The Denison Forum Podcast Episode 27: Reaching the global youth culture and Ukraine: A conversation with Aaron Pierce

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The Denison Forum Podcast Episode 27: Reaching the global youth culture and Ukraine: A conversation with Aaron Pierce

June 6, 2022 - Denison Forum

Summary: Aaron Pierce and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Steiger International’s ministry to the “global youth culture,” how our audience can help in Ukraine, how Christians have heroically served in Ukraine, and how we can evangelize in the modern world.  

Show notes: Aaron begins by relating how Steiger International was founded about forty years ago in Amsterdam and how music became a part of the movement (1:24). They turn to talk about the situation in Ukraine and how Steiger International has seen the Lord work through courageous missionaries (6:50). They move into discussing the refugee crisis this war has created and more stories of ministry by Ukrainian Christians (18:57). Pierce talks about the need for gospel-centered humanitarian help (27:09). They turn to consider how the church has lost credibility in our modern context and how we can reach young people (30:18). Pierce explains how their ministry works on the city level in small groups to build relationships and bring people to Jesus (41:37). Although they originally focused on Europe, they’ve turned to building teams in America as well. Pierce ends by telling the true story of an American volunteer and how God uses unexpected people (45:14). 

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts 

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content. 

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church. 

About the guest 

Aaron Pierce oversees Steiger International’s strategic direction, while teaching at its training events, developing new church and ministry partnerships, continuing to participate in evangelistic outreaches and tours around the world, and much more. Aaron preaches regularly at churches, conferences, and events around the world. He was a member of the evangelistic rock band No Longer Music from 2005 to 2011, preaching the Gospel all over Europe, South America, and the Middle East.

Transcript

Mark Turman  00:01

Welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, the executive director of Denison Forum. Thank you for joining us for this episode. Today we are talking with Aaron Pierce, who is a member of the ministry organization Steiger International. Aaron, thank you for joining us today.

 

Aaron Pierce  00:19

So good to be here. Thanks for having me.

 

Mark Turman  00:21

So Aaron is based in Minneapolis, but is a native of Europe. Correct? Where are you from? Originally?

 

Aaron Pierce  00:29

I was born and raised in Amsterdam. Because that were the mission that I’m I lead today was founded by my parents. Right.

 

Mark Turman  00:39

Okay, fantastic. I can’t claim i i have a rule when it comes to traveling that I can’t claim that I’ve ever been somewhere unless I got out of the airport.

 

Aaron Pierce  00:48

Oh, are you going? Yeah, that does not count.

 

Mark Turman  00:53

So so I can claim that much that, you know, on my way to Germany, there was a few hours of layover in Amsterdam, but that doesn’t qualify. So it’s still on my bucket list at this point.

 

Aaron Pierce  01:05

You got to do it. It’s an amazing city.

 

Mark Turman  01:07

So tell us about a little bit more about Steiger International to kind of give us a context of how old the ministry is what the focus and mission. Passion vision of Steiger is all about, and maybe some of the genesis of where it came from.

 

Aaron Pierce  01:24

Yeah, exactly. Well, so staggers kind of a weird word, obviously. And it’s because it’s a it’s a Dutch word. My parents were missionaries in Amsterdam, they’re Americans. But they’re missionaries in Amsterdam. And they had a hard to reach the young people of the city that would not walk into a church, which, in a city, like Amsterdam is essentially all young people. And they see these big, beautiful cathedrals, and they’re dead and empty on Sunday. And that’s their view of God, right, just an irrelevant tradition of the past, not really having any connection to my life. And that was the group of people that they had a burden to reach. And so my dad would take a small group of people into the bars and nightclubs late at night and connect with people and build relationships and share Jesus. And then they would write down the names of everyone they met and got into the forest, and pray all night, and just ask God for a breakthrough in the city. And so doing that for a little while, after a few years, my dad who is really beginning to engage in connect into the, the, the music scene of the city, really felt led to start a band, a musical band as a tool to communicate Jesus from the stage in secular places, essentially lifting up the message of the cross outside the church. And so he did this. And suddenly it things just began to open up and they started to see many, many people come to Jesus. And then the challenge is like, what do you do with all of them, right? And so they had a Bible study on a big red boat, behind the central train station. Now, if you had gotten out of the airport, you would have gone to the central train station, because it’s right in the middle of the city, and the river that runs behind it. And there’s all these peers that jet out. And so the Dutch word for Pierre is Steiger. And so they named their Bible study, which became a church. They named it the address, which was Pier 14, or stagger for your team and Dutch. And that was the genesis of this missions movement that evolved because what happened is then this band that my dad started started to go to other places, they went to Communist Poland in the Soviet Union, and people were reached in secular environments, Christians were inspired. And people began to identify with this movement called Steiger that was again referring to this church on a boat in Amsterdam. And so that was kind of the the Genesis the move of God and then evolved into a true mission organization, which eventually through my own story, I end up taking leadership and now our whole heart is we reach what we call the global youth culture, young adults, all over the planet influenced by similar voices, buying into secular ideology and, and a lifestyle that reflects that and far from God. And so our heart is to mobilize followers of Jesus to reach young people who would not walk into a church all over the world.

