When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Jeff Myers
When kids pose tough questions about a complex world—what's it look like to parent well? Author and Summit Ministries president Jeff Myers helps parents set the stage for authentic faith that goes the distance.
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Author and Summit Ministries president Jeff Myers helps parents set the stage for authentic faith when kids ask tough questions.
When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Jeff Myers
Dave: Being a pastor and preaching almost weekly for 30 years, I noticed around 2010 or 2012, preaching totally changed. I saw people on their phones.—
Ann: —as you’re preaching—
Dave: —I’m hoping they’re taking notes. A 20-year-old, maybe, a college kid, came up one time, and he said this, “I checked what you were saying while you were preaching. You know, there’s other opinions on that.” [Laughter] And I said, “I know! I’ve studied those other opinions.” In real time, while you’re preaching—by the time you’re done with that sermon—they can already decide, “I don’t agree,” and “I think he’s wrong,” and “I don’t think that truth is even truth.” That’s a different world that you’re speaking into than when I started the church in 1990.
Ann: Yes, it is. It’s really different.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We’re going to talk today about truth in this world. We’ve got Dr. Jeff Myers with us. As the President of Summit Ministries, this is sort of the world you live in, right?
Jeff: We have a world where 75 percent of Millennials say, “What I think works for me, and what is best for my life, is the only truth I can know.”
Jeff: And up to 90 percent of Americans are saying, “If you want to find truth, the best place to look is inside of yourself.”
Ann: Wait, wait, wait! 90 percent of Americans are saying, “You can find truth within,”—
Jeff: —“…find it within self,” “You find it within yourself.”
Ann: —90 percent!
Jeff: We’re from Colorado. Our little town where our ministry’s located is Manitou Springs—it’s a little hippy town, right at the foot of Pike’s Peak. It is on the edge of Pike National Forest. When you hike in Pike National Forest, you can get a lot more lost than you realize. [Laughter] You take a compass with you. And the compass, if you use it properly, points you toward a truth that is outside of yourself. Imagine somebody going out in the wilderness with a compass, and saying, “You know, I just always make sure the red needle always points toward me. That way I know where I am.” [Laughter]
Those people are probably still out there. They’ll never be rescued.
Dave and Ann: Yes.
Jeff: Because if truth is inside of you, the first reaction you have is: “This is so great! I am sovereign over my own life.” The next immediate reaction is: “Oh no! I am sovereign over my own life. That means everything that is wrong with me is my fault, and no one can help me.” We have a whole generation that has become infatuated with the idea that we speak our truth rather than seek the Truth, and it has led to a whole lot of misery.
Dave: Tell us a little bit about Summit Ministries, about what you do. And I’d love to know, how did you get into this? We’re going to dive into the world we live in, and how this applies, but give us a foundation: “Why do you do what you do?” and “What do you do?”
Jeff: Well, our mission at Summit is to prepare them so that when they go off to a college or university, they get stronger in their biblical worldview rather than weaker over time. We can, in the course of a two-week long training program, move young adults, who are coming to us—about one percent of young adults have a biblical worldview in this culture. By the time they leave, about 94 percent have a biblical worldview. Even one year, five years, ten years later, 85 percent of them have a biblical worldview.
When they come for two weeks, they have the opportunity to learn from major Christian-thought leaders. We’re bringing in the top Christian apologists, but also, philosophers and economists. That’s what’s so interesting to a lot of the students: “Oh, wait a second! You mean a biblical Christian faith applies when I go to my history class?” “It applies when I go to my political science class?” or “—sociology class? or “—psychology class?” The answer is, “Yes.”
The students develop this sense of calmness—a desire to look; to go back into the Christian tradition—but also, especially, and most importantly, back into Scripture to understand the times in which they live.
Ann: I remember [when] I was a freshman at the University of Kentucky; it was the first time I was exposed to Summit Ministries. I can’t remember if it was a video, but somewhere, I was in some study, that they were playing some of the material. [I was] brand-new in my faith. I had not grown up in a Christian home, but I thought, “This is something to stand on; a foundation of Christ.” I felt like, “I can be proud to walk in class, because I have answers.”
