Intro: They may be called the next generation, but they’re the church of today. Reach, disciple and mobilize students to share the hope of the Gospel. This is Next Gen on Mission with Shane Pruitt.
Shane Pruitt: Hi friends, Shane Pruitt here. Thanks for hanging out with us again on the Next Gen on Mission podcast today. We have a very special guest, Ben Trueblood, and we’re actually going to be talking about what we need to know about Gen Z.
Shane Pruitt: My friend Ben serves as the Director of Student Ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources and has over 19 years of student ministry experience. In addition to his role at LifeWay, Ben is involved in training, consulting and speaking to student ministries throughout the United States, is the author of three books, the host of a podcast himself and has recently started a YouTube channel. We’ll have Ben share about that towards at the end where you can connect with him. But we are so excited to have Ben Trueblood on today. Ben, how you doing my friend?
Ben Trueblood: Man, I’m great, Shane. Thank you for having me on. I’m excited to be with you.
Shane Pruitt: Absolutely man. Well, we’re excited to have you on. Hey, before we jump into anything too spiritual, I love to always ask this question to our guests. What is one thing that is fun, unique, that we should know about Ben that maybe we don’t already know?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah. I am actually a pretty avid gamer, it’s a hobby for me. I had a Twitch stream for a little while. I did that for a little while and realized I don’t have time to do that any longer. It is something that I enjoy doing. My son is old enough now, so we do some of that together, and it’s a good time. That’s probably something that not very many people know.
Shane Pruitt: That’s fun. When you say gamer, do you mean old school, like Pac Man and Pong and all those good things?
Ben Trueblood: No, I do enjoy an old school game, but I have a gaming PC that I built. That’s primarily the lane that I run in. I did have to get a PlayStation though for the Major League Baseball game. It’s the only platform that has the rights to do the game. Huge baseball fan, so I had to have one for that.
Shane Pruitt: That’s awesome man. When Nintendo put out that little NES, the small classic Nintendo and the Super Nintendo, I got one of those and Super Tecmo Bowl was on there. Do you remember Super Tecmo Bowl? That was Madden before Madden.
Ben Trueblood: Absolutely do, yeah.
Shane Pruitt: Awesome, brother.
Ben Trueblood: Yes, that’s great.
Shane Pruitt: Hey, well briefly share with us, what does your role with LifeWay consist of? What does that look like?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah, the main thing, what I consider to be my main role is serving churches and youth pastors. I know that’s a broad statement, but that’s why I went to LifeWay is to encourage and serve and challenge youth pastors. We do that through several things. We have a lot of summer camps that we do. Centrifuge or Fuge camps as a lot of people call it, is in my area, student life camp as well is in my area, World Changers mission trips is in my area. Along with kids camps like Center Kid and Student Life for Kids camps are also. We house a lot of the summer events that happen for ministries to the church through LifeWay.
Ben Trueblood: In addition to that, we have a publishing team. All of our curriculum publishing that comes out of LifeWay for student ministries comes through my area and then we have a training arm as well. That’s the final piece of that triad. We have events and publishing and then training. Through training, we do some live events as well as online training. Our online training platform is called Youth Ministry Booster. And it is exactly that, an online training and development platform. But in addition to just on demand training that you could go and get, all of the members of Youth Ministry Booster are put into smaller cohort style groups called Masterminds. And those are groups that meet frequently throughout the year for soul care, for ministry conversation. Just to give youth pastors a place with other youth pastors that they can learn and grow and be encouraged. Be able to have somebody that they can be vulnerable with and share, “Hey, this is going on in my context,” and be able to have other people pray for them, speak into that. That’s LifeWay students in a quick glance.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, I love it, Ben. Pastors, student pastors, Next Gen leaders that are listening, I’m sure we’ve all been impacted by LifeWay Christian resources. Man, Ben, thank you so much for what you all do and are continuing to do and been so faithful to help the church advance the kingdom for a long time. Man, I really appreciate that.
Shane Pruitt: We’re talking about Gen Z, so I always love to ask this question to our guests and to see the different responses. But they’re really all in the same vein, is what do we need to know about the next generation? What do we need to know about Generation Z?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah, that’s a big question. I think I would focus in on a couple of specific things. I think that an important thing to know about Gen Z is that they are more open minded than any other generation before them. Embracing inclusion and diversity is something that comes naturally to them. It’s the most diverse generation that’s ever existed. And even in terms of socially, they’re much more willing to be open minded and embrace things of our culture than perhaps my generation as the Gen X-er and definitely those that came before me. I think that inclusion piece, open mindedness piece is important, especially for us who work in the church and are trying to reach this generation.