 

Mark Turman  04:21

Well, love, love that well, what a great great passion and vision so, so urgently needed and love the just love the idea of trying to connect with a culture of people through music, right? What could be what could be a better way, right? You talk about music being the international language, right? And everybody everybody loves music. Everybody has a great appreciation, especially for music that is well done. Right? Right. And and so it just, you see that in so many different ways, all the music programs that you see around the world, you know, that draw people in just because People have that love. Right? Yep. And,

 

Aaron Pierce  05:02

and it has the ability artists, that’s part of I think, you know, it’s it’s a, it speaks to the way we’re designed, we’re like the gods the Creator, right. And, you know, art has that ability to communicate truth in a way that connects and also gets around our walls. And and so it’s just a beautiful way of communicating the gospel message in secular environments so long as you but it’s like being a good missionary, right. It’s like doing it in a language that people understand. And so using the arts and music is, is a big part of what we do because of how effective it is at communicating the truth.

 

Mark Turman  05:36

Right. So you’ve now taken over the leadership from your parents, is that right?

 

Aaron Pierce  05:42

Yeah, they’re still very much active. So my parents, my I call my dad like a Braveheart leader, because he charges the front lines, but he doesn’t say, the troops like, fired by that. And so it’s cool as he has continued to be that he’s a catalyst pioneer evangelist. But I’ve been able to come back and like, build a mission out of that. And it’s been a pretty fun thing to do with your dad and to see the fruit of this thing taking holds where we’re active in over 100 cities around the world now, and God’s has been very good and faithful. And we’ve been able to see people all over the world raised up to go after young people that won’t walk into a church.

 

Mark Turman  06:20

Yeah. So if I’m hearing your right that this may or may not make that much of a difference in the way y’all think about yourselves. But the ministry is several decades old, old at this point, right? Yep.

 

Aaron Pierce  06:33

Yep. Yeah. I mean, it’s evolved. Right? So it but yes, it’s, I mean, it’s more than several decades. It started in the 80s. So

 

Mark Turman  06:40

4040 years or so 3540 years, something like that. Yeah. Now you’re talking to a guy who graduated high school in 1985, or 8019 81. So you know, yeah, you’re talking. You’re talking to an old guy like that. But so part of the way we became aware with aware of Steiger is one of the folks in our ministry, Craig Dennison, has some connections to Steiger and said, not only did he think y’all were doing great work, and had become impressed with the way y’all were trying to reach younger people, who were far from God, but particularly how the world has been trained now on to the area of Ukraine. And to, as you talked about earlier, the the Russian speaking population that is in that part of the world, which all are very acquainted with, but we were trying to find ways to discover as many partners as we could, who were doing good work in the midst of the of the crisis of the war between Russia and Ukraine, who understood what was going on, who might be able to facilitate our audience, believers individually, or churches individually, how they might be able to engage how they could pray, how they might be able to support materially how, even if you couldn’t go to Ukraine, because of the war, you might go to one of the surrounding countries. I’ve had pastor friends that have relationships like that, in places like Romania, and Poland, you know, it as, as I’m sure you’ll help us understand, this is not a situation that is simply isolated to Ukraine, or to a certain part of Russia, that this is, is really affecting and destabilizing a much wider area as well. So may we talk a little bit about how y’all are experiencing things, what you’re seeing kind of narrowly within the environment of Ukraine? And what are some things going on there that you think that would be helpful for believers in America and churches in America to understand how they might help and then out into that somewhat wider audience that, you know, the whole European theater really being affected? And like said, I have a sense that your ministry really has a passion for the Russian speaking world has a passion for the whole world, but particularly in some ways for work within the Russian speaking world. So kind of unpack that for us a little bit?

 

Aaron Pierce  09:15

Yeah, well, it’s man, it’s been an incredible three months, it’s so no one saw this coming, right. Like even all of our Ukrainian so we have a very strong team. We have about 70 people in multiple cities throughout Ukraine. And then we also have people in Russia and Belarus and all around and we have a very strong presence in Poland as well. And none of us thought this was gonna happen. And it was

 

Mark Turman  09:39

a lot of a lot of, you know, up until just a few months ago, he may be maybe the hardest start of the year. I’m not sure many Americans could have even told you were Ukraine was. You know, one of the things I’ve learned in the recent months is that, hey, when you start thinking about Ukraine, you’re thinking about a territory the size of Texas basically where I’m so this is this is not some little postage stamp that’s, that’s in the middle of this story. And now we have this iconic figure that has emerged with with this amazing story, right? Kind of a David and Goliath story that’s starting to show up and, and so yeah, there’s so many things we want to learn and that we’re already being inspired by.