Kids today are feeling like, “I can come up with my own answer.” To know that there is biblical truth that they can stand on, that is an absolute—that’s like a bad word these days!
Ann: “It’s an absolute truth.” They say, “No, it can’t be.” I love this ministry. And today, we’re talking about your book, Truth Changes Everything. I love the subtitle: How People of Faith Can Transform the World in Times of Crisis. You’re passionate about this. We all feel it. Where did that come from?
Jeff: I attended the Summit Ministries program when I was graduating high school. I did not want to do it. I thought it would be fine to go to Colorado for two weeks—thought that would be great—but I had grown up in Detroit, Michigan. It was rough! We were three miles from the chaos. We saw all kinds of things. I remember cowering under my bed at the sound of a gunshot in the streets.
My parents decided to move back to their roots in Kansas and Oklahoma, which meant moving from a large city to a small town, a big church to a little church. We’re in this little country church; I knew the people loved me. They were wonderful people. But then, I got involved in the high school debate team. We would spend Fridays and Saturdays at debate tournaments. “Oh, what do you think about Friedrich Nietzsche?” We used to talk about all these nerdy things.
Jeff: I go back to church and ask, “Hey, what do Christians say about Friedrich Nietzsche?” They said, “Fred who? We never heard of that guy.”
Jeff: “Does he run the car dealership?” [Laughter] It was easy for me to conclude, in my arrogant teenage state, that because the Christians I knew didn’t have the answers, therefore, Christianity did not have answers.
Jeff: So, I decided I would very quietly, when I graduated high school, I would graduate from church.
Ann: Do you think a lot of kids are thinking that today?
Jeff: Seventy percent, I believe. It’s an issue of plausibility. If you kind of imagine what you actually see in the world is actually in a box; it’s all framed. Christianity is outside of that box for most of these kids. Now, you can say, “Oh, but you need to think of it as plausible. It’s like on a channel that they can’t get. They don’t even see it.”
That’s where I was, I was thinking, “I love these people; I know they love me. I really want to love Jesus, but I need to know. All this stuff is happening in my culture—you know, I’m on the debate team—we’re looking at international politics; we’re looking at domestic politics; we’re looking at issues of sexuality and all these different things.” When the church is silent on those topics, young adults conclude that Christianity has nothing to say about them. That’s where I was. So, my parents arranged for me to attend a two-week Summit Ministries program.
Ann: Were they worried about you? Did you voice some of your skepticism to them? You said it was a secret.
Jeff: I wanted to not be rude about it. I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. But I just didn’t think that a Christian worldview was plausible. I think my parents picked up on it. They heard about the two-week Summit Ministries program; a scholarship was available, and my father loves scholarships. [Laughter]
Dave: Don’t we all? [Laughter]
Jeff: So, I attended the two-week program. I walked right in the front door of this antique hotel, where the programs were held—and still are held to this day—in little hippy Manitou Springs, Colorado. I saw David Noebel there, and I said, “I hope you have a lot of answers, because I have a lot of questions.” [Laughter] He said, “At Summit, we aren’t afraid of questions.”
Let that sink in for a moment what that does for a kid. Number one, it calms you down right away: “It’s okay to have questions.” Secondly, it gives you a sense of confidence: “These people are not afraid of my questions.” Third, it allows you to realize: “I need to grow. If I’m going to actually ask these questions, I need to be honest in finding the answers.” And it was through that program that I came to faith in Jesus Christ.
Jeff: It changed the trajectory of my entire life. Now, I have the privilege of leading that program and watching that happen with thousands and thousands of young people every year.
Dave: Wow! How many years ago?
Jeff: Forty years ago.
Dave and Ann: Wow.
Dave: Do you remember—what was it that turned the light on for you? I mean, I guess a lot of things, but is there something you can pinpoint?
