Dr. Josh Packard

Dr. Josh Packard: The Spiritual Realities of the Next Generation, Shifting our Church Models and a Posture of Curiosity 

Jon: [00:00:00] What's up y'all? Welcome to Better On the Inside, a podcast about how we can make the church and you better on the inside, because that's really what it should be. Now, our first season focused on how to work for a church without losing your soul, right? How to volunteer for a church, how to go to a church, and how to really be a part of a church without losing that soul piece.

And that was really great. But this season's gonna be a little bit. We're gonna be focused on digital, all things digital. We're gonna talk to a bunch of really awesome people still about the church in the digital age and how these resources can foster soul care and help you on your spiritual journey, because if we're gonna keep it 100.

Let's keep it 100. Our digital experiences can often feel like poison to our souls. Being online sometimes feels detrimental to our attempts to follow Jesus, and that significant tension between spiritual health and digital interaction [00:01:00] is what we're here to explore this season. So I'm really excited about jumping into it.

My first guest this season, and I'm so excited about talking to this guy, is Dr. Josh. Now, Dr. Josh Packard runs the Spring Tide Research Institute and they are passionate about learning more about young people and how they're creating meaning and identity and community and all of those things. 13 to 25, they have some of the, the most data points, qualitative and quantitative data points for young people.

And so it is absolutely critical that we understand how young people are engaging, not just life, but also engaging digitally. You can find 'em at spring tide research.org. A little bit about more in the episode, but you're not gonna wanna miss this chat. This chat with Dr. Josh Packard 

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4 84. 3 2, 4 8 7 2 4. I literally just gave you my cell phone number. It's number four, the church as well. All right, let's get you back here to the podcast. Hey, John. How you doing, man? All right. Have a good day y'all. , 

Jon: what's up y'all? Welcome to Better On the Inside. I am here with Dr. Josh 

Dr. Josh Packard: Packard. What's up Josh?

Hey, thanks so, so much for having me. This is really great. Yeah, 

Jon: Josh, this is our first time like officially meeting, but I do feel like I know you a little bit because I've really been into the spring tide research. And Josh is the executive director of the Spring Tide Research Institute. Right? Yeah.

That's. Yeah, and I dug into your documents and what you were doing. You were doing some great research about young folks in the church and everything else, and so that's a big part of what I wanted to talk to you about today. So I'm excited to talk about that. 

Dr. Josh Packard: Yeah, you bet. I think we have the largest data set [00:04:00] of young people's religious and spiritual lives in the country now.

We've got been around for a few years now and have. 30,000 surveys closing in on 500 interviews here in the, you know, we've just, we, it's been a, it's been a real pleasure to get to hear from that many young people and to get to explore, you know, what they, what they think of when they think of religion and spirituality and how it intersects with their lives.

Jon: That is incredible. I love that you have that data set and it's so important. It's so important. So before we jump too quickly into that, how did you become the executive director of a research institute? Like what is that career path? What does that look like? How did you get into the work that you were doing?

Dr. Josh Packard: The great question. I, so I was a professor professor of sociology, studying really new forms of Christianity in a, in American religion. Mostly interested in. really, and about organizational structure and that kind of stuff. And but maybe the thing that makes me a little bit weird in the academic world is that I was an applied sociologist.

So as much as I really respect this, the big theoretical work that was going along going on with a, a lot of my [00:05:00] colleagues and we use a lot of that stuff. I mean, I, I love it. It's just, it was never really where I found my home. I always first gen college. Definitely first gen PhD. Yeah. You know, all the conversations in my home are very pragmatic.

Like, what are we gonna do with this? What's the point of learning that? How could anybody use it? And I just sort of carried that with me and and so even as a professor, I was trying to do that and was doing some consulting work and when the opportunity came around to help. You know, ideate what, what ultimately becomes spring tide.

I jumped at that and never really expected that it would lead to a job offer to be the, the, in the inaugural executive director, but when it came, it was really something I just couldn't turn down. It just felt like, I mean, here's a chance to get to do all that stuff that I've been trying to do by myself, and here's the, but like now we get a team of people who are a lot smarter than

And a chance to, you know, really it was a, it was a missional thing, you know, it's like it's, here's a chance to make a real impact in the world, because we just felt like a lot of what was, what passes for the story about religion and young people is just not the, it's not the full story. This decline narrative that dominates.

Is not untrue, but it's, it's not [00:06:00] as encompassing as people like to think it is. There's a lot more going on, and so yeah, when the, that's, that's sort of how it all evolved. And I left the university a couple years ago and do this full time. Oh, 

Jon: I love that. I, first of all, I love that it came from the passion.

I also love the like application piece because one of the things I struggled with in seminary, Was, there's a lot of big ideas. Yeah, there's a lot of philosophy, there's a lot of this, but I, in my head, I just can't get rid of the, and I don't know if it's like just a generational thing, like the way you were raised, but it's like, what does this matter to real people?

Mm-hmm. , if it doesn't matter to real people. And if I can't figure out how it matters to real people, then why are we talking about it? Right. What's the point? What's the point of it? And so I love that it was like this missional thing. And let's talk about that narrative, because the narrative, yeah.

Since I've been working for churches, I, I started working at my church in 2011, and so more than 10 years now, the narrative has been decline, decline, decline, decline. For sure. This generation is less about Jesus than the last generation [00:07:00] and then the next generation. And then we hit, I love you said innovation in sociology and, and mm-hmm.

and Christianity and religion. I'm like, oh yeah, let's go. But the pandemic kind of seemed to Speed up some of the transition piece. Okay. But let's talk, talk about the narrative of why it's not entirely accurate. Even if it is true, it doesn't seem to paint the full picture. And so what is the picture of people's religious affiliation and belief?

