenagers are hearing a lot of different voices today. Which voices are they listening to most, and which ones are they believing? We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Are you familiar with—this is an older group—Death Cab for Cutie—are you familiar with them?—the music group? You’re not familiar with—[Laughter]
Dennis: I’m sorry! Bob, is this one of your continuing hobbies, here on FamilyLife Today, to show my lack of literacy in culturally-significant music?—is it music?
Bob: Well, it belongs—it is music; it is no longer culturally-significant. [Laughter] When my kids were teenagers, I used to drive them to school most days. Instead of listening to the radio, we listened to mix tapes on the way to school—these were cassettes that their friends had made for them—and—
Dennis: Let me just say how Bob abused his kids. I went to the only rock concert I think I’ve ever been to, in terms of Christian music, because Bob said: “You have to go!
“You have to go!” [Laughter]
Bob: This was in the mid-’90s, and I took him to D.C. Talk and Audio Adrenaline—
Dennis: Audio Adrenaline led off.
Bob: —to try to expand his horizon.
Dennis: And he didn’t tell me I needed to bring earmuffs and soundproof headphones. [Laughter]
Bob: I didn’t realize what a geezer you were, back in those days!
Dennis: They were head-banging, for goodness’ sake, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: Of course, they were!
Dennis: And you were, too, in the aisle.
Bob: So, back to Death Cab for Cutie—
David: Full circle.
Bob: We used to listen to these mix tapes, and they were full of emo music. You’re familiar with emo music; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: No! Hold it! David—
David: I was in an emo band in high school.
Dennis: You were.
Dennis: So you know what he’s talking about?
David: I didn’t wear skinny jeans, though.
Bob: Were you a Death Cab fan?
David: That was when I was like in college, though—it took me awhile to get to that point.
Dennis: Melanie, you knew about it too?
Melanie: Oh yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: Okay; I’m an antique! [Laughter]
Bob: But the point I’m making in bringing all of this up is—
Dennis: Yes; what is your point?
Bob: —since my kids have gone on to become adults of their own, I’m no longer listening to mix tapes / I no longer have a cassette deck in my car.
Dennis: I’m glad.
Bob: And I would not know who’s “hip” today / I wouldn’t know who the kids are listening to today if I didn’t get my Culture Translator email every Friday, in my inbox, which keeps me up to date with what’s going on with teenagers.
Dennis: And of course, our guests on the broadcast know what that is. David Eaton and Melanie Mudge join us on the broadcast. Melanie/David, welcome.
Melanie: Thank you!
David: Thanks for having us.
Dennis: Explain to our listeners what Bob gets.
David: He gets a Culture Translator, which Melanie’s the editor of. It helps parents know what’s going on in their student’s life; and then, have conversations with them. It’s a simple email that comes out every Friday. It has three things that went on in your student’s life this past week, and how to talk about them.
Dennis: Such as?
David: Such as: “Did you know that ‘broccoli’ means ‘weed’?”
Bob: Did you know that?—you knew that?
David: Nice! Nice!
Bob: So, if a new Kanye record comes out, you’re going to let parents know, “Kanye’s back, and he has something to say”; right?
David: Right; but it’s not just, “Here it is,”—it’s: “Here’s how to have a thoughtful conversation about this. Here’s how to look at what is the hidden goodness in this / what are the hidden lies in this; and really, how to disciple your student into thinking deeply about these things.”
We have a team of 25 folks, who are thinking about this all the time—really, with the idea of—not “How do we help parents outsource their parenting?”—but really, “How do we help resource parents to disciple their kids?”
Bob: Well, and Melanie—some parents hear about this and they go: “I don’t want my kids listening to Kanye anyway. I want them listening to Christian music and watching Christian movies. Why are you even encouraging kids to listen in this direction?”
Melanie: It’s not necessarily encouraging them so much as it’s acknowledging that Christian music may not be that appealing to teens.
