Loving Teens with the Gospel
About the Guest
Pastor Drew Hill invites parents to see their teens through the lens of the gospel. Letting teens know how much God loves them is a great place to start. Hill believes teens run toward things that bring them comfort and affirmation. Hill encourages parents to ask good questions, like Jesus did, rather than always issue a command.
Drew HillDrew is a pastor and author in Greensboro, NC. He is also on staff with the national Young Life office and provides resources for thousands of youth leaders around the world through The Young Life Leader Blog. Drew writes, consults, and regularly speaks to teenagers, parents, and youth workers. Drew and Natalie have been married since 2004 and have three children: Honey, Hutch, and Macy Heart. Check out Drew's book, Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel, released by New Grow...more
Pastor Drew Hill invites parents to see their teens through the lens of the gospel. Hill encourages parents to ask good questions, like Jesus did, rather than always issue a command.
Loving Teens with the Gospel
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 25th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. How can we, as parents, make sure we’re not simply influencing our children’s spiritual behavior or performance but actually helping them develop a genuine sense of what it means to walk with God? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things I’ve observed—I don’t know if this was the case with your boys but—I’ve observed that as kids get into middle school—sometimes, before middle school—they start to send signals to mom and dad that are: “I’ve got life covered now; I don’t need you anymore.” “You can kind of leave me on my own. I can take control of things from here.” And some parents fall for that; you know what I mean? They back off and go: “Oh, okay sweetheart. If you’ve got it, we’ll let you go from here.”
The parent who falls for that needs to recognize your kids don’t know what they’re talking about! They still need you in their lives whether they think they do or not.
Dave: I agree. I think most parents fall for that. I think I was about to fall for that. I was at a FamilyLife®Weekend to Remember,® speaking with Mick Yoder—
Dave: —remember that name?
Bob: I do!
Dave: He was 15-18 years ahead of me—had boys/had, you know, kids. I remember sitting there, as the co-speaker, thinking, “I am learning from this older gentleman.” He said: “Pursue—pursue—pursue your teenage kids, because they’re going to pull away; and most parents just say, ‘Oh, I’m done!’ You have to go after them.”
Bob: Yes; it’s easy to pull away, because you’re exhausted by the time they’re 12 or 13. So if they go, “We don’t need you!” you go, “Thank you, because I’m worn out anyway!”
Ann: They can shatter your feelings. I’ll never forget—my youngest son would be like, “Please Mom, lay in bed with me and read with me for a long time.” Then this one day, I started picking up the covers to slide in—just to read at night—and he said, “What are you doing?” [Laughter] I said, “I was going to read.” He goes, “I don’t want you to do that!” I slunk out of the room, like, “I’m finished!” It’s so sad! That’s the temptation—that you think, “I’m no longer wanted or needed,” that we all face.
Bob: That’s what we’re going to talk about today—coming “Alongside” teenagers—that’s the title of a book written by our guest today, Drew Hill. Drew, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Drew: Thank you so much for having me. This is a passion of mine—to talk with parents and those that are friends with teenagers—so I’m really grateful to be here.
Bob: The subtitle of the book is Loving Teenagers with the Gospel, and Drew knows something about that. He and Natalie have been married for 14 years; they’ve got 3 kids. He’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—proud of that; right?
Drew: Go Hills! [Laughter]
Bob: He is also a pastor in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has worked with Young Life®.
You said this is a passion of yours. How did it become a passion?
Drew: When I was 13 years old, I was at a church camp called Laurel Ridge in the mountains of North Carolina. Our camp speaker that week was a guy named Chris Rice. He was the Christian musician who sang The Cartoon Song.
Drew: Maybe you remember Chris.
Bob: I remember Chris.
Dave: Oh yes!
Drew: He did our music the year before and then came back and spoke the next year. He was a hero of mine, just from the moment I met him. All week long, he was just speaking about God’s love at camp. I had grown up in our church—my dad was on staff at church—I knew about God’s love. I went up to him after one talk and I said: “Chris, I know God loves me. Tell me what to do. Help me figure out how to live this life.”