Dr. Josh Packard: Yeah, so this is a really important thing to understand is that, I mean, I think, you know, for about the last 50 years or so, we primarily focus on, and I say we collectively in like academics, you know pastors, rabbis, like, you know, campus ministers, on and on. Like I think everybody really focused on just a.

a couple of key measures primarily around affiliation. So you know, when you check the box on a survey, do you check a box that says, you know, Christian, Catholic, Christian, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, et cetera? Or do you check the nun box at the bottom? Right? And [00:08:00] then, and then the other metric that we primarily have looked at and used is attendance.

You know, how often do you actually participate in a religious community or service or something like that? And the the weird thing about these is that we got so. , I think used to using those numbers that we sort of forgot that we don't really care about those numbers, right? Yeah. What we're, what we actually care about is like soul transformation or commitment to a higher power or you know some sort of durable sense of faith or you know, what, depending on, you know, but when you're after something that's sort of ineffable, something that can't really be measured.

And so we used those things as proxies to indicate the thing that we actually. Yes. 

Jon: That's a great point though, because theoretically we don't actually care about those things. I mean yeah, that like, and that's important, but you, but the, the nu you know, cuz you always have to do the transitive thing of the numbers on the spreadsheet for attendance.

Don't just represent numbers because they're not vanity metrics, they're actually souls and people. Right. And so that's okay. So I won't interrupt you. Sorry. Keep going. [00:09:00] No, 

Dr. Josh Packard: that's good. Free to interrupt. That's totally, that's exactly right. And it's not saying those things don't matter at all, it's just that there's a bigger goal in mind and, and those are helping us to indicate that.

And for about 40 or 50 years, you know, those are really good proxies. What, what's happened though, I think in the last 20 or 25 years is that we are starting to see lots of, when we start looking in other places for religious, you know, flourishing and activity and spirituality and expression, we start seeing lots of other things percolating, even as these sort of traditional numbers are declining.

But yeah, without, without knowledge of those other numbers, we, we can draw a straight line to say like, well look, attendance is down, affiliation is down, and therefore, Young people don't care about God. They're not interested in conversations about the divine or the transcendent. You know, they just, this is just a, a, you know, what some people have told me is a lost generation.

I'm like, well, look it, there's this researcher in Nancy Ammerman at a Boston university she wrote about 10 years ago. She said, you know, so I'll paraphrase. She said, you [00:10:00] know, if, if we keep looking in the predictable places, In for, you know, in the, for religious activity, and we don't find as much of it as we used to.

We can't assume that it's disappearing if the world around us is changing. Mm. And I thought like, that is such a good point. Like the world are crazy, right? Yes. And so those old measures don't indicate as much of the story as they used to. So yes, those numbers are on. , but like we see like three fourths of young people tell us that they're religious or spiritual.

Something like half of young people tell us that they pray daily or more often. About half of young people tell us that they are in nature as a religious or spiritual experience every week or more often. And so we see all these kinds of like, and on and on. We could, you know, we can talk about more of them if you want.

We see all these signs. Not to say that like the decline narrative is a myth and young people are flourishing and they're actually gonna be fine, and they believe more in God than ever before. That's not true. , but there are these things that are coming alongside that mostly just don't get much attention.

And when they don't get much attention, you know, the old adage of like, you know what, what we measure [00:11:00] is is is what we end up focusing on in terms of our activities. Yeah. And so when we don't measure those things, what gets measured matters, I guess is the phrase. Then we don't, we don't put any effort into those other places cuz we're not measuring 'em.

So Spring Tide wanted to come along and say like, okay, look here, there are some other things happening and we can put efforts in those things because the reality. For a variety of reasons. You know, we're not gonna flip a switch and have young people show up, you know, back in pews on Sunday mornings or Friday nights or what have you.

Jon: Yeah. Yeah. Well, because, oh my gosh, that's a whole word though, is the idea that if affiliation is what we're after, then the narrative is 100% correct and 100% true. Right? But if you're trying to measure the flourishing, the spiritual lives of young people, you have to look in a different place than affiliation, or not just 

Dr. Josh Packard: Affilia.

I mean, I think affiliation is more 

Jon: right. And, and what I, I would say though, as somebody who's kind of inside the church machine, right, for the lack of better Yeah. You know, lack of a better term is that that is [00:12:00] an indictment on affiliation wasn't producing the, the flourishing that I think young people were looking for.

And so, I do think the world has changed and I don't think we should throw that out. I don't like, like we absolutely have to be working with the reality that the world is different. Right. Right. And there's been a whole digital transition, like even before the pandemic, all this stuff. So 100% with that, I do think.

As folks who have said, these are the numbers that we're going to measure ourselves by. Mm-hmm. , I do think there's some accountability when the disconnect happens because affiliation for a while was a reliable connection to 

Dr. Josh Packard: flourishing. Absolutely. I think about a, you know, similar to like you know, when we used to have movie rental places like Blockbuster?

Yeah. You know, if you wanted to take the temperature of American's interest in movies, you could look at you. How many movies got rented from Blockbuster in a given year? Yes, yes. How many DVDs were sold? Right? [00:13:00] And then the world changed, and now if you kept looking at that metric, you would come to the conclusion that like, Americans don't care about movies anymore.