 

Aaron Pierce  10:25

Yeah, and I think one of the crazy things is like the the Ukrainians, while they were like beginning to want to identify with the West and get connected into Europe and find their independence, there were a steep still, it’s a deep bond with Ukrainians and Russians, like, there was a deep relational bond. And so that’s what’s so crazy about this, and where Putin so drastically miscalculated because he thought he was coming in, and then he’s gonna have flowers in reception, and they wanted their independence, but there’s deep relationships, and that a lot of that has been shocking for our people. Because we have, I mean, we have a strong presence throughout the Russian speaking world, we have these telegram groups with hundreds and hundreds of people from all across the region, and they’re just shocked at what’s happened. So from a kind of political relational perspective was like, Where did this come from, because there’s, there were still deep relational connections there. But, you know, then then, then the whole receipt, I mean, you know, you can read the news, the, just the devastation, and the destruction of the cities and the atrocities that have been occurred, it’s been overwhelming. And, and, of course, that’s created all sorts of tension within our, without our own mission, right, we got people that are trying to navigate this, and, and it’s created all sorts of issues. But, you know, despite all of the awful things that have taken place, as is always the case, God has begun to emerge in like, his, his, the light of the gospel, has begun to emerge in really powerful ways. So what was really cool is like, we have a really dynamic network of young missionaries, and we’re very kind of young grass roots see, and with a strong network throughout the country of Ukraine. And so these are guys that, you know, their their day job are their missionaries, their evangelists, their disciples, they’re engaging this global youth culture. But then when this crisis hit, I was so impressed, because they are, they’re just sincerely following the Lord. And they just pivoted and responded in a way that, you know, you just can’t manufacture it, because it was just so authentic. And so in tune with what God was doing. And so they began to just respond and take all of their network, all of their connections, and just pivot to humanitarian needs, bringing food, bringing supplies, bringing people driving into active conflict zones, and getting people out. And just brave people who are not running from this, they’re going into it. And so it was just, and that’s what Christians have done, right? Throughout history, there’s the ones that have gone into the fire, because because we know that this world is not all we have is is not our only hope. And so I’ve just been so impressed with these guys, because they have, they have shown that their that their faith was genuine, because it’s tested in these moments right now. So they’ve really stepped up, we’ve and then on top of that we have a dynamic team in Poland. And so God they went to they just got to work too. And it was it was really cool and really encouraging.

 

Mark Turman  13:37

Yeah, just sounds like a great expression of living the faith from a standpoint of meeting material needs meeting real needs, in order to have additional opportunity and credibility, to talk to people about their spiritual needs. Right. But it is completely the living out of what James warns us about where he say, Oh, well, if that’s your problem, you know, good luck with that, be warm, be filled. I’m not gonna get involved. This was exactly the opposite of that. As the church being active as a church, even in like you said, these extreme ways going into combat zones to try to get people families out. Right. And, and again, like I said, you know, we’ve we’ve heard these crazy stories, right, where a son living in a Ukrainian city is calling his dad in Russia going, dad, why is your army bombing us? Right? And his dad going, Oh, we’re not doing that. He’s like, Well, look out the window. Here. Let me show you on my iPhone. What? What’s going on? Yeah. So in that in that regard, Aaron, Have you all lost anybody? On your team, particularly in the in the combat zones?

 

Aaron Pierce  14:46

No, no, not yet. Spike. Thank goodness. Yeah. One of our team members that that felt led and joined the armed forces so we know about him. But other than that, they’ve all have engaged on the hill. sanitarian side and by God’s grace, they’re all still doing okay today, right. But you know, they’re they are actively going into, you know, the east into the Donbass region. They’re bringing supplies, they’re taking people out, right? It’s crazy. But they’re like you said, they’re also meeting the spiritual needs, because those needs are still great. Like, right at the beginning, we have a very strong team and give. And we have this large house, that’s community house. It’s basically kind of this relational bridge between secular culture in the church. And it’s very cool, very dynamic. They run like Bible studies for the non religious there. And they say they have a really strong team. And most of our team left and they went out into the country, they didn’t leave the country, the actual country, but they went out of the city, right, a couple of our leaders felt compelled. And remember at the beginning, that we didn’t know how this war was going to go, like no one saw that they were going to be able to repel the forces from kids. So they stayed in kids. And they opened up their basement and brought people in, especially a lot of people that they were ministering to and, and met their physical needs. But then it was it was powerful times of prayer and studying the word they saw people baptized in their basement while bombs are dropping above them, just incredible things that God was doing. And then they would go out into like the subway stations, and they would bring physical needs and pray with people and give Bibles and gotchas in people’s hearts. We’re open to that, right, because it’s the gospel in action and words, but man, it just people’s hearts were so open, and we saw pretty incredible transformation in fruit as a result.

 

Mark Turman  16:38

Yeah, what kind of amazing, intense ministry right in, hey, you know, none of us knows if we’re gonna make it to the next day, right? Like we don’t, we don’t know if there’ll be, you know, a soldier coming down the stairway here in a few minutes. That’s from the opposing army. We don’t know if the next bomb is going to, you know, land at a place, it’s going to end our lives. And then it becomes it becomes intense and very focused at that point, right?