Jeff: Finding people who weren’t afraid of my questions, but who would seek for answers, introducing me to people like C.S. Lewis and Carl Henry; and people who were thinking of creation versus evolution, those kinds of topics; that really helped me.
But I think there was something more. It’s hard for me to put a finger on exactly what this is, but it was a sense that truth and relationship came together. Because I had known a lot of people who believed what they believed was true, and they pounded it.
Jeff: Then I had other people who were like, “You know what? Let’s just all agree to disagree.” It just all felt so wishy-washy. I was never into that. When I saw truth and relationship come together—these people not only are seeking the truth, but they are people who really care—that’s what made the difference.
Dave: You said when you got there, they said, “We welcome your questions; we like questions; we’re not afraid of them.” Here’s what I thought: how do we, as parents, do the same thing with our kids? Because our kids in our home, are you, and they’re me! I did the same thing. You know, Jeff, when I got to college—
I grew up in a single parent home, where my mom took me to church almost every week. The day I left for college, I [said], “I’m done; not going!” It wasn’t—well, it was partly moral. I didn’t want to live that moral lifestyle—but I would tell you today it was that I didn’t believe it. I thought, “These people don’t really—they’re not thinkers.” I’m not saying I’m the greatest thinker in the world, but I thought, “I’m smarter than all of them. The evidence isn’t there,”—blah, blah, blah—so, I left the church and never went again.
And then, even after Ann and I got married, and we came on staff with a Christian organization that we work for now, Cru®—one year in, I woke up one day and said, “What have we done with our lives?! I don’t even know if this is true. Maybe this is all a hoax!” She looked at me and said, “You better get answers.” [Laughter]
When my kids—you know, we had three sons; when they—hit middle school ages and started asking hard questions, I’m like, “Let’s go! These are great questions.”
Ann: And I’m lying in bed, worrying, “Oh, no!” Dave’s like, “These are such good questions. I’m so glad you’re asking those questions.” That was good for me.
Dave: I think a lot of parents are afraid of those questions, or they just sort of crawl in a hole, and they just pretend that their sons and daughters aren’t asking them. What should a parent do?
Jeff: Recognize that questions are being asked by your kids. They are, whether [or not] they’re asking them aloud of you, they are asking them. These big questions I am referring to are everything from, “What is actually real? How do we know?” all the way to, “Am I loved? Is there anyone who loves me for who I am and not just for what I can do for them?” to, “What should I do with my life?” They’re not finding answers in the culture. Seventy-five percent of young adults today say they do not have a sense of purpose that gives meaning to their lives.
Jeff: Fifty percent regularly struggle with anxiety and depression. Coming out of Covid, we’ve noticed a really dramatic increase in the spiritual warfare for the minds and hearts of the students we work with; dramatic.
The questions are being asked. What can we do as parents? I think that’s really the heart of your question.
Dave and Ann: Yes, right.
Jeff: We have to create an environment where our kids feel safe to talk about these big things. A child will usually not bring up something if they think you’ll be disappointed. You’ve got to create an environment where you say, “Look, I know there are all sorts of questions that you have—maybe even things you’re afraid to talk with me about, because you’re not sure how I’m going to react. I just want you to know I’m going to do my best to be the sort of person you can trust to talk to about these things.”
And then, kids are different. I have four children—some of them, you could say, “How was your day?” and you’ll get an entire dissertation. [Laughter] Others, you’re like, “How was your day?” “Fine.” You have to draw out every word. I’ve learned to ask questions, like:
“I don’t understand…”—don’t ever underestimate the power of playing dumb—“I don’t understand. Can you help me understand?”
“Hey, listen, this is something I heard about on the news. Do any of your teachers talk about this at school? What do they say?”
“I’ve heard this song, and it seems like it’s really popular right now. I don’t understand it at all. It’s not the kind of song I grew up liking. Can you help me understand why people like this?” or “…this video game,” or whatever it is.
