How do you avoid making someone a “project?”

Basic Theology

Verity ’22 Streaming Access

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This November we were so excited to bring back the third annual Verity Conference located in Petoskey, Michigan. 250+ women came from all around the United States to join us in person, and over 200 women watched online around the world. We were so excited to celebrate Jesus with you and to talk about theology and evangelism and apologetics. So far, your feedback has been amazing. So thank you for making Verity Conference 2022 a wonderful experience for everyone. This recording is from the question-and-answer panel with myself, Pricelis Perreaux-Dominguez of Full Collective, and Jeremy Jenkins, of All Things All People. It was emceed by Johnny Whitcomb, the next generation pastor of Genesis Petoskey. If you would like the full recording of the conference, including all of the keynotes, you can grab the entire conference recording for $29. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the Verity Conference Q&A panel. 

John: First of all, let’s welcome to the stage Jeremy Jenkins, the Executive Director for All Things All People, which explores the darkest places and worldviews and equips Christians on how to best engage with such worldviews. We’re also going to have Pricelis, who is the founder and CEO of the Full Collective. And then last but not least, certainly, Phylicia Masonheimer, who wants you all to be theologians. 

Pricelis: And our question-asker today will be Johnny.

John: Pricelis, can you please pray over us? 

Pricelis: Absolutely. Thank you, Father. I’m just really grateful, Lord. I’m grateful that you have placed questions in our hearts and in our minds, that we are willing to acknowledge how big you are, and that this journey of knowing you and getting to know you is endless; it keeps going. I pray that you would continue to ignite curiosity in us, that we will continue to be people who ask questions. I pray that you would cover us as we minister and communicate and that there would be receptive ears and hearts here today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John: Okay, panelists, let’s get into it. First question. How do you keep from the mentality of making someone—or a relationship with someone—a project? 

Pricelis: So, I talked a little bit about this in my keynote. The idea is that we are not saviors. So, when we acknowledge that we are not, then we let Jesus do his thing and we just serve people and love people to the capacity and to the extent that we can. I think we pass our own boundaries sometimes trying to help people, and when that happens we need to take a pause and say, “All right, Lord, you’ve got the rest of the road.” Because to treat people as projects is actually not giving them dignity, because you are saying that they are less-than in some way, or that they need to be fixed. We all need to be fixed. That’s why we need Jesus.

John: Absolutely. Is there anything anybody would want to add to that? 

Phylicia: I think anytime we fall into this savior complex it is evident that we are not relying on the Holy Spirit, because He is the one who is doing the work. So, if you are sensing the urgency or the anxiety that you’ve got to be the one to do this, then you can use that as a cue to know that you’re relying on your own strength.

Jeremy: Pricelis, in her keynote, talked about the phrase, “remember your testimony.” I think about when I was in high school. I grew up in a really Christian community, and you would hear the term “missionary dating.” Maybe many of you participated in that in some form or fashion. But we have a tendency to do that even in our friendships, especially those of us who are in ministry, whether it is vocational or just a calling. But I would encourage you, as Pricelis said, to remember your testimony. I remember coming to faith because Dane and Jade Lundgren, who are my youth pastors at my church, just seemed to have a genuine interest in me. And most of the impactful moments were not moments that they manufactured. I would be out on a run and I would stop by their apartment. I would interrupt their life, and they would welcome me into their house. And if they were eating a meal, they would let me sit down. I never realized as a 14-year-old kid, “I’m really messing up their life…” [laughter] but just think about that. As Pricelis said, remember your testimony. Remember how good it felt that someone genuinely was interested in you. And do unto others as you would have done to yourself. So, don’t missionary date, don’t missionary minister. Be a missionary, but don’t manufacture relationships so that you can make somebody look more like you.

John: I love it. Okay, so this is kind of the inverse of that a little bit, because I’m sure you guys all do feel the conviction for discipleship and for holy living. So, what do you do if there is somebody in your life who thinks that acknowledging God or trying to be a virtuous good person means they are a Christian? How do you speak to somebody who thinks they get it, but you’re not sure that they do?

Phylicia: This goes back to the story of my bus driver friend. That was totally his perspective. I think most people’s perspective in this world is “I try to be a good person.” It’s honestly kind of astonishing how works-based the world is. People say, “I just have to be a good person and then I’ll get to heaven.” Our default is works-based. We often say that with Christians, but even the world is works-based. So, when someone says, “I have to be a good person,” I try to go back to one of two things. I either talk about the effort they have to put in to get there, and the fact that you can’t ever perfectly be good. Like, what’s the standard for good? And how can you get there? 