 

Aaron Pierce  17:08

Yeah. And it’s interesting, because it takes truths that are always present. And it brings like, right in your face, because we are always fully dependent on God, our next day is never promised, there’s always an urgency for the gospel, but in those moments in like, crystallizes, so it’s cool, because what those moments reveal is, like, Where have you put your hope is this, you know, and they, I was just so proud of these guys, because they just, they, they responded, all, everything that they knew was just obliterated, but their, their faith in Jesus there, the connection to him could not no war can take that away. And so it was just cool to see their response. And I think that’s a, that’s a challenge for us. Right, like, Well, where do we put our home? Where is our son, you know, Corps. And so I know, it’s been an encouraging thing.

 

Mark Turman  17:59

Well, that’s, you know, that’s what’s so inspiring to us, right? It kind of it becomes a manifestation of that deal of, you know, you’ll, you’re gonna find out that Jesus is all you need, when Jesus is all you’ve got. Right? That’s it. Exactly. And when you’re when you’re hiding, when you’re hiding in a basement or a subway station, because there’s an invading army, you know, you don’t have much you don’t have much of anything. And, and hopefully you understand and, and recognize your need for Jesus and for what is eternal. And if you don’t have it, you turn to it. Because I mean, that’s, that’s just where it finally comes down to the bottom line at that point. Yeah. And

 

Aaron Pierce  18:40

kind of the illusion that I’m in control, or that, that, you know, that illusion just disappears in that. Yeah. You know, because that’s true of us. Right? That’s true of us. In Dallas and Minneapolis, that is true, but we can get distracted by temporal material things around us.

 

Mark Turman  18:57

Yeah. And something like a war certainly pushes all of that distraction out of the way in every way. So now that the the war has progressed in the way that it has, I’m assuming that some of your ministry, particularly within the eastern part of Ukraine, is kind of somewhat falling into a pattern of okay, well, this is, you know, it’s not completely chaotic and different every day. But it’s kind of starting to fall into some kind of a groove. Is that probably the case?

 

Aaron Pierce  19:33

Yeah, you know, a kind of you go through these versus just crisis, right like this. And then you start to find some rhythms and the circumstances are changing. But we are seeing some stability now to some degree in the West. And in this situation, it looks like we might get into a bog down thing for a while. So there so in that sense, there’s some predictability right now, in which you can work with and so We’re continuing to engage in our kind of gospel fueled humanitarian work. But we’re also bringing back some of our other, you know, just the normal work that we’re doing engaging secular culture. And then the other thing is like, there’s a whole new ministry in the diaspora where we’ve got Ukrainians all over the world now. Right?

 

Mark Turman  20:21

Yeah. So I was gonna say a big part of what’s probably going on in places like Poland and surrounding nations is just the the ongoing management of this massive refugee reality, right?

 

Aaron Pierce  20:34

And, as is the case with any situation like that, and that’s so much what happened with the early church is you get this disbursement, right. And it creates an opportunity, both on the receiving side, but it also there was some wheat, especially in our mission, but not just there are some dynamic on fire followers of Jesus in Ukraine that are now being dispersed to the world. And I believe us that, right, so. So God takes these awful things and these moments of crisis and he does things that we couldn’t even see common. And ace

 

Mark Turman  21:07

kind of starts resembling some of the stories that we see in the book of Acts right of pay these, these believers were like, Hey, we don’t know if we’re supposed to leave. But it seems that God is telling us, Hey, don’t stand here. And, and, you know, get yourself jailed or even killed, because of, you know, this group, or that that group of Romans or hostile Jews, you know, all of a sudden, you know, the circumstances basically result in Christians getting scattered everywhere, which ends up they just decide once they get scattered, that there’ll be missionaries.

 

Aaron Pierce  21:47

That’s what’s happening now. So no, it’s an it’s an it’s an incredible thing, because we’re seeing some of our really passionate Ukrainian missionary spreading out throughout Europe. And remember, Western Northern Europe is dead when it goes Danity and so they’re bringing life and passion and and so I just believe that God’s in it. We’re even seeing some of them come to like cities like New York or Sacramento on the west. And, and I just think there’s God’s going to take some of the fire that he’s put in the Ukrainian people. And he’s going to spread it to other places. So I think God’s up to something with this.

 

Mark Turman  22:21

Yeah, we hope so. You know, we were kind of seeing that inspirational fire on the political side, right, coming through President Solinsky. But what we’re talking about on the spiritual side is what’s really eternal and even lasting, right? Is, is, you know, hopefully there’ll be stories soon to come out of this American community are this American city, this American church, that really was inspired and ignited in a whole new way for the gospel? Because, you know, this Ukrainian came and said, Look, I was all in for the gospel, whether I lived or died. And, and are you living that way? Are you living focused? And, and, you know, and simple? Have you kind of pushed the distractions away? Because what’s what’s really eternal is what is spiritual? And what is of Christ, right. And we

 

Aaron Pierce  23:19

just like it’s, it would be something that God would do, right to take the least influential, the weak, the ones that don’t have all I mean, they don’t have a country, in a sense, right? They’ve been refuge, and God would use those people to inspire and bring change. And so I just, yeah, I’m excited to see what God does with that.