And he said, “Drew, I don’t think you really know how much God loves you.” There was just such tenderness in his eyes when he said that to me. He said, “If you could just grasp how much your Father delights in you and loves you, then you would not be so worried about what to do; because it would be just a love response back to Him.” In that conversation, I felt the Lord begin to crack open this legalistic heart that I had built up—of just wanting to be the best, and wanting to be right, and wanting to be perfect. That week, I felt God call me into full-time youth ministry.
Bob: How do you coach somebody to say, “Meditate on God’s love and experience it at a deeper level than you’ve experienced it before”?
Drew: What if we woke up in the morning—and instead of looking at our screen, and looking at our to-do list, and trying to figure out: “How do we win the day?” “How do we succeed today?”—what if we woke up in the morning and our prayer was: “God, how do You want to love me today? Father, how do You want to show Your deep love for me today?”—and that was our posture when we began our day? Because, so often, in this fear-based culture that we live in, we wake up thinking, “What is going to go wrong today?” We have this idea—whether we want to vocalize it or not—that God might not be for us; and yet, God longs for us to approach Him as a child!
The biggest change that’s ever happened in my relationship with the Lord happened on July 19th, 2009—when our first daughter was born. [Emotion in voice] When Honey was born, and I held her in my arms for the first time, I just grasped in such a new way how our Father feels about me. I wonder what it would be like for us to imagine what it would be like to just be held by our Father.
I know there are a lot of people with more analytical brains, who are like, “Drew, I’m not going to go using my imagination and be held by my Father.” [Laughter] But a big part of adulthood feels like—is becoming rational, and putting our childhood behind us, and moving forward into a more rational realm. Yet God has given us this gift of our imaginations, and He’s given us this gift of childhood. Over and over again in Scripture, how do the apostles and the gospel writers refer to us?—as children. What does it look like for us to remember that that is our identity?—that we are children of God.
Bob: You refer to teenagers as “runaways.” What do you mean by that?
Drew: I think we’re all runaways. I think teenagers have a harder time hiding it. Most of us, you know, run away in different ways—we run to things that are going to bring us comfort; we run to things that are going to bring us affirmation/to things that are going to give us attention. We run to those things looking for that life. Yet teenagers, so often, run to those things in a way where they can’t mask their mistakes as well as we adults can.
They’ve run to these other things, looking to lesser gods to find that satisfaction; and they don’t often realize where they’re going and where they’re running to. Part of our call, as adults, is to come alongside of them and show them where they’re running, and show them how they’ve gotten off track, and where the true destination is; and that is, being delighted in by their Father.
Ann: Drew, you have a story. Did you run away?
Drew: In a sense. I didn’t run away like a lot of people envision teenagers running. I was very moral and didn’t watch an “R”-rated movie until I was 25; didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was 30; and was kind of [Laughter] scared into, you know, being a virgin until I got married.
I knew that God loved me, as I shared—since I was in eighth grade and that moment with Chris at that camp—but still, so much of my faith was trying to prove my worth and get my acceptance from God. Instead of running to the normal teenage traps, I ran towards legalism, and success, and trying to prove my value and prove my worth. I think that’s the danger with a lot of kids—is they’re going to run one way or the other. One way looks worse, but they’re both running away from God.
Dave: Yes; it’s interesting that you—as you mention that, it sounds like—as I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing—the prodigal son’s story in Luke 15.
Dave: You have the son running away; and you have the elder brother, who’s stayed at home; but when you look at both of them: one’s a moralist; one’s a wild man. They’re both far from the heart of the father—
Drew: That’s right.
Dave: —in different ways, so they both are runaways.
In a way, you did—just in a different sense—and yet, you come home to the Father. You can describe these moments with tears in your eyes. So what does it look like, now, for you to come alongside to help somebody experience what you’re experiencing?—because most don’t.
Drew: For me, it’s—it’s really trying to enter into where they are running and understanding what they’re running to—and helping them discover it. I think a lot of adults just want to hammer kids with, “This is what you need to be doing.”
Drew: But the real way that we change is through discovery. The real way that we change is understanding and seeing it for ourselves.
A big part of working with teenagers—and loving them well and coming alongside them—is just asking good questions. In our interaction with teenagers—think about your interaction, as parents, with your kids—you know, so much more it’s: “Hey, you need to do this,” “Did you wash the dishes?” “Did you brush your teeth?” instead of asking good questions; because it’s hard work!—asking good questions that are thoughtful is hard work. It’s way easier to give commands and tell people what to do.