Secondly, I try to talk about the rift between us and God—that separation. That’s the angle I took when I talked with Darren, the bus driver. It was, “I understand that you want to know God and be with him after death. There’s a longing within you for that, but there’s a rift there. And that’s because of the brokenness of this world and the sin that affects you. But there’s good news; the rift can be closed.” So I go from that angle of either we think we’re better than we are and we think we can get there when we can’t, or concentrating on that existing rift. What about you, Pricelis?

Pricelis: I would walk that person together through scriptures that describe what a Christian actually is. I think that question you asked is very much saying in general, “God is just looking for us to be good and nice.” But to be Christian is to be a follower of Christ; this used to be called “the way.” There’s a historical and biblical understanding of what a Christian is. And so, we all have our opinions; the word “Christian” can mean a lot of different things today. But let’s ask the person, “What does the Bible say a Christian is? Let’s go from there. And maybe you’re not living out some of these parts. Maybe I’m not living them out either. Let’s work on that together.” But it should be the Bible that defines that for us. 

Jeremy: Yeah. And to add to that, on the front end we have a historic orthodox definition of what it means to be a follower. But at the same time, I am a pastor in the Bible Belt. And so much of my experience has been pastoring people who have been a Christian longer than I’ve been alive. So sometimes you need to ask really self-evaluative questions like, “Is your faith alive and active?” I use the example of a ball of dough. It might not seem like it’s alive, but the yeast in there is going to make it rise. So, we need to call people and ourselves to self-evaluation—to say “You observe doctrine and you are willing to say creeds, but do you have a life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control? If you don’t—and we may or may not have the place to say this—this is the diagnosis. When you walked that aisle, it wasn’t legitimate. I don’t know that we always need to be the person to say that. But we do need to realize that if a person meets that definition, then automatically, we know the diagnosis.

I think we just need to be willing—starting with ourselves—to call that person to a self-evaluation that might lead to life-changing repentance. From the front end to the back end, there are things that are going to de-facto happen. It’s always going to look different, but if you are a believer and if you are part of a community of believers, there are some things that no matter what culture, part of the country, or part of the world, there should be some things that are always present. And if they’re not, then there’s a problem.

John: Phylicia, I want to unpack just one more thing. When you said even the secular world is very works-based, unpack some of the language that we can use within our church and outside of our church. How can we be self-diagnostic as to what we’re hearing? And what is really at the heart of it? 

Phylicia: When I’m talking to and discipling someone in person who is completely not a believer—they’re not in the church or maybe have never been in the church—I’m listening for their idea of their value as a human. Where is their value coming from? A lot of times it’s something like, “If I’m kind, if I do good things, I feel peace with the universe.” And a lot of times, I’ll let them talk for a bit and then I’ll ask, “Well, what defines good to you? Or what does peace feel like?” There’s a ministry associated with Genesis Church called Start to Stir in the United Kingdom. And they do amazing work asking great questions like this. And in asking those questions, it helps you figure out, “Where are you getting your value? And how do you think your actions have eternal significance?” Once I can nail that down, then I can see their perspective on it. There’s a freeing perspective where you don’t have to be the one to do the work. God has already done the work for you, and you rest in it. Does that answer the question? 

John: Absolutely. Thank you. 

Pricelis: I want to say too, this also applies in the world of justice. I think it shows up in protests. And in different ways while I’ve protested I’ve done something good—I’ve stood up for people. But if you don’t actually believe that every person you are standing up for has dignity, that you love them, that they can have access to Christ, and that they should be loved and seen…then your protest doesn’t matter. 

So, the works of the world… We can be Christians and protest and do all these different kinds of things, but if it’s work based or performative and it’s not biblically based, then it really has no purpose. And although we could see some be seemingly effective, in some ways it has no use. This shows up in so many different areas of the world where people think they’re doing good.

John: I think it’s absolutely right because we are balancing orthodoxy (right thinking, right doctrine) and orthopraxy (what we’re actually putting into practice with our lives). I’ve spent about four years here in Petoskey. But I spent the previous four years in Chicago, and it’s similar, I hear. A lot of good orthodoxy, but there’s not a lot of orthopraxy here—we’re pretty comfortable. Whereas I would say in Chicago what I saw is lots of good practice, but without any firm faith underneath it. And so, it was really just striving to keep up with the culture. I would ask, “What are they angry about? Okay, I want to be angry about that. What are they concerned about? I want to be concerned about that.” It was interesting to see both sides of that spectrum. Who has God placed on your hearts as people who you want to advocate for? And then what does that advocacy look like? Because I want to be an advocate. How do we do it?