 

Mark Turman  23:39

Yeah. So is it. Aaron, is it too early right now, to tell how the courageous faith of these believers particularly in Ukraine, is it too early to tell how that’s going to create fruitfulness? When this conflict is over? It’s along the lines of hey, when there was nobody else here to help me, nobody else here to talk to me about, you know what real hope looks like? You guys, were here. You stayed. Some of you stayed, you took us in, you brought us supplies. If it hadn’t been for you caring for us out of the compassion of the gospel, we would have had no hope we would have had no provision. It sounds like it may be a little bit too early to tell what the ongoing fruitfulness of that ministry may become.

 

Aaron Pierce  24:31

Yeah, and there’s been immediate fruit, like in terms of like, salvation and people making commitments to follow Jesus that’s already there. And I think there’s a sense of, you know, we don’t meet those, those tangible physical needs with that condition, right. Like it’s not run freely, and trust that the fruit of that that God will do things. But what also is true of any crisis is there’s an opportunity Yeah, I mean, our work in the Russian speaking world really blew up grew fast. In 2014, after the first, you know, crisis that occurred, and we saw it just just grow, and there, there are opportunities, but they, they’re windows that don’t stay open forever. Right. So even a very relevant example 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union, there was an opportunity for the gospel to go forth, right then and, and there was some great things, but there’s also some kind of passive like this, this window will be open forever. And it wasn’t both in terms of people’s hearts, but also the political nature that will inevitably change. And certainly today, like Russia is in a really tough place in terms of the gospel. Right, the churches are under so much control and repression. And, and, you know, it’s been building up, we’ve been working in Russia for a while there was a law that passed, I think, around 2016, that made it illegal to publicly evangelize unless you were registered with the gruff government. So role has been building over time. So you, you have windows of opportunity, that are not going to stay open forever, and you need to respond. And so I believe that whether it’s in Ukraine, we’re in we have a window, and we need to really, you know, respond, because you don’t know what the future holds. And yeah, I think that’s, that’s how we need to see this.

 

Mark Turman  26:29

Yeah. So, tangibly speaking. What are what are some ways that you would say that Christians that will hear this podcast churches that may be exposed to this podcast? What can they do? How should they pray? How How should they partner? How can they get involved in some of what God is doing in Ukraine? Can they receive people that have exited the country? Can they support churches and people in places like Poland and surrounding countries? How would you advise Now Christians, pastors churches, to to really focus for this window that is there right now?

 

Aaron Pierce  27:09

Yeah, I think that now is the window of opportunity for the gospel. And the reason I said is there, you know, the big boys with humanitarian, you know, the secular humanitarian guys, they’re in there now. But they don’t have that we have as the gospel. So we need to be really feel the church needs to be I think intentionally fueling gospel work. You know, it can, you know, humanitarian as well. But like, that’s where I think the church needs to be focused now. Because like I said, there’s billions of dollars in aid being brought into Ukraine by the big secular, you know, and that’s great. But what that what we have and what the world needs, and what Ukraine needs is Jesus. And so I would say focus yourself on those organizations you’re connected to when we’re one of them, but but we’re not the only one. That is that is gospel centered in our approach, because that is the ultimate answer. And that’s what the church should be supporting. Uniquely, like, that’s our focus. So I would say focus on on the organizations that are not just bringing the aid to bring in the Gospel. And then of course, yeah, then give saying you can give through Steiger, it’s staggered.org/ukraine relief. That’s the way you can give to us. And all of that goes 100%, through the work of again, gospel fueled humanitarian work in in Ukraine. But then there are other ways Yeah, there Ukrainians are coming to our country, and you can welcome them in. You know, there’s a lot of great ministries that do great refugee work. But I would say that many of these Ukrainians are assets to our communities, and to our church, and draw them in and welcome them in not just as kind of poor victims, but like, man, you can we need your fire in our in our church and our cities. And so see them as as assets that God has brought to your city. And then yeah, there are ways that you can personally be involved. We have a very, very dynamic team throughout Poland. And we were we helped facilitate volunteers that want to get involved and the volunteers are doing work on the Poland side, but they’re also going into the Ukraine side. So if you’re interested in that, you can email us USA. So.

 

Mark Turman  29:19

So does that mean that there there are some opportunities where people who might want to go and like I know somebody that went to Poland last month and spent some some number of days, right, being engaged with a church that’s in, in that work and in that area, and actually helping them with the ministry that they have, that they have created for this window for this situation? So people can connect to you they can find out about those opportunities if they actually want to go, there are ways that they can do that. Yeah,

 

Aaron Pierce  29:55

absolutely. And they can, there’s connections where they can work with us, but we’re also So very networked with churches and other ministries, and we’re all talking to each other, like where the needs are. So if you know that is an opportunity, certainly and the simplest way to do that is just to email us at usa@steiger.org and make the appropriate connections.

