Youth leader's mission trips include visits to Mormon, atheist strongholds

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SIGNAL HILL, Calif. — Stand to Reason's Brett Kunkle wants Christian youth to feel uncomfortable.

To help accomplish his desire, every year for the past four years, Kunkle has taken a group of teens on two unique mission trips within the United States. Each trip is purposefully planned to test their faith. One of the trips is to the University of California, Berkeley campus, where students meet with atheists. The other is a visit to Salt Lake City, Utah where the Stand to Reason students' Christian faith is challenged by Mormonism.

Stand to Reason is a group aimed at equipping Christians with knowledge, wisdom and character, according to its vision statement. To teach others, Brett equipped himself by earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Education from Biola University. He's also done graduate studies at Denver Seminary and is working on his Masters Degree in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology.

For Kunkle, who leads the group's Student Impact Program, this means putting his students in situations that make them "theologically uncomfortable."

"Most Christian teenagers are completely inarticulate when it comes to explaining the basis of their faith," Kunkle, 33, said. "They can be very articulate in other areas, but have just vague notions of God.


The youth mindset
With 11 years of experience in the field of youth ministry, Kunkle understands teens. He has spoken to church youth groups, as well as student camps and conferences. He served as junior high pastor and college co-pastor at Chino Valley Community Church and as pastor of student ministries at Creekside Church in Aurora, Colo., where he was responsible for the middle school, high school, and college ministries.

In addition, Kunkle was part of the leadership team for the RMBC Youth Leaders Network in Colorado.

"Just giving them theology book knowledge is not effective. So one of the ways to motivate them is to figure out ways to make them uncomfortable."

Before the mission trips, Kunkle partners with churches' youth programs to teach an eight-week course, including lectures, text and weekly tests to help strengthen their faith and give them the ability to defend it as well. However, it isn't until the trips—such as the one to Utah—that students begin to really grow, Kunkle said.

"A lot of Mormons are pretty well versed in the Bible," he said. "Many Mormons know where Scripture can be found a lot better than Christians. We put a Christian in situations where someone can rip apart the Christian faith and this really creates discomfort."


Failing on faith
Kunkle cites the results of recent polls as one of the reasons it's necessary to equip Christian youth. In one by The Barna Group poll, 76 percent of Christian students believe that moral truth depends on the circumstances, and 15 percent have no idea where moral truths come from. The results of a survey done by Josh McDowell were just as disheartening: 84 percent of Christian college freshmen were unable to explain what they believe or why they believe it. The root of the problem is their not knowing what they believe as Christians, and in not knowing how to defend it against the sophisticated messages undermining Christianity in today's culture.

"It's time to give our young people a dose of confidence," Kunkle writes in the Stand to Reason Web site.

"The byproduct of these trips is what God does in the lives of our own students. It helps students learn how to defend their faith," he said. "It's amazing to see the confidence build. This experience really becomes a real anchor to their faith."


Study in theology
While meeting with atheists on the Berkeley trip tests the students' apologetics skills, the Salt Lake City trip is more of a test of theology, Kunkle said.

In Salt Lake City, the students do conversational surveys in the downtown area, go door-to-door and have lunch with Bringham Young University students. A Mormon who converted to Christianity told Kunkle that the results of these trips would probably not be seen 99 percent of the time, but to "not give up."

"We don't go up there expecting Mormons to fall to their knees, praying the sinner's prayer after one conversation," Kunkle said. "We want to give them something to think about. We plant seeds."

There is not much difference in witnessing to Mormons than to other groups of people, he said.

"We care about people who are lost to Christ. Mormons have a false Jesus that they are trusting in. Ultimately, when you look at Mormon theology, they are trusting themselves for their own salvation.

"In that sense, they are really not different than any non-Christian putting their trust in themselves. We are called to have compassion in all that are lost."

For more information about the ministry or to schedule Brett as a youth speaker, contact Amy at 1-800-2-REASON, or send an e-mail amy@str.org. The Web site is www.str.org.