Justin Khoe, a digital missionary with his own YouTube channel, has amassed 70k followers who watch his videos about Bible study, heaven, and church, as well as issues like drinking, sex, and marriage. He talks to Spectrum about how his channel got started and why he isn't just out to convert people.
Question: You run a YouTube channel called That Christian Vlogger, with almost 70,000 followers. Can you tell us a little bit about the kinds of videos you post?
The videos are geared toward young adults, and hopefully will help them understand the Bible a little better for themselves. There are videos about how to pray, study the Bible, and create a closer relationship with God.
I also like to weigh in on subjects that sometimes churches are afraid to: dating, relationships and sex, homosexuality, weed, tattoos, alcohol. Often these are the most relevant topics for young people. But there is a hesitancy from the church to talk about these issues.
Young people often see church and the weekend sermon as completely unrelated to day-to-day life. I try to bridge that gap by creating content they can hopefully act on, bringing the weekend into their week.
The goal of the content is to positively influence relationships and how we treat people.
Do you interact a lot with your viewers?
A lot of times people message me privately with concerns in their own lives.
I don’t have a building, or a specific time to meet, but this is a little bit like a church online.
This sounds like potentially a lot of pressure on you. Do you feel adequate to answer the questions young people have?
Sometimes I feel the pressure, and a certain sense of inadequacy. I wonder how I can bring value to the answer.
I try not to ever answer like I am the expert, or have it all figured out. I am not that person. What I am is someone who cares about the people watching.
I am open to learning as we go. I like talking about difficult subjects. I believe we can learn from anybody, so I format my presentation as questions and conversations and opinions, telling people “this is how I feel at this time.” I always try to make the videos conversational.
My goal is not necessarily to change anyone’s mind or convert them to my way of thinking — just to get people engaged in the question a little more, give them some healthy food for thought, and inspire them to research for themselves. If we disagree, it can still ultimately be a win.
What is the format of your videos?
Many of the videos are questions and answers about the Bible.
Sometimes it looks like interviews. Sometimes like a blog: just recording a day in my life, and what Christianity lived out could look like.
When did you start the YouTube channel?
Coming up on three years.
Why did you decide you wanted to start a YouTube channel? Is it your full-time job?
It’s more or less my full-time job. I also do some consulting.
I have been involved with ministry for a number of years. I have been a literature evangelist, Bible worker, and public evangelist. Sharing the message has always been very important to me, and for a long time I was trying to figure out the most effective way to share the message I believe in with other people.
In 2015 and 2016 I was teaching at the Columbia Union’s REACH evangelism school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While there, I met someone who had become an Adventist because of a YouTube video. The video was not created by a superstar evangelist — it was just an average Joe. It was someone just talking about his faith and walk with God. That video changed someone’s life. And that rocked my world. If it can happen for him, it can happen for someone else.
So I went online looking for Adventist YouTubers, or even Christian YouTubers, and by and large there wasn’t anyone doing it. So I thought I should give it a shot.
So you left your job teaching at the REACH evangelism school?
Yes, I felt God was calling me to be a digital missionary to do this kind of ministry. I was at REACH for almost two years, but then I felt called to take this leap.
I feel the church is not always poised for new pivots or for testing new things. I realized what it would likely take is for someone to just do it.
What is your relationship like with Adventist church administration? Have they supported your YouTube channel?
I have no official church endorsement. Up until about a year ago, I had a hard time finding people in the church who were interested in building what I am trying to build. But in the last 12 months I have found some very supportive people who are helping me.
I have had a range of responses, from disbelieving and skeptical, to “this is a little scary and we don’t know what to do with it but we wish you the best,” to “this is completely amazing and we want to be an ally and a champion.”
Who is watching your channel? Are they mostly Adventist, or mostly not? What is the average age of your viewers?
By and large the viewers are non-Adventist, judging by the comments I get. It’s a fairly young audience: 78% of viewers are under the age of 34, and there are more in the 18-24 age bracket than in any other.
Probably young people are more inclined to listen to you because you are a young person. How old are you?
28 years old now.
How does your channel bring in income? Are you making money? Is it self-sustaining?
The easiest answer is that my wife supports us both. I am a digital missionary, and we went into it thinking of it as a sacrifice and a mission. I do have a handful of people supporting us through monthly pledges, from as little as $1 a month to $100 dollars a month. That works out to a very modest stipend.
We are still working to make the channel self-sustaining. We don’t attract much advertising — a tech or beauty blog is naturally going to get more.
But I am now getting more opportunities to do consulting for the church. I am working with different churches, conferences, and various ministries, helping them to grow their social media followings.