Pricelis: Yeah, I think this question is so powerful, and it is one that we should ask ourselves. Because we can’t be all things for all people. We’re not called to all the things, because then nothing will get done. So, for me specifically, I’m called to those who have been wounded by the church. And I also feel called to Christians who really care about the justice God communicates but perhaps are confused by worldly justice versus biblical justice. And then I’m also called to women who want to grow in their calling and are just unsure what that looks like and perhaps are stuck in it. So those are the three groups that I like to advocate for, support, help, and create resources for.

Jeremy: So, for me, I’ve never classified what I do as advocacy with All Things All People, but I do find myself growing very frustrated with the church and how they talk about non-believers. And it’s interesting how often I find myself advocating for lost people to Christians. I just say, “No, you can’t reduce them. You can’t trivialize their concerns.” We’re all in the world of social media. And just a couple days ago I made a reel about a question that a really antagonistic nonbeliever had asked me, and I felt prompted to say, “Hey, this is a really important question.” So, advocating for the use of some sort of sympathy for people who don’t believe in Jesus. Can you think of any reasons why they might not? 

Pricelis talks extensively about church hurt. As a pastor, I look at that as advocacy work. And I kind of do the same thing. Can I think of any reasons why we have a generation of young men and women who have walked away from the church? And so I want to try to push the church to say, “Yeah, I guess I can understand it a little bit.” All of a sudden, your ministry is a lot more fruitful. And so I’m by no means advocating for secular worldviews or things like that. But just for the listening aspect. Why don’t you actually give them a minute and try to understand where they’re coming from? Although I’d never thought about it as advocacy.

Phylicia: Well. Obviously, I’m an advocate for every woman to be a theologian. But more specifically, I believe that I can’t teach what I’m not doing. So, I have encouraged you all to go be in your local communities and be doing this in real life. That is something that I really am an advocate for—involvement in my community. Do I know people in my community who I am actively discipling who don’t know Jesus? Am I friends with people who are not believers? When you’re in ministry in a church or parachurch organization, it can be so easy to become insulated from the very people you are supposed to be reaching. And you end up just ministering and sending others out to do the work you’re not doing anymore. And I don’t want that to ever be the case. 

Then the second one is a subgroup within Every Woman a Theologian of people coming out of legalism. The reason I am passionate about this is that legalism is the farm team (incubator) for deconstruction. And when you have a legalistic, oppressive church environment, it creates perpetual lifelong baby believers who have been spoon fed all of this information, and then when they suddenly get out there, they’re hurt. And then Pricelis is ministering to them down the road when they’re crushed and hurt and wounded. But if way back here, when they’re just leaving legalism, we can walk with them on that road, then oftentimes the Lord can prevent them from completely falling apart later on. So, people coming out of legalism—they have my heart.

John: Wow, good. You said, “Let’s do this in the context of community.” So, we’re going to shift gears for this next question. It says, “I’m new to an area and struggling to make friends. Many people are in established groups already. So they’ve got their crew. Two years in, and I’m struggling to stay encouraged and keep trying. What practical tips do you have to keep persisting and finding and building relationships? How should I be examining myself to consider what might make me seem unapproachable, unavailable, or something else?”

Phylicia: This kind of goes back to what Mikayla said last night, which is that married people are weird. They like to do things together. I don’t know if this person is married or single, but I think we do get comfortable in our groups. And we think we don’t need more friends, so we just don’t open up the group to other people. And during the church greeting time we just go to the people we know. We don’t like to open it up. And I think for this person in this situation, you can’t change those people. And this is going to sound like the “spiritual trump card,” but I have truly been in this season for years, and I have prayed faithfully, “God, please bring me community, bring me people who share my values, who share the life I want to live.” And He has answered that. But it takes time. It sounds like this person has already been so faithful to try and open their home. But I would also say, practically speaking, if these are the people in their church who are acting this way, you may want to try a Bible study from another church or a community Bible study detached from that church. Or try activities where you are inviting people over who maybe are not in these particular circles. Be open to working with other circles or combining circles.

Up here in Petoskey, we have a lot of smaller groups of Christians and non-Christians who get together, but they cross pollinate, if you will. We all kind of know each other. And, yes, you have your deeper friends, but you’re still connecting across those groups. So having that person who is willing, who’s not separating people into groups that go to this church or that church, is important. This is just being above the clique and being like, “I’m going to have all of you over, and we’re all just going to make it work.” But praying for that and letting God do that has been really pivotal for me. 

John: Absolutely. Jeremy, you said this in your talk, “Stay fascinated with people. Ask good questions.” 

