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About this series
Hope for Families in Dysfunction
Do you have a son, daughter, or grandchild who has disowned their faith? And now they don’t believe in God or The Bible anymore? In this series, Chip Ingram sits down with Aaron Pierce from Steiger International to talk about this heartbreaking subject. The two discuss how spiritual disunity in a family can cause deep dysfunction in any home. Discover the best ways parents and grandparents can engage this next generation with the power and hope of The Gospel.More from this series
CHIP: I am so excited about this special program. This will be super, super helpful if you happen to have a son or a daughter or you know someone that is in the midst of a really dysfunctional relationship, maybe has even lost hope, we are going to do something really special today.
As many of you know, for the last couple of days we have been talking about overcoming the pain of a dysfunctional family and…And here’s a memo. We all have dysfunctional families at some level. What I have done is I have asked a really good friend, Aaron Pierce, who is the executive director of Steiger Ministry. We partner with them all around the world, a hundred cities that are, they are reaching the global youth that are far, far from God and find themselves in great dysfunctions.
So by way of quick reminder, let me just welcome you, Aaron, and maybe give us just a little bit of background of you and the ministry for those who maybe don’t know about our partnership with Steiger Ministry.
AARON: Yeah, Chip, so good to be with you and so excited that we are partnering together all over the world. Yeah, as you mentioned, I am the executive director of Steiger International – it’s a global organization – focused on mobilizing followers of Jesus to reach young people that would not walk into a church and we are doing that in cities all over the world.
And certainly that’s, as this topic today so perfectly says, you know, it’s an issue that many of us face. We have many people in our lives who are not walking into a church, who are far from God. And our hearts break for them and how do we go after them? How do we bring the hope and truth of Jesus to them? And so, excited to be talking about that with you today.
CHIP: Well, Aaron. No one is beyond reach. No one is too far gone. But we are going to give you some help and some encouragement today. So, by way of quick review, definition of dysfunction or dysfunctional family, a dysfunction is simply something not operating according to its original design. It’s faulty, it’s impaired, it’s not working properly for optimal results. And the fact of the matter is is that God has a design, a design for marriage, a design for family, a design for all kind of areas of our life, but because of sin, because of our own self-will, we have all found ourselves in dysfunction.
In our teaching the last few days we have learned that we are all members of a dysfunctional family, right? It goes all the way back to Adam. We learned that dysfunction brings death, disobedience, and destruction. And we have learned that apart from an intervention, a real intervention by Jesus, we will all remain dysfunctional. But in His great love, He has given us a way, a process, a community to overcome those dysfunctions.
And I know for a lot of the people that email and write and as I get a chance to travel, as you do, you know, they find themselves where, you know, maybe their kids went to a Christian school or they went to a good church and, you know, all of a sudden they come back as a sophomore from college. Or they are twenty-two, twenty-six, they are living with their boyfriend or have a same sex relationship or are involved in drugs or alcohol or some behaviors where parents, parents have actually learned by now, Aaron, that, “Stop doing that, that’s not the way I raised you,” is an ineffective way to build a bridge.
Maybe let’s start with a story of hope and then let’s back our way out of it and talk about maybe some principles or processes that we could give those listening who are thinking to themselves, Boy, if you would help me with my daughter or my nephew or my grandson or my son, oh, this would be the best day in my life.
AARON: Absolutely. And that is the point, right? Is that, no matter how far gone someone seems, their story is not done yet. God is actively pursuing them. And there is hope. And we have seen so many examples, countless examples of people encountering Jesus, being reconciled to Him, reconciled to the family.
One example I want to share is a young girl, I’ll call her Sarah – that’s not her real name, but I’ll call her Sarah – she’s nineteen years old right now. And she is actively part of our team here in the U.S. I won’t say where. But she grew up in a strong, healthy Christian family. So, like you described. She grew up going to church and part of a good, you know, environment. But as she grew up and as she, especially as she went into middle school, she began to believe a lot of lies about her self-worth and her identity and who she was and she began to experience pretty strong feelings of gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction. She engaged in, she had a really strong eating disorder. And then as a teenager, she really began to engage in self-harm and pornography and active transgenderism. So, she, she was going through it and began to rebel from her family and there was conflict and hostility in her family to the point where as a teenager, she ran away from home.
