Faith isn't inherited. Each person stands before God on their own. Ryan and Josh Shook, sons of best-selling author and pastor Kerry Shook, tell how they came back from the brink of spiritual death after years of doubting their faith.
Faith isn't inherited. Each person stands before God on their own. Ryan and Josh Shook, sons of best-selling author and pastor Kerry Shook, tell how they came back from the brink of spiritual death after years of doubting their faith.
Bob: Ryan and Josh Shook both grew up in a Christian home—their dad is a pastor. But when they got to college, Ryan and Josh both decided to see if maybe they’d been missing something. Here’s [Josh].
Josh: I think, for both of us, it was: “Oh, we’re on our own.” You have this freedom, seemingly, now that you’re on your own—you’re in college. I don’t think it was until I made a lot of mistakes and I really learned how—when I wanted to do these things that I felt like because I was the pastor’s kid that I couldn’t do—but now, that I was away and not known as that anymore, I had a different identity. I could try these things and see what all the fuss was about. But I mean—I can’t tell you how many times I look back and I just think: “Man! I really just wish I took your word for it, Lord.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear from Ryan and Josh Shook today about how they ditched a secondhand religion for a faith of their own. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I remember, years ago, we were talking with a pastor and an author about children making a profession of faith in Christ. I remember him saying, “A child can make a credible profession of faith in Christ, but” he said, “you’ve got to be careful because the same child also says, ‘And I want to be a fireman when I grow up,’ and they may not be thinking in those kind of concrete terms.”
It’s tough for a mom and dad, sometimes, to know when a child—at five, or six, or seven says, “I’ve become a Christian,”—has the real thing really happened in their heart?
Dennis: Yes, and it doesn’t remove the responsibility from parents to continue to present the truth about Jesus Christ, and the gospel, and how He came to redeem us from spiritual death. Yet, we don’t know what’s taking place in a child’s heart.
I just want to use this opportunity because this is what we do, here on FamilyLife Today—we equip parents to be able to do this kind of thing. Some folks that make this possible are Legacy Partners. Those are people who give monthly to keep FamilyLife Today on this station. I just want to say, “Thanks,” to Andrew and Julia in DuBois, Pennsylvania.
Bob: Are you sure it’s DuBois?
Dennis: Is not DuBois? [Emphasis on the “s”] [Laughter] Do you remember?
Bob: I cannot remember.
Dennis: I can’t either, but we’ll hear from them—it’s one of those—but Andrew and Julia—“Thanks.” I want to say “Thanks,” to Andy—
Bob: It’s got to be DuBois—it’s got to be DuBois. [Emphasizing the “s”]
Dennis: It has to. Andy and Kate in Lowell, Michigan—I don’t know where that is. I do have an idea of where DuBois—[Omits the “s”]
Bob: DuBois. [Emphasis on the “s”]
Dennis: —DuBois [Emphasis on the “s”] is in Pennsylvania.
Then, finally—Anthony and Janet in Sacramento, California: “Thank you guys for making FamilyLife Today possible. You’re helping to pay for this broadcast today.”
We’ve got a couple of great guys with us on the broadcast—the authors of Firsthand, which is a New York Times Bestseller. Ryan and Josh Shook join us. They are brothers from Houston, Texas. Welcome to the broadcast, guys.
Ryan: Thanks, Dennis and Bob. We’re really happy to be here with you guys.
Josh: Yes, thank you guys so much for having us.
Dennis: Well, that voice was Josh. He’s a musician/songwriter and is a graduate of where else?
Josh: Belmont University.
Dennis: Everybody knew that—in Nashville.
Josh: Oh, yes.
Dennis: He lives in Nashville, and are you starving as a songwriter?
Josh: I am starving! Yes—very, very hungry all the time.
Dennis: So, someone needs to listen up. Ryan is a filmmaker, blogger, and a graduate of Baylor University, married to Sarah, and lives in Houston, Texas.
And you guys collaborated together to write this book.
This is really about you guys nearly running off the cliff, spiritually; right?
Ryan: Yes, that’s exactly right. Josh and I grew up in the church. Our dad’s a pastor of a large church in Houston—Woodlands Church. So, we had a great upbringing that was really built on biblical truths; but Josh and I realized—when we got into high school—that our friends weren’t really following what we believed / they weren’t really going to church. We looked at our own faith and we said, “Are we just going through the motions, or do we really believe this?”