Jeremy: So, I’m probably the worst person to ask this question. I’m horrible at making friends. I’ve been at the same church for 12 years. My best friends are the guys that I serve with, and they’re like family. So, I probably can address this from the other side of those of you who are maybe cliqued up. My wife Courtney is extremely hospitable, and I’ve seen a lot of fruit from what Phylicia talks about, which is hospitality as ministry. I have a really small social battery. I get worn out pretty easily, but I want to learn people. I had a really great friend who for 10 years was an insurance salesman. And so, I now know about as much about insurance as he does, because when we would sit and I didn’t feel the urge to be friendly, I just tried to learn as much as I possibly could about him. 

I’ll say this, you have to combat cliquing in your churches. And it goes from the children’s ministry to the senior adult Sunday school. It’s something I have become painfully aware of as a pastor. Our church actually in the last few years has really started to fight against this, because for a long time we weren’t good at welcoming new people into true genuine fellowship.

My wife Courtney, leads our women’s ministry. And our women’s ministry does this thing called table groups. It’s basically where a woman opens her home and there’s no Bible study. So many people are intimidated by Bible study, and people are intimidated by leading Bible studies. There are two or three questions that each week that they ask each other at table groups. And our church has been changed by that. Every single woman in our church knows each other. And so guess what? Their husbands are changed now. We have two guys in our church that are like me, they don’t make friends easily. But they’re like brothers now. The other day I said, “Hey, how did they become so close?” Courtney kind of smiled and said, “Their wives were in table groups with each other.” We probably have a lot of people here today leading in some form or fashion. You really have to contend against this because questions like this have generational impacts. That person’s children likely feel disenfranchised too, and so as leaders, we have to be keenly aware of that.

John: Yeah. I think when you arrive in a church, it can’t be all about you. If I’m establishing the church, I’m looking out towards other people. We have a thing here at Genesis called LED, which stands for Look (be on the lookout for people who are new), Engage (strike up a conversation, extend that hand, give that hug), and then Direct (as you engage them, ask them questions. What are you about? Who are you? What do you do? Are you new here? Have you been coming for two months, and I just spaced out and didn’t see you yet? I’m so sorry. And then direct them to other people they can connect with). LED, Look, Engage, Direct. 

Pricelis: In New York City, so many of my close friends left in 2020. I thought it was going to be temporary. Now they’re gone, and I’m glad for them where they are living. But, in regard to closeness with those who are in person around me, I really learned to just value quality over quantity. I was like, “Oh, Lord, I’ve got two. I’ve still got two. We’ll see each other as much as we can.” 

Another thing I’ve witnessed through my ministry is that so many women have become best friends through coming to my retreats. It’s not things I have done; I’ve just created the space. They have connected in that space, and from there they have built a relationship. So, you’re here today. This is a space where this can exist. Last night you all had introductions to get to know each other. In these kinds of spaces, if you’re intentional when you come, you can create community and make friends. There are so many of you who I’ve been chatting with who live less than half an hour from each other. So, find one another and if you hear about someone, connect them. I met two Donna’s, and I connected them. I was like, “Hey, Donna, do you know Donna?” Like John said, connect one another with each other. We get to help one another in that way too.

John: Amen. Okay, Full Collective. Is that a full-time thing for you? Or do you do social work a little bit? 

Pricelis: I just finished working full-time social work to stay home with my baby. So, we’ll see if I pick it up again.

John: Okay. So, there are a lot of areas of our life where we’re not sure how to bring our faith into it. Say in social work, how do we engage the people that we’re sitting down with, who have no interest in the gospel, but we know they need Jesus…How would we stir those spiritual conversations for them?

Pricelis: This is really hard because it depends where you work. So, I was a social worker for seven years working with human trafficking survivors. It was a Christian nonprofit, though. So, I could say all the Jesus I wanted whenever I wanted. The people we served didn’t have to be Christian, but they knew we were. But even there, I had to be very mindful of when I would say “Jesus” or speak the gospel, because these are human trafficking survivors. They’re like, “Sis, right now is not the time for the gospel.” So, there’s this wisdom we need to be able to communicate the gospel in spaces that are either not allowed, or just maybe are not appropriate in the moment. So, we need the Holy Spirit to give us discernment. Like Phy said, be mindful of the opportunity and be prayerful around that person. I can be around someone and not tell them anything about Jesus, but I can pray for them—that is ministering to that person. 

I did work in an organization where I couldn’t say “Jesus” at all, so I just had to show up like Jesus. I had to communicate through the way I talked, the way I treated my employees, the way I worked with integrity—all of those things showed Jesus, even when I couldn’t actually say his name. 

John: Praise God. How do Christians sometimes make following Jesus, or understanding Jesus, harder than it needs to be? How do we overcomplicate it?

