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In the last episode, we told stories exploring where the gospel meets teenagers. In today’s episode, Jesse Eubanks and Anna Tran reflect on all the things they couldn’t say about teenagers – including the pitfalls of sheltering our teens too long and exposing our teens too soon. Anna interviews Jen Bradbury of Fuller Youth Institute about customizing our approach to discipleship for modern teenagers. Anna and Jen explore what conservatives and progressives each get right and wrong about teenagers and how the way of Jesus is better, and Anna makes a phone call to someone around the world to see what they’re doing right now to make an impact on today’s topic. 

Join us on Patreon to hear Jen Bradbury’s response to our 3 extra questions.



#80.5: Things We Couldn’t Say (About Teenagers)

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay. Hey, everybody. It is Jesse. We have a limited time opportunity, and we need your help. God is doing incredible things through the ministry of Love Thy Neighborhood. Since 2014, over 350 young adults have served as urban missionaries. They have actually given over 15,000 hours of volunteer service to people and organizations in need. Each one of these young adults dedicated 15 hours a week to their own personal growth and discipleship. In addition to all of that, we’ve actually released hundreds of hours of podcast content and a growing library of free resources to help people follow Jesus in modern culture. So, here is why we need your help. Some donors have come together and offered to match every donation given to our ministry between now and the end of the year. This opportunity is a big deal for us as a ministry, but we can only succeed with your help. Every dollar you give will automatically be doubled. I know that it is easy to think that someone else is going to step up and give help to us, but I am here asking you to be that person. Whether you give five dollars, 25 dollars, 100 dollars, your generosity is going to make a big difference in our ministry. To give, simply look in the episode description in your podcast app and click on the “Donate” link. Everything you give between now and the end of the year is going to be matched. Again, you can be our hero and make a real impact with the gospel by picking up your phone right now, clicking on the “Donate” link in the episode description, and giving a gift. Your generosity is going to make a real difference in the lives of young adults, their urban neighbors, the ministries that we serve, and future listeners of this podcast. We cannot do this without you. Thank you for all your support. Okay, on to the episode.


AUDIO CLIPS: Love Thy Neighborhood… Discipleship and missions for modern times.

JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks.

ANNA TRAN: And I’m Anna Tran. 

JESSE EUBANKS: This is “Things We Couldn’t Say About Teenagers.” In each episode, we’ve got four segments. 

ANNA TRAN: First – Things We Couldn’t Say, where we debrief the last episode. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Second – an interview with Fuller Youth Institute’s content director, Jen Bradbury, talking about cultivating faith in today’s teens.

ANNA TRAN: Our third segment – Beyond Left or Right, where we explore what conservatives and progressives each get right and wrong and how the way of Jesus is better.

JESSE EUBANKS: And finally – What Are You Doing, where Anna makes a phone call to someone around the world to see what they’re doing right now to make an impact on today’s topic. Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.


JESSE EUBANKS: Alright, first up – Things We Couldn’t Say About Teenagers. 

ANNA TRAN: Alright, so there are definitely plenty of aspects about teenagers that we didn’t get to cover. So, Jesse, tell me about one you wish we had time to explore. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so, one of the first things I wanna do – I want to give us just a very, like, simple little framing device for some of this conversation. This is something that our executive director, Kiana Brown, has been talking about recently, and she talks about this idea that, um, teenagers and young adults are like plants. She loves plants, so she talks about plants. And she talks a lot about the greenhouse versus the real world, and the greenhouse is the environment where everything can be customized to suit the needs of that plant. It’s the most ideal soil. It’s only exposed to the elements as you want it to be. It gets exact right amount of sunlight. There are no wild animals that are in the greenhouse. All, all those things. So, a controlled, safe environment. 