I was desperate, as a dad, to find those kinds of things. At one point, I said to my kids, “Hey, I need a new song for my running playlist. I’m getting tired of the songs I have on there. Do you have any songs that you think would be good for a running playlist that you guys are listening to these days?” One of them is like [with deepened voice], “You mean slow songs?” [Laughter] I said, “Yes. Yes, thanks.” But they gave me all their songs, then I could run and listen to the cultural influences on my children. It opened up new ways to talk.
Maybe, for a lot—music is one way—what are the videos? “Why is everybody watching TikTok? I don’t understand.” That kind of thing really helps them, because then you’re child’s like, “You know what? My parent doesn’t know anything. I’ve got to help bring them into the 21st Century here a little bit.” [Laughter] That creates a balance and a quality that allows conversations to take place.
Dave: Yes, that’s good!
Jeff: But the second thing is, you can’t be a shock-able person.
Ann: You can’t freak out.
Jeff: You cannot freak out. You can expect, in these times, at some point, your child’s going to say, “I think I am actually a girl in a boy’s body,” or something like that. You cannot freak out. You have to ask, “Tell me what happened that causes you to see yourself the way you do?” and those sorts of things. When parents can do that, which is terribly difficult, because you have so much at stake in this child being safe and turning out okay, that if it doesn’t look like it’s okay, it’s nerve-wracking.
Ann: And even when they share their views and their beliefs, to not harp in, like, “Are you kidding me?!” [Laughter] That’s what I could tend to do. It just shuts them down immediately, and they’ll never open up again. Even if you do freak out, come back and say, “I’m really sorry I freaked out. I don’t want to do that. I want to understand who you are, what you’re feeling, what you’re going through.” Because kids want a relationship with their parents, but they probably feel like, “Will you love me if you know all of my doubts and fears?”
Dave: I think, sometimes, parents are afraid to dialogue on, especially, theology and worldview, because even when you’re talking earlier, Jeff, I thought, there are parents saying, “I want to go to Summit!”
Dave: “I don’t want just my kids to go! I don’t know the answers to these questions.”
I think sometimes we’re hesitant, because we’re like, “If they bring up something difficult, I do not know the answer. I don’t know the Bible very well. I don’t have a biblical—I don’t know what a biblical worldview is.”
Dave: Is that true as well? Can you help a parent, right now? What is a biblical worldview? Where can a parent start?
Jeff: When I use the term “worldview”—and I know it’s controversial, I’m referring to a pattern of ideas of beliefs, of convictions, and of habits that flow from that idea. If you start with the idea: “Is there a God?” Okay, some people would say there is a God or there isn’t a God. But what you believe about God will affect what you believe about reality itself.
I know it sounds crazy, but there are people in this country—probably half—who believe in God, but think that God is a cosmic force, not a person. “Reality doesn’t really exist the way we think it does.” That’s what they hold to. These people are influencing popular culture. What you believe about God affects what you believe about reality, which affects what you believe about what’s right and wrong, which affects what you believe about the value of life, which affects what you believe about what makes a healthy person, what makes a healthy society, political structures, legal structures, and so forth.
You look for patterns:
If you’re in athletics, you’re looking for patterns all of the time. “What are the patterns of play that we will use to try to obtain victory?” “What are the patterns of play our opponents use to try to obtain victory?” and “How do we counteract those?”
In business, same thing. You get into a business, and you’re looking for patterns: “What leads to success for people in this field?”
The same thing is true of ideas. That’s what I mean by a biblical worldview. I know that makes it sound a lot more complicated than it really is. Most of the books I’m writing these days are for parents and the adult caregivers: pastors, youth pastors, teachers, and so forth, so they know how to give an account of biblical truth. But you do not have to know all the answers, and you do not want to be making them up. [Laughter] It is so much better.
Think about earlier; we were thinking about, “How do you get conversation going with your kids?” How better to get the conversation going than to say, “I don’t know. Let’s look into it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s see if we can come up with some answers.”
Ann: Let’s say their resource—the place they go—is YouTube. “I’ve been watching this guy on YouTube, and this is what he says.” How do you refute that if you don’t believe that has a biblical viewpoint?