Jeremy: Well, there’s a lot we could say. I’m new to being a Christian social media person. I don’t like the word “influencer,” but it is a poisonous and toxic world where we have made being a Christian so much more about the things that trend and the things that will get follows and likes. Phy was really one of the first people that I could look at and say, “How does she do this social media thing?” And so, watching how she didn’t call out other Christians, she didn’t take stands on things just because she knew it was going to get traffic. But I wonder if we do that sometimes, even outside of social media. I’m not going to call anybody out, but I see so many. 

For me, people just make their faith about one theological tenant. So, whether it be Calvin—I’m defined by my Calvinistic belief or my Arminian belief. Right now, there’s so much identity politicking going on. I am as prolife as they come, but our faith is so much bigger than our stance on that one issue. We need to approach our faith as first being a follower of Jesus, not by one particular byproduct of following Jesus. So, if you belong to a Reformed Church, don’t hear me say that you can’t be Calvinist or you can’t be Armenian. But that can’t be all that you are. 

There are a billion answers to this question, but that’s one that has been on my heart a lot. And as somebody who is creating content, I didn’t post anything for three weeks because I didn’t have anything to say. But every single day I had anxiety just thinking, “I’ve got to post, I’ve got to say something.” And what happens when you live your life that way? What happens if you think that way every time you’re in small group or every time you’re in conversation? Well, I can tell you what happens, you end up dying on the wrong hills, and you end up taking stands for things that are probably worthy, but they’re not worthy of everything you have. And so, as a pastor, I’ve seen that in my own life, in my church’s life, in the churches I work around. We become defined by something other than what really should be defining us. 

Phylicia: I think he said it better than I could, but I will add one thing that I think of often. I always ask, “Into what am I discipling them? What do they think they’re supposed to be believing in? Or who do they think they’re supposed to be believing in?” For instance, am I discipling them into that one issue? If I take someone who doesn’t know anything about Jesus, am I showing them that the thing they need to put their faith in is Calvinism, or the pro-life movement, or X, Y and Z? If I am saying “This is the core issue” instead of saying “This is flowing out of your relationship with Christ,” then I have actually given them a false gospel. Because I haven’t given them the true gospel priority. I haven’t given them Christ first and then sanctity of life. Christ first and then taking my theology seriously. I’m raising it up above that. And so when I’m on social media, I think there are some people who I agree with completely theologically. But I can’t recommend them or share their work because I can see what they’re discipling people into. I can see the spiritual formation, the character, that these followers are being discipled into. And when I’m on social media, my first thought is not just, “Am I giving them correct theology and a gracious theology?” but “Am I showing them to the best of my flawed ability what it looks like to follow Christ in character?” Because we make it harder for Christians, I think, to walk with Jesus, when we show them a character that is arrogant or rude or unloving or unkind or passive or weak or compromised. So, it’s that concept of theology and character, orthopraxy and orthodoxy.

John: Okay, this is a question for Jeremy specifically. This person recently moved into an area with a large Hindu population. Is there a resource you would recommend to help learn their beliefs and culture better?

Jeremy: Well. First and foremost, there’s this Instagram account, @allthings.allpeople [laughter]. I spend a lot of time on there talking about Hinduism. Hinduism is near and dear to my heart, and I recommend this for everybody. Even if you have no interest in cross-cultural ministry, there’s a very small book by Jason Georges, named 3D Gospel. It is a tremendous resource, and it teaches about different cultures and how they perceive reality. So specifically, within a south Asian context—and actually even into east Asia and much of South America and Africa—they exhibit a belief in something called an honor-shame society, where the idea that what is to be accrued is honor and what is to be avoided is shame, and they are collectivist. Along with that, the best Christian resource I’ve found for education on general world religions is a textbook called Neighboring Faiths. If you went to a Christian college and took a world religions class, you very likely use that book. There’s also a narrative nonfiction called Death of a Guru, which is a story of a young man who was being groomed to be a Hindu guru, but he came to Christ. And so, he wrote his story about that. 

With Hinduism specifically, it’s not individualistic at all. But it changes from region to region, from family to family. And so, ask them questions. What do you believe? Why do you believe that? Don’t assume you know anything. I might actually know more textbook stuff than they do about their own faith, but I don’t know their faith and I don’t know what they genuinely individually believe. So, if you’re in a large area with that population, as you make friends, just ask them. What is it that you believe? We are one of the few cultures on the planet that excuse talking about our own faith; it is hugely uncomfortable for us. But most other non-Western cultures are fine with it, largely because we divide our culture and our religion. But for a Hindu or a Buddhist, or somebody from more of an indigenous background, their culture and their religious identity are the same. 