 

Mark Turman  30:18

Right. Okay, talk a little bit more about if you want to stagger their work your work internationally, but particularly how you’re now syncing that, that America, the United States, maybe Northern Europe, as well, Western Europe, we are talking through Denison forum right now, just about the fact that we’re seeing this rising secular ideology religion in our country. That is a rising tide of opposition, but also an opportunity for the gospel, as you said, that right now, you can make a very strong case for America being in a very spiritually dark place. And we may not have the ornate cathedrals of Europe, but we do have a lot of empty church buildings. And certainly things like, you know, sexual abuse scandals in the in the church, whether you want to talk about that in a Roman Catholic sense, or you want to talk about that in a Protestant sense. This week, particularly in the context of Southern Baptists, which is the root out of which I come, that’s hurt our witness and damaged our credibility in a lot of ways. But, but particularly through the ministry that you all are passionate about to younger people, how are you all starting to now see focus and engagement history within the West within the United States and Western Europe, to try to engage the younger culture, and to really start addressing their struggles, their questions, sometimes, as you said earlier, their hostility to the gospel? How are y’all starting to work with that?

 

Aaron Pierce  32:06

Yeah, great question. Well, again, if if you had talked to us about five years ago, and asked what we’re doing in the US, we’d have said nothing, because the needs are so much greater overseas, and certainly the unreached people groups of the world is still an incredible need that we need to be focused on. But what we found as what’s happened is, we’ve gone through a profound cultural shift. So we’ve gone from a nominal Christian nation, which most identified as a Christian, and most had a positive view of the church. And they saw the Bible as a moral guide or authority. That was the context, right. And that was the context that Billy Graham could fill stadiums, right. And it really resonated with the times that he was in. Well, what’s happened fast forward, you know, 3040 years later, and particularly amongst the millennial and Gen Z generations, you’ve seen a drastic shift, where the fastest growing religious group in our country is the religiously unaffiliated, right. And it’s not just affiliation, its attitude. So increasingly, the attitude has gone from positive to apathetic, at best, hostile, hostile at worst. And so the challenge is, the way in which we engage people has to reflect a change in culture. And so the biggest paradigm is we can’t wait for them to come to us, we got to go to them. And unfortunately, most of our models for evangelism are based on the previous context. So it’s kind of a, bring your friend come and see, it’s why Eastern Christmas is still really a big deal, which it is for a certain group of people. But there’s an increasing percentage of people that will never walk into a church and have all sorts of negative, often misconceptions of what it means to follow Jesus. And so the paradigm is we’ve got to mobilize the church to go to them, right and go to their context, to develop authentic relationships with people who are far from God, to engage in spiritual conversations that get to the assumptions. The challenge is this. If I go to someone today as an average 25 year old, secular person, and I say, Hey, if you were to die today, and stand before God and heaven, and he were to judge your life, would he let you in? Well, I’ve just presupposed a whole bunch of things that they probably don’t hold to be true. You know, we’re approaching with the four spiritual laws, all that all of which is good and true. It’s based on assumptions that many secular young people just don’t have no no hold to be true. challengers we’ve got to go where they are, build authentic relationships in their context, and then begin to have the spiritual conversations which are distinct from gospel conversations that that build the foundations for the cross and the opportunity is this while we are seeing this drastic cultural shift, people are very much open to spirituality, and very much open to these things. So and they’re hungry for truth because Right now the religion of the culture of secular humanism, which is basically the religion of self, right, I define, I define my meaning, I define what my feelings are my reality, and it’s a very confusing and broken place in reality. And so people are searching for truth, they’re searching for hope. They’re just not walking into the church. So we got, that’s, that’s our heart here in the US.

 

Mark Turman  35:24

Right? Yeah. And that completely resonates with what we’re about at Denison forum. You know, we have a book that we’re currently promoting the Dr. Dennis and wrote, you may have heard of it called the coming tsunami that talks exactly about that. Right? And how do we get to those assumptions? And how do we build around a conversation, that all people are spiritual in nature, they’re not simply physical, emotional, mental, but they are also spiritual and, and intuitively, most people will agree with that, like you said, and not be afraid to have those kinds of spiritual conversations which can work through those assumptions, and then move toward Okay, well, let’s talk about what the the depth, the dynamic, the definition and the dynamics of what what we can know about spirituality, rather than just simply a nebulous, kind of gray, undefined spirituality. Or that could take a lot of other very strange forms, if you will. Let’s talk about the credible story, the big story of the gospel and of what, of what Christianity presents, right. I tried to, I tried to tell people when you when you’re trying to think about God’s big story, and you’re trying to think about where would I have this conversation? What part of this conversation would I have with somebody who basically did not share any of your assumptions? Right? Well, if you can, if you can get through some of those foundational spiritual conversations about human beings being spiritual beings, then you can start talking about God’s big story that’s revealed in Christianity, where the, you know, starting with creation, the catastrophe of sin, the covenant relationship that he created with Israel for revelation, the whole story of Christ, and what the cross is all about, where the church comes into existence, why it exists, and then the promise of the coming Kingdom, you know, you can kind of frame the whole story of what Christianity is about around those six or seven words. Right? But But like you said, You got to get to, you got to get past the hostility in some ways. And one of the things we’re, we’re really trying to help Christians understand and work with right now is, is we have moved culturally in the west, to a place of not just indifference, but to real hostility and fear. There are many who are are saying to us that not just Christianity, but all religion is evil. Right? Yeah. And, and that if we could just get rid of religion in a very broad definition, we would all be better off. But the problem with that is, is that we are by very nature, spiritual, religious people, we’re going to worship something. That’s right. Right, exactly.

