REGENER8: Straight Talk for Street Smart Teens is different from most books I feature but one of you knows someone who needs it, a teen, parent, or youth pastor. Rob Cook grew up street-smart and in trouble. With no father, a deaf mother, and four brothers, he grew up stealing to make ends meet. He knew nothing of God and the church rejected him. Please leave a comment and sign in on the Rafflecopter at the bottom for a chance to win a print copy.
REGENER8 For Street Smart Teens by Robert Cook
Welcome, Robert! Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little about your life and your family.
Thank you for having me as a guest. I will take a minute to introduce myself to your awesome readers. My friends call me Rob. My wife, Stephanie, calls me Robert, but I’m pretty sure she is still a friend. I live in Northeast Philadelphia. We moved here in November of 2015 so I could pastor St. James Church.
This is my first time pastoring a church so I was nervous at first but it has been exciting to see all that God has done through us in this community.
My youngest son, Christian, is 13 and still lives at home with us. We also have enough animals to run a small zoo. Let’s see: 2 dogs, 4 cats, 5 fish, 2 Sugar Gliders, and 3 Chinchillas.
I spend my days juggling between preparing my sermon for Sunday, a message for our Friday night youth ministry, and writing my books. I just signed my 5th book deal. I also meet with people in the community to grow the church or hang with the kids that live around the church.
I was a troubled teen myself. My father was an abusive alcoholic and drug user who left us when I was 7. My mom, who is deaf, raised 4 boys on her own. We were extremely poor and my brothers and I turned to a life of crime to get the things we needed to survive, as my mom did not work and my father did not pay any support.
I was arrested for the first time at the age of 11 but many more arrests followed. I was angry at the world and I had never heard of God. By the time I did hear about this invisible dude in the sky that loved me, I didn’t believe it. My own father didn’t love me. How was this God I could not see going to love me?
I grew up in a town with 33 churches in 1.9 square miles but they did not reach out to us. We wore black leather jackets, had long hair and rap sheets. Church kids were told to stay away from us and they did. We needed Jesus but they felt we didn’t deserve to hear about him. I figured this God only loved good people.
When I was 28, my mother had a heart attack. She had found Jesus quite a few years earlier. The hospital told me they were flying her to another hospital, as she had fluid in here lungs and around her heart. They said she had hours to live.
I called her church while waiting for the helicopter. I asked them to pray for her. They said they would put her on something called the prayer chain. At the time, I didn’t know what that was but I needed all the help I could get. After I hung up the phone, I said this to God: If you let my mother live, I will serve you the rest of my life.
The helicopter came and took my mother. I drove 3 hours to meet her. Upon arrival, I spoke with a nurse who informed me that they could find nothing wrong. The doctors said they could not explain it. They said it was a miracle and released her 2 days later.
I was scared because I now had to serve this God dude or he would kill my mother. At least that’s what I believed back then. How do you “serve” God in real life? I thought I’d better go to church, after all this is where God works so it was a good place to start. I started attending church with my mom.
I had hair down to the middle of my back and wore leather jackets that looked like I raided Bon Jovi’s wardrobe. People stared a lot.
Then I found out God wrote a book and it was really fat. I figured he probably wrote it expecting me to read it, so I did. At first, I was going to church and reading this old book just to keep my mom alive, but something happened inside of me while I went to church and read that “old” book.
My life did a 180. I went from cursing every other word and stealing anything not nailed down, to using no curse words. I mean zip overnight. My non-church friends were like. “What the bleep happened to you?”
I started working as a volunteer youth leader at my mom’s church, which was now somehow, my church. Over time, I felt God moving me in a direction to reach kids like I use to be. The fringes of society. The kind of kids the church avoided for their many reasons.
As I met young teens in the street and built relationships with them, I would invite them to the youth program on Friday night. These young people wore rock and roll shirts with AC/DC and Metallica on them. At some point in our 4-hour evening they would need to step outside and smoke. The powers that be descended upon me and said, “Don’t bring them here anymore.”
Why? Because they smoke and wear rock and roll shirts. This led to a parting of ways and I started 252 Underground Youth Ministry out of our house one week later. It blew up to tons of kids coming, which led to me renting a building in our hometown and spending $3000.00 a month of our money to run it.
We don’t have enough room for me to tell you all the crazy things God did and his miraculous provisions. It was totally book of Acts type stuff. My life has never been the same. If you would have told the 25 year old me what I would be doing today, I would have laughed in your face.
What led to the writing of REGENER8: Straight Talk for Street Smart Teens?
How REGENER8 came about is just as crazy as everything else God orchestrated. I’ve loved writing since the third grade. My teacher asked us to write a short story one week. I did and she loved it. She assigned a story-writing project every week because she said she wanted to read my stories. She told me, “Someday you will be a famous author.”