CHIP: Oh, wow.
AARON: You know, and so here’s a girl who grew up in a strong Christian home, experiencing all of this and walks away from her house and then she becomes part of this community that was very hostile to anything of God and began to become part of that community to the point where she began kind of in a way to fit in, began to share lies of abuse that she was experiencing in her family, particularly abuse that she said she was experiencing from her father, none of which was true.
And so, she is telling this to the point where actually one of her friends reports this abuse to the police and her father is taken in and investigated. And in her, this girl, Sarah, who is now deep in this lie continues to tell this lie and now they go through this whole story and finally the story proves to be untrue and the father is exonerated. But it obviously created deep pain and hurt between them.
And so, it was this utter just broken relationship. But this girl, Sarah, who is now on the other end of this, tells how even in that darkest moment of deep brokenness, she knew that God was there. She began to realize kind of like the story of the prodigal son who is eating food from the pig pen and realizes, Man, even my father’s servants have it better than this. She kind of came to that moment. And she kind of said, This isn’t working. This isn’t right. And so, she ended up coming back home and she, at this stage, she hadn’t made a, she wasn’t walking with Jesus or anything, but she came back home and her family expressed what I can only describe as supernatural forgiveness where they welcomed her in, they laid out to her very clearly the ways that she had harmed them, but said to her, “We forgive you, we love you, you are our daughter, and you are always welcome here.”
And then through that reconciliation, she ended up going to a rehab program, a Christian rehab program, where they did some good, deep work in her. And she, in that moment, wrote a letter to her dad, asking for forgiveness. And then was able to read that letter to her dad over the phone and they had this deep, powerful reconciliation. And Sarah said that her dad showed her what Jesus was like in that moment, this deep reconciliation, deep forgiveness. And that letter to this complete surrender to Jesus, complete restoration and restoration, reconciliation of her relationship.
And so much so that in that healing process that she got through Jesus, she was like, “I need to share this with others. Others in my situation need to know the hope of Jesus.” And so, she is now an active part of our Steiger team and she is going to be going to the Steiger Mission School next summer to be trained to know how to communicate the love and hope of Jesus to this generation.
So, it’s an example of someone that was so far gone being restored, not only to God but to her family as well and now is going out and bringing that hope to others as well.
CHIP: Well, Aaron, that is, one, an amazing story. And, two, there’s a lot of things inside of that story of what she did, there’s a theology about how God is working despite how we can feel, and then I think there’s some real principles about how do we build relationships?
So, could we, could we take maybe some of the things that you have learned in the last twenty years and let me just ask you to talk to maybe the dad and mom who have put them through rehab a couple times or now it’s even a little bit more benign. You know, they’re not doing drugs, but they are just completely closed to God, they live an alternative lifestyle or living with their boyfriend or their worldview, not just morality, but just what matters, what is important is like a hundred and eighty degrees from their parents.
AARON: It always, no matter what the problem is, it always starts like in Nehemiah chapter 1, verse 4, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.” And, granted, I imagine there are many parents and grandparents who truly are weeping for their kids and grandkids. And that is where it starts. It starts with a broken heart because to the extent to which our heart is broken is to the extent that we will do something about it, that we are going to get uncomfortable, sacrifice our needs, to lay aside our needs for the sake of others and then as it says in Nehemiah, you know, “For some time, I mourned, fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.”
Then we respond with desperate prayer because the problem is too big for us. The solution is not in ourselves, it’s got to be in the supernatural move of God. And so, we have to pray desperately. So, the baseline for any response is always a broken heart and desperate prayer.
Now, what we talk about next is we need to pursue people, right? We need to pursue people, not waiting for them to come to us. So my challenge to you is if you’re a parent or a grandparent and your young adult son or daughter has walked away from the Lord, or maybe you’re a young adult yourself and your brother or sister have deconstructed their faith, the best thing that you can do is to be a consistent, loving presence in their life, to pursue them. Meet them on their turf. Let them know that even though you don’t agree with their choices or lifestyle, you love them and nothing will change that.