ANNA TRAN: It’s, like, super curated. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Super curated. Versus the real world where the soil is the soil that’s in the ground. Animals kind of – you know, they come and they mess things up. Bad weather, harsh weather can come and, and affect things. And she talks about this idea that if you take a kid and you expose them to the real world immediately, from a very young age, that there can actually be a lot of trauma and danger that can come with that. You’re exposing the kid too early to really hard things. So, many of us as parents, as Christian parents especially, we have this idea of like, “I want to protect my kid from those things, so I want them in a greenhouse environment, a controlled environment, where I expose them to things at the right pace.” But she also talks about this idea that if you allow a plant to grow in the greenhouse too long and then you attempt to plant it out into the real world that the plant actually goes into shock and it dies, and she says that one of the biggest mistakes she sees in parenting of teenagers is where people keep their kids in the greenhouse too long and do not expose them to the real world enough. They mean well, but they actually end up hurting the kid. And so, instead it needs to be a thing where, you know, your kid’s in the greenhouse, but you expose them. You take them out for a few hours a day, you give them the sunlight in the real world, you begin to expose them to the soil of the real world, and then you take them back into the greenhouse. You begin to process some of, “Okay, what did you experience? What was that like for you? This is what that means.” And then increasingly, they should begin to spend more time out in the real world and less time in the greenhouse. But you wait too long, that’s going to be dangerous. So I just find that as a very helpful analogy, like as we think about teenagers is, is – “Am I keeping my kid in the greenhouse too long, and what does it look like to expose them at the right pace to the real world?” 

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. And what you’re not saying, I don’t think, is you’re like purposefully taking your kid over and seeing this, like, murder scene, but when like stuff on the news does come up, being willing to, to talk with your teenager about things like death, murder, and, like, poverty.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, my, my kids – they hear obscene language on a daily basis at school among their peers. Is that something I’m thrilled about? Of course it’s not. But the response is not, “Oh my gosh, I’ve gotta tuck them away from the world.” It’s like, I have to learn how to help my kids navigate a world where there are topics that come up, there are behaviors that come up, there are realities that have to be explored. What does it look like to follow Jesus amidst those things as opposed to “Head for the hills, we gotta get out of here”? 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I like what you said about, like, the exposure stuff as well because I think it’s definitely a process. It’s like a little bit of exposure –


ANNA TRAN: – process it. That’s how, that’s how we make meaning of the world. 


ANNA TRAN: And if we aren’t exposing teenagers to things, then there’s also no opportunity to process difficult things and the process is the thing that forms them.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yes. Okay, so, so, that’s one of the first things I wanted to talk about was just this, this greenhouse analogy.


JESSE EUBANKS: Uh, so when we think about all the things that we couldn’t say about teenagers – and there was a ton – what comes to mind for you? 

ANNA TRAN: So there was a lot more to the interview that I did with Brad Griffin. One of the things is that he breaks down these three characteristics that characterize today’s teens. 


ANNA TRAN: Which are, you know, anxious, adaptive, and diverse. And so when he broke it down, I just really liked what he said, but it didn’t have the perfect place in the episode so I left it out. So for anxious, obviously that’s probably the most stereotypical thing about this generation. So he was just saying that at the end of the day young people are a lot more comfortable talking about mental health, things like anxiety and depression. So he says it’s more discussable than ever. So if, you know, in previous generations, it was felt and seen as taboo, it’s something that is like a felt need and a big pain point for a lot of teenagers, is anxiety that they feel, what to do with depression, how to talk about depression. Um, so that was one thing. 

JESSE EUBANKS: It’s pretty fascinating – yeah, you know, I’ve got two teenagers, and both of them, the degree of, um, I don’t know, they’re so emotionally articulate, like it just really amazes me, like they’re emotionally articulate in a way that I was not at that age, and there is probably a little bit of reality of, uh, it is because so many of them are dealing with anxiety and so they’re trying to name those things. Yeah.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, and they’re willing to talk about it more. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And they’re willing to talk about it more. Yeah. 

ANNA TRAN: Hey, this is Anna, dropping in from the future. So, in this debrief, I got into more details of the three main markers of today’s teens. But later, when I interviewed Jen Bradbury, she also brought up those characteristics. And since she’s a professional, I’ll let her cover those two aspects. So if you’re curious to hear more about how today’s teens are adaptive and diverse, stay tuned for the interview. Okay, here’s the rest of the debrief.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so something that I thought could be helpful was asking the question – what are the hard questions we need to consider when we talk about teenagers and Christian faith? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, you know, there’s, there’s probably a lot of them. The one, the one that comes to mind for me is this. I, I think I grew up in a time in which we really believed that if we transferred the right theology and the right worldview training to young adults that that would be the thing that would make them love Jesus and love the Lord and follow him the rest of their life. Um, and what has become apparent is that – is theology important? Totally. Is worldview training important? Yes, absolutely. But we are kidding ourselves if we think that that alone is gonna be enough. Uh, teenagers are longing to experience the gospel relationally. What does it mean for the good news of Jesus to be alive between, uh, us as we interact with one another? What does it mean to feel loved, to feel accepted? What does it mean, uh, to feel, uh, yeah, God at work among us? And the other piece – a gospel that, uh, that goes out into the world and that they can actually see on display. You know, when teenagers look out and they see that Christians are the ones that are leading the way in mercy and sacrifice and compassion, in innovative solutions to the biggest problems and pain of the world, we are now beginning to show teenagers a picture of something that they, they see as more beautiful than what the culture is offering. Um, so I just think that the biggest question we need to be asking is – am I overly focused on making sure that they know all the right theology and all of the worldview stuff at the expense of actually, relationally experiencing the gospel and then seeing the gospel at work in the world? It’s gotta be word and deed. It cannot just be word alone. 