For instance, when you meet somebody—especially men—the first thing they talk about is their jobs. “What do you do?” We train our children that the most important question they can answer is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We place our value on our vocation. Hindus, Buddhists, South Asians—they place their value on their cultural identity, which is intrinsically tied to their religion. So don’t be afraid of offending them by simply asking questions about them. I promise you, depending on the part of the world or country you’re from, there’s a 75% chance you’ll be the first person not of their various tribe that takes an interest in them in that way. And so, the mere fact that you are willing to ask those questions is huge. So Neighboring Faiths, Death of a Guru, and 3D Gospel. Read up, study up, and then go be a good anthropologist. Go listen, and don’t listen and go, “Okay, what parable can I share? What argument can I use to befuddle them?” No, just listen and go, “Wow, that’s really interesting. I don’t understand that at all, can you unpack that?” And they probably will.

John: Yeah. I love that you’re staying fascinated. It was easy for me when I was in Chicago, but now I’m in Northern Michigan, so it’s harder. But you’re still finding those people. 

Jeremy: If you go to Pew Research or Barna, not everyone in this room is the same ethnicity or background, but every single one of us has probably been tricked into thinking that the way we see the world is the way the world is. And I remember the first time I got on a plane, and the first time I ever left the country was actually to go to India. I got on a plane in Canada to fly direct to Delhi, and I realized that everyone was staring at me. It was because for the first time in my life, I was a minority. It made me automatically question the way I had operated for the 30 years before that. Because we are all tricked into thinking that the tribe we run in makes up the whole of our reality. We are tricked into thinking that the way we see the world is the way not only that the world is but the way everyone else sees the world. 

And so, I’ll run into somebody who’s bought into Wicca or Neo-Paganism or Hindu. I live right across the street from a gas station, and I am good friends with the guys there. And in the censuses and in the Pew research and Barna, they all are telling us that I can find those people in Forest City, North Carolina. So, it’s not just about reaching people of other nations, but if you walk away from this conference and still think it would be hard to find people that have a different worldview than you down your street, then you were not listening this entire time. I grew up right outside of Chicago. I covet living in areas where I’m surrounded by different cultures. Yeah, I have to work a little bit harder to find them now, but not that hard. 

And so, if you’re never around anybody who doesn’t look the same as you, dress the same as you, talk the same as you, listen to the same music, then you are—whether you realize it or not—intentionally surrounding yourself with people who are just like you. And so, there’s an intentional aspect to this.

John: Amen. Can you expound on how loving, respecting, and seeing your neighbor who is different than you is different than affirming or agreeing with them? And then a second question. How can you see somebody as an image bearer if they are the ones who are causing the injustice or harm? 

Pricelis: First part of the question. I think we misunderstand respect, as if it is something that is meant for particular people in particular situations and circumstances. But respect goes across the board. It is me honoring the human being that is in front of me. And whether that respect is through manners, or how I talk to that person, or how I listen to them—it has to do with the person, not what they believe, not who they are, none of that. It goes across the board. So, if we misunderstand respect as affirmation, then we don’t know what respect means. Affirmation is different, and a lot of people in the world would mistake affirmation to be love. As in, if you’re not my ally and if you don’t affirm me, you actually don’t love me—you’re a homophobe, you’re racist, you’re all these things. And they can say all that, but we get to know and understand what the Bible says. The Bible says, “I will not be an ally with certain ideologies and ways of living, I will not affirm certain things that the world is doing.” So, respect and affirmation are not the same thing, and we don’t need to mix them up. 

The second part of seeing the person causing injustice as an image bearer. I talked with a friend earlier about the idea of calling someone who has abused us a neighbor. Every person in the world who is causing an injustice is your neighbor. I’m not going to mention a certain person causing a certain war in a certain part of the world right now. He is a neighbor. I don’t want to admit that or say that, but he is a neighbor. And so, I get to see him as an image bearer first, and then I see that he is causing destruction and injustice. What can I do about this? It is who I vote for, it is what I stand for, it is what I communicate, it is how I pray, it is who I donate to. But if I don’t see him as an image bearer first, and I see him as evil or destructive first, then what I try to do afterwards will probably be less effective. So first, he’s my neighbor, first he’s an image bearer. And trust me, you don’t have to be all the time saying, “They’re all my neighbors.” We don’t have to emphasize it all the time, but we have to know it. You don’t have to proclaim it out loud, but know it. Know that they’re your neighbor, even when they’re causing injustice. This does not mean you accept what they’re doing. But it’s the fact that you see who they are in Christ.

Phylicia: Can I ask you, Pri, do you think that thinking in that way changes how you engage in spiritual warfare through prayer? Because that’s what I’m thinking—if I see this person as an image bearer who is walking in sin and working with the enemy and not with righteousness, then I am more likely when I have that perspective to pray on a spiritual level. I’m inviting God’s power and hoping that God does what he needs to do to get through to that person. I am hoping that God raises up the righteousness and the goodness to defeat the evil, and I’m understanding that this, as Paul said, “Is a spiritual war manifesting through human people.” I think that helps me to think that this is an image bearer who is partnering with evil, and if they repented tomorrow I would rejoice with the angels that this person has come into the family of God. And there would still have to be restitution and all sorts of repentance, but does that align with what you’re saying?