And then like we just said, then pray and never give up. Their story, like the story of Sarah, in the darkest moments you could have felt hopeless but her story was not over yet. And their story is not over yet. So pray like crazy, pray that God will bring other people or circumstances into their life that will open their heart to Jesus. Because their hearts may seem hard and cold, but God can, you know, things can happen to open their hearts to Jesus. So, pray for people, pray for circumstances to come into their life that would open their heart.
And then I would say be patient. Be patient and ready to respond when the Holy Spirit opens up an opportunity to have a spiritual conversation and to reintroduce them to Jesus. So, those moments will come. You don’t need to force it, but be patient and ready to respond when those moments do come.
CHIP: And, Aaron, I think one of the keys here is, I mean, we know this mentally, but you care so much. I watch parents and grandparents and, at times, even pastors talk at people. And, I mean, the moment you talk, “You ought, you should, you never, why did you do this to us?” Those are the kind of messages that, if you are trying to drive them away, those are the kind of messages you have. And, by the way, I would say too. This is not saying, “Love is love,” and you condone their behavior and…
AARON: No. No.
CHIP: You know, there’s also boundaries. There are times where, in lovingly, broken heart, with tears coming down your face, “We would love to help you in this way, but right now, your current life or lifestyle or decisions…we can’t do something that enables the very things that are destroying you.”
CHIP: And, by the way, I would just say, with some very, very, very close friends who have mentored and loved me for years that have, you know, adult children in the alternative lifestyle, it has been that patience of, I mean, a decade or two and when the crises come, it has amazed me. It wasn’t the people that said, “Oh, you know, I just accept you. I have changed my theology.” It has been the ones that have been consistent that they run to. I have watched God work in ways that I think most people would think is hopeless. But it is not necessarily a quick turnaround.
CHIP: So, if I’m not going to talk at them, I know one of the things, you know, I learned from you all as we were learning and talking about what you’re doing in all these cities is kind of meeting them on their turf, but using some of those, that sense of justice or that sense of the world is messed up or, you know, ,”The Church did that to me,” rather than defending. Talk about how you asked the kind of questions that get down to root issues rather than arguing about blue state, red state…
CHIP: Or, you know, the morality of x, y, and z that usually just ends up in an argument.
AARON: Yeah, what you’re, what we are trying to do is not focus on the, kind of the downstream symptomatic issues.
AARON: We’re trying to deal with the heart. You can bank on the fact that people are looking for love and acceptance. They are looking for purpose and meaning. And these are things that we can build bridges and we can say, “Where does real meaning come from? What is justice if there’s not an absolute moral code?” Or, you know, one of the things I find really interesting, since the topic here is dysfunctional families, is I actually think the existence of the fact that we all acknowledge that dysfunctional families exist is actually an incredible opportunity for a spiritual conversation. Because the fact that we all, whether I believe in God or not, feel the pain of dysfunctional broken relationship says something.
AARON: Right? Because if I were to ask my non-religious friend, “Hey, what is the most important thing in your life?” They are not likely to respond with, like, a career or a financial, you know, material thing. They’re going to say it’s relationships.
AARON: It’s something, a relational thing is their most important thing. It’s because God created us to be relational, first to have relationship with Him, but also with each other. And so, we desire that. And, yet, we universally experience brokenness in our relationship. It’s a universal, it doesn’t matter if you’re, like, the healthiest, strongest Christian. You experience brokenness in your relationships as do secular people. And it speaks to this deep spiritual truth that the reason that conflict and hurt and disappointment in our relationships are so universal is because it’s the result of sin. Right?
And so, actually dysfunctional relationships speaks to the fact that we are sinful and that every one of us needs healing, reconciliation, forgiveness. This is a core need that I, that I need, that everyone needs. We recognize that. But if I’m, if I were to ask someone, “Is there someone out there that will never let you down, that will never disappoint you?” The answer is, of course, inevitably, no. Only God can meet our need for healing and reconciliation and forgiveness.
And so, the very nature of dysfunctional relationships speaks to powerful gospel truths. And so, the idea here is we need to engage in spiritual conversations that begin to connect to gospel truths. Rather than speaking of downstream symptomatic issues of behavior, we need to get to the fundamentals, the heart.