Yeah. Because you weren't looking at streaming numbers and download numbers. Right. You're just looking at, but of course, like the reality is that they just, they're con we're consuming more media than ever before. It's just that we're doing it in a different way. And I think that's a, you know, it's a similar analog to what I think that this affiliation, it's not.

It's not that they're bad metrics, it's not that the, the, the previous 50 years were flawed. It's just that, like, that measure doesn't tell us what it used to. 

Jon: Yeah. That's wonderful. It's a lot like TV ratings. Yeah. And, and this is a perfect, a, a perfect analogy and analog to this because if we keep looking at ratings and expecting friends ratings, right?

we we're, we're gonna be sorely disappointed because people don't watch TV like that. This isn't gonna be the finale of mash, right? Well, I 

Dr. Josh Packard: mean, like, This podcast Will John, this episode Will, 


Jon: is, this is gonna be the record breaker, . Yeah. This is gonna be the record breaker. But, but people are doing it differently and so you have to understand how much time people spend on [00:14:00] YouTube or TikTok or others and, and the media companies, these multi-billion dollar corporations are pouring money.

Into figuring out what streaming data tells us, right? What does, what does Facebook data tell us? What does YouTube time and TikTok time and, and giving the eyes on what they're doing. And so that's why it's a good analog. And so I'm so glad that you're encouraging the church to look. To look more broadly at the spiritual lives and flourishing of young people so that we can meet people there.

Yeah. And, and be there. Not in a like, tricky, like Jesus juke, Hey, we're on, you know, we're on Twitch and here's, here's, here's the pizza. But now I'm gonna talk to you about Jesus, but more in a way of just like caring. And so something that the pandemic made really clear for me, Josh, is that people seem to be looking.

The, the phrase that I use re repetitively and will always is always, at least for a while, is that people are defining their church by where they get their care, not their [00:15:00] content. Mm-hmm. . And one is that accurate for young people? And two, is that consistent with what you guys have seen? 

Dr. Josh Packard: Yeah, I think it's a hundred percent right.

I mean, one of the, you know, we have this model of church for young people that. Sort of like largely their faith formation experiences were largely built around knowledge transfer, right? Mm-hmm. , I mean, that was my confirmation experience was like, let's get knowledge from the smart pastor in the room to the dumb kids who don't know anything about God.

And that was true back then. Like where else was I gonna get that, you know? Sure. And you know, that's, we still are working with those models and higher ed is coming to the grips with the same thing, although very slowly with the, with the reality that knowledge is not the thing that's in short supply anymore.

it's, you know, it's knowledge is actually ubiquitous. You can get more information, you can get better sermons. You know, you can, you can get better information about the Bible online than you can from your local church in most cases. Yep. But the thing that is, what is in short supply when knowledge is abundant, well, the thing that's in short [00:16:00] supply are actual encounters and experiences with how that knowledge lives in the daily world.

It's the care, it's the relationships. Mm-hmm. , you know, how does, what does this mean for me? Somebody to help me discern that. Those are the things. , you know, are, are where young people say that they find their most spiritual and sacred moments, but that we just don't. I mean, you know, the Lutheran church that I grew up in, I don't think has transformed their confirmation classes to be primarily centered around asking questions and exploring, you know, possible answers for young people like that's, and it's not, you know, they're not bad people.

They care a lot. We're not dealing with a deficit of care. It's just, yeah, a deficit is sort of understanding how the world has. 

Jon: Yeah. Okay. Okay. I know that you're not you, you know, because you're academic, right? In nature, you're not an expert in this area, but how does the church pivot to. What young people are saying.

And so maybe the first question is, what are young people saying right? Of like, what is helping them flourish in this season? Mm-hmm. . And then maybe the second question is, how do churches [00:17:00] address that? And so you, you just created a good one in, in moving from confirmation classes in the traditional sense of knowledge transfer to, yeah.

Hey, ask me anything ama like what And so what are, what are you seeing with young people and, and all, all. 

Dr. Josh Packard: Well, we actually do have some pretty good data for this. I mean, it's, it's the, you know, young people are really looking for relationships with trusted adults and, and relationships with a particular kind.

We wrote about this in the state of religion, young People 2020, which I think you can find online for free at Amazon or Apple Books. And we call it relational authority. And it's really this element that combines like, yes, being somebody who's very relational, you know, somebody who listens, somebody who is transparent and, and et cetera, et cetera.

But also being the expert. And what we found from young people is that if you just show up as the expert in their lives and tell them what to do based on all of your credentials or you know, your knowledge or whatever, but you don't do any of that care work, then they won't listen. Hmm. Because they think that you then [00:18:00] they perceive experts alone as representing the institutions that they already don't trust.

Wow. And if you just do the other one, like if you do all of this care work, but never bring any expertise, they feel like this is a waste of time. Like, you're just a fun uncle. Like, you know, I don't need, yeah, yeah, yeah. One more person to, you know have a Nerf gun battle with, or, you know, whatever I used to do at church locks.

And so it's, you know, combining those two elements and, and, and, and then what we've learned in the ensuing years is around some particular things. And you mentioned already like the ability to ask questions. And it's not just the ability to ask an expert a question. I mean, if we're doing question asking in this relational authority framework, let's think about what that means.

It, it's, it's not so much that I get to ask you a question and you give me an answer. Can you leverage your expertise to help me ask the right questions for my life? Ooh, wow. And that's a, like, that's a much, because young people, You know, I would, you know, they don't ask like, this is not because they're bad people.

It's just the nature of growing up. Like they don't always ask the right question. [00:19:00] Yeah. And then when they, so therefore when they ask a question either to themselves or to others, and they go looking for an answer, it sends them down a whole, like a rabbit hole to get the answer that is not always, you know, a, a full and good, accurate representation of what they should be.