ANNA TRAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, it makes me think of, um, a philosopher. So her name is Esther Lightcap Meek, and she talks about knowing as not just being – just like what you said – just about information transfer, but it’s, it’s a full, bodied experience. Like, when you know something is real, not only do you know the facts, but you can feel it in your bones. You know, word and deed, I think, is, yeah, that, like, combination of not only do I know the doctrine and the theology behind it, but I have the felt, lived-out experience – 


ANNA TRAN: – of using my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears, all my, my senses, my physical senses, and that physical, grounded reality solidifies this holistic experience of the gospel. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Absolutely.

ANNA TRAN: Well, those were plenty of the thoughts we couldn’t say on this episode. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Stay with us because when we come back Anna will be talking with Jen Bradbury, content director for Fuller Youth Institute. They’re going to be discussing how to cultivate faith in today’s teenagers, especially as those teenagers live in such a diverse world. Stay with us.


JESSE EUBANKS: Welcome back to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse Eubanks. 

ANNA TRAN: Anna Tran.

JESSE EUBANKS: So before the break, Anna and I gave our final thoughts on things we couldn’t say about teenagers. Now, Anna actually conducted the upcoming interview you’re about to hear solo because I was actually out of town, so here is Anna’s conversation with Jen Bradbury, content director for Fuller Youth Institute, talking about cultivating faith in today’s teens.

ANNA TRAN: Jen Bradbury serves as the content director for the Fuller Youth Institute. She’s a volunteer youth pastor at her local church with more than 20 years of experience in youth ministry. She’s the author of several books, including The Jesus Gap, The Real Jesus, Called: A Novel About Youth Ministry Transition, and What Do I Believe About What Do I Believe? Jen and her husband Doug live in the Chicagoland area where they can regularly be found adventuring with their two young daughters. Jen, welcome to the show. 

JEN BRADBURY: Thanks, it is so good to be here. 

ANNA TRAN: Alright. Well, just jumping right in here, teenagers are living in a different environment here in the U.S., and tell me about, you know, like in your research, what kind of characterizes the modern teenager today and how is that different from the past few decades?

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, great question. So in our research at Fuller Youth Institute, um, as we interact with young people, but we also interact with youth leaders from all across the country, there are three words – like our SparkNotes version, if you will – of who today’s teenagers are. And that is adaptive, diverse, and anxious. And so let me break that down a little bit for you. Um, so the adaptive piece is the sense of youth today – so young people, Gen Z, the people in our high school ministries right now, in our middle school ministries right now – they are growing up in a world that is constantly changing. Of course, we know this from the pandemic. We saw it happen all the time, right, where every day during 2020 something new was happening and we were adapting – schools were changing, the way we were learning, the way we were doing church, everything was up for grabs. But even before that, because of technology, because of just the way our world works, things happen so rapidly and our teenagers are used to that. You know, that is not foreign to them. That’s not something that takes any adjustment. That’s just the world in which they live. And so they have learned to respond and to be both resilient but also to adapt. So they know how to create and they know how to pivot and they know how to do that in ways that are second nature to them and often not second nature to adults. 