Christian music has its place, but a lot of teenagers want music that’s artistically creative and that’s pushing the—
Bob: Ooh, I got the little—
Dennis: Yes; half of Nashville just turned off our broadcast.
Melanie: Oh no!—no. I actually think Christian music is really moving in a good direction; but like when I was a teenager, it was pretty much the same every time. It followed the same formula, and it wasn’t the same as pop music that I was listening. The pop music was much catchier, and it really captured my attention. The Christian music was kind of like, “I’ll listen to this, because I’m a good Christian.”
Bob: Well, and we have to be honest—most of the kids at the youth group / most of the kids at the Christian school are swimming in contemporary culture. They’re not in the Christian bubble—they’re in the world, and they’re being influenced by that.
David: So, we’ll speak at a Christian school. There will be this praise and worship thing—the guy gets his guitar out at the beginning—and ho-hum, students are barely singing.
Then, we’ll come up; and we’ll start speaking about like the marketplace of ideas and everything that we’re swimming in/around. We’ll play a song, and we’ll put the lyrics up there. I mean, you would think we were playing—I mean, there was worship happening in the audience.
Kids start singing / start interacting—stand up and start dancing sometimes. It’s really awesome; because at this point, you can just bring a hammer out and just be like, “We’re going to just hit you with the truth”; but instead, we say: “Hey! Isn’t this amazing and really exciting music? But let’s think about this idea right here. What is it saying about ‘What does it mean to be human?’ What is it saying about ‘What does it mean to be honest?’ What does it mean to be—who God is, and what does it mean to worship?”
Dennis: And you’re helping parents connect the dots to know how to relate to their kids as they do swim in this cultural media experience that they’re—
David: Well, we actually made a huge mistake. We started Axis ten years ago. I was just going—and we were leading teams and going directly to high school students. Really, it’s because I had a lot of my friends—that I went to high school with and went to church with—who were no longer following Jesus.
I mean, on mission trips, you’d see a picture—here are my three buddies, Bibles in hand / preaching the gospel. Four years later, after college, they’re agnostic; right?
I said, “What’s going on in my generation?” We started traveling and speaking at schools, and it was great; but we realized, soon enough, that there is no one more influential in a student’s life than their parents. So, early on, when we thought that Axis was the hero the next generation needed, we were wrong. We realized that parents are the hero the next generation needs. So, we help leverage that relationship.
Dennis: And back in 2007, you decided to do some research on why these kids were leaving the faith. You were seeing it happen back then. You were actually ahead of a lot of researchers at that point. What did you find in that research?
Melanie: Well, I think we were ahead just because we were in that generation that was leaving. A lot of my friends walked away from God. I mean, I was in youth group all the time—I walked away from God for a while.
So, we were ahead.
What we found in our research was that a huge part of it was that the gospel didn’t connect to their everyday lives. It seemed like something they do on Sunday and on Wednesday, when they go to youth group; but it didn’t seem to have any relevance.
I think the biggest thing that we realized is—there are a lot of other ideas out there that seem to promise life, and fulfillment, and flourishing; and they don’t actually lead to that, but teens believe it anyways. Somehow, they weren’t learning that the gospel’s the only thing that leads to life and that it does have relevance for every situation and everything we do. Instead, they felt like: “This doesn’t mean enough. This isn’t big enough, and it’s not fulfilling enough. I’m going to go elsewhere.” And that’s why they were walking away.
Bob: I’ve heard this talked about in these terms, and I’d like you guys to either challenge or validate this; okay?
Christian Smith, the sociologist at Notre Dame—when he looked at this subject, he came back and he said: “What kids are hearing in a lot of evangelical churches is not a life-changing gospel. What they’re hearing is moralistic/therapeutic deism,”—you guys have heard that phrase.