Yes. So, as adults and religious leaders, I think we can come along in that relational authority model. Help them to ask better and you know, the right questions and then, and then help them to explore the potential answers together. Yeah. 

Jon: Yeah, that's like a mindblower because I just, I, I have a, I have a seven year old and 11 year old and asking questions to Google or Alexa or even type it in your search engine.

Siri, it's a very common thing to do, but they often ask the wrong question. Yeah. For, for what they're looking for. And so the, and so I guess you can say that knowledge is asking the question. Wisdom is asking the right question, right Question. 

Dr. Josh Packard: Yeah. Well, and when we asked young people, la, so just in this, just in 2022, we asked, you know, we were asking a lot of questions about [00:20:00] purpose, and we said, you know, what are the things that help you discover purpose in your life?

and at the bottom of the list were all the religious things, knowledge about God, you know, participating in a faith community. And a lot of that is just, you know, representing the fact that most young people are not engaged in a religious community. And so it's about opportunity rather than Yeah. You know, rather than inadequacy.

But at the top of the list were, the number one thing was being able to ask questions and explore. Like that's the number one thing that is helping young people to find their purpose in life. And so then when you say like, well, does the church help you to do that? You're like, no. Like . Yeah. You start to understand like, but the heartbreaking thing about that is that.

there's nobody better to help do that purpose finding work than religious leaders, right? Yes. And so it's not like, I don't think that there's a massive shift that needs to happen in terms of ideology or belief or anything like that. I mean, this is really a lot about modality. Mm-hmm. Like do you care so much about being seen as the sage on the stage that you're gonna hold onto this knowing [00:21:00] that it doesn't work for young people?

Or are you willing to compromise the modality? To meet the young people in those questions, but not, but not compromise your beliefs that you can Yeah. To use a Catholic term, accompany them in that, you know, in that journey. And to me that's a really easy, it's a, you know, it's, it's not an easy shift. I understand organizational, you know, dynamics and stag, you know, stagnation and those kinds of things, and how hard it is to make those shifts.

But it's not like, you know, we're not asking for a revolution. 

Jon: Hmm. And because you're not, and I think when so many people hear terms like deconstruction or changing modality of church or any of these things, it gets a little scary. Sure. Because it starts to tap into what we know. But a big part of what you're saying is we're not overturning belief systems or changing theology.

Right. We're not changing the. Theology, we're not even changing the orthodoxy. That's not even what you're talking about. You're talking about the orthopraxy, I think is the term, right. Of how you practice the Orthodox in everyday life. And [00:22:00] that is so critical. And so, you know, the, I love the relational authority terminology of you can't just be the fun uncle that's just like, Hey, come here because you know what, you know what's better for that?

Like Reddit is better at being the fun uncle than you are because guess what? They'll get to blow stuff up and like do whatever, like whatev. And then you also can't just be the sage on the stage, which is an amazing turn of phrase. There's something where, what, having the wisdom. To be able to sit in relationship and help them ask.

And so I think of my interactions with young people, and a lot of times they are asking what they're trying to get to with purpose isn't a question that is answered through, Hey, here's the Bible verse, here's how you find purpose. Here's what you might get there. Right. But that's not where we're starting Exactly.

We're starting with the relational piece of let's walk through this together and help you [00:23:00] develop the right questions. I love that so much. Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Packard: One of the one of my inspirations for, for I personally, I just think that really does this kind of ministry really well, is our local. The, the head of our local youth for Christ chapter, his name is Jeff Neil, and he said, you know, we wanna shout love so we can whisper the gospel.

Mm-hmm. And it just strikes me as like, you're not downplaying, you know, your beliefs there, you're, you're just getting to it in a different way that meets this generation who is really skeptical of institutional leaders. And if you, if you come charging right out of the gate with like, look how big our church is and look at all the credentials I have and, you know, here's the authoritative voice on this issue in this chapter and verse of.

The newer Old Testament than like that, those are. Those are not ways to start relationships for this country 

Jon: at all. Well, so how can the church be more cur? Because curiosity is kind of the term of Yeah. Some of it is that there aren't answers. There aren't concrete answers of do this, this, this, you know, 1, 2, 3, 4.

Like the, the [00:24:00] conference circuit for churches is huge, right? Of like, you go to a conference, you get the whatever, and then you execute items one through 10. Okay? And then you're growing. And so it seems like there's a shift in just just posture. Yeah. To a posture of curiosity. And so what are some of the ways you would encourage churches to do that wherever they are?

Cuz you might have five, well, maybe this is why 

Dr. Josh Packard: haven't invited to those, those big conference stages just yet.

Jon: It, we 

Dr. Josh Packard: don't have the three step pro process because I think you're right. It is, it's a shift in posture. How do you be differently? Not, not how do you. You know, it's not about how you are differently, it's just how do you be with young people differently? And I love that you used that term curiosity.

In fact, right over my left here is a Ted Lasso poster that says, be Curious, not judgmental, which is from, it's not his quote originally, but it's from that really famous dart scene. If you haven't seen it, you should definitely check it out. Yeah. Oh, beautiful show. Yeah, it really is. The, and I think that's a really, it's a [00:25:00] good place to be with young people is look, I, I understand the fear.

I mean, I sat as a professor across the desk from a lot of students who I knew were making terrible choices. You know, like they just, they were about to do something that they just really should not do. But what I learned over the years is that if I only ever saw them once or twice a year during advising time, and they just saw me as like the gatekeeper for registering for their.