So I continued writing in private. I rarely showed anyone my work but when I did they always said the same thing. I couldn’t put it down. You should do something with your writing. And I….didn’t. For over 30 years, people told me to do something with my writing. Finally, in 2010 the chairman of my youth ministry board told me to bring some of my writings out to my youth building the following night. He was bringing someone to meet me.
He arrived with an older woman and she watched everything going on that night between me and those “Bad” kids. She was blown away. She read my stories and said I needed to write a book. I informed her that I did not write non-fiction. She pointed a finger right in my face and said, “You do now.”
That demanding woman was Marlene Bagnull, the founder of the Philadelphia and Colorado Christian writer’s conferences. That’s how it started. She gave me a scholarship to her conference in Philly 2 months later. I went and sat through orientation. I was told not to be discouraged because no one gets a book deal or an agent at their first writer’s conference.
At lunch the first day, I was offered a book deal by Eddie Jones, from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolina’s. After reading a short story I wrote, he asked me to write a devotional. I told him I didn’t want to write a devo for church kids. He asked what I wanted to write. I said a devo for unchurched kids. He said, “What does that look like?” I said. “I don’t know I will get back to you.”
After lunch, I showed my story to Diane Flegal from Hartline Literary Agency. She became my agent on the spot.
On the way home from the first night of the conference, at 3am on the turnpike, God gave me the title, REGENER8, 8 weeks 8 lesson 8 truths. The truth about porn the truth about drugs.
I pulled over, found a sharpie, and wrote it on a wrinkled napkin. The next morning I found Eddie at a table, surrounded by would be authors, eating breakfast. I pulled the napkin out of my pocket and smoothed it out on the table in front of him. All eyes were on my fancy book proposal. I said, “This is the book I will write for you.” He said, “Can we sign a contract?” Everyone at that table just about died. It was funny. Sorry.
That’s what led to REGENER8.
I wanted to reach these young people in a way I knew the church was not or maybe even could not. I wanted them to know the simple truth that God loved them right where they were at. I wanted these “Fringes of Society” to know they were a part of God’s beautiful tapestry.
What “preconceived notions about God” do you feel create the biggest problems for teens today?
There is absolutely a wall between today’s teen and the church. Christians are known more for what we stand against than who we stand for. Jesus did 3 things to reach people. He loved them. He met their needs. He taught them in interesting and practical way. These 3 things still work today. The problem comes because we don’t follow Christ’s model. We tell people everything they are doing wrong. We boycott stuff. We judge unbelievers as if they had the Holy Spirit when they don’t. We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. Young people are smart. They see we don’t walk what we talk.
There is a disconnect, a short circuit between the Jesus of the Bible and the way we present him today. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. 2000 years ago, this Jesus could get people of all ages. yes teenagers too, to follow him everywhere. To hang on his every word. To forsake food and shelter. To sit on a rocky ground and listen to what he had to say. Today we cannot get a teenager to come to church for 90 minutes in climate controlled comfort with donuts and coffee. I don’t think the teens have a preconceived notion problem. I think we have a problem without how we represent Jesus.
What would you like to say to parents about REGENER8 and its importance for their teen?
I tell parents that God has a plan for their teenager’s life but that the devil does too. I receive many emails from teens and parents who have read REGENER8 about how it impacted their lives for eternity. I had a 17-year-old atheist tell me he read my book and found faith in God. I had a 17-year-old Satanist tell me he accepted Christ after reading REGENER8. A 15 old girl wrote and said she read REGENER8 and knew that she wanted to serve God the rest of her life. Some of these letters were included in my book ILLUMIN8.
I prayed every time I sat down to write that the Holy Spirit would not only give me the right words to write but that He would change the lives of the teens that read the book. And He has answered my prayers.
I tell them there is a war being fought for their child’s soul and that if we don’t reach them, the devil will.
My husband and I spent many years serving in different capacities within the youth ministries of a large denominational church in the 80’s, but it has grown tougher for the church to reach teens than it was back then and many youth programs in traditional churches are struggling. Give us a brief overview of what you see as the key problems.
I think one of the key problems with youth ministry today is that we entertain when we should be equipping. In many churches, a young guy is hired out of bible college for a very minimal salary and minimal experience, to be the youth pastor. He comes up with some fun, corny games and lite bible messages, the annual youth camp or missions trip to a fun exotic location, and “Baby sits” our kids while we do “grown up” church.
When the youth graduates and his entertainment changes, he/she walks away from church. For the last 30 years, statistics show that 68% to 98% (depending on the survey) of kids raised in church, walk away, never to return. Within 30 years up to 98% walk away, but we keep doing the same things we always did.
In my book, Youthanize: The Death of Traditional Youth Ministry, coming June 2017, I address this problem. We need to help these kids fall in love with Jesus. Period. Let me give you an example. I love my wife. No one has to tell me to buy her flowers or to hug her or kiss her. No one has to tell me not to beat my wife. Why? Because I am in love with her. I would not do things to hurt her. If there was a seminar coming to Philadelphia on how not to cheat on your wife, I would not go. Why? Because I would never dream of doing something to cause my wife pain.