Bob: You described yourself as somebody who didn’t touch alcohol until 30 or watch an “R”-rated movie until 25. I’m thinking parents are going: “Okay; how did your parents do that? [Laughter] That’s what I want for my kid! I want my kid to grow up and be ‘Drew,’”—and yet, you’re saying that should not be our goal?
Drew: No; you know, one of the things that I’ve been wrestling with now—in my role as a pastor at our church—is: “How do we train up kids from birth until 18?” and “How do we actually form them?—not just in the things we’re teaching them—but in how we’re teaching it?”
I think, with my interaction with kids, I’ve kind of come to this place, where I’ve realized how they are learning/how they are being formed is just as important—if not more—as to the messages and the words that we’re using with them. Are we allowing their bodies to be involved? Are we allowing them to really experience being an adolescent, or are we trying to force them to be an adult too soon? Are we allowing them to experience being a child?
For me, I was entertained a lot as a Christian kid. I knew a lot of Scripture verses, because I knew a lot of songs. I memorized all these things, and I was in all these Christian plays—it was really fun for me—but what’s really difficult for me now, as a 40-year-old, is those spiritual disciplines—and those times of quiet and those times of getting on my knees, when no one is looking—because so much of my childhood was in the public sphere.
If we really want kids to grow into mature Christian adults, then we’ve got to really focus on: “How do we develop those private disciplines that no one will ever see?”
Bob: I want to make sure—because I think this is really important—you said the “how,” as we raise our kids, is as important as the “what.”
Bob: It is as important—it’s not more important—there are some people that will fall off the other side and say, “It’s not what you teach them; it’s how you teach them.”
Drew: No; no—they go, hand in hand. We’ve got to keep the Word of God the central truth. I’m not saying that at all [that how is more important than what is taught]. I’m just saying: “We really need to think through: ‘What are we teaching kids as we’re engaging them in this entertaining…? Are we teaching them that being a Christian is always fun?’”
Because, honestly, when we look at Scripture and the whole body of Scripture—there’s a lot of lamenting going on; there’s a lot of crying out; there’s a lot of people just spending time alone with God, wrestling in prayer. How do we incorporate that into how we’re raising our kids?
Dave: You talk about this in you book, but talk about vulnerability. As a parent/as a pastor—how much is caught? How much is taught?
Drew: Way more is caught! I mean, way more is caught.
I was visiting with my friend, Holly, in Nashville a couple months ago. Her dad is wrestling with Alzheimer’s, and he’s probably in his 70’s now. She talked about how, ever since she was a kid, she would come down the stairs at her house and she would find her dad, on his knees in prayer, or sitting in his recliner, reading God’s Word.
Now, he lives with her; and she still finds him doing that, even though he’s struggling with memory loss—every day, the same thing. She talked about how that has formed her and shaped her,—
Drew: —as an adult, who’s my age now.
I so long for my kids to have those memories of me; but that temptation for me that’s there is to just pick up my phone, and want to start getting things done, and being productive instead of doing the things that, often, we can’t see the actual productivity value in. We have got to fight to raise our kids in a way where they are watching us model for them the things that are done in secret.
Well, how do we do that?—because we’re supposed to be doing them in secret. I think it means that we’re going to have to spend a lot of time—spending time alone with the Lord—and eventually, our kids will catch us. That’s what we want—them to catch us.
Drew: I remember Ann and I had diligent plans for how to raise our sons, spiritually—and to pour into them Bible study five times, retreats, mission trips—we did all that. A few years ago, my youngest preached at our church—he was in college at the time. He gives this fiery message; right? We’re just sitting there, as his mom and dad, like: “Wow! He’s on fire!” It was really cool—he’s in ministry up at school.
Anyway, these guys at our church—they have a men’s group—were having a retreat. They said: “Hey, we don’t need you to come speak at the retreat. It’s local; will you come and have dinner with us, and we can ask you questions about being a dad?” I said: “Oh yes! That will be great! I’ll come over.” They go: “Hey! Is there any chance your son could come? He’s on fire! It’d be really cool to hear a father/son,”—right?