The second kind of SparkNotes word that we use to describe this generation is anxious. Some of this is external. So there’s the level of, “Here are all the expectations that teenagers are swimming in today,” and the thought of not meeting those expectations is one of those things that can trigger that anxiety. But there’s also internal aspects of that as well. So that element of young people want to be good people, they want to contribute, and so they have their own internal expectations of what they should and shouldn’t be doing, of what they should contribute to the world, of how they’re interacting with the world around them. With that, we are also seeing spikes in all the data. So mental health needs are increasing. We saw this constantly during the pandemic, but this was not a new phenomena during the pandemic nor has it suddenly stopped on the other side of the pandemic, right, which says that this idea of the mental health needs of young people is continuing to grow. And it’s also important when we talk about this idea of anxiety that that is actually a self-defined word. So part of our work that we’ve done has been to actually interview young people themselves, and anxious is a word that young people actually use to describe who they are and how they see themselves. And as an example of this, I am the volunteer youth pastor at my local church and we recently got together and actually did a series from FYI called “Faith in an Anxious World” and on the first night we raised this question of, “Tell me what anxiety feels like to you,” and every single young person in the room had a concrete answer and, like, a vivid, thick description of, “This is what it feels like to me when I’m anxious,” which is to say that even kids who don’t have clinical anxiety or clinical depression or the diagnoses still have the sense of, “I know what this means to be anxious, and it’s a feeling that I feel a lot.”

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. Could you give me some examples of how some of the youth members at your church described the anxiety that they felt? 

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, great question. We heard everything from “The sense of anxiety feels like these weights that are just being dropped on me, and they’re crushing” to “Anxiety feels like I’m being closed off from the people around me. Like I want to interact with people, but I no longer have the ability to ’cause I can’t see it and I can’t feel it and I get so trapped in my own thoughts.” We also heard one young person, a boy actually, who described it as feeling constantly like he’s being moved around, like, in this swirl, like a tornado or a hurricane, and he can’t actually get out of it. So, I mean, again, like, those are, those are vivid descriptions in young people’s own words. And from that, as an adult, like, I take away the sense of “anxiety is crushing, it’s crippling, it’s isolating,” and those are things that are really important for anyone to understand, but particularly for adults to understand as we minister to teenagers.

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. Yeah, sometimes I have conversations with friends about, like, how to describe anxiety versus stress – they’re, they’re close, but they’re not quite exactly the same thing – and trying to understand what anxiety actually feels like, like in your body. And that’s a helpful way, like for me to just understand that for a friend, and for teenagers, it sounds like a lot of them are really articulate and know exactly what it feels like in their bodies.

JEN BRADBURY: Right. Not only are they articulate, but there was the sense in the room that night of just eagerness of like, “I know this answer and I wanna share it because you’ve actually asked me about it and no one had.”

ANNA TRAN: Mm-hmm. 

JEN BRADBURY: And so that was – it was a really sacred, holy moment. 

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. So what’s the, the third word that you talked about?

JEN BRADBURY: Third word is diverse. So this generation, Gen Z, is the most diverse generation our country has ever seen. And I use the word “diversity” intentionally, but I also wanna say that that means on several different levels. So, ethnically, this is the most diverse generation that we have in the U.S. and it’s only getting more diverse, but it also means in terms of things like sexual identity and orientation, so the numbers who identify themselves as LGBTQ+ are rising. That has implications for how young people understand themselves. It also has implications for us, regardless of what you believe theologically on that issue. We also see this in terms of religious diversity, so the sense that young people are in a cohort of people that is more religiously diverse than we have seen in the past. So no longer is it just Christian or non-Christian, right? It’s “I used to be a Christian.” It’s “I’m exploring.” It’s “I’m Jewish, Muslim,” whatever the case is, right? But there is a diversity there as well. And then I also think it’s important to realize that neurodiversity also plays into this equation. And so the number of high school students, the number of students in general, with things like IEPs, the Individualized Educational Plans, um, is on the rise, and so that’s yet another way that this generation is diverse. And again, as we think about how we see diversity and how young people see diversity, it’s important to realize that teenagers, when they talk about the diversity in their generation, this is something that they are extraordinarily proud of. They like being part of a group that’s diverse, and they expect people around them to be positive about it and to be excited by the diversity in the world. 

ANNA TRAN: Tell me about how these modern markers – teenagers, you know, them being adaptive, anxious, and diverse – how have you or, like, other youth ministers adapted how you teach the gospel? How do you adapt that to today’s teenagers? 