If we run around trying to tell teens not to have sex, drink, do drugs, etc. We will run ourselves ragged. We would never be able to get them all to do the right things because we told them to. But, and it’s a big but, if we help them to fall in love with Jesus, their Savior, they won’t want to do things to hurt the one they love. You see the difference. They don’t need an bunch of rules because LOVE is the only rule.
What kind of response do you get about REGENER8 from teens and their parents?
I get messages from parents, youth pastors, and teens from all over the United States. Youth pastors have told me that they tried many devotionals and curriculum but have never had success like the results they got from using REGENER8 in their youth groups. Parents tell me their teens are like new people. Teens say that they are so glad a parent, grandparent or friend gave them my book. I smile every time. I’m smiling now just thinking about it.
What were some of the biggest struggles in writing and bringing Regener8 to publication?
I have had many struggles in writing in writing REGENER8 as well as my other books. The devil tries to tell me that I’m nobody. Why would people care what I have to say? He reminds me that I was just a house painter with a bad past. I’m worthless. But God saw something else and everything that has come about in my writing, from having 2 award winning, international, best-selling books to 5 books deals in 4 years is all from God. I can’t take credit for any of it.
There was no trouble getting REGENER8 published. No resistance. God did not just open doors, he kicked them in. I’ve been so blessed. It took 2 and a half years for REGENER8 to go #1 on Amazon. My second book, ILLUMIN8, went #1 in six days after its release. I get requests to speak all across the country. I had an internet TV show in 190 countries. I have a weekly column for almost 5 years on the teen website, www.clashentertainment.com God is my Savior, my best friend and my door kicker.
How would you encourage parents whose kids have lost interest in God and are seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places?
REGENER8 has provided me with a platform to speak to hundreds of parents from all walks of life but all connected through the pain of having a child lose his way. I remind parents that acceptance and approval are two different things. I share with them the story of the prodigal son. I remind them that God can change anyone and I know this is truth because look what he did with this “lost teen”.
Never give up. Never stop praying. Never stop loving them.
Please share a key passage from REGENER8 with us.
I think one passage that makes the most impact in a young person’s life is from week 4 day 2:
Jesus doesn’t set up an obstacle course with hoops to jump through in order to be in a relationship with him. He doesn’t have a list of requirements that you must fulfill so He can check them off. That’s religion. That’s man trying to reach God and putting conditions on it.
Jesus doesn’t care what color your hair is. He doesn’t care if you have a Mohawk. So what if your lip is pierced? Jesus isn’t looking at all that. He’s looking at your heart. No one is disqualified. Unlike amusement parks, there’s no sign in front of heaven that says you must be this tall to enter.
This is what Jesus says to you:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
So cut out the middleman
Religious leaders want to weigh you down with a bunch of rules and regulations. They want you to fulfill their requirements before they allow you to come to Jesus. Jesus was not too keen on them back in his day. He still isn’t. You don’t need a middleman to reach Jesus. You can go right to him personally.
You don’t even need to download the iJesus app.
REGENER8 is an 8-week devotional, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a foundation builder – a blueprint for life.
It’s relevant and controversial. It’s in your face.
REGENER8 takes the training wheels off your spiritual sprint and rips down the speed limit signs. This fast-paced book will challenge you in every area of your life. While this book is packed with life-changing truth, we opted for no preservatives and no sugar-coating. Just 100% of your daily allowance of in-your-face Gospel truth.
The only requirement is that you leave your preconceived notions about God and Jesus at the door, and commit to a journey of change based on God’s spiritual truths. Are you up for the challenge of REGENER8? Are you tough enough to handle 8 weeks, 8 lessons, and 8 truths? Are you tired of playing life? If so, let’s REGENER8 your life.
About the Author:
Robert Cook is the Founder and Executive Director of 252 Underground Youth Ministry. He is also the international, award winning, best-selling author of the teen devotionals, REGENER8 and ILLUMIN8. Rob has dedicated the last 20 + years of his life to reaching teens for Christ, the first 9 in traditional church youth ministry. The last 11, as the Executive Director and Pastor of 252 Underground Youth Ministry, a parachurch organization he founded in 2004.
Through practical experience gained in the trenches of frontline street ministry to the youth in his community, Robert breaks the stereotypical notion that this young generation does not care about the things of God. Robert has been the keynote speaker at several writers’ conferences around the country and is the winner of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference Pacesetter Award.
His next book coming in June 2017 is Youthanize The Death Of Traditional Youth Ministry. It will teach churches how to do what he’s been successfully doing for 20 years in reaching teens for Christ. Rob also has a young adult novel coming soon titled Carnival of the Dead. The third book in the REGENER8 series, ACTIV8 will be out in 2018/19.
Rob lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Stephanie and son, Christian, and pastors St. James Church in Philadelphia, PA.
Connect with Rob:
Weekly column every Sunday for the teen website: www.clashentertainment.com