Interview With Sean Dunn by Pam Glass, Christian Book Previews
CBP: Let me ask you, why this book at this time? What have you been seeing in today’s youth that led you to do this particular book now?
Sean: I think, as a church, we’re addressing a lot of the symptoms such as the lack of holiness, but I really believe the core is spiritual apathy. I believe that our posture toward God affects everything. If we are progressing toward God it doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, but it means we’re giving God permission to speak to those areas about our life. My favorite quote from the book is actually that “spiritual apathy is the doorway through which sin enters and faith leaves.” And I believe that. I believe that if we do not address spiritual apathy with students that our churches are going to see the effects of it in years to come.
CBP: Were there any experiences in your own life growing up? What’s your story as far as your upbringing in the church and testimony?
Sean: I was bored with God. I was called to ministry when I was fourteen years old. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that’s what I was supposed to do and never wavered in it. But in the midst of that I was a church brat. I knew what to say, I knew what the Bible said, but I didn’t know how to apply it.
I used to struggle with the fact that my faith was supposed to affect these areas of my life and it wasn’t. I went to church and it was a social outlet. I really didn’t have much of a spiritual connection. In the midst of that I was hiding. I was a student who had major issues in my life that nobody saw.
There’s a type of person that everybody knows his issues and the type of person that nobody knows. Everybody knew who my friends were sleeping with, drinking, whatever; nobody knew what was going on in my life. There’s also the type of person that really enjoys their sin, and the type of person that hates it. I hated it. It made me hate myself. And so I was going through the motions but I knew it wasn’t right.
One of my philosophies is that the majority of students in the Christian church are rebellious, but many are frustrated because they know they should be doing better but they don’t know how to. So in the midst of that, my world began to fall apart. Within about a week my parents found out about my lying, my stealing, and all these issues. And it got pretty serious. I stole about $1,000.00 from a houseguest. My parents were freaking out: “What do we do with this kid?” And through a series of events, I said, “Please don’t give up on me.” And they said, “We won’t give up on you; we’ll give you one more chance.” They were talking about sending me away. I’m not quite sure what that meant. To me, it meant mental institutions or military school. So they said, “We’ll give you one more chance.” And I was ready. I mean, I had tried. I said, “O.K., what?” I was hoping for this profound truth. And they said, “We want you to go talk to your youth pastor.”
I wanted to roll my eyes. Please, what’s he ever done for me? He had never related to me, we had not made a connection at that time. And I said, “O.K. If that’s what you want me to do, I’ll do it.” So a few days later I’m in his office, and I’m addressing two of my three issues. I said, “I’m a thief, I’m a liar (no young man raises his hand and says, ‘Hey, I’m a pervert!’).” He looked at me and he said, “ You don’t have a problem with your mouth.” I wanted to say, “Yeah, I do. I just told you I have a problem lying.” And he said, “No, you have a problem with your heart. The Bible says, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.’ That’s why you’re lying. I bet we could change that verse to, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart, the body acts.’ That’s why you’re stealing.” I said, “O.K., that makes sense. But what do I do?”
He picked up his Bible and said, “ You’ve got to read this Book.” And again, my response was to internally roll my eyes because I looked at his Bible and thought, “I’ve read it before. The words mean nothing to me.” I said, “Do you really think it will help?” And he said, “ I promise you it will.” So I said, “O.K.” He said, “Do it for three months. I promise you it will change your heart.” And I said, “Every day?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “If you want me to do it every day, I’ll do it twice a day.”
So starting then, I read the Bible twice a day. Two chapters before I went to school, two chapters before I went to bed. It was that thing where I said, “I’ve got to do it because I want to change. I want God to have access.” I really wanted to be godly, I just didn’t know how. But it really did change my heart.
I had memorized Hebrews , and I really didn’t understand it, but Hebrews took place in my life where it says, “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. . .judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” It went past my mask. I had everybody locked out because I was a professional Christian: I was an actor. But I got two or three months down the road and realized I hadn’t stolen anything. My mouth had cleaned up, and even my thoughts had cleaned up.
So that’s my story. I am not the expert on students who are bored with God, but I do recognize them, and I’m probably more aware of what students are going through, the frustrations in their faith than maybe somebody who was saved at a later age and immediately did everything, their passion never really disappeared. Because I struggled with that. I knew that I was supposed to have this connection with God.
CBP: Did you feel uncomfortable talking to your parents or youth pastor? Were they not discerning to see what was going on?
Sean: No. . . I was a leader in the youth group at a really young age. That actually hurt me because it meant, to me, that I had to continue to play the game. It’s changing, but back then, it meant that anyone who stood in the pulpit or had leadership wasn’t allowed to be vulnerable or struggle. My parents loved me, but they never really saw what was going on. The communication was never on a real deep level. I think, out of everyone, my brother was the one who really saw what was going on.
CBP: It troubles me that the youth pastor, the pastor, your parents, no one in the church reached out to you to say, “How are you really doing?” Or wouldn’t it have mattered?
Sean: I’ve been in full-time youth ministry for 17 years. And very few ministers ask the second question. If you walkup to a student and ask, “How’re you doing?” inevitably they will always says, “I’m doing good” because that’s what’s expected of them. Very rarely will we question that first response. My impression is that 50-70 % of the time that first response is a lie. They really aren’t well, but they don’t know how to tell you that. So I can understand the fact that you were troubled by that. But I have worked full-time with students for years, and when I start telling my stories about hiding my sin and nobody knowing, yet looking in the mirror and knowing, students come up to me and say, “That’s me. That’s who I am.” So I was not the only one.
We’ve trained students to fool us because they’re afraid that if we see them -- we have these expectations – that if we see them in their sin, we see them in their failure, they’re afraid we won’t accept them and love them if we really see who they are. Because that’s what the devil whispers in their ear.
CBP: What’s the remedy for the kid who, when you call him on his condition, blows you off?
Sean: They have that right. But what you just described is not apathy, it’s rebellion. And that’s the problem. I think, with a lot of parents and teachers of teenagers, we address the symptoms, and really it is, to me, everything is a result of our time before God. Because if we are spending time with Him -- there’s a chapter in the book about self-righteousness – if we’re spending time with God we won’t be self-righteous because we’ll have His heart. But when we don’t, it all becomes about us. There’s a chapter in there about holiness.
If we’re spending time with God we’ll understand that our sin breaks God’s heart. So we’ll want to overcome that. If we don’t, it will just fester, and it will turn into what is perceived to be rebellion. But again I really believe, after talking with thousands of students, that the majority of them want to do better. They realize that their faith should affect life, but they don’t know how to make it happen.
CBP: How do you think your book differs from other books on the market?
Sean: Bored With God is different because it’s very practical. It’s not a whole lot of theory. Each chapter deals with a symptom of apathy. I wrote in a way that, hopefully, every person who reads it would see people that they know. They’ll say, “Wait a minute, I’ve seen my son do that. I’ve seen a student do that.” So that helps.
CBP: I thought that was the best part of the book, the illustrations.
Sean: So I think the book is very practical. There are no formal lists, first of all. You can’t buy the CD set and in five minutes your family is going to be better. But they’re practical things, effective ways to pray listed in there out of Scripture that are very profound.
CBP: I really appreciate that. I really appreciate that your first point under everything was to pray – and not just in a glib way.
Sean: Let me sum up the answer. I really believe God was in this book. I think God is going to use it to help many parents who have given up hope, who have assumed their student was rebellious when that assumption has actually driven a wedge between the student and the parent. I really believe it’s going to help the understanding between the parent and the student, which is also going to increase the effectiveness of that relationship.