Jeff: I wanted my children to grow up with discernment, and that means they can’t just look to me to determine whether something is better or worse.
Jeff: I wanted them to develop that, so I would ask questions like, “What did they say in the video? What do you think about that? What do you think that is based on? Where did that come from? What do you think is best? How would you look at this from a biblical perspective?” It’s usually on that last question that it’s really confusing: “I don’t know. I mean, the Bible is 66 different books written over the course of 1,500 years by 40 different authors. How am I supposed to know what the Bible’s answer is to this question?”
Then, you can start to dig in a little bit. At Summit Ministries—our website’s Summit.org, we have all these resources that are available there for you to help you figure out how to find answers to those questions. But first of all, you have to discern. So, if someone says, “Oh, you know, I think Socialism is great. I would vote for a socialist for President.”
“Well, what is socialism?” “According to Carl Marx, it’s the abolition of private property. What does he mean?” “The best way to have a good society is everybody divide up everything.” “Why would you do that?”
Well, because he believed that only the material world exists: there’s no God; there’s no Jesus; there’s no Holy Spirit; there’s no heaven; there’s no hell. There’s only the material world. If only the material world exists, and we are equal as human beings, then it isn’t fair. Any one person who has something more than anyone else stole it. Unless you understand that core assumption, you can’t understand how to deal with that worldview, which is dominant in the culture.
The same thing would be true about issues of sexuality, transgenderism, and so forth. All make assumptions about the world that they do not prove and for which there is not evidence. But the messaging is so powerful that it makes it seem as if, “This has to be true, and anybody who disagrees is not thinking well.”
Dave: If your son or daughter—teenage, college, whatever age—says, “I don’t believe. I know you raised me, Mom and Dad, to believe in Jesus. I thought I did. I just don’t anymore.” How does a parent respond?
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dr. Jeff Myers on FamilyLife Today. Wow! I really want to hear how Jeff responds to that.
We’re going to get to his answer in just a second, but first, Dr. Jeff Myers has written a book called Truth Changes Everything: How People of Faith Can Transform the World in Times of Crisis. You know, we’re living in a society where many people believe that truth is subjective and unknowable. Dr. Myers, in this book, explores how individuals in the past who embraced and championed absolute truth actually made a significant positive impact in the various aspects of their life and in the communities that they were in. It offered hope in turbulent times. You can pick up a copy of Dr. Myers’ book, Truth Changes Everything, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can get our link in the show notes, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Dr. Myers is the President of an organization called Summit Ministries. They’re doing a great job at helping students understand not only their faith, but also apologetics. You can check them out by finding out more and clicking our link in the show notes.
Okay, I had this scenario happen to a friend of mine, who had a son come home for Christmas his freshman year of college and say that he didn’t believe anymore to his parents, my friend. What would Dr. Myers say to that? Let’s listen.
Jeff: I’m putting myself in the position of that parent. I first want to say:
“Thank you for talking with me about this. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to think that we would have this conversation, because you probably knew that I would be disappointed. I want you to know that I love you and that I am glad that you are in a search for truth. Let’s not stop the search until we find Truth. If you examine biblical doctrine and apologetics closely, and you’re convinced on the evidence that this is not true, that would be much better, because that’s where I want to be as well. I want to be sure; I want to be sure.
So, what are some of the big questions that have led you to where you are?”
Then I would make a list. I do this with my students all the time. [Laughter] At Summit Ministries, we tell them: “Bring your questions with you.” Some of them literally do. I mean, they are so nerdy: “I’ve got 46 questions I want to ask.” [Laughter] But that’s what we want, okay?
“Will you write them out? Will you be willing to let me find some answers alongside of you? Just because somebody’s got a camera and can make a YouTube video—that’s great. It may sound good, but how do we know that’s really true? So. let’s do some of this search for truth together.”
Shelby: When our kids are asking difficult questions, or pushing back on what we’ve taught them, how can we advance and engage with them rather than retreat? It’s an important question. Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be with Dr. Jeff Myers again tomorrow to talk about just that and so much more. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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