 

Aaron Pierce  38:26

Right. Yeah, exactly. Right. And how most people it’s why so many young people are drawn to like, Eastern religious ideas. reason is because it’s spirituality without accountability, right? Like I can have my cake and eat it too. Deep inside, we do sense There’s more than meets the eye now you’re gonna you’re gonna meet your like hard stone atheists, and there’s a way to engage them. But most, most people are in this kind of have this pick and choose spirituality because they recognize that there’s something transcendent, there’s something more you can’t quantify beauty. You can’t quantify love, like, sacrifice. These are things that that aren’t, you can’t, there’s no test tube for that. Right? And so and people recognize that and there’s this innate desire for something beyond and, and that is a point that you can connect on. There’s also I mean, there’s so many ways in that’s one of our key things, we have a number of key resources. One is called Jesus in the secular world, which is kind of helping people understand the context and respond with a broken heart. And then the other is spiritual conversations for the non religious and part of that is, is fine, recognizing that in a sense, everything is spiritual. And to attune your mind to how you can take a what seemingly seems like a secular conversation and begin to prod and engage through questions, a spiritual conversation even like, and this can be people whose view of the world is opposite of you. Right? So I find this the most the grid As opportunity is in people’s political and social justice views, and that gets very hostile, very divisive, but what you recognize if someone is politically active, right, if they’re fighting for a particular cause, what does it say about them? It says that they believe the world is not as it ought to be. And as a follower of Jesus, we can agree with that. And not only that, they’re willing to do something about it. They’re fighting, they want to make a difference. They want to live for something beyond themselves, because God has put them in that inside them. Right? Good Works in advance whether we know Jesus. So these are all things that we can connect on. But then, but then you can also challenge where their views are out of align with gospel truth, right. So the secular worldview says that with enough education, and the right laws, and with enough time, we can fix ourselves. And that is not the Christian worldview, right? Because ultimate problem is sin in my heart. And so we can talk to someone and say, I admire your desire to make the world a better place, and I admire your activism. But the problem is, it doesn’t seem to matter how many laws or whatever political system we put in place, it doesn’t get rid of the corruption of the heart. Right, and we can begin to build a block that on which we can present the message of the cross.

 

Mark Turman  41:22

Right? Yeah, well, great, great explanation. So in terms of y’all have y’all is approach at this point to the west to America? Are y’all trying to develop ministry strategically into like population centers? Or what’s your approach?

 

Aaron Pierce  41:37

Yeah, focuses on cities, which is our global focus, we focus on establishing what we call city teams. Now, the primary objective is one, we want to train and serve the local church to reach the secular culture of their community. And everywhere I go, talking to pastors, they all feel this problem. They just don’t know what to do about it. And then within the congregation, we’re not talking about trends and statistics, we’re talking about sons and daughters. Right. This is probably the most prayer prayed for thing in the church today is young adult kids that have walked away from the church. And so our heart is how can we serve the church by equipping them training the church to engage their Jerusalem, right their, their community, and so we have a bunch of resources and training and ongoing partnerships that’s designed for that. And then the other key objective is we want to raise up young leaders that are going to lead the church, the big C Church of America, to engage this post Christian culture that we live in, and to be the ones that are going to bring them the new models and the ways of engaging this culture. And, and then what we do is we take these young leaders and our church partnerships, and we establish long term teams and cities. And they’re there. I love the idea of a catalyst, because it’s, you know, relative to the size of a city, it’s a small group, right, right. All in, they’re passionate. And they’re They’re experts at engaging the secular culture there. They’re going to secular paces, they’re building relationships. They’re sharing the gospel, there’s, they’re building discipleship relationships that become multipliers. But then they take that experience, they take that authority, and they go serve the church of their city by resourcing them and training them, and giving them opportunities to engage in evangelism, so that a small team can catalyze the church of a city. And that’s the vision that we have. And we’re currently active. We build teams in four cities, and we’ve

 

Mark Turman  43:30

got a bunch in the pipeline. Okay, what cities are you in currently?

 

Aaron Pierce  43:33

So we’re in Minneapolis, Denver, Houston. And just like we’ve just launched in Sacramento, and then we got a bunch of cities in the pipeline, Dallas. So and it’s all about relationship and partnership with churches and ministries.

 

Mark Turman  43:46

Yeah. And people can connect to that through your website, they can explore that and look for ways to get connected with you.