You know, I could tell I could give them the best advice in the world. They weren't gonna listen to it. Sure. And, and I don't think that the advice that I gave changed much in the 15 years that I was a professor. But by the end, I was getting a lot more traction because I would make sure I would see them more than once or twice a The nature and tone of those conversations shifted.

I started taking notes and asking them follow up questions and saying things like, tell me more about that. Yeah. Which I think is a really great, you know, phrase to keep in mind because it's the, the, it, it, it, that phrase, that question. Sort of delays our judgment. Mm-hmm. If, if our natural inclination is not to correct, but to ask.

Then [00:26:00] it, that, that tendency to want to like, oh my goodness. Cuz young people tell you things that make you go like, oh my gosh, I feel like I really need breakfast right away. Cuz that's just such a bad choice. Like, please don't do that. Mm-hmm. . And then when we couple that with like, you know, I, I think the stakes are pretty high for the work that I was doing.

We're talking about people's careers and you know, their vocation, et cetera. But the stakes are even higher in ministry settings, you know? Right. Because you're talking about people's eternal souls and. , I understand the pressure that we feel when young people tell us, you know, when they're like, I'm not so sure that God is real, or like, you know, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever.

I could, you know, we could, something like 40% of young people tell us they could fit in with any religion and they're gonna sit across the table and tell you that, right? Yeah. And you wanna step in and say, and it, what that does is that it helps you go to bed at night better because you can say like, I, I spoke truth into that situation.

But if we are actually being honest, With ourselves and we know we haven't done the, the sort of caring side of that relational authority work. [00:27:00] Yeah. It's not really gonna matter. You haven't built belonging, right? You haven't built a relationship, you haven't been curious with them. And so you could tell them and they'll pretend to listen, but it won't have an impact.

It'll be just like me giving advice to my students, you know, without fully investing in their lives. And so, yeah. You know, it'll be harder to go to bed cause you'll wonder all the time. Should I have said more there? Should I? Mm-hmm. . To, to me, like, I think that's, that's the deal of being the adult, right?

Is like, you don't get to go to bed easy at night. It's, yeah. And, and it's, look when they, you know, because they're gonna, they're gonna say things and ask questions and, and float ideas that is gonna make you like, oh, you know, your eyes get wide. But young people told us some really incredible things. And here's, here's just a couple that I think helped me to understand the context.

What a young person about a year ago told. . I don't even really know what I think until I talk about it. Mm-hmm. , like I, my beliefs get formed in convers. and then I understood the value is not in where that land, like where the conversation lands, the [00:28:00] value is in being the person they're having the conversation with, right?

Mm-hmm. , you know, like, because they're gonna have that conversation cuz they've gotta figure it out, right? It seems be with their friends, which is not usually great or it's gonna be with you. And so the question isn't, can you correct them? The question is, can you know, are you gonna be the one in that conversation?

Yeah. And then the second thing that happened was with the health of some young people, I. Remembered that like I don't have the same art on my walls that I had in middle school. Like the football posters are gone. Yeah, , totally. I might listen to some of that same music that I listened to in high school, you know, for nostalgia, but mostly that's not what's on repeat.

and you know, I, I don't, I'm, I'm not the center fielder for the Texas Rangers, so I didn't, oh man. I didn't become what I wanted to be. , you know, the reality that like we, we know that young people's lives are about change and exploration, but when it comes to their faith lies, it's like we put all that aside.

Everything we know about teenagers gets, puts aside and we, we think we want to get them to commit right now as strong as possible and [00:29:00] forever. Yeah. And the reality is their faith lives are subject to those same transf. You know, they're gonna fluctuate. They're gonna explore. They're, you know, they're unlikely to believe at 25 what they believed at 15, regardless of what that is.

Right. And when we keep that in mind, then I think it helps us to lean into those conversations more, take, you know, ask that follow up. You know, tell me more about that . Right. You know, and, and subdue the part of you that says like, that's insane, you know, . Yeah. Right. You're 

Jon: sort of in that conversation.

Well, and I, I do think, especially as young people are, They have more information as a teenager. Like my 11 year old knows more than I did at 17. Oh yeah. Like, I mean, just like, he's just ingested so much more information, which also includes things like conspiracy theories. Mm-hmm. and like, and so they'll like, people will just tell you the cra like.

Just, Hey dad, at school, this kid said blah, like the moon landing wasn't real. And you're like, what? Like, [00:30:00] oh geez. We're talking about flat earths and y your, like, truly your immediate response. Wants to be like, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. This is reality, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The earth 

Dr. Josh Packard: is brown, period.

Full stop. Go vegetables, you know, 

Jon: and, and so, but part of what you're talking about is the idea is that you're gonna be presented with absurd information. And you're gonna be presented with immature processing of how things are going. Yeah. And where Covid came from and how you form religious belief and what the universe actually is.

And oh, I think it's actually a simulation and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's like, okay, like you can. You can respond to that with, like you said, correction, or you can respond to it with connection. Right? Oh, of being like, yeah, oh, I'm a pastor, Josh. You gotta make, you gotta make, yeah, you gotta make it File.

File the trademark right now. [00:31:00] Yeah. You gotta make, but you, you want to stay in the conversation because staying in the conversation based on what you're talking about with your research, being the person they talk to is more important than having the right. Because they're going to process it out loud.