They’re hearing, “There’s a God who loves you, and He wants you to have an abundant life,” and “If you’ll just do these things, abundant life will happen.” These kids get to college and they go, “Those things aren’t giving me an abundant life here on campus; and in fact, it looks like this other set of values gets you a more abundant life. So, I’m going over there.”
Is that what’s happening?
David: I think it’s, like you said, I think it is moralistic/therapeutic deism—it’s behavior management. Melanie was being interviewed one time; and they said, “What’s the crux of Axis?” She paused; and then she said, “Jesus is life.”
I think, a lot of times, we focus on the truth and “Okay; did our sixth-grader believe and become a Christian? Is he going to go to heaven?”
Then, it just kind of leaves off there. We’ve had sixth-graders say to us: “Like what’s left for me now? Should I just wait to die?”
I think the gospel is missing an important element of the mission—of where God invites us, after we’re saved / invites us to join Him in the renewal of all things. That’s a really interesting, creative mission. So, when all you hear is just that you’re a bad person and Jesus died for you—which are both true—you might be missing the larger narrative, which says: “God made the world very good. It’s broken; you’re broken. Jesus saved you, and now He’s inviting you back into mission.” One of the best ways to say this is—we have to make sure we’re answering the questions that the next generation is actually asking.
Dennis: In 19—I believe it was 1985—Barbara and I started teaching a sixth-grade Sunday school class. I started with 12 kids in my class. I taught it for 11 years. At the end, I had 75 kids in my class.
I had parents wanting to get in the class, because what they saw their kids experiencing in our class was a connection—the very thing you mentioned, Melanie—a connection of the gospel to the real-life issues these kids are facing now, as 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds in the culture.
Most of them had heard and seen pornography. I mean, they’ve had friends—if not them—dabbling in alcohol, drugs, etc. Most parents are absolutely clueless that their sweet 11- and 12-year-old—who smiles, and gets dressed for church, and looks all nice and sweet and spiritual—has experienced this world. It’s like we have our heads in the sand.
By the time I finished teaching that class, I was convinced those kids had taught me far more, as a parent, than I had taught them; because they taught me this—and it’s found in Psalm 78—and those who listen to this broadcast know I’ve kind of been on a soapbox about this—
—but Psalm 78 says this: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that their generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children.” There are, at least, four generations mentioned there. What were they commanded to do?—two things: teach the truth of the law; and share the experience of God as they passed on that truth through their own lives, as parents.
What I think is happening today—I think there is a divorce in most Christian families between real life and applying Jesus Christ, and the truth of the Bible and the gospel to their lives—so their children not only hear it with their ears, but they see it modeled by their mom and dad. By the time they graduate from high school, they’re going: “I want what Mom and Dad have. I’ve seen them go through some hard times. They went to the Book / they went to the God of the Book. They experienced—they had a testimony of what God had done in their lives.”
I think the great need today is for infectious Christianity to be embraced by moms and dads. Do you agree?
David: Absolutely, and I also think that grandmas and grandpas can help reinforce some of those things. When we speak with parents, what they say is: “I’m busy. I’m tired. I’m worn down.” The beauty is that, if they can invite the grandparents into that relationship, they can help also—like you said, that multiple-generational approach—help support some of that long-term vision-casting.
One of our favorite things to see is when a mom or a dad—or a grandma and grandpa—can talk about the vision and imagination they have for their child with them, where they can say: “Let me tell you my story,” and “Let me tell you my hopes and my dreams for you.” If you’re hearing this right now—if you can tell your child your hopes and your dreams for them, you’re crafting what their imagination in the future is—you’re helping them have hope. You’re helping them, actually, feel powerful to hope for the goodness of the future.
Dennis: I’m glad you gave the grandparents a nod, at that point; because last night, Barbara came in and said, “Here are three birthday cards.” Birthdays are one of the biggest loser experiences that Barbara and I have, having 23 grandkids. [Laughter] I mean, we need a computer program and a butler with all the cards we’re to sign. But she finally got ahead of this one; and she gave it to three of our grandsons—these cards—and said: “I’ve signed them. Now, you sign them.”