You and your wife Emily make some of the videos as a team. Do you brainstorm the content together?
I do a good chunk of videos solo. Others are interview-based, where I talk to a friend, church leader, or fellow YouTuber. But Emily and I are trying to make more videos together. It is hard though, as she works full-time as an occupational therapist in the public school system. It’s a lot to ask her to work on this for a few hours after she gets home from her paying job.
How have your videos evolved over the three years you have been making them?
I am much more proud of the videos I have made in the last year — they are much better quality from a visual and audio perspective.
Also, I have been concentrating more on having a compassionate conversation with people, and treasuring relationships, rather than trying to convince anyone I am right about something.
I believe you got your college degree online, because you thought going to a brick-and-mortar college would be a distraction from spreading the gospel, is that right? Where did you earn your degree from, and in what?
I had this idea in my mind: What if Jesus came back in five years? How would I want to spend those five years? Doing ministry and making a difference in the world? Or four years studying, and just one year in ministry? I sided with ministry.
Of course this was 12 years ago. But I am very mission-driven, so I studied online as a way to do full-time ministry. I earned a degree in marketing from Western Governors University.
I was thinking about ministry, and I couldn’t afford to go to an Adventist college. I didn’t want student loans or debt. I knew I wanted to do ministry. So I thought that the closest thing that would potentially apply to ministry would be marketing. Ministry is kind of the marketing of Jesus.
Looking back from this vantage point, do you wish you had done it differently?
No. I am not regretful. I am not sure that a traditional classroom would have worked for me. I don’t think I learn in the same way an average person learns. I have ADD, ADHD, and all those challenges. Sitting still is generally a difficulty. If the church sermon goes any longer than 10 minutes, I can’t stay sitting. I have to go to the back and pace.
So yes, I am super glad I didn’t go to college. I think it would have driven me crazy.
You met your wife at Loma Linda at an Adventist speed dating event, is that right?
Yes, that is partly true. Apparently I first met her before that — although I don’t remember, she does.
I am from southern California, and I spent my first eight years of ministry in the Southeastern California Conference.
I was preaching in a series at a church, and Emily was there. She noticed me. She wasn’t sure how old I was — she figured it could be hard to tell with Asians!
Later, a whole bunch of single people who worked at the church I worked at decided to go to a speed dating event. Emily was there, recognized me from a distance, and made sure that she was the first person I talked to.
365 days later we were getting married in the Pacific Northwest.
What plans do you have for your channel? Where do you see it going in the next five years?
I am quite happy with where it is. It would be great if it works out monetarily. And if it does continue to grow, I would be super grateful for that.
Through this medium, I am able to engage with tens of thousands of people about spiritual things. This is an online mission field.
I don’t know if my ADD mind will let me continue forever, but a few more years would be great if it became financially sustainable.
I want to champion digital missions, and using social media for good. It seems that 99% of conversations about social media are about protecting our children. I want to change that. I want people to realize that we should not be running away from social media, but toward it.
Eleanor Roosevelt said it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Our church is called to enter the place of social media and light a candle there and be some kind of influence for good.
What career goals do you have for yourself?
Even though I am not currently employed by the church, my heart and soul are with the church. My passion for the church is so serious that when I believed the best way I could influence the church was to quit my full-time salaried job, I did it. I stepped down and took the risk of building something because I care about the church.
Whether or not I am denominationally employed, I certainly intend to continue to serve the church.
Do you feel the message you have is a specifically Adventist message?
Yes and no. I do have a very strong belief in our Adventist message. And because I care about it, I want people to come to the most accurate vision of who God is. But on the YouTube channel, I won’t specifically speak about Adventism for the first few years. I have a long-term approach to sharing Adventism. I don’t want to tell people they are wrong because that is polarizing. I want to take it slow. I want to establish relationships and trust, before sharing our particular view of Jesus with people.
What do you think about what is happening in the world church now, with discussion of the compliance document, and so on?
It all seems fairly trivial. There are many more important things we could be focused on now. I would prefer our energy, time, and money be focused on the mission of church.
I do believe there is validity on both sides of the discussion. We do need unity. We also need equality.
When I was in Maryland for the NAD Adventist communicators conference, we went to the Museum of the Bible. There was an entire room that was used to illustrate translation of the Bible. There were tens of thousands of books. Every single book represented a language that the Bible was translated into. But in one giant section of the library, the books were yellow. Every single yellow book represented a language out there in the world that the Bible has NOT been translated into.
When over 50% of the languages out there don’t even have access to the Scriptures, it seems silly to be spending years arguing about something so far down the list of what actually matters.
Photo courtesy of Justin Khoe.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
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