They're gonna be going through all sorts of stuff as every 15 year old does, as every 13 year old does. Yeah. You're figuring out your way in this world. And faith isn't going to be different than, like you said you know, your career. Right. And I'm sorry that the Texas Rangers didn't work out . So, you know, we, I, you know what, I'm not the president and James Bond at the same time.

and, and starting NFL quarterback, right? Like, It just, it didn't happen. Guess what? That's okay. But. One of the things that I think drives people away from the faith is this sense of trying to solidify Yeah. And, and make people make lifelong unchanging commitments. Yeah. To something that I was just, I was talking to a [00:32:00] friend who was part of, of the SBC growing up, and it was a very political church that he was a.

and once he started to get rid of those political beliefs, all of a sudden the religious beliefs didn't make as much sense. Oh, and so you're tr they're so closely cuz they were so closely coupled. They're so closely coupled and so, and so. You, you go, well wait a minute. I'm, I'm supposed to be scared of all these people in public school that are trying to take my God away and the earth is 6,500 years old and, but I'm, I'm actually meeting these people and they, they seem kind of cool.

Yeah, like the, the people that I'm supposed to be afraid of actually are like really nice and loving and caring, and they let me hang out with them at lunch and I maybe what I was taught isn't right and then you, you connected. And so it, it's the deconstruction process of what was actually there and what was too closely linked.

Dr. Josh Packard: And so, because then who's in that conversation? Well, it's not you. Now they're sitting at lunch with those other [00:33:00] people who are. Because it reminds me, there's old parable of like, you know, you can hold, you know, you can, you can hold a, a, a handful of sand from the beach, right. If you just scoop it up and the second that you try to squeeze down on it, like you just start losing sand like crazy and you know, you think you're building and I get the impulse.

I have a 12 year old and yeah. You know, you think you wanna build this impregnable fortress of certainty for their faith lives cause it's so important. and, and you have to resist the impulse to, to, to try and make that fortress immune from outside instead of, instead, when you just start teaching 'em, how do we engage with those things?

Like, okay, you, you know, you heard x does that jive with all the other, you know, sources of information that you trust? Like how do we make sense of that? Yeah. And guiding through those things. It's a, because those are the skills that they're ultimately gonna cause. The reality is like at some point they're gonna encounter information without you and like they need to know.

You know, how make sense of that? Did we come back to you or are you gonna make sense of it on their own? Do they have the skills and tools to do. Yeah. Yeah. 

Jon: Who? Boy, [00:34:00] okay. That's a, I mean, but this is a whole new look for what church looks like. Yeah. This is a, this is a whole new thing and there's, there's gotta be a digital element to it because so many of young, so many young people are plugged in.

Yeah. To what that looks like. But I would be interested in hearing like, what does digital life do to, I mean, I have a million questions I want to ask you. So like, we're gonna have to talk offline. Cuz I definitely wanted to get into inside baseball too, of like, okay, like let's talk about what we should actually do.

Like, like let's, let's go through it and let's work through it. But as you're seeing young people, they're more plugged in than ever. They have phones, they have all of these things. What is the and I'll say that the narrative is generally. You know, a lot of parents freaking out of like, devices are the problem, right?

This is why kids are depressed. This is why this mm-hmm. . And it's not to say that that is not true, right? But what, what is that connection [00:35:00] to the digital life these young folks are living and like spiritual life? 

Dr. Josh Packard: Yeah. Well, let's, okay, so let's break this open a little bit. On, on the one hand I wanna be really clear, I think, you know, one of the.

I, I don't think parents have largely failed young people. I think the parents are mostly still parents. But if there is a place where we have not adequately evolved our parenting skills, it's around devices. Mm. And mostly what I hear from parents is that it's either nothing or everything, you know, it's unfettered access or it's, you know, my, my kid's not getting a phone until they're 27.

Yeah. And we've gotta, we've gotta have some better parenting norms around that. The data are now in about social media. It's not good for. Like, it's not, it's not intended to be good for you. Like it's, it's just not, 

Jon: it's not built for that. It's not the aim of it. It is 

Dr. Josh Packard: it's armies of PhDs up against 15 year olds.

It's an unfair fight. Their goal is not to help them flourish. Their goal is to help. The goal is to keep them on the screen. And you know, the stuff that gets us, you know, our brains fired the most are [00:36:00] actually not necessarily always the things that are best for us in the long run. So we have to parent better about devices and, and teach our kids how to engage with things online.

So let's start there and recognize that and, and kids are starting to, so that's number one. Number two, kids are starting to see it. The one of the things that the pandemic revealed to a lot of young people was. Oh, this digital life, you know, this life that I thought I could lead entirely online and on my phone is not, I didn't like that.

I don't like this, I don't want to do this. They don't, but they don't know how to get out of it. Yeah. What a young person at an event just this past spring told me is that when adults. Dismiss my online life. They disqualify themselves from the conversation of my life. Who, say 

Jon: that again. When adults Say that again, that'll preach.

Dr. Josh Packard: When adults dismiss my online life, they disqualify from themselves from the conversation of my life. So it's not the, and as we talked for what she was saying is like, it's not that everything we do there is important. Some of it's TikTok dances and challenges and things like that. But some of it is really.

You know, like hashtag [00:37:00] witch talk about witches in modern day has more followers than your church has attendees and Right. You know, like they're learning about that stuff. They're, they're, you know, they're searching for it. They're listening to it, and not because they, you know, just out of curiosity, just out of playing curiosity.

So we have to, I think we have to recognize that that's present, but also, . Young people are starting to see that that's not necessarily the, a pathway to a fulfilling life. They don't know how to disengage from it. It's, it's not the depth that they want. They recognize that something is missing. But I think we live in this really weird time where for the entire evolution of human history, separation from the group meant death.