Ben Trueblood: The other thing that I would say, I mean everybody grabs onto the fact that they’re mobile, the first digital natives. That’s who they are. They’ve grown up with technology. Many of the researchers say around age 12 is when they received their first smartphone. We didn’t do that in our house, but that is what has become the normal practice. Then I think the last thing that I’d like to mention about Gen Z is that it takes them longer to embrace something and to say, “Yes, I’m in on that.” But once they’re in, they’re much more committed than the generation before them, than Millennials. For somebody that works in student ministry still, I serve in student ministry in my local church here in Nashville, and I think it’s important to know when we talk about reaching that generation, for many of them it’s going to take more of a conversation than a one night moment to see them begin to embrace what it means to live for Christ. Or to even accept him initially as Savior. But once they do, we’re talking about a group of people that will be much more committed as soon as they make the decision.
Shane Pruitt: Man, what a good word. And that is, I mean I think that’s something that we should be excited about and encouraged about. I agree with that wholeheartedly. You said the first average age of receiving their smartphone is 12. Man, that seems older because we have a third grader and this past Christmas, she’s begging for an iPhone because she says, “Literally all of my friends have one.” She’s in third grade. I’m like, “Who you think you’re going to call?” We got her a bag phone for Christmas. Remember those?
Ben Trueblood: There you go. I love it.
Shane Pruitt: We got her the Zach Morris brick phone from Saved By the Bell. That’s what we got her.
Ben Trueblood: Saved By the Bell is getting ready to have a reboot.
Shane Pruitt: They are, man. Ben, in that same vein, what would you say is the greatest challenge facing Generation Z? What’s going to be their greatest challenge?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah. Man, I think it is going to be taking this open minded and inclusivity and still having a Biblical worldview and being willing to take stances on issues socially and in our world that the Bible takes clear stances on. I think that’s going to be a huge challenge for this generation. And at the same time, I think it’s a wonderful thing for this generation who is so open minded to be in the church and to be willing to be in relationship with people who do live different lifestyles. But for the purpose of sharing what they themselves believe and how Jesus has changed their life.
Ben Trueblood: I think what we’ll see is more willingness for the church, as this generation gets older, more willingness for the church to embrace conversations with people of different lifestyles than has been taken maybe more of a judgmental approach in the past. But it is going to be a real challenge for somebody who is generally inclusive to be able to say, “Okay, I love you and want to be in this conversation and life with you. But at the same time, I do need to say, this is what the Bible states.”
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, I agree with that. Ben, you wrote a book called Student Ministry That Matters. You said there are three elements of a healthy student ministry. What are those elements?
Ben Trueblood: The first one is that a healthy student ministry will be kingdom expanding. Meaning evangelism is probably the word that’s most familiar to people in this. But a healthy student ministry is one that engages the lost, clearly articulates the gospel and gives people an opportunity to respond to that message. There’s a lot that unpacks with that, but in a nutshell that is kingdom expanding. And closely behind that is helping teenagers develop a heart for the nations and so forth. But in essence, it is a healthy student ministry must be involved in reaching people with the gospel.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it truly is a great book and I really encourage anybody working with the next gen to get ahold of this book. And Ben, it’s available everywhere books are sold, is that right?
Ben Trueblood: I know it’s available online, Amazon and lifeway.com. I don’t know that you’ll see it in your local Barnes and Noble, should you show up there.
Shane Pruitt: Awesome, man. Then you also wrote a book with our good friend Brian Mills called A Different College Experience. Briefly share with us your heart behind this book.
Ben Trueblood: Yeah. Man, that was such a fun project. It actually released, at the time of the recording of this podcast anyway, one year ago yesterday. That was a fun anniversary date. But Brian, who was in student ministry a long time, now is a Senior Pastor at a church in Oklahoma City area. He and I were at a conference together and we were on a bus as a part of this conference, traveling to our next session. We’ve known each other for a long time and at the time of that conversation he was doing college ministry. I said, “Man, you were in student ministry for a long time and very effective in student ministry. Now you’re in a position where you are getting students out of student ministries to come to college and you’re ministering to them in the after stage of what we’ve done for our whole lives. What would you do differently now seeing the end result, if you were to go back into student ministry?”
Ben Trueblood: That question led into a conversation that became the book, A Different College Experience. We were able to write that together, and it’s been out for a year now, and I’ve been so encouraged by testimonies of people that we’ve heard in churches and people that have picked the book up and just read it as they are in their college journey or a high school senior about to go off to college. Man, my prayer is that it still makes an impact and still hits people in a very, very important transitional moment in their lives.
Shane Pruitt: Yeah, I think it’s such a key book for such a key time. I’ve told multiple student pastors Brian, every year when they do Graduation Sunday or honor the seniors, they say, “Hey, what’s a good gift or some books? I’ve been recommending that book. I think that’s a great book to put in the hands of students that are in college, preparing for college. For the college students that’s listening, or maybe the junior or senior in high school that’s preparing for college, what are some core values they should focus on as they prepare for college or they’re currently in college?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah, I think one is stick your face in the Bible. You’ve got to develop a daily discipline of taking in God’s Word. For people that have been around church, they’ve probably heard their youth pastor or small group leader or pastor from the stage say that and they’re probably sick of hearing it. But the reality is, I mean that is the single most influential thing that we could do for our spiritual life, is to be in God’s Word. So I would say that right out of the gate.