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, great question. So lots of good things that we’re seeing people do that I’m trying to implement in my own ministry – going to the adaptive piece, I think that has a lot of implications for not just what we teach but how we teach. So at Fuller Youth Institute, we just released a book last week actually called Faith Beyond Youth Group, and the subtitle of that is Five Ways to Form Character and Cultivate Lifelong Discipleship. So one of those ways, one of the five ways – we call this our Faith Beyond Youth Group compass – is teach for transformation. And what we mean by that is that oftentimes, in churches particularly, we can reduce teaching to, you know, “I’m gonna get up on a Wednesday night and give a 15 minute talk for my young people, and then afterwards maybe they’ll go into small groups for 20 to 30 minutes and talk about it.” But that first part of teaching very often in a lot of settings is this one way transmission of “I’m the person with authority, and I’m gonna tell you how to interpret or understand the Scripture or what it means,” but because young people are so adaptive, because they’re growing up in this TikTok world where there’s no longer one place of authority or one person of authority, how they’re learning is very, very different. And so what we saw churches doing that were doing this well were doing things like not talking and instead asking questions and listening. There’s a sharing of authority that is also happening in some places that’s super, super effective. So again, thinking about this generation as one that’s constantly on TikTok, they hear all these people talking about all the things. They want that similar experience in church. So they don’t just want my experience. They wanna hear – what does the leader next to me think about this? They wanna hear from each other. And so when we can teach in a way that shares our authority, whether that’s through things like panel discussions or bringing in people to share their testimony or their story, that’s another way that we can teach for transformation. And another act of sharing our authority is actually equipping young people to lead. And so whether that’s giving them, again, the power and the authority and the equipping to actually lead the conversation that they want to have or it’s inviting them to be part of our service teams and to help set the trajectory of what we’re doing, those can all be really powerful and effective ways of teaching this generation.

ANNA TRAN: Tell me what you think of this. I had a thought. Related to the topic of authority, how would you teach young people about the authority, kinda like the ultimate authority of, of Jesus and the ultimate authority of God? How would you go about teaching that if, let’s say, authority is something that a lot of young people see more as, like, a level-playing field?

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah. Great, great question. Um, so a couple things there. So one is to be honest about the questions that young people are actually asking. So for some teenagers, that is the question of, like, the authority of Scripture or the authority of Jesus and God. For others, it’s much more almost brass tacks, and what I mean by that is questions like, “How did we get the Bible that we have?” And so, you know, built into that there are questions about trust, but their forward-facing question is, you know, “I open the Bible and I see this, but somewhere along the lines I’ve also heard people talk about the gospel of Mary Magdalene or the gospel of Thomas and those aren’t in our Bible. So what happened to them? Does it mean there was a conspiracy?” So I think part of teaching about authority is actually being open to listening to the questions that young people are really asking and to answering those, to having honest conversations about those questions, to say, “This is how our tradition, our church, our denomination, whatever context you come from, understands Scripture. This is why we think it’s important.” Testimony can actually also work really well here, which may seem really strange, but when young people hear personal stories of, “This is why Scripture is meaningful to me. This is why I believe the Bible. This is why I read the Bible,” and that actually hits them very differently than you saying, “You have to believe the Bible because it’s the basis on which our whole faith is formed.” 

ANNA TRAN: Mm-hmm. 

JEN BRADBURY: The latter is true, but it comes off as really just like, “Well, who are you to decide that?” Whereas the former comes off as much more experiential and of relatable, and so there’s almost this translation that needs to happen when we’re interacting and ministering with young people so that we are responding in ways that they are open to hearing, if that makes sense.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, yeah. I like that. Almost like cultural translation. Obviously, it’s not a different language, but what you just said there – being able to communicate in a way that will not make it difficult for them to, um, understand. 

JEN BRADBURY: Yes. A hundred percent. 

ANNA TRAN: So, there was a – a study came out a few years ago – I think it was 2018, 2019 – it was called “The Great Opportunity.” I’m guessing that you all at Fuller have probably heard about that. 

JEN BRADBURY: Sure have. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, it’s said that it’s projected that by like 2050 35 million youths raised in Christian families are projected to disaffiliate from Christianity. Tell me what you make of this and what you all at Fuller, yeah, glean from that study.

