If you’re a fan of Twitter (as I am), you’ll know that Jared C. Wilson is one of the great “follows.” He’s alternatively funny, serious, and poignant. Jared is a prolific writer, church planter, and conference speaker. He blogs regularly at his blog, The Gospel-Driven Life and at his group blog for writers, Thinklings. He’s currently the pastor of Middletown Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont as well as the author of Your Jesus is Too Safe and Gospel Wakefulness. Jared was kind enough to stop by for today’s Friday Five:
You’re a guy from Texas pastoring a church in Vermont. You talk often about the challenges of doing ministry in what most would describe as a less-evangelized area of the country. What’s the toughest part of about ministry in New England?
The toughest part is relearning how to bring the gospel to a field that is biblically and ecclesiologically illiterate. The Bible Belt is rapidly approaching this point, and biblical illiteracy is actually a problem throughout evangelicalism in every part of the nation, but in New England there is already a generation or two that has *no* church background or exposure to the Scriptures. We have to start from scratch very often.
Just as an example of the difference: In the Bible Belt, very often Easter and Christmas are huge attendance days. People who don’t go to church the rest of the year feel compelled to attend on these holidays. They often have some church background, went as a kid, or are even members somewhere from way back. This doesn’t really exist in many parts of New England. A few people may be more inclined to accept an invitation to church near these holidays — Christmas more than Easter — but there is no huge attendance bump. There is no nostalgia factor. So we are dealing with a real mission field, where the message is a foreign concept.
On top of that we have the added difficulty that while most people have no knowledge of the gospel or the Scriptures, they have an image of evangelicals as bigoted, intolerant, unintelligent fuddy-duddies. There is no commonly accepted cultural Christianity like in the South, for instance. So the illiteracy matched with the ideological hostility is a hurdle. But the gospel shared from a loving heart is a great jumper.
Your first book, Your Jesus is Too Safe really challenges the assumptions of long-time Christians. Do you think the American brand of Christianity is “too safe.”?
Yes. We have crafted myriad Jesuses in our image, to match our personal or ecclesial aims or preferences. We have a Jesus for every selfish desire.
But this isn’t about hating the American dream or selling all your stuff and being homeless for the sake of the homeless — although if God is calling you to do that, you better do it. It’s about really finding out what dying to self and orienting around Christ really looks like in our contexts of home, work, school, and church.
You’ve got a forthcoming book, Gospel Wakefulness. What exactly is “Gospel Wakefulness?”
Gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring him more sweetly, and it results from beholding Christ powerfully in the gospel in a moment of utmost brokenness. It is, simply put, being astonished by the gospel and then living with that astonishment enduring
You’re a writer who preaches and a preacher who writes. How do you balance writing, ministry, and family?
I don’t like the world balance. It implies these things are equal priority. But if I had a set of scales, family would be on one side, and ministry/writing would be on the other. And family would still be “heavier.”
I prioritize this way: Family first, ministry second, writing first. And with those priorities in mind, I have the freedom from my family to minister well and the freedom from my church to write when I want and need to (and travel and speak, within mutually agreed reason), but there is no question that I sacrifice ministry when my family needs me, and I sacrifice writing if ministry needs me.
It’s not about balance. It’s about doing what’s right.
But practically speaking — since this is what most people want to know — I work ministry Sunday through Thursday, knowing that ministry is hardly ever a 9-5, 5-day-a-week “job,” spend Fridays with my wife and Saturdays with my wife and kids, and I work writing time into all the gaps, doing most on Wednesdays if the sermon is mostly done and also on Fridays with my wife’s approval.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new pastor or ministry leader, what would it be?
First, make sure you’re saved. Second, make sure you can’t do anything else.