Josh and I kind of had this crisis of faith, somewhere in the middle of high school, when we looked at our faith and said: “I think we’re just doing what our parents do. It’s not because we really believe it.”
Bob: Now, Josh, did you guys have this simultaneously? Were you talking to one another about what was going on?
Josh: I think that we were both kind of experiencing it. Ryan was the first one to really open up and talk about it. I feel like all of us—I was going through some doubt and some struggles, but I didn’t really want to verbalize it. I was scared if I was the only one or:
“I’m the pastor’s kid. I’m not supposed to say that or feel this way.”
But Ryan was just really courageous and was very open about: “I just feel empty. I feel like this isn’t life in all its fullness like we’ve been promised. I still deal with heartache and suffering.” I think probably in our eyes too—our parents are great, and they live out what they preach—but it seemed like what was fulfilling for them wasn’t fulfilling for us.
Bob: I’m assuming that both of you guys had kind of the standard evangelical kid upbringing, where you’re listening to Bible songs / you’re memorizing Bible verses. I mean, your whole home culture was built around “We’re a family that loves Jesus”; right? Is that what home was like?
Ryan: Yes, exactly! Well, our parents—they truly did live out what they believed. So, they really exhibited that faith to us; but you’re right. We knew all the songs / we knew all the Bible verses, but we reached this point where we said: “I don’t know if we believe this. I don’t know if this is who we really are.” We really reached a point, like Josh was saying—
—we felt empty because we were going to church every Sunday / we were going to every youth service, but we didn’t feel fulfilled.
Bob: And do you remember reaching that point? I mean—was there a point in time where you thought: “Oh, wait! I shouldn’t be thinking this way,” or “I shouldn’t have these doubts”?
Ryan: Yes. For me, it was definitely a struggle with doubt. You know, I was in science class on the weekdays, hearing about evolution and all this kind of stuff. And then, I was in church on the weekend, hearing Bible verses. For me, it was really a crisis of faith that was brought on by doubt about: “Could this really be true? Could Jesus really do all things He said He could?” And then, I started to really research, myself, and think, “Do I really believe this?”
Dennis: Did you ever talk to your dad about it?—I mean—say: “Hey, Dad, I’m struggling with my faith. I’m having doubts”? Or did you feel like it was unsafe to admit you had doubts?
Ryan: Yes, I think that’s a struggle for a lot of kids who grow up in a Christian faith because they know their parents really believe it and they see them very strongly believing what they do. So, I felt kind of timid when I said:
“Man, these miracles that He’s done and these things that Jesus has done sound really farfetched at times.” I think my dad had a great response—it was that: “I can present you a lot of great evidence; but in the end, it’s really a decision you have to make for yourself.”
Dennis: I know a dad who actually encourages his children to come to him with their doubts, with their fears, with their questions, and doesn’t ever shame them for doing that.
Dennis: And frankly, looking back on raising our children, I wish I had been more proactive about that because, when you grow up around the church, and in the church, and saturated with Christian things, it’s easy to think that you’re somehow betraying your parents and who they are by believing anything any different.
Bob: Well, and if you have a science teacher—who is a good teacher, and smart, and starts teaching stuff—and saying, “This is how it is…”—
Bob: —it’s easy for a student—I mean—I remember, as a student, thinking: “Well, now, wait! This person seems reasonable, seems sensible / seems nice.
“So, what do I do with what they are saying and what I’ve grown up believing?” Was science the same kind of challenge for you?
Josh: Yes, I think it definitely was; and I definitely struggled with it. I think our struggles were a little bit different. Mine was more: “Is He really as personal as He says He is? Is that part really true?” because I felt like, in my life, a lot of times—how I perceived it—it seemed like the Lord didn’t really care that much—at the time, that’s how I felt.
And I remember I would get really frustrated when I was in high school and I would talk to my youth pastor about it. He would try to explain it to me—he would say, “Well, it’s a relationship, not a religion.” I would say: “What does that mean, practically? We’re talking about a lot of metaphysical concepts, and how was that a relationship?” He would say, “Well, it’s personal.” I would say, “How is me going to the same Bible study, in the same service as everyone else, personal and unique to me?” It just felt like, “If this Lord was real, He was very distant.”