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, so the study was done by Pine Tops Foundations, and what they did was they looked at all the research that’s out there – so some stuff by us going back to our Sticky Faith research, some, uh, body done by Barna, some Pew Research is in there, as well as some stuff from Springtide. And we, we agree with this report is sort of my bottom line statement. We do think that young people are disaffiliating from the church at pretty alarming rates. And to go back to our book that we just released a little bit ago, Faith Beyond Youth Group, one of the five ways to form character that we talk about in this book that we saw churches and ministries doing was the act of cultivating trust. So where this connects with this idea of disaffiliation is this sense that trust used to kind of be a given. So again, I’m in my early 40s, and when I was a kid the understanding was that you trusted the church and that you trusted the pastor because they had positional authority because of who the church was and who they were in that structure. But today, the positional and institutional authority has all eroded and this generation of young people does not inherently trust institutions nor the people who lead those institutions. And that includes senior pastors and associate pastors, but it also includes youth pastors. So what we saw again and again as we went around the country, as we talked to people, is there’s this sense from youth leaders that “My kids really like me, but I don’t actually think they trust me.” So part of keeping kids in the church, part of keeping them connected to the church and more importantly to Jesus – because I wanna be clear that what’s alarming to me about the statistic is not that they’re walking away from the church. It’s that they’re walking away from their faith. And those two things are connected, but they’re not always entirely the same. And so I, bottom line, I want young people connected to Jesus and I think that the church is one of our best ways to get them connected to Jesus and that’s why I care about statistics like this one. So I think that part of stemming the tide of this disaffiliation is restoring trust, and there’s good news and bad news with that. So the good news is that trust happens in small things. It’s not about big gimmicks. That’s actually a great way to lose trust. But it’s about things like – going back to my own experience, I had adults who showed up in my life and who showed up consistently. So they were close to me, and they were there all the time. And those are the two things that literally in our research we found to be true of cultivating trust, that you have to show up and you have to do it consistently, um, that it takes time and proximity. Now, is that all that we have to do in order to keep kids in the church and to keep them from disaffiliating? No, but that is a really important first step. 

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. That’s really good. Well stay with us ’cause when we come back we’ll continue our conversation with Jen Bradbury. Stay with us.


ANNA TRAN: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Anna Tran. And now it’s time for Beyond Left and Right. In this segment of our show, we ask our guests to put today’s topic through three questions – what is the traditional view on discipling teenagers, what is the progressive view on discipling teenagers, and what is the Christian view on discipling teenagers? Okay, here’s how this works. We’re going to ask you three questions. When you are summarizing opposing views, be charitable. Present both the conservative and liberal views fairly and objectively rather than trying to make it look foolish. Then, for the final question, tell us which elements both conservatives and liberals each get right and how the Christian view challenges and surpasses both. Alright, have any questions? 

JEN BRADBURY: No, this is gonna be fun. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, first question. What is the traditional view on discipling teenagers? 

JEN BRADBURY: And I wanna be clear, Anna, when you say traditional, you mean more conservative here? 


JEN BRADBURY: Okay. Yeah, so I would say the conservative, the traditional view on discipling teenagers is that teenagers need to be in the church so that they can come to know Jesus, which typically means an event or an experience when a young person first accepts Jesus into their heart, and then, because of that acceptance of who Jesus is and what Jesus did in their lives, teenagers are then expected to live a certain way that reflects the identity of Jesus in their life. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, what’s the progressive, more liberal view on discipling teenagers? 

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, so there’s some elements that are the same. So there’s this sense of, “We want young people to believe in Jesus,” but what’s different – I think the fundamental distinguishing factor is that progressives don’t talk about discipling Jesus as a one-time experience of accepting Jesus into your heart. Progressives would use the language of a faith journey, “my experience with God.” There’s a lot of weight placed on experience in progressive circles. In more traditional circles, there’s a lot of weight placed on Scripture. It’s not that progressives ignore Scripture, but again the weightiness of that is a little bit different. And I think whereas in traditional circles that understanding of, “I accept Jesus, so now I’m going to live differently to reflect who Jesus is,” progressives would say that that is much more about, “Because God created me in God’s image and I already belong to God and share in God’s identity, that the natural outpouring of that is that I’m going to live like Jesus because that’s who God created me to be, regardless of who I am.” 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so let’s talk about – from your perspective – what’s the Christian view on discipling teenagers?

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah. So I think a Christian view on discipling teenagers has Jesus at the center of it always. I think it is informed by Scripture because I think that Scripture gives us the story of who we are, so there’s a piece of identity there. And I think that a part of that goes back to this “How do we live now?” piece. It’s the sense of faith, discipleship is not just about what I know. It’s about how I act. And so there is a compelling and identity piece that says, “I’ve gotta live like Jesus in my everyday life.”