Ben Trueblood: The second thing is that some of the stuff that we’ve found in research through LifeWay over the last year, is that spiritual mentors actually indicate a person’s connection to the church greater than any other indicator. We studied how people who are active in the church during their high school years transition into college and do they remain connected to the church. And one of the factors that we found that influences their connectivity to the church greater than anything else was when they had three or more spiritual mentors in their life. So be in a discipling relationship. Find people who will be your spiritual mentors. I would even go further to say, people who are of other generations in the church, people who have lived a life with Jesus that can talk through the highs and lows of life and how Jesus was faithful through all of those things. That really begins to expand a view for a teenager of what it means to follow Christ.
Ben Trueblood: So get in your Bible and find a spiritual mentor and then a simple step that if you’re in that transition moment of high school to college, when you go do a college visit, make sure you visit a church or two during that college visit. Very simple step that’s neglected so many times, that really just roots that decision, not just in where am I going to do education next, but more importantly, where am I going to be connected to the body of Christ next in my life? And that maybe we would begin to see some people say, “Man, between these two schools, I really connected with this church more and could see myself growing there, and so I’m going to choose this place over this place.”
Ben Trueblood: Those are three things that I would say consider. And if you’re already in college and you’re listening to this podcast and you’re not a part of a church, then man, start this week. Go to one with a friend, ask around and get plugged into a spiritual community that is expressed through a local church.
Shane Pruitt: That is so good. Man, those points are so key. I love that. Stick your facing God’s Word, be around a spiritual mentor, be in community. I saw a beautiful picture of this probably about a month ago, Ben. I was speaking out of town and spoke that morning, was speaking again that night. During the middle part of the day, I went to a local Starbucks there, was working on some things. Then I look over and there’s a guy, he’s probably in his late 60s, early 70s. There’s three college age young men sitting around him and all four of them have Bibles open. And I’m like, “Man, what?” And actually did the creepy thing. I snuck a photo and put it on social media. And I’m like, “This is Titus, chapter two in action right here.” This truly is generation to generation.
Shane Pruitt: I thought it was a beautiful picture, and it’s a great reminder that no matter your age, 60, 70s, 80s, 90s, as long as you’re here still breathing, God’s not done with you and the next generation needs you. Man, I loved it, man. I’m not an emotional guy, but that one brought tears to my eyes.
Ben Trueblood: Yeah, it is absolutely huge and man, I can’t go on enough about how important it is. My dad will turn 91 this year in 2020 and still disciples teenagers and young men. And man, he is able, he embodies the phrase that you just said. If you’re not dead, God’s not done with you and still pour in.
Shane Pruitt: Come on, love it. Hey, well, we always close the Next Gen on Mission podcast with this one charge. The heart behind this podcast is to see the next generation realize they’re the now generation. They’re not necessarily the future of the church, but the church right now, they have a mission now. Ben, give us one closing thought on this.
Ben Trueblood: Yeah. Man, this is going to sound very much like something I said just a second ago. But I think one of the things we trip ourselves up in is trying to do the mission of God apart from God or trying to bear fruit while not connected to the vine. Man, that just causes frustration and spiritual roller coaster and all of these things. So I would go back to and say, spend time in God’s Word. Simply as you know God, you will love God. As you love God, you will worship and obey God. And as those things happen, you will embrace the mission of God in your life, in this moment right now.
Ben Trueblood: Now I would say too, it’s not a you have to fully know God and then that step is over and fully love God. All of these things happen all together on a track. But they don’t happen until we take the step to say, “I am going to be close to God in relationship,” and then all of those other things go along with it. That’s what I would say.
Shane Pruitt: Wow! Wise, wise words. Ben, thank you so much my friend. This has been rich, deeply enjoyable. I’m over here jotting things down as fast as I can as you’re speaking. So, so good, my friend. Hey, how can people connect with you and stay connected with you beyond this podcast episode?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah, so on social media it is @BenTrueblood and the last name is spelled just like it sounds, T-R-U-E-B-L-O-O-D. Then the YouTube channel you mentioned just a moment ago is called Student Ministry That Matters, and it’s designed for student pastors, those who are working with teenagers in the local church. Yeah, that’s where you can find me.
Shane Pruitt: Awesome. Then you also host a podcast as well, right?
Ben Trueblood: Yeah, I do. It’s called the Lifeway Student Ministry podcast. It’s a very creative name, we decided to go simple with that one. But man, have a lot of fun with that and yeah, would love if you take a listen.
Shane Pruitt: Awesome. Thank you brother. Hey, well friends, thanks for hanging out with Ben and I. Thank you for listening to the Next Gen on Mission podcast. If you have any questions on reaching the next generation or evangelism, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’ll try to address those on future podcasts. Hey, have a great rest of the day. Thank you for listening and tell somebody about Jesus.