Bob: So, let me stop you, at this point, in the middle of your story. Let’s say somebody comes to you with that same question—
—a high school student comes and says: “Well, Josh, what does it mean He’s personal? What does it mean—‘I have a relationship with God,’—because when I talk, I don’t hear anything back. When I pray, I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen next.”
Josh: Absolutely. For me—I think, as every believer comes to find, it really truly is a process and it is personal. By personal, I mean my relationship with the Lord looks totally different from yours because I have my own unique strengths and I have my own unique weaknesses. I think that the Lord—a lot of times in our own insecurities—makes us sensitive to needs around us we can meet and ways we can step out.
For example, for a while, I was very frustrated with a lot of worship music in the church. I’m not saying anything about worship music, or any particular artist, or anything like that—but for some reason—I was just like: “I don’t know. This doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t know how I feel about this.” And—
Dennis: Did you know you’re the first church member, ever, to have a problem with church music? [Laughter]
Josh: Yes, absolutely. [Laughter] “They’re using electric guitars—it’s not right!” But it was so interesting because my dad—I was talking to my dad about it. I was just complaining, really—just complaining about it. My dad challenged me—he said: “Well, why don’t you try writing some worship music or about your relationship with the Lord? Just try it.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know if I want to be a worship leader—want to do that or a Christian writer, or—I don’t know.” My dad really called me out with that.
So, I started writing. It’s not necessarily that I wrote great songs for the church, but I’m glad I was able to play them in church—I still am. But it really, really changed the way I approached worship in my life. It was more for me. It’s almost—
Dennis: Josh/Ryan, neither of you, right now, are parents?
Dennis: So, you don’t know this; but there are a lot of parents, listening to us right now, going, “Is there some way I could somehow keep my child from having to go through what you guys both struggled through?”
As I look at my own faith—because I had a similar journey—I went on my own route for a number of years before truly coming back to my faith, and getting with the program, and submitting and surrendering to the authority of Jesus Christ, and really getting honest about my relationship with Him when I was 20 years old—junior in college; okay?
There really is no short circuit that you can go through—you can’t take a detour to get there. Sometimes, people have to go through these difficult times to truly hammer out what they honestly believe.
Ryan: That’s a great point—is that there is that kind of classic phrase we hear pretty often, especially with this book, is: “God has no grandchildren,”—that idea that, as strong as your faith might be, really that faith has to be genuine in your child’s life.
And that’s one of the questions we get so often from parents is: “Ryan/Josh, what can we do to really help our son / our daughter, who is a teenager?” or “…maybe about to finish high school,” or “…going into high school?”
And those are really critical times—those years in junior high and high school when friends are being made and all kinds of connections are forming. They look at it and they say, “I’m concerned that the world is influencing my son or daughter so much that I don’t know if my influence is what it should be or needs to be.”
And I think that—the first thing we tell parents is that “God is in control.” God is the one who is in control of your child’s destiny—who is going to take care of them. I think that’s tough for a lot of parents to let go of. And the next thing we really encourage them with is: “Embrace the conversation.” I think—like you’re saying, Dennis—there are a lot of times that parents naturally have this tendency to maybe get defensive or want to present the best possible image of their faith or who they are—but, really, it’s being genuine. It’s being real about who you are—about your struggles / about your faith—that’s really going to make the biggest impact in your child’s life.
Dennis: There are a bunch of young people today leaving the church and not coming back. It’s not a matter of them doing what you guys are doing—
—which you left your faith for a period of time and you came back. We are looking at—what is it?—upwards of 60 percent of young people, coming out the church today, don’t darken the doors of a church again; right?
Josh: It’s—to me, it just seems like what it will take to change that is really just—it’s the Holy Spirit that changes people’s lives. We truly believe that. When you see someone who is following Jesus—who is truly in love with Jesus—it’s life-changing. You can’t help but explain it in any other way.
But when you see someone who is trying to cover up all the dirty parts of their life, and try to put on this image that they have it all together, it almost cheapens that message of redemption. It makes it seem like: “That’s not practical to live out. You’re just as imperfect as me; only, I can be open about it, and you feel like you have to act like you’re better than me.”
Bob: Ryan, let me ask you—your journey—you started to have doubts—was it junior high / senior high when you started having doubts?