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. Okay, so what do the conservative and traditional views get right? 

JEN BRADBURY: I think the traditional view of discipleship gets Jesus right – and that may sound so basic, but in my career I’ve had the privilege of bouncing in and out of evangelical conservative circles and progressive mainline circles. Again, I really think Jesus is what distinguishes our Christian faith, and I love the way that conservatives center everything on Jesus. 

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. So what do progressive and liberal perspectives get right? 

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, I think what progressive and liberal perspectives get right is the social justice piece and in some ways the identity piece. So I think traditional conservative viewpoints, there’s this sort of nod to service of like, “Oh yeah, you know, the whole sheep and goats thing. We’ve gotta help people. But as long as we do it kind of at a distance, it’s fine.” And I think what progressives really get right is the sense of, no, social justice is actually a key component of what it means to live like Jesus, that Jesus went to the margins, he interacted with, he ministered to, he equipped people for ministry, he cared about those who were oppressed, and because Jesus cared we need to care too. 

ANNA TRAN: So, how do you think the Christian view challenges a traditional conservative view? 

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, I think a Christian view challenges the traditional conservative view by saying it’s absolutely about Jesus and because it’s about Jesus it’s about a lot more than just Jesus. So again, it combines the sort of elements of, yes, we want to know all about Jesus, and it’s not enough to just know Jesus. Who Jesus is, the fruits of the Spirit have to be a part of how we’re living our life for our faith to matter, for it to not look like hypocrisy in the world around us. 

ANNA TRAN: Alright, last one here. How does the Christian view challenge the more progressive liberal view? 

JEN BRADBURY: Yeah, it challenges the more progressive liberal view by saying social justice alone isn’t enough, that if it’s not actually rooted in Jesus that we’ve lost the center of the story. 

ANNA TRAN: Mmm. Jen, thanks so much for joining us today. Do you have 15 extra minutes for three more questions?

JEN BRADBURY: I sure do. 

ANNA TRAN: Awesome. Cool, listeners, if you wanna hear those extra 15 minutes of the interview, we’ll be posting that on our Patreon. To hear that, go to

JESSE EUBANKS: And now it’s time for What Are You Doing, where Anna Tran talks to somebody around the world making an impact right now on today’s topic.

KEVIN PRINGLE: Hey, what’s happening? 

ANNA TRAN: Hey, Kevin. 

KEVIN PRINGLE: How are you? 

ANNA TRAN: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for, uh, recording this with me. So, tell our listeners who you are and where you’re calling from. 

KEVIN PRINGLE: Yes, um, I am Kevin Pringle. I’m the Executive Director of Youth for Christ, Greater Louisville. 

ANNA TRAN: Nice. So, if someone doesn’t know what Youth for Christ does, um, tell them a little bit about what they could expect.

KEVIN PRINGLE: Yeah, absolutely. We’re, we’re a global ministry. We have chapters all over the world. What we do, we work with middle school and high school kids to share the love of Christ with them, to help them enter into an authentic Christ-sharing relationship with an adult or mentor. We use several models through Campus Life. We go on, um, middle school and high school campuses. We have an urban center called City Life. We work with teen parents. We work with kids who are, uh, adjudicated. And we also are launching a sports ministry. That kind of sums it up. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. So if there was a teenager who came to City Life, how would you help them out, um, learn about their needs, and how would you serve them?

KEVIN PRINGLE: Yeah, we take a holistic approach where we, we want them to have a Christ-centered foundation. We don’t necessarily just dive into – and not that there’s anything wrong with that – we don’t necessarily just dive into establishing a relationship with Jesus. We want to meet the kids where they’re at. We want to be able to assess their needs, what’s going on in their personal life, what’s going on in their family life, what’s going on at school, all those things, and, uh, match them with someone who can help walk them through their journey as a middle school and high school student.

ANNA TRAN: What do you think is unique for the program, um, that you guys have? What can you all offer that is more helpful than stuff that they may be surrounded by at school or at home? 