Dave: He actually played football—he’s in the Bowl game. They’re on a break—Bowl game’s over—Cody says, “I’ll go with you.” So we go over, and we sit down—this is classic—and they go: “Hey, so I’ve got the most important question,”—about 20 guys—“Cody, you’re on fire right now. What’d your dad do to help you be on fire like you are, as a 20-year-old, for Jesus?”
I’m not kidding—I’m sitting there, and here’s what I’m thinking, “Oh man, what—which one of the thousand things is he going to pick?” And I’m rolling through my Rolodex in my brain, like: “We did this, with the mission trip…” I’m just sitting there; I don’t say a word. I just look over; and he was sitting there, like this—I’m thinking, “Oh man, he can’t even pick which one; he’s got so many to pick from!”—right?
Finally, he goes, “Oh, he did one thing.” And I look at him, like, “What one thing?” And he goes: “He lived it. I don’t remember a single Bible study. I don’t remember a single thing he ever preached on. I just saw his struggles; but I saw him walk with God, and that’s what changed my life.” That’s what you’re saying!
Dave: When you—I mean, it’s all through your book—when you write about coming alongside/alongside, which is—obviously, Jesus came alongside—but you talk so much about it’s got to be real so that it overflows to be caught.
Now, you’re a dad—
Dave: —how’s that working out?
Drew: You know, there’s nothing more convicting than having your daughter say, “Dad will you please put down your phone and listen to me?”
Drew: I’ve been doing a lot of these interviews since the book came out. I’ve been gone a lot more than normal; and my oldest daughter, Honey, sent me a voice text a few—like a month ago—and she said—
Ann: How old is she, Drew?
Drew: She’s nine.
Drew: —she said: “Daddy, I just miss you. I wish that you would just come home.” [Emotion in voice] She’s like, “I know your book is helping people, but I just miss you.” So that’s when I told Natalie: “I’m going to start doing less of these,” and “I’m going to start taking her with me as much as I can.” She’s an incredible, godly, nine-year-old; she’s got a gift of communicating; but I really want to—her to not be left and me to neglect walking alongside my own daughter as I’m trying to help other people.
That’s been a really convicting thing for me. Thankfully, I’m married to a very wise woman, who helps me determine my “Yes’s” and my “No’s.” She really models this with our own kids. I see Jesus more in Natalie than I see in anybody, because she is very vulnerable with our kids—she is quick to apologize when she messes up. She’s quick to get on her knees and look them in the eye and say, “I’m sorry.” Our kids see Jesus when they see her.
I think the best gift that we can give our kids is for us to just know Christ and for us to allow Him to transform us to look more like Him. If we really want our kids to grow into godly men and woman, the best thing we can do is to get to know Jesus ourselves.
Ann: Drew, what does it look like—when you talked about when you were growing up and you were being entertained and you were going and doing all these things—practically speaking, let’s go back and talk about: “What does it look like? How do we spend time alone?” You’ve already mentioned modeling it.
Ann: What are you doing with your kids now to get them to develop that inner personal walk with Jesus?
Drew: The night before I came here, I sent Honey into her room. We had some of our family members over, and Honey has a hard time falling asleep at night.
Dave: By the way—
Dave: —what a great name!—[Laughter]
Dave: —to call your daughter Honey! “Come here, Honey!” That’s awesome!
Drew: It’s pretty fun. Anybody who meets her—you know, she thinks they know her already; because we live in North Carolina, where people call you Honey [Laughter] if they don’t know you. She just feels really known, which is an important thing to feel in our culture.
The other night, I asked Honey if she would go and read Mark 5 and the story of Jairus and the woman who was bleeding. I told her, “I want you to go read it; and then, I want you to come back and you tell me what you’ve read.” She came back in the room and just—her face was lit up. She just told me every detail, and she imagined the other details.
We talk about: “What does it look like to imagine?”—what it smelled like when Jesus was there, and what it sounded like—how many other people were around?—and what were they doing while Jesus was listening to this woman’s story? I try to help her use this gift of imagination to understand Scripture and what was really going on—and to know that it wasn’t—it’s not just a myth/it’s not just a story that someone wrote down—but it was an actual, historical account of something that happened 2000 years ago.