Pricelis: I think it’s also very healing to think that way. But again, this neighbor who is in another part of the world who is causing a war right now and killing people, if I were not to see him as neighbor first and I were to pray for him, I would probably pray differently. I would probably say, “Lord, he’s terrible, he’s trash, he shouldn’t exist.” It would be a very angry prayer where I removed the dignity of who he is. But because I see him as a neighbor first, my prayer is, “Lord, clearly he’s broken, heal him. Clearly, he’s surrounded by the wrong people, remove them, replace them. Clearly, he has wrong ideologies and an understanding, convict him.” So, it’s a different prayer when I am able to see him as a neighbor first.

Jeremy: Yeah. I’ve seen this hypothetical situation played out so many times when we think of the hallmark of the worst people or maybe the person who has hurt us individually. And somebody says, “But if they accepted Christ, we would rejoice with the angels.” Sometimes we recall that and we like to play hypothetical and say, “But what if it was this person? This person causing a war?” And I think we have to be willing to say about ourselves, when we feel that way, that is us being willing to live salvation by grace and faith alone for us, but works for everyone else. And Pri speaks so wonderfully about church hurt and being a survivor of injustice and all of these things. And I could never quite understand everything that she has experienced and seen, but it’s such an encouragement to hear her share the idea that we can’t cast faulty theology on our enemies just because they’re our enemies. And really, the most Christian thing about Christianity that you’re going to see when you begin to interact with people who are enemies is that we are called to love them. That’s a really unique Christian thing. So we have to be careful not to cast faulty theology onto our enemies because we hate them.

John: All right. I have a personal slogan in my life, “If we’re going to talk about it, we’re going to pray about it.” So who wants to pray, Phylicia?

Phylicia: Okay, let’s bow our heads. Father, thank you so much for the truth that Jeremy and Pricelis have spoken—for how convicting it is, how inspiring it is, how it draws us to the high standard that Jesus gave to love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. We forget that so often. It seems like something we know, but we often don’t live. We live the theology for ourselves and we don’t offer that same theology to the lost and needy world. So, I just pray that we would allow your Spirit to change that in us, that through everything we have learned and heard, even if it’s convicting or we still need to process it, that you would help us understand how you want to live that out through us in our communities and to the people you’ve called us to serve. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John: All right. Guys, we are in the homestretch here. So, a few more questions. “Hi, I am 11. And I have really liked learning at this conference. I would like some tips for me as a kid to share the Bible and theology with my friends.”

Phylicia: I love this question. Do you have anything you want to say?

Pricelis: Honestly, Johnny is our next-gen pastor here at Genesis. Do you have anything you would say off the top of your head?

John: Yeah. So, there’s actually a second question. It’s, “I’m a middle school teacher. In the context of Jeremy’s statement “all people are religious,” what religion do you see Gen Z being attracted to?” So, it’s kind of in the same vein of “What are my friends living for?” And I think this is something I’m thinking through a lot lately just because I’m getting older.

I’m Next Gen, but I think when you’re young, it’s easy to idolize so many different things in life, whether it’s your freedom, your community, your beauty, your body’s ability to do things, whatever it is. It’s so easy to find these idols. But we need to try to figure out, “What is my heart ultimately longing for that will leave me eternally fulfilled and satisfied?” I think about my grandparents who are very old, to think about what still matters to them at the end of the day is so fascinating. It brings me so much joy that my grandma says, “At the end of the day, it really is just Jesus.” And I just look at my life and all these stupid things I’m distracted by. You know what I mean? What are all these things that I’m getting worked up about and striving after that, at the end of the day, it really is just Jesus? So, what’s your name?

Adelaide: Adelaide.

John: Be utterly convinced in your soul that Jesus is enough and just share Him. In the days that you have anxiety. How you turn to Jesus is how you can turn others to Him. When you’re praying over a test—what do you take for math right now?

Adelaide: Pre-algebra.

John: Pre-algebra. Say you get anxiety dealing with those things. You pray, “I want to do well on this. I want to turn it over to Jesus. Jesus may I glorify you and honor you with how I study, with how I take this test, may I point others to your glory and show them who you are through the way I conduct myself in the world.” And let everything you do as evangelism and sharing with your community and your generation just be an overflow of what Jesus is doing in your own heart and life. Is that helpful?