I mean, you know, you would, if you left the tribe, you would die. You couldn't survive. And now we're in this place where like the immediate thing that feels the most safe is to disengage. And you, you can actually survive alone for a while. Right? Right. For [00:38:00] you can and for long enough to trick yourself into thinking that it's possible, but you're missing a certain level of depth that can't lead to flourishing.

And so the pathway forward where I think we need to be engaging young people in, you know, spiritual matters to get here to this third part of this answer. Yeah. Is. It is really around experiences. Mm-hmm. So, you know, how do we help to create spiritual experiences for them online? How do we, you know, what are the, what are the fundamental components of your religion that you care about?

Maybe it's about service. Maybe it's about service and belief, or maybe it's about expression, devotion, faithfulness. You can do all of those things online. But they probably need an in-person component as well. And so it's not this like dismissal of online, like the transcendent can never be encountered on TikTok.

That's not, that's not true. Yeah. But it's also not this like giving over to like, well, we're gonna move all of church onto the metaverse or something. Mm. Which young people, by the way, are not necessarily interested in our data. . But it's like, how do we meld those two things together? Like how do we, how do we [00:39:00] experience grace and forgiveness in real life?

And then how do we extend that to people online? Mm. And practice it in those spaces. And I like, that's where I think adults and parents have a lot to offer in our religious communities. Really. Like you can make their online and social media lives flourish to a much greater extent by using some of the religious tools that you have.


Jon: Oh my gosh, that's so good. And you know what? You can do that for your life too. That's right, . Cause 

Dr. Josh Packard: we're run this 13 to 25 year old, but a lot of this is crossover, 

Jon: right. I'm looking at, I'm looking at my phone and being like my kids see how much I'm on my phone. Yeah. They're not, they're not dumb.

Like we haven't, we as as grownups, haven't figured it out yet. And it can be a really good thing to do together. Right. This is something that we can do together, is figuring out how to regulate this for both of us. Right? Because I'm not better when I'm on this phone all day. Mm-hmm. , even if I'm doing good things.

Right? Right. The [00:40:00] things that I'm doing are just as valuable as what they're doing, even if it's silly or ridiculous. Right. Sending memes to each other, texting, whatever. . And so to your point of stepping up our parenting and creating, because what my wife and I have kind of decided is we're they're not gonna live in a device less future, right?

So we might as well teach them how to try to use it responsibly. Because it's going to be a part of their lives. It's gonna be a part of their lives. So let's figure out how, in the same way that we would do it with a stove or a bike or a gun or whatever. Like, let's, let's teach responsible usage. Of what that is now, how can we teach it when we don't know what it is?

That's hard because we're, we're all learning for what that looks like, but I think that's a good family activity together, is to figure out absolutely. What, what is tran? Like, what is good, what is transcendent and what just makes you feel like crap? Mm-hmm. , because there are some things that. If you just like [00:41:00] stop scrolling the comments, don't read the comments.

Right. That's one of the things that my wife and I when my 

Dr. Josh Packard: wife and I you make content like this. That's rule number one, 

Jon: right? ? Yeah. Well, when my wife and I are going down rabbit holes at night around watching videos or looking at certain things, I'm always like, don't read the comments on the news story.

Don't read the comments, they're just gonna make you mad. Yeah. They're like, it's just going to upset you don't do it. And I have to like tell myself that. And if I can teach kids certain things, like, like that's just an example of like, Hey, you watched this SpongeBob conspiracy this whole SpongeBob conspiracy theory thing is a, is a thing that my 11 year old is into.

But here's the cool part about it. He's into it with his best friend who moved away to Pennsylvania. Yeah. And it's part of how they communicate. Right. And guess what? That's part of it. But hey, let's not read the comments because this is starting to get weird. Yeah. Like the, like this isn't about SpongeBob anymore.

Right. And so the, and so part of what you're talking about is how can we regulate these [00:42:00] like, Anxiety machines. Yeah. That, that hold too much power over us. So I, I love the idea that we can do that together and figuring out where to separate the, how to find transcendence in both the physical space and the digital space.

Because neither is going away. 

Dr. Josh Packard: One of our One of our Mormon friends had used to say this thing to their kids. I, maybe they still do, we don't live near them anymore, but the, they used to say, you know, would remind them on their way out the door to school, and we started doing this with our kid, you know, make, make yourself and someone else better today.

Mm. And I just thought like, that's such a lovely way to send somebody. It wasn't every day. It was just, you know, an occasional reminder. Make yourself and someone else better. Yeah. And so we started doing that even for online, like, you know. Yeah. Is Twitter better for you and, and for someone else?

Because you are on it, I mean, our 12 on Twitter, but like that's the ver you know, we don't, we're we're just stepping toes into social media in that, in that way of He's on, he has a, a discord chat with some of his friends, but we haven't thrown the doors open. Right. Yeah. , [00:43:00] but that's the question that I want him, that's a spiritual question, right?

That for us, it's a very faith-based question. And I don't care if he's operating in a physical world or a digital world, if he's playing Minecraft online with strangers or friends. Like is is the world of Minecraft better because you were there and are you better because you were there? and if you answer those questions is consistently no, then we, we might need to rethink, you know?

And yeah. And then, you know, there's follow up questions about, you know, you don't, you don't have to pound this every single time, but sometimes you get to like, oh, how, like, what happened that, you know, you made Minecraft better today in some way. What was, what does that look like? Yeah. But these are like, we're, we're trying to mirror the grammar of faith in these new digital spaces.

And it's, it seems, you know, it's, at least we're having the conversations that we care about. 