 

Aaron Pierce  43:55

Yeah. So again, if you’re a church leader, you can go and there’s a whole section on, you know, brings out your church, if you’re a young person, you’re like, Man, I want to do this. There’s, there’s our whole mobilization and training program, if you just want to learn more about our resources, so on our website@steiger.org

 

Mark Turman  44:11

Yeah, well, that’s great. You know, it’s just, like you said, the mission field for many believers, many pastors, many parents, sometimes it’s just right across the hallway or up the stairs, you know, to your own teenager or young adult. Right. And, and that’s, that’s certainly going on and how do we have how do we equip believers? How do we equip parents, as well as pastor How do you go and have that conversation? How do you go find the secular community within your, within your city, right, because it’s so easy for Christians to just get so wrapped up in their own huddle of people their own fellowship, you know, everybody feels like they only have very limited amount of time and so, well, I didn’t intend to put myself in an echo chamber, but that’s what I did. So, and I don’t I don’t even know where the secular community of my town lives, you know, where what places do they go? And what are they? What are they doing for entertainment or anything? Right?

 

Aaron Pierce  45:13

Yeah, exactly. Right. I mean, you’re talking about cross cultural missions in your own city. Yeah. It’s within your own city. And the reason you’re gonna do the reason you’re gonna sacrifice your time, and reprioritize your life is because God breaks your heart. Like, it’s not until your heart is broken. And that starts in repentance, because you can’t change your heart, right? All you can do God, my heart is cold, and it’s not right. And you need to change my heart. Because it’s not until our hearts break, that we are going to do what’s necessary to develop those relationships with people who are in places and have views that I’m not familiar with, comfortable with. And, and you got to push through that, but but God can use anyone I love to hear this one story. Cinco de Mayo, May 5, just earlier this month, our team in Houston, we’ve got a really nicely developing team in Houston. And most of our team members tend to be young, you know, under three, five, but but not exclusively. And there’s just once and our team is named Roger, he’s like, you know, a middle aged, you know, white suburban dad guy right now, not necessarily the most cool, hip relevant guy, but he’s hardest broken. And he’s like, I want to do something about this. And he’s been through our training. And he went out with our team that night to a club that was having a big Cinco Demayo party late, late at night. It’s like, well, after midnight, and there, they were just there to build connections and relationships. And they end up connecting with a group of young people. And there’s this one young woman 20 years old or so. And she was really engaging, and she was starting to connect. And she she asked this very kind of random and unique question, which was like, what are you good at? And she was asking all these these guys in our team, and then they she came to the middle, you know, middle aged white guy, and, you know, what are you good at? And he kind of looked at her he’s like, Well, you know, I think I’m pretty good at being a dad. I love spending time with my kids. And and that rocked her. She just started to cry, stood up and gave him a hug. And it just rocked her. And then one of our other, you know, one of our female team members stepped in, shared the gospel prayed with her and her she was rocked late at night at a bar at a Cinco Demayo party, like being used by uncool, middle aged guy from the suburbs. Like that’s, that’s what what, I guess my encouragement there continues anyone to reach these people and are heartbroken enough to go do it.

 

Mark Turman  47:39

Yeah, yeah. So perhaps our most important prayer, right is God just break my heart for what you want it to be broken for, break my heart for what your heart is broken for. God put that passion in me that will drive me will will direct me where to go and get trained to get involved. I love I love the fact that y’all are partnering with churches that already exists, to try to resource them and train them and mobilize them into the kind of mission that most churches that I know have already want to do anyway. They just need some assistance, they need some training, they need some, some vision about where and how to go and find those things. And the great thing is, they don’t even have to leave town, you know?

 

Aaron Pierce  48:25

Exactly. That’s awesome.

 

Mark Turman  48:27

And in some cases, right? It’s because, you know, well, the church could have done better maybe the Church lost its vision and passion. Sometimes it’s just because the world came to a place like Houston, right? The world has, you know, one thing I say about my two millennial children, they look at the world as a much smaller place. They look at it more like a neighborhood. And they look at technology and airplanes, they look at airplanes like their taxis. And like, they don’t they don’t get they don’t ask questions like, Well, I wonder if I could ever go there. They’re like, well, when will I go there? Because I plan to go everywhere, right?

 

Aaron Pierce  49:04

And it’s because they’re part of the global youth culture, which is what I love. It’s the heart of who we’re called to reach is this globally connected generation that’s created problems in terms of ideology and lifestyle and all that, but it’s created incredible opportunities as well.

 

Mark Turman  49:18

Yeah. That’s a great, great word for us to end on. Aaron, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation. Thank you for what you’re doing for the global youth culture. Thank you for what you’re doing in places like Ukraine. And thank you for bringing some of your focus into into the United States into Texas into places like Houston and soon to be Dallas. We’re excited to do that. If people want to know more about you, they can find you at Steiger International, you do a simple Google search. We’ll put it in the show notes as well. And we hope today has been helpful for the kingdom and helpful for people to get connected, get mobilized, get trained, and be involved in what God’s doing. We want to see him bring revival in the church around the world. We want to see him bring an awakening in this generation in our lifetime. And that’s what we longed to see. So thank you for being a part of the conversation.

 

Aaron Pierce  50:11

That was awesome. I’ve had fun. Thanks.

 

Mark Turman  50:15

Well, Aaron, if you hang on here for a few seconds, I’ll stop the recording and then it’ll take it a minute on both sides.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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