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The Story that Shapes Us (Part 1)

The Story that Shapes Us (Part 1)

JANUARY 18, 2022  |  14:19 MINUTE LISTEN

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Episode Overview

Stories shape us, inspire us, and call us to action. What stories are shaping Generation Z? In generations past, the story of Jesus was a starting point for many. That’s no longer the case, meaning new stories are competing for the attention of Gen Z. Today we’ll talk about what those stories are and how can we pray for and walk with Gen Z as they seek to live out the story of Jesus in their lives.

Read the Script

Connor: Welcome to The Approach, a microcast where we help you walk with and pray for the next generation as they seek to journey with Jesus and participate in the Great Commission. My name's Connor Owen, and I'm joined by John Rinehimer.

John: Hey.

Connor: And he's working on his PhD in Gen Z and spiritual formation. And then we both serve on staff at World Gospel Mission. So as we get our conversation going today, we're going to talk about how stories have the power to shape our lives, and specifically, the lives of our Gen Zers. So let's start talking about some of our favorite stories. What about you, John? What are some of your favorites that come to mind?

John: Yeah. It's hard for me to not think of story and connect it with movies. And so, man, some of my favorite movies, I love all the Star Wars.

Connor: Yeah.

John: I had my doubts about the new ones like The Mandalorian, but they got me hooked.

Connor: Uh-huh (affirmative).

John: I love it, baby Yoda. And Marvel movies, Braveheart, Tombstone, pretty much any sports movie that is based on a true story, I'm a real sucker for. So, how about you?

Connor: Yeah. Those are hard to beat, the true sports stories. I like a lot of those, too. I love World War II movies and shows. Those are ones that always get me. I'm from Indiana, so Hoosiers, I've got to mention that one.

John: Obviously.

Connor: And I'm even going to bring up the rom-com category. Sleepless in Seattle, it's too good not to mention right now.

John: Wow. I don't know if I even know you anymore.

Connor: John is speechless. This has never happened.

John: Yeah. I'm speechless.

Connor: Look, it's not the one that shapes my life. It's just a good movie.

John: Is it?

Connor: Yeah.

John: Okay.

Connor: So we're talking about stories.

John: Back to story. So yeah, stories do shape us, and a great story, it sparks our memories, engages our heart, our mind. It gives us often a context for understanding that person's situation, their life, and inspires many times, people to take action. And the stories shaping Gen Z, oftentimes it's a secular story or a popular culture story. And it's attempting to redefine a lot of core values of people, stuff like truth, love, freedom, authenticity. Gen Z understands those words many times differently than previous generations.

Connor: Yeah.

John: They're not at the same starting point. And so, as those words are used, they're probably going to mean a little bit different things.

Connor: Okay.

John: And so, the secular story to redefining a lot of these terms and many other things, based on your feelings and yourself, just you. You do it yourself. And so, it comes out in messages that maybe you've heard before or listeners have heard before; stuff like, "Hey, you do you."

Connor: Yeah.

John: And, "Live your truth." But it's based on just the self.

Connor: Just you.

John: Just self-centeredness, really.

Connor: Yeah. And let's acknowledge this. On the surface, if you're not aware of the downside of this secular story, the "You do you," the "Find your own truth," you might think this looks pretty attractive and pretty easy. Right?

John: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Connor: And what this results in though, what we're seeing in Gen Z, it results in anxiously comparing your story to other people's stories, and obsessively curating this online identity on social media. And the story of Jesus, it's foreign to them. It's not the cultural narrative that you hear all the time. It's kind of like asking an 80-year-old to sing the latest Billy Eilish song. Right? It's not in them. They don't know it, so they're not going to be able to sing it.

John: Boy, that would be fun to think about, though, and hear. But anyway.

Connor: We should try this.

John: Yeah, exactly. The point is they don't know the general story that maybe most Americans for the last 150 years or so—

Connor: Right.

John: —kind of had. Right? We were all singing the same song in some way, but now we don't have that. And so, it's easy to fall into this secular story that leads, oftentimes, I would argue, to an exhausted life of worry and distraction. Because it just tends to keep... "More, do more, do more, promote yourself, compare yourself to others." And this story, this secular story, this way of living, it leaves people, and especially it seems a lot of times, particularly Gen Zers feeling lost, isolated, empty, anxious. Because God didn't design us that way. God didn't design us just to do it yourself. So the Gospel story, the Jesus story, is very different.

Connor: Yeah. It's the antithesis of the cultural narrative that we're talking about. Jesus, He doesn't say, "Promote yourself." He says, "Surrender your life." And then when you do that, that's when you find truth and purpose in the person of Jesus.

John: Yeah. Hey, antithesis, triple word score by the way, boom.

Connor: So my mom will be proud.

John: Yeah. You're right on, though. The Gospel story of "surrender your life" is so different. It reminds me of how Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, who was a big influence on my life, especially when it comes to talking about this redemptive story.

Connor: Yeah.

John: He would say that "freedom in Christ is found through living a holy life." So being full of the Holy Spirit, transformed, living full of Jesus. And so, he said, "That frees you, that frees you and me from self-protection, self-projection, self-promotion." Yes, they're all Ps.

Connor: Very good. Very good. But memorable.