KEVIN PRINGLE: Absolutely. I think one of the main things – I, I don’t wanna overuse this, but it is so vital and so important – is that there needs to be an understanding of who they are in relationship with who created them, that God has created them, God has given them an identity oftentimes that gets lost in, in, in the shuffle of life. We want to help them understand first and foremost who they are in relationship to who Jesus is and then help them walk through whatever their passions, whatever their desires are, as it matches with why they were created.

ANNA TRAN: It’s like helping them and not just telling them, right? Helping them live into that on their own and discovering that on their own. 

KEVIN PRINGLE: Absolutely. And we always wanna be there to help, uh, with any questions, any concerns, any stumbling blocks that they might have because there, there’s definitely going to be some. And, and so we wanna help them. You know, oftentimes you have things where, uh, once somebody messes up, then you kind of, you kind of write them off, but we, we factor that into the equation, that there, there are going to be hiccups. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. Do you think there are some unique pain points for teenagers today that maybe you hadn’t seen like five or ten years ago?

KEVIN PRINGLE: Oh my goodness. Absolutely. And to address a couple of those things, um, there’s, there’s such confusion in, uh, identity – and, again, that’s not a word I wanna overuse, but I think it’s something that we can all relate to. There’s this nagging question of “Who am I?” and there’s a lot of things that are out there that they’re, they’re counterfeit things, but they’re telling kids, young people, “This is who you can be,” but all those things have false bottoms to it. We try to force kids into a sexual identity before we force them into a creative identity, meaning, “Why, why do you even exist at all? Why are you here?” And so, we try to format that before it’s, it’s, it’s – there’s a foundational kind of understanding of, of why you’re here. Not to mention fatherlessness continues to be a, a, a, uh, predominant issue in the life, especially of the kids that we work with. There’s so many young people who don’t have a father figure at home. Or if the father figure is there, there’s fear attached to it and it’s a damaging relationship. And so, it’s quite fascinating. I mean, I was a teenager a long time ago, and, uh, (laughs) and, um, it, it, I, I would not wanna trade places with any adolescent right now, not by any stretch of imagination. 

ANNA TRAN: Well, Kevin, thanks so much for your time. Thanks so much for, like, the partnership that City Life and Youth for Christ has with LTN. Thanks so much for, for talking with me. 

KEVIN PRINGLE: Oh, my pleasure. Anytime, Anna. You guys have our heart, and we believe in what you’re doing as well. So, God bless you too.


JESSE EUBANKS: Hey, thanks so much for joining us. Make sure to leave a review for the show wherever you listen to podcasts. Support the show and our ministry by becoming a Patreon supporter. You can get bonus content and workbooks for each topic that we cover. To support our show, head over to Again, that’s And listen, we will be back in two weeks with our special, I don’t know, State of the Union Address episode where we give you an update about all the ministry stuff that has happened here at Love Thy Neighborhood over the last year. And then, in four weeks, we will be back with Reality Christmas Number Two, an episode where we tell – an episode full of short stories all about the realities of Christmas.


JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our guests today – Jen Bradbury and Kevin Pringle. 

ANNA TRAN: Senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. Co-host is me, Anna Tran. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Anna Tran is our producer and audio editor.

ANNA TRAN: Music is from Lee Rosevere and Murphy DX. 

JESSE EUBANKS: This show is brought to you by Love Thy Neighborhood. If you want a hands-on experience of missions in our modern times, come serve with Love Thy Neighborhood. Love Thy Neighborhood offers summer and year long missions internships for young adults ages 18 to 30. Bring social change with the gospel by working with an innovative nonprofit and serving your urban neighbors. 

ANNA TRAN: Experience community like never before as you live and do ministry with other Christian young adults. Grow in your faith by walking in the life and lifestyle of Jesus and being part of a vibrant, healthy church. Apply now at 

JESSE EUBANKS: Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, “Go, and do likewise.”


This podcast is only made possible by generous donors like you!


Jen’s new book she co-wrote: Faith Beyond Youth Group
Other books Jen has written: Called: A Novel About Youth Ministry Transition and What Do I Believe About What I Believe?
Study – The Great Opportunity: The American Church 2050
Knowing is more than information transfer –
Book from philosopher Esther Lightcap Meek: A Little Manual for Knowing
Kevin’s organization: Youth For Christ


Special thank you to our interviewees Jen Bradbury and Kevin Pringle.
Senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. Co-host is Anna Tran.
Anna Tran is our producer and audio editor.
Music for this episode comes from Murphy D.X.