Ryan: It was probably right in the middle of high school. Yes.
Bob: Okay. And did you get to a point on your path, where you said, “I’m not sure I’m a Christian”?
Ryan: Well, to be honest, Bob, I never personally—I don’t think I ever reached that point where I said, “I’m not a Christian.” I did reach a point where I stopped going to church.
Basically, there is another great point of crisis for many, many students and kids—is when they go from high school into that first year of college. And that was another time when Josh and I were really starting to come back to our faith—was we had left high school. We were now on our own—our freshman year of college. We both, at separate schools, kind of came to the same realization that: “Man! The stuff our parents were talking about—the biblical principles were all real.” But they had to be real to me in a new, fresh way. That’s why we wrote Firsthand—is: “How do we present faith in a fresh way for this generation so that they can really grab it and own it for themselves?”
Bob: So, when you tuned out Christianity for a while—from middle of high school until the beginning of your freshman year / somewhere in your freshman year—
Bob: —was it just an: “I’m not interested in that,” or were you off experimenting with what the world has to offer during that time?
Ryan: I think that Josh and I dealt with things in different ways because we have unique personalities. Josh—maybe, you can speak into how you dealt with it at that time.
Josh: I was the experimenter, I think.
Josh: Yes, I mean, it’s such a great question. I think it’s so difficult—when you’re in high school, I really do believe, until you are on your own—to really have the faith of your own. It’s not impossible; but I do think that the challenge is, if you have loving parents, you are spared from consequences so much. I don’t think it was until I made a lot of mistakes and I really learned how—when I wanted to do these things that looked fun, or looked fulfilling, or the things that I felt like because I was the pastor’s kid that I couldn’t do—but now, that I was away and not known as that anymore, I had a different identity. I could try these things and see what all the fuss was about.
I never really fully realized, until I was on my own, how practical the gospel is—how all of everything the Lord tell us—it’s for our good.
Josh: And we have a sinful nature.
We desire other things, and sin is fun for a time—but ultimately, and it’s not following those things that the Lord tells us to do that’s fulfilling—but there is so much protection in it. I mean, I can’t tell you—I’m sure you guys feel the same way—how many times I look back, and I just think: “Man! I really just wish I took Your word for it, Lord. Why did I have to go do this and reach this point?”
Bob: So, your freshman year, you’re not going to church anywhere?
Josh: Not really. I was kind of bouncing around, finding—
Bob: Ryan, at Baylor, did you find a church your freshman year and start going?
Ryan: Yes, similar to Josh. It was more like I kind of said that I found a church just to put on a face; but really, I would just be going, maybe, once a month / not really checking in. That was how both of us dealt with it. But I think, to what you’re saying: “Did we ever hit a wall? Did we ever hit this point, where we realized, ‘I am so empty’?”
It’s kind of at that point—at the end of your rope, when you have nowhere else to go / nowhere else to turn to—rock bottom—that is really a lot of times the best place to be because that’s when you can look up at God and He can pick you up.
Dennis: You actually speak of that as “the gift of emptiness”?
Ryan: Yes, absolutely. I think emptiness really is one of our greatest assets. When you think about it, Paul brags about it. He says, “His strength is made perfect in my weakness.” You know, this is where I get to show the world God’s grace, and His mercy, and how He works through our brokenness. And the older we get, I think, we come to realize how thankful we are that God’s not just this doctor who fixes us and then sends us on our way—that we have to keep going back to Him daily.
And these struggles we have—yes, they are hard / they are difficult. Many times, they are not going to be just healed / they are not just going to go away, but that’s not because the Lord is unloving—it’s the opposite. He wants to draw us into a relationship with Him.
Dennis: It seems, to me, it would be a good prayer for a parent to pray for a child who is wandering a bit—
Dennis: —pray they’d get so lost—
Ryan: It’s a great—
Josh: It’s a scary prayer because you realize your need for a Savior.
You realize your need for Jesus.
Bob: Have you guys had a chance to double back with your mom and dad since all of this, and I guess since the book came out, and ask them, “What were you thinking, as mom and dad, during our freshman year?”
Ryan: Great question.
Bob: “Did you know that we were kind of off the rails?”