I sit down—and it’s good to hear you say what you just said—because that’s what I did. I started speaking into three of my grandsons’ lives about what I see in them—actually, two grandsons and a granddaughter—and I talked about what I saw in each of them, and what I hoped I would see in the future, and “I have great dreams for you, that God’s going to use you in a mighty way. I can’t wait to cheer you on and see how God uses you.”
David: My scalp is tingling right now. [Laughter] I mean, you want that level of anticipation and hope in them; and that’s an awesome thing.
Dennis: And the world is speaking into their lives with the wrong stuff.
It’s creating the anticipation of the wrong idols. We want to go back to God and experience of Him in our children’s lives.
Bob: Melanie, I want to know about your detour. You said a couple years?—you wandered off?
Melanie: It was probably a good six/seven years. It started in high school, for sure; and it was—I mean, I was in church five, six, seven days a week. I thought, “Okay; this is it.” And then, when I finally said, “I need to walk away from this for a while,” was when I said: “Wow! I feel like I’m off the emotional roller-coaster. I feel like walking away from God made my life easier and better.”
It was because the Christianity I had been practicing was that moralistic/therapeutic deism or legalism—or just doing all the right things. I didn’t understand that bigger picture of life, and flourishing, and abundance that I had been called to. So, for however many years, I was pursuing that abundance and that life elsewhere.
I mean, I tried pretty much everything; and I landed on relationships. I looked to a boy to fulfil me; and by the end, he was like trying to get away from me because he was everything; and I was just gripping on tight. That got me to rock-bottom, and that’s when—I don’t know if I heard God or He just spoke to my heart—but He was like, “It’s time for you to try My way.”
I said: “I’ve tried Your way, and it’s terrible! It’s an emotional roller-coaster.” He was, “No.; you didn’t try My way.” That’s when I said, “Okay; I guess I’ll try this.” It’s been a totally different experience since then.
Bob: Did you declare—I mean, when you said you walked away—like did you say, “Okay; I’m done with this,” or did you just kind of drift and fade, and live in two worlds for awhile and then fade out?
Melanie: There was living in two worlds for a while; and then, when I made that conscious decision to walk away, I think I told a couple people, “I’m not doing this anymore.”
Bob: —but not your mom and dad. You didn’t tell them; did you?
Melanie: No; oh no. [Laughter]
Dennis: Did you see your mom and dad with an infectious walk with Jesus Christ?
Melanie: I saw my mom that way, very much so. She understood it. But she was raised by a generation that you don’t talk about things. I think she brought that into her parenting as well. She didn’t tell me her story of why her Christianity meant so much to her and why she was so devoted to it. It was kind of just assumed that I should know that. I don’t think she meant it that way—it just kind of happened. But there were lots of Christians, who I did see, who didn’t have that infectious love of Christ.
Dennis: Here’s what I’d want a parent to hear—if you haven’t shared with your child in the past week—what God is doing, or is teaching, or is taking you through / where you may be even failing as He gives you a test—and it’s a test of faith—and you’re not doing a good job walking by faith—you’re worrying / everything’s wrapped around the axle, and you don’t have much of a faith right now—some of your greatest lessons are going to come out of what look like your greatest failures. Pass that on to your kids! The enemy wants parents and grandparents to be silent about their faith, thinking: “It’s too personal. We shouldn’t talk about that.”
Melanie: —or talking about failures as a bad thing too. You’re saying, “Tell your kids if you’ve messed up,” or say, “I’m not doing a good job walking in faith”; but we tend to go into it, thinking we shouldn’t tell our kids that we’ve messed up; because then, that means we’re not practicing Christianity correctly, which isn’t true.
Bob: Well, that was my thought—my thought was, “I have to model for my kids what the right way looks like.” Modeling what the right way looks like, I felt like, was keep hidden all the mistakes and failures.