CHIP: And I think one of the things that we have to own is that so much of what has been given to the next generation that they are rejecting is a lot of moralism, a lot of religion. Of all the things that I hear over and over again, it’s the courage of some parents and grandparents or even pastors to say, “We were more concerned about them going to meetings and having kind of good morality than we were an intimate relationship with Jesus where they were in His Word. And, honestly, that was not a part of our dinner tables. We’ve got to say we blew it, I know in my own family.
You know, I had one of my children went through a pretty significant season of rebellion and I’ll just tell you, I thought it was all, I thought it was all his fault. And, boy, the older I got it was like, “Wow, I have to own how much have I set him up for that?”
And, you know, like every week or nearly every week we would either go out to breakfast or spend time together. And he would just roll his eyes and I would come home and tell Theresa, “You know, I’m not making any progress.” But it was like, you know what? I’m not going to stop. And it got where he didn’t want to meet with me and I hate to say this, I didn’t want to meet with him. And it’s that choice of being, being to that person what God is to us.
CHIP: It’s being the manifestation of Jesus to them and then realizing you can’t control it.
AARON: Yeah, that’s good.
CHIP: Well, Aaron, as we get near the end, I am very glad that we don’t just leave people hanging, that we have created a resource to walk them through this process that you and the ministry at Steiger have developed over the last twenty years. The book, Not Beyond Reach, has been really effective in helping parents, grandparents, and even pastors build these bridges to move from just, “Hey, how do we reengage?” To how do you actually share Christ in a fresh way to those who have walked away from the Lord? Maybe you could take a minute and just share a little bit about what is in that book and how it’s going to help them, Aaron.
AARON: Yeah Chip, I’m so excited about this book that we developed. It’s called Not Beyond Reach: How to Share Jesus with the Young, Deconstructed, and Non-Religious. Which is a resource we created to help you navigate these challenges. You know, your heart is broken so how do we go after those that seem so far from God? And so, the book is really designed to provide a real practical resource about how do we develop trust through friendship and the relationship, which, as you have said already here – love does not equal affirmation. Right? So, I can love someone and not affirm their lifestyle and their moral choices. But how do I pursue people where they are at and show them not my moral superiority but the fact that the work of the Holy Spirit is active in me and it speaks to something transcendent.
And then how can I begin to engage in spiritual conversations like we kind of alluded to here that set the foundation for communicating Jesus and the cross? The book is really designed to be a resource to help you navigate these things. And we deal with some of the big cultural stumbling blocks of our day as well. How do we navigate politics, which can get so divisive? How do we navigate sexuality, which we have spoken of here? How do we talk about science, which some people believe is essentially antithetical to faith? How do we navigate these things so they don’t become arguments but they become opportunities for spiritual conversations?
So the book, Not Beyond Reach, and future resources that we are developing around it is all about how can we serve and equip you to reach those in your life and those that are in your sphere of influence that don’t know God and today may not walk into a church but you can go and pursue them where they are at.
CHIP: Well, one of the great delights of my life is God letting me, I just say, bump into people or get us connected. And so, our partnership is a great joy and I would just say before we close out here. Could you just pray for these parents, grandparents?
CHIP: And people that are really struggling and need some hope?
AARON: Yeah, absolutely. Lord, we just lift up those in our families, those around us who don’t know You, who have walked away, who in some cases, there’s just incredible hostility now, Lord. And we just pray, our hearts are broken, we pray because we know that You are pursuing them, that their story is not over yet.
And, Lord, we just pray that, first of all, we pray that You would bring us a renewed sense of hope, a renewed sense that You are moving, You are active even when we don’t see it.
And, Lord, we pray that You would do whatever needs to be done to bring those people that we, that I’m thinking of right now in my own mind, people that are far from You, that You would bring about circumstances and people in their life that would soften their hearts, open their hearts to consider You again, Jesus.
And then use me or anyone else, Lord, to reintroduce them to who You are and that they would truly understand that their only, that their identity is in You, that their hope and their source of love and acceptance is only going to be found in You, Jesus.
So, I pray that You would bring great hope to us who believe and You would bring Your hope to those who, today, have walked away. And we pray this all in the mighty name of Jesus, amen.