Ryan: Yes, well, we have had opportunities to talk with them candidly. They have said, “We were concerned at times; but in the end, we always trusted that God was the One to kind of bring you back to Him.” I know there were nights that my mom probably stayed up and worried about us—like all moms do—and that my dad probably was concerned about: “Will they really believe what they are hearing on the weekends? Is it real in their lives?”
But the greatest thing that my parents did for us was they lived out their faith. I think that a lot of our friends didn’t have the benefit of having parents that were authentic. I think Josh and I were very, very blessed to have the benefit of parents that preached one thing on the weekends but also worked really, really hard to live it out on the weekdays.
Josh: Absolutely. It makes you just go: “I want that! I’ve tried these other things, and I want that.”
Bob: Well, it’s interesting because the research that we’ve seen says that young people, who are moving away from the faith—one of the things they point back to is—it wasn’t real at home.
Bob: “We went to church. We did all—we went through the motions,” but they didn’t have the real experience of seeing a mom and dad who were really living/walking by faith. Those kids who did—that sticks with them in a way that what you hear in Sunday school doesn’t stick with you.
Ryan: That’s true. But you know, Bob, I had to think that if someone’s listening to this—it’s a parent that really cares about their son or daughter—and so, our message to them is just: “We want to encourage you. If you have a child that seems like they are kind of off the path, and they are not really engaged in church—we just want to encourage you that God is faithful and that your patience will continue to pay off.”
Josh: And I would also add—
—just as a challenge to any parents—to be honest and open with their children about that they can come to them with these doubts / they can talk about them. I would encourage parents to be open about their own imperfections.
I think a lot of times—for Ryan and me, growing up—even though our parents lived out what they believed, they weren’t as open, sometimes, about when they made mistakes or when something went wrong. And seeing that, and seeing in hindsight how much that can speak about the relationship with the Lord, I wish it would have happened more often.
Dennis: Both of you guys have done a good job speaking to the parents. There has to be, right now, a single man / single woman—maybe, it’s a married man / married woman—they are in the woods / they are lost. They are coming to grips with their own emptiness. Which of the two of you wants to have the heart-to-heart conversation with that man / with that woman and call them out of the woods to come into the light?
Josh: If you are in that spot that Dennis just described, I would just encourage you:
The Lord loves you right where you are at. You don’t have to have any shame or any regret about anything you’ve done—the Lord’s mercy is just boundless. It doesn’t—you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to get things going and then start picking up the pieces for the Lord to start moving in your life.
In this moment—in this very moment, right now, I would just challenge you to just talk to the Lord—to just pray and say: “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner. You’re the Lord of this world. You’re the Lord of my life. I’m broken, and I’m a sinner. I need Your mercy.” And not out of shame—not out of regret / not out of the fact that there is no other option, even though we desperately need it—but out of joy because He wants you to experience knowing Him.
I would just challenge you to confess these things to the Lord and just ask for Him to draw you close. I guarantee you—you will see opportunities in your life to find life change, but don’t worry about changing your life right now. Just focus on knowing Jesus, the only person who can change lives.
Dennis: And no matter what you’ve done, it’s never too late to surrender—
Dennis: —to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Dennis: He delights, in His grace and mercy, of meeting us where we are and beginning the process of making us into what He wants us to be.
Bob: I’m sure you’ve met people who have read your book and have said: “Your story is my story. I’ve had the same experience of finding myself with doubts, or confusion, or questions, or pulled away from my faith by a desire for what I thought would give me life.”
You guys address that head-on in the book you’ve written, which is called Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
I’d encourage our listeners—go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get more information about how you can order a copy of Ryan and Josh Shook’s book, Firsthand. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” and the information about the book is available right there. You can order, online, if you’d like; or if you’d prefer to order by phone, our toll-free number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, here in the United States, it is the Memorial Day holiday where we pause and reflect and remember those who have given their lives in service for our country and for us. It’s a good day to be with family and a good day to remember the sacrifice of so many.
We want to take just a minute and add our word of “Thank you,” to those of you who are in military families—those of you who may have a family member who has made the ultimate sacrifice. We are grateful for that individual’s service on our behalf.
And I hope you can join us back tomorrow. We are going to, again, talk to Josh and Ryan Shook about how you make a secondhand faith a firsthand faith. Hope you can tune in for that.
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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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