Well, the gospel is all about—
Bob: That’s right!
Bob: So, if I’m going to model what the right way looks like, part of that model needs to be: “This is where mom and dad mess up,” “This is where I’ve messed up. This is what repentance looks like for me,” and “This is what confession looks like,” and “Here’s what restoration looks like.”
David: That’s one of my favorite things I’ve learned from you, Bob, in just some of our small conversations, here and there—is that you have to model repentance. If you don’t model repentance in your family, then how are your kids going to know how to do that, and how are they going to be invited into the goodness of God and His love for them?
Bob: That’s one of the big themes that is being addressed in The Art of Parenting video series that we’re putting together—and in what you’re [Dennis] writing in the book that is coming out—because this is a key area for parents to embrace and to live out.
Dennis: And we are to model Jesus Christ, but we’re not going to model it perfectly. When we do fail—rather than sweep it under the rug—
—bring it out in the open. I mean, one of my favorite stories about my son, Benjamin, was about a tree I cut down / that he witnessed his father cutting down, except it wasn’t on my property—it was on the city property. We’re out in the woods, where nobody in the city would ever know about it; but God worked me over and took me to the woodshed to finally confess that to the city manager. He said, “Oh, there’s not that much of an exact property line out there anyway; it’s okay.” But my son saw me deal with a mistake that I made.
Here’s the thing—if you think about this, as a parent, what are your children going to face for the rest of their lives? —their humanity—their own failures / their own times when they don’t match up to the Bible—and they’re going to be acutely aware of that. They have to be equipped to know how to repent, which is doing a 180—stop going the way you want to go; turn the direction God wants you to go——admit it / name the sin and turn it over to God—
—and get back on the track of becoming God’s man or God’s woman.
Bob: Here’s where I think moms and dads just need some help. We have resources at FamilyLife that we’ve put together over the years that are designed to provide just the kind of help that moms and dads need. We have the Passport2Purity®/ Passport2Identity™ resources for parents of pre-teens and parents of early teens to go through with their kids to get them ready for the pressures and the challenges they’re going to face during these years. We’re working, right now, on The Art of Parenting series we talked about that will be coming out in May; and of course, Dennis and Barbara will have a book that will be out not long after the launch of Art of Parenting that will provide help for parents in this regard.
Of course, you guys have The Culture Translator that I get every week and that I think parents of teens need to be sure they’re subscribed to. It’s a free resource that comes via email every week. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—you’ll find the link where you can sign up for The Culture Translator.
You’ll also find links for these resources we’ve talked about today.
Again, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and start getting better engaged with the world in which your teenage sons and daughters are living today. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com. You can call if you have any questions about the resources available; or if you’d like to order by phone, 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number—that’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, our goal, here, at FamilyLife is to provide moms and dads / husbands and wives with practical biblical help and hope in the middle of the challenges we face related to marriage and family. In fact, we have an event coming up this spring for couples who are in blended families. We want to provide help and hope for you guys as well.
The event’s going to be called Blended and Blessed™.
It’s a one-day event; it’s going to be hosted in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can attend live if you live in the area, or you can attend via livestream. It’s going to be available—streamed on the web. I know churches and small groups are getting together for the day to go through this material. Ron Deal’s giving leadership to all of this. It’s one of the ways that we’re seeking to reach out, as a ministry, to point people in a biblical direction when it comes to the issues we face in marriage and family.
We appreciate those of you who partner with us in this endeavor. In fact, every time you donate to FamilyLife®, you’re making it possible for more husbands and wives and moms and dads to understand God’s design for marriage and family. That’s our goal / that’s our mission, and you help make that happen every time you donate. If you’re a long-time listener to FamilyLife Today and you’ve never made a donation, would you join the work that you’re doing today and be part of this mission?
You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about technology and your teen, specifically about smartphones and access to the web on the go—a lot to talk about there. I hope you can tune in and be part of the conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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