Editor's Note: There are two parts to this story: an interview with Ryan Shook and an interview with Josh Shook, co-authors of the new book Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. Below is the interview with Ryan Shook.
Twenty-three-year-old Ryan Shook grew up in church knowing all the "good Christian kid" answers. The son of New York Times best-selling authors Kerry and Chris Shook, founders of Woodlands Church, a megachurch near Houston, says his faith "worked" for him until he entered high school. At that point, he said he was faced with criticism, rejection, isolation, and insecurity.
Earlier this week, Shook and his brother Josh (22) released their book, Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own. The book about breaking free from "secondhand religion" is receiving high marks from well-known Christian leaders.
"Josh and Ryan Shook, the sons of well-known pastor and author Kerry Shook, have fully embraced the fact that although their dad gave them a great start, they need to run their own race," writes Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C.
The Christian Post interviewed the Shook brothers this week via email. The interview with Josh can be read by clicking here. CP's interview with Ryan, that asks the same questions, is below.
CP: What inspired you to write Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own?
Ryan: I grew up in church and knew all the "good Christian kid" answers. My faith worked for me until I entered high school and was faced with a wave of criticism, rejection, isolation, and insecurity. My "good Christian kid" answers no longer seemed very relevant and I decided that the Christian life wasn't really all I had thought it to be when I was younger. I walked away from the church and my parents' faith and focused on fulfilling my own selfish desires. That worked for a little while, but I soon found myself more broken and empty than ever before. When I went through that crisis of faith I finally broke down and just admitted to God that I needed Him. It has definitely been a process, but Josh and I have come to realize authentic faith requires an intimate and personal relationship with Christ. You can grow up in church but if you don't have a firsthand relationship with Christ your faith will eventually break down.
CP: Calling what you learned as a child and young person "secondhand religion" might be a little harsh on the ears of some parents. Are you grateful for any of that "religion" you first learned about? If so, what about it?
Ryan: The faith I walked away from in high school is essentially the foundation of my faith today. My relationship with Christ is unique but my faith is built on a foundation of Biblical truth that I am so thankful to have learned about. Firsthand is written for students but it is also an important resource for parents. Godly parents ultimately desire for their children to have their own personal relationship with Christ. That relationship with Christ is what will make all the difference in your child's life. Keep bringing your students to church and keep encouraging them, but also be honest about your own struggles. Your student (especially your teen!) knows you're not perfect. By opening up and being honest about your own faith, it will hopefully spark the conversation between the two of you. If your child is in a phase of rebellion, I just want to encourage you to keep praying and waiting on God's timing. It sometimes takes time of struggle and pain to discover a firsthand relationship with Him and I challenge you to trust God's timing in your child's life.
CP: Was it difficult to talk to your parents about your "crisis of faith?"
Ryan: It was difficult to risk being awkward at first. There are so many secret sins and shame we all deal with and being honest about those struggles is uncomfortable and awkward. Josh was really the one who initiated the honesty in our family because he realized that he no longer could carry that burden of guilt on his own. When he began to admit his own struggles to my parents and myself it really opened the lines of honest communication between the rest of us. After seeing Josh's honesty I felt freed to admit that I had similar struggles and habits. It was awkward, but it was so worth it because it taught me that real connection only happens through being honest and not trying to hide what is really going on.
CP: Did you feel alone during the transition between second and firsthand faith? If so, how?
Ryan: The transition between secondhand and firsthand faith can be lonely but it doesn't have to be! The truth is that everyone's relationship with Christ has to develop in it's own unique way and in it's own timing. There are definitely intimate conversations with God that can only be experienced one-on-one between you and your creator. But just because that relationship is deeply personal doesn't mean it should be experienced in isolation. God designed the Christian life to be experienced in community, with friends who are going through similar struggles and you can connect with. Without a supportive group of friends who truly care around you, it can be that much more difficult to really discover firsthand faith.
CP: What are the key elements of having a "faith of your own?"
Ryan: A firsthand faith is one that doesn't settle. For many of my peers in the student ministry it was easier for them to keep coasting by on borrowed religion. Secondhand religion looks healthy for awhile, but when the storms of life hit it will crumble. Your relationship with Christ ultimately comes down to the state of your heart. Do you genuinely want to know God, even when things get tough? Do you really care to go deeper with Him even when things get messy and you have to get awkward with the people around you? Are you willing to bring your doubts directly with Him and talking with Christ? How you answer those kinds of questions reveal what kind of faith you really have and are striving towards.
CP: What would you like readers of your book to come away with?
Ryan: Your relationship with Christ is a process. Whether you've been a Christian for a few days or your entire life, the truth is we are all in the middle of the most exciting relationship imaginable. There will be times when you feel far from God and times you will feel close but He will never give up on you! We are all broken people but Christ loved you enough to die for you and what He desires more than anything is to know you. If you are willing to admit your need for Him on a daily basis you are living out firsthand faith! We encourage you to join the conversation at FirsthandBook.com.