Jon: Yeah. Woo man. Okay. We could talk all day. At some point we gotta chat again maybe offline, just to like talk about some of what this looks like in application and, and all of that. Because dude, like this is so huge [00:44:00] and people look up Spring Tide Research Institute, all of this is there.

Spring Tide research.org. That's right. Yeah. Spring tide research.org. This is so good. And whether you are a young person or know a young person, this is all really good to know because it also affects you. Right. Because everything he's talking about seems to translate really well. So Dr. Josh, we have one more question for you.

Oh. It is the, it is the non-judgment zone of joy. Alright. And I make up a theme song every time that I sing. And I've been customizing them a little bit lately. Like what kind of music genre are you like into these 

Dr. Josh Packard: days? Okay. So , my friends joke, like if there's a folk singer with a guitar, like a white dude with a guitar, I'm probably listening to 

Jon: it.

Love it. . Love it. Listen, no matter where they're from, like, 

Dr. Josh Packard: you know Eastern European, Australian American, like, yeah, that's, that's sort of what I'm into. 

Jon: Okay. So I'll, I'll so think about your answer. What's bringing you joy right now? And I'll sing the theme song. The [00:45:00] unbelievable. Yeah. Oh, I wish I had a guitar, because I feel like, oh, no way.

Dr. Josh Packard: Is this really gonna happen? This is like I was on Holy Soup and the Phil Phil VI sang the Veggie Tales song with my name in it. And that was like a highlight. This is gonna eclipse that. Here we go. 

Jon: Okay, well that's, that's a hard one to live up to, but I found, oh no, this is, this is a lot. This is, yeah.

This is unbelievable. My seven year old's guitar of, and those songs are always kind of broody sad boy songs. Yeah, yeah. And so it's always like, it's the. Nonjudgment. Zone of joy. Nonjudgment. Zone of joy. We talking about things, the things that bring you joy. Oh, oh, oh. There we go. 

Dr. Josh Packard: Nailed it. That was fantastic.

Thank you John. 

Jon: So what is bringing you joy? 

Dr. Josh Packard: It's a [00:46:00] very repeatable, predictable thing. It's, it's one of, it's, it's hard to, it's, it's one of those things that, you know, like when you have this thing that matters so much to you, sometimes it's hard to talk about cause you're worried that the people that you're telling it to won't care as much as you feel like they need to in order to , you know, really get it.

But we're gonna take a stab here. The, this time of year in Colorado where I live north of Denver and Greeley, the geese migrate and the out right outside of my living room window, there's a, there's a hot tub and We have this big open field, so you get a full view of the mountains and the geese flying over.

And there's something just so satisfying to me to this, this repetition of hearing them. It's not the same just to see them. And it's and then later here in about a month, we'll make the annual pilgrimage to Western Minnesota for Christmas. And, and we'll see it, we'll see that bird migration happening you know, times 10.

And man, I just love it. 

Jon: Oh, that is, that's a gorgeous answer. I love it. And it's like tied into nature. And [00:47:00] are you from Minnesota? Is your family from Minnesota? My 

Dr. Josh Packard: wife is from Western Minnesota. My mom's side of the entire of my family is from Northern Minnesota. And and then my, and I'm from Texas where, where I met my wife at college.

But we are there, you know, I've been in Minnesota probably every pro, every year of my life, almost certainly. And often two or three times. Oh man, 

Jon: that's gonna be awesome. Well, I love, I'm gonna think about the geese when I think about the research, like, and I'm just gonna imagine you, like, I don't know what noises the geese make, but I, I didn't get a geese sound right there, but just imagine them flying those beautiful creatures.

Yeah. I love it. Josh, thank you for joining us again spring tide research.org. Is there something else that you wanna point people to as 

Dr. Josh Packard: well? I'll just say that we are right now in the, in the middle of a series about mental health. This is the biggest challenge facing young people coming outta the pandemic.

But as you mentioned, the pandemic accelerated things, right? So this was the, the mental health crisis for [00:48:00] young people was unfolding even before covid hit. Mm-hmm. And what we are doing in this. First with educators in the, in the, this past spring and then with religious leaders this fall, and then coming, coming early next year for parents and employers, is helping leaders to build mental health friendly organizations by centering faith and purpose as a conscious exploration along with a couple of other elements.

To really, you know, help mental health issues from becoming mental health crises. And yeah. And so in this way there's like this intersection, this really important intersection between faith and spirituality and mental health. And so if people are interested in that, I would just encourage you that we have one page where we're sort of one page on our website where we're sort of collecting all of those resources and you can dig in and dive around or.

Dive in and dig around if you're interested. 

Jon: Yeah, that's awesome. I'll, I'll find it. Put it in the show notes, that way folks can, can check it out. Hey, thank you so much Josh for joining us. We will definitely have to talk later. Thank you everybody for listening. We love y'all. What an amazing Chad with. Dr.

Josh Packard. He's just a good dude that's full of so much wisdom [00:49:00] and so much data. Like the data, the quantitative and the qualitative data can really help us understand how to engage with young folks because that is obviously a priority to many churches and to many people just in general. And so I love my chat with Dr.

Josh and I do think it's gonna help us be better on the inside, especially as it relates to digital things. You can find 'em at spring tide restart research. Org and you can always subscribe to the podcast. We'd love to have you do that, like it, rate it, recommend it to your friends. If you wanna go a little bit deeper, you can dive in on our Facebook group.

That is facebook.com/group/better on the inside. That's a great place to do it. Well, I love you guys. Thank you for joining the conversation.