Pricelis: I have some thoughts. Hey, girl. So, I grew up in the church. I left the faith, the church, and Jesus at 17. And I think back on how when I was younger I was in a culture that did not encourage questions. When I asked questions, it was always labeled as doubt. And so, I stopped asking questions about my faith, and where did that take me? I think kids are just naturally ready to have questions. And so, with your friends, encourage that space of safety for questions. And also say “I don’t know” when you don’t have the answer. I read recently that right now in America 33%—so one in every three teens—identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. And when I think about that, I think of my cousin and I think of people who are asking questions. But some people are afraid to respond or to ask them a follow-up question. So, engaging in conversations around questions would be really powerful and it would really ground your community of friends around what you believe and what you know. 

Jeremy: Yeah. I’ll start with the second question, and then I’ll address Adelaide. I think it’s so tremendous that this question is even being asked from that perspective. I traveled to college campuses and I do Q&As with college students—believing and unbelieving. So, my own personal experiences are backed up by statistics that while collective belief in Christianity is going down every single year, a collective grouping called the religious “nones” is rapidly growing. But what’s interesting is the misconception that Christians are typically 10 to 15 years behind what everyone else already knows popularly. Really, we work with strawmen until they are absolutely and utterly disproven. So maybe I’ll be the first one to tell you, of that group of religious nones only 9% of them are atheists.

The rest of them are what I typically call “spiritual agnostics.” So many of them have walked away from institutionalized faith, or maybe they just never were part of it. But belief in things like an afterlife, ghosts, reincarnation and rebirth, karma—if you follow me on ATAP’s Instagram, I talk about those things all the time. Most Gen Z has not bought into Wicca or Neo-Paganism, but they have bought into these small things. It’s this kind of buffet of religion. We as Christians need to realize, we are just as materialist as the atheists we think we’ve been debating for the last 25 years. Many Christians have a very undeveloped belief and view of a spiritual world that is actually very real. And it’s actually just as real as the material world that you can see, taste, touch, and smell. And so, when we talk to people, we have to realize that those things we see people buying into—those are effective. They work much of the time. Some of it is fake, some of it is a lie, but some of it works. And we need to be ready to tell people that not everything that works is good, but everything that is good works. 

Adelaide to bring it to you, when I was a youth pastor, I had plenty of students who are as tremendous as you. So I would just encourage you, don’t walk into situations with your friends thinking that they don’t want to hear from you. I was the worst version of myself in the years between 13 and 18. So I think about what Pri said, the people in my life who were willing to talk to me about the things I wouldn’t tell anybody else, the ones whose outlet was the church, and who wanted to look at Scripture and pray together. They made a huge impact on my life. And so when you’re sitting at the lunch table, when you’re at youth group, wherever it might be, don’t automatically assume no one wants to hear from you because you’re a Christian. Now, if you ask them, “Do you want to hear from me because I’m a Christian?” they might say no. But when they need you, if you’re there, they’ll come to you. And so make yourself known, don’t hide your faith, boldly proclaim that you’re following Jesus, and you will be blown away—I’ve seen it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that kid when I was in high school and middle school. But I’ve seen so many young people who did that. I’m here because someone invited me to youth group when I was a freshman in high school. That’s it. So yeah, I think you’re off to a good start. The fact that you asked that question and that you’re here is an incredible thing.

John: Amen. I think that’s a great place to close.

John: Jeremy, can you pray for the next generation and for us as a collective group, that we would be bold witnesses with a gracious faith in the days to come?

Jeremy: Father, I hesitate to do the math on how many generations and future generations are represented by everybody in this room and online with so many mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and even the men in this room. We are representative of children and the churches we lead in. There are so many generations that we will never see with our own eyes who are going to be affected by what goes on in this room right now. And so, Lord, let not our desires and ambitions be selfish. Lord, let us leave a legacy of generational blessing, that we do not despise the next generation, that we do not ridicule them to the point where they’ll never listen to us. And Lord, for all the Adelaides that are represented in this room, we just pray that you would embolden them and that you might use us to encourage them, to equip them, and to cheer them on. Our time is not over, but one day it will be. So, Lord, let us pass the baton well. Fill us with the Holy Spirit to the point where we can see what’s coming and speak prophetically to the younger generations who are, I believe, drastically going to outdo us in faithfulness. We see that in this room with Adelaide. I pray a specific blessing on her. That you would fill her, that you would be with her, that she would be somebody to these friends that she’s around. Would they look at her and say, “Man, there’s something about her that I really want to know more.” So, Lord, we pray for her and we pray for everything we’ve done here this weekend. Lord, use it, multiply it, like the fish and loaves, and just let it change us and then change the people we are around—all pointing more towards you. Father, we give you everything we have to give and we do it in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and King. Amen.

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