She comes back in; I say: “Isn’t that incredible that Jesus did that?—and that everybody else didn’t believe?—but Jesus knew that He can heal this girl? He didn’t have to hurry and that He listened to this other woman’s whole story.” I’m just trying to cultivate this desire in her to fall in love with Jesus; because I’m convinced, if we can get kids to understand who Jesus truly is, then they can’t help but fall in love with Him; because there’s no one else in the world like Him.
Dave: I want to develop that next time we talk; because here’s one of the things that you think: “What is God’s heart for the prodigal? What is God’s heart for that son or daughter that pulls away from the parent or from God—what is His heart?” You’re explaining it. You’re explaining it in such a way I want to end this session, right now, and go home and be with my kids!—that’s really what I’m thinking about—but I want to hear that—I want to hear you talk about: “What is God’s heart toward that one who is far from Him?” I think it will surprise us.
Bob: We started today talking about the fact that kids reach an age, where they start to push you out. The message for moms and dads, here, is: “Don’t fall into that. Continue to pursue.”
If they’re off on their own—and they may think like the prodigal son thought, “I’m ready to be off on my own,”—
Bob: —or they may think—like moralistic Drew Hill thought, when he was 15—“I got this all wired together; and I’m going to do all the right things and punch all the right buttons; and it’s all going to work out well for me.” Your kids continue to need you to be their guide, and to be their friend, and to be their companion—and that is central to what you talk about in the book, Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel.
It’s a book that our guest today, Drew Hill, has written. We’ve got copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center—great book for moms and dads of teens to read together. Again, the title is Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel. You can request a copy when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title of the book: Alongside by Drew Hill. Order from us at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then then word, “TODAY.”
I have been encouraged—I know you guys have been encouraged as well—by the notes we’ve been getting from listeners, who have enjoyed getting to know you two as you have stepped in to the role, here, as hosts of FamilyLife Today.
Bob: If you’re new to FamilyLife Today, or if it’s been awhile since you’ve listened, Dave and Ann Wilson have stepped into the role as hosts of this program. They’ve written a book called Vertical Marriage that includes a lot of—well, really a lot of your story of how God was at work in your own life and marriage and lessons you’ve learned along the way.
Bob: We’d love to send you a copy of the book, Vertical Marriage, as a way of saying, “Thank you,” for your ongoing support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. It’s our gift to you to help you get to know Dave and Ann Wilson better and to say, “Thank you for partnering with us to help expand the reach of this ministry so more people, more regularly, can be reached with practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and family.”
In fact, when you make a donation, that’s what you’re helping to accelerate. You’re helping more young couples/more moms and dads understand what the Bible says about how we walk alongside each other in our marriages and in our families. If you’re a long-time listener, and you’ve never made a donation to support the ministry, we’d love to hear from you today. If you’re a new listener, you’re certainly welcome to donate as well. We hope you’ll keep listening. You can find out more about the ministry, or you can make a donation, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. When you make a donation, ask for your copy of the book, Vertical Marriage, by Dave and Ann Wilson. We’re happy to send it out to you.
As we’ve talked about the importance of a strong relationship with our teenagers, the President of FamilyLife, David Robbins, has been here. He’s got some thoughts for us on the importance and power of transparency and authenticity as we raise our kids. David—
David: One of the things I’ve learned, in processing with teenagers, is we may impress teenagers with our strengths; but we connect with teenagers through sharing our weaknesses. I don’t think that necessarily means sharing every one of our darkest moments in life, but it probably does mean sharing how you’re tempted to find life in sources other than Jesus right now—in our present day/in our current life.
All of us still, regularly, are tempted by the enemy to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways in our lives. I’m reminded of Jeremiah 2 when God calls out His people and says: “You’ve committed two sins against Me. One, you’ve forgotten the source of the living water”—Him—“and two, you’ve sought to satisfy yourselves with broken cisterns—cisterns that will not satisfy and hold water.”
I think one of the more formative things we can do for the teenagers in our lives—who are keenly aware when our sin surfaces and comes out sideways and affects them—is model for them what it is to recognize, confess, experience forgiveness and return to Jesus as the source—and invite them in on the process.
Bob: If they don’t see us do that, they’ll never learn how to do it themselves; will they?
David: That’s right.
Bob: Thank you, David. In fact, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more about why it’s so important for us to make sure that there is strong relational glue with our teenagers as we walk through those years with them. I hope you can be back with us for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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