John: Yeah. Alliteration; it sets it up, though. You get the promotion of promotion, protection, and projection of self. And you see that kind of played out in Barna's research as well on Gen Z. And then they found only 4% of Gen Zers hold a biblical worldview.

Connor: Wow.

John: Now, that sounds... It is low.

Connor: Yeah. Yeah.

John: But the paradox is that those Gen Zers who are following Jesus are extremely committed, passionate. So they found that 80% of Gen Zers who are following Jesus share their faith regularly.

Connor: Wow.

John: And they believe it's essential. And so, they're actually doing it. They're actually evangelizing. They're not afraid of it. They find peace in it, actually.

Connor: Hmm.

John: So Gen Z, man, they're highly redemptive. They want to live for something bigger than themself.

Connor: Yeah.

John: And they're missional generation; and I would argue, this could be our next big wave of missionaries.

Connor: Yeah.

John: They're living in a post-Christian America, and if they're following Jesus, they're living the Great Commission out.

Connor: They don't have to travel that far sometimes.

John: Yeah. Yeah. And so, I think this is critical for Gen Z, and the story that is really shaping them. And so, the story of a secular narrative, or a story is, "Be an influencer. Answer all of life's problems. Find it within yourself. Do it alone." But during history, you've never had to answer all of life's hardest questions by yourself.

Connor: Yeah.

John: That's a relatively new thing in the last 150 years or so. And so, living your own truth and just you doing you doesn't lead to the freedom they're actually seeking. The redemptive story of the Gospel tells us that real freedom isn't doing whatever you want, whenever you want. It's living according to God's design, to your Creator's design and purpose; and this actually brings true biblical freedom. And that's what Gen Z longs for. It's what we all long for. And so, this story frees Gen Z to let God guide their life, to guide their story, to shape their story.

Connor: Yeah. This is really important for us, you and me, John, our listeners, as we walk with Gen Z. And especially during this Easter season, we just have such a great opportunity to remind them of the hope and the redemption and really, the freedom that we're all seeking. We find that, and we have that in Christ.

Connor: So as usual, we want to intentionally pray the scriptures over the next generation. And leading us in that today is a WGM staff member, Amy Jarrett. And Amy is, she spent several years in Kenya working with students. Now, she works with our MKs at WGM, which for those of you non-WGMers, MKs are missionary kids. So she works with, she has a heart for the next generation, and she wants to see them live out the Great Commission. So Amy's going to lead us today as we pray over the stories that are filling and forming the next generation.

Amy: Psalm 143:8–10. "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love. For I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you, I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”

Dear Jesus, there is a battle for the hearts of Gen Z that tells them they can have their own truth apart from you. They are told to find the answer to all of life's problems on their own, to live their own truth. But these ever-shifting and changing targets are like chains of bondage to our souls that were made for a relationship with you, our Creator.

We desire that they will know this is not based on feelings, but on the truth. Father, the redeeming story of the Gospel tells us that real freedom is found in being a child of God. It tells us that we were fearfully and wonderfully made in our mother's wombs. Lord, we can have freedom when we live for you, and when we are fulfilling your perfect design and purpose. For you formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you for, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works. My soul knows it very well.

Lord, we pray that Gen Z will know that they have been made in your image, that they will know your love for them, that your design is there for them, Lord, that they would find that in you. They don't have to find that outside of you. Lord, we know that our frame was not hidden in from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance. In your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Jesus, you have written our stories before a day came to be. Your infinite and sovereign hand perfectly scripted our stories to beautifully reflect your purpose and design. You make no mistakes. We are your image bearers, and are given inherent dignity and worth like no other created being. God, you invited us into your family. We are not left alone on our own to walk through life by ourself. You call us your sons and daughters.

Jesus, you are truth, and I pray that the precious young men and women of Gen Z will learn to look at your unchanging character and your living Word to guide them and call them to yourself. You are holy and righteous, and have called us to live in light of that holiness. I pray that as the Psalmist cried, "Teach us your way, oh Lord," that Gen Z might walk in your truth. Unite our hearts to fear your name.

Jesus, I pray that as we bear your image and name to the world around us, we would be a light in the darkness. Jesus, you speak love over our hearts. And because you made us, you know our hearts and our desires. You loved us so much that you gave your life to purchase our freedom from our sin and death. You who knew no sin, became sin so that we might be made righteous by your sacrifice.

My heart cries out for the coming generations. There is so much noise in this world: noise of competition and comparison that make you feel as if you are never enough. The message in this world is that there will always be one more milestone, one more beauty secret, one more relationship, 100 more followers that have to be found or accomplished before you can become complete, or before you have made it. But God, you do not call us to success, but to faithfulness. May they find that rest in you, because in you alone, oh Lord, are we made whole.

May the hearts of Gen Z hear your voice louder than the rest of the voices. May they hear you singing over them, "Fear, not Gen Z. Let not your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God is in your midst; a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will quiet you by his love. He will exalt over you with loud singing." May they know you and be rooted and grounded in your love and in your truth. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Connor: Thank you, Amy, for joining us today, and leading us as we approach God in prayer. And thanks to all of our listeners for joining us today as we pray for and walk with the next generation, as they seek to use their gifts and their talents and their experiences to journey with Jesus and participate in the Great Commission. And thanks for sharing The Approach with others, rating and reviewing it, as this helps others find the podcast and go on this journey with us. For some of our resources, you can check out our show notes on our website at

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