The Church is heading in a new direction, according to Josh Morris. The old way of doing things just doesn’t translate. That’s what Josh learned during his two years planting a church in Austin, Texas, that ultimately didn’t survive the COVID shutdown. What he learned opened his eyes about the future of the Church.
In this episode of the Church InTension podcast, The King’s University President, Dr. Jon Chasteen, talks with Josh Morris about his time in Austin, the deep theological questions he asks, and the future of the Church.
Dr. Jon Chasteen: Hey, welcome back to another episode of the Church InTension podcast. For all of you that are watching or listening, thank you for taking time out of your day to join us. I pray that this podcast is a blessing to you. I pray that it encourages you, inspires you, and changes you. And so today, I have a guest on that has become a very close friend of mine in the past couple of years, in fact, and it’s Josh Morris. So if you don’t know who Josh Morris is, let me read an official bio. Okay, here we go.
Josh Morris: I’m ready for it.
Jon: “Josh Morris is the executive teaching pastor at Gateway Church. In 2018, he and his wife, Hannah, planted a church in Austin, Texas. Closed the doors two years later, due to the pandemic.” Here we go. “His passion is reaching people who have been disenfranchised by the church and need a healthy Christian community.” Does that sound like a good official bio?
Josh: Yeah, definitely.
Jon: I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but that’s all I got.
Josh: No, that’s truly… That really is my passion. Obviously, I think the church, every time you do a strategy meeting or something like that, and someone’s like, “Who’s your target demographic, your target audience?” And on one hand, you go, “Well, we’re a church. It should be everyone.”
Jon: Right. Breathing people.
Josh: But also, just like there’s a lot of personalities within people, there’s a lot of personalities within church, and I think that’s okay. It’s okay that we have the choice now to find a church that lines up with what we’re wanting to experience. It used to be that whatever parish was in your town, that’s the one that you went to. And there’s something cool about that too, because for as long as you lived in that area, you were committed to that place.
Jon: And there’s a real community.
Josh: Real community.
Jon: The whole community is there.
Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. And it was so based on local. We’ll probably talk about this later, but I think that that’s where the church is headed towards, is going back towards hyper-local. But I think it’s nice that we have that kind of choice. I think part of the problem is when we decide, “I’ll be at this church for as long as I agree with every single thing that the pastor agrees with, and the moment they say something that I don’t like, or whatever, then it’s time for me to find a new church.”
Jon: I’ve been to churches before, and I’m sure you have too, and I’m not going to name any of them, where the preaching was horrible and the worship was horrible, but the community was amazing. And people didn’t care as much, because they didn’t come to get fed because they ate before they came. But there’s just a family dynamic there that is pretty special.
There’s this church that we go to, and I’m not even going to say the town, but when we go on vacation sometimes to this particular little town, there’s this little Baptist church that we end up going to. And man, as far as quote-unquote doing church, it’s the worst. I mean, it’s horrible. But there’s something about it that I love. Like, “I want this. I want this.” And church has become such a performance type deal. I think that the churches we grow up in shape us. I think they can shape us towards that same thing, or they can shape us completely away from that thing, depending on the experience of it. What kind of church did you grow up in?
Josh: I grew up in a church that was in the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptist Church. Pastor Olen Griffing was our pastor. It was called Shady Grove Church. It was this booming, emerging church, before there were the megachurches of the size that we have now. This was just this exploding church. It clearly had God’s hand on it. And they so embraced the movement of the Spirit that was happening at that time, that it ended with them being removed or kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention. And actually, I was pretty young at that time, but because of what they were doing, I’m not sure who actually did it, but there was enough evidence to say it was because of them straying from the norm, that their church was burned down.
Josh: So God really helped restore that place and grow it back. And Olen was, and still is to this day, a mentor in my life.
Jon: He’s amazing. I love that guy.
Josh: Yeah, he’s amazing. And so we spend a lot of time with them. We’re close to his kids and grandkids. One thing I love is that I went to… The church had a Christian school attached to it, and I went to that school from kindergarten until I graduated high school.
Jon: Did you really?
Josh: Yeah. So the same school. My graduating class had 32 people in it, so we had really strong community. It was a great place to be. And at the same time, as with any movement of God, over time, that can be taken too far or we can start to hold to, “Well, this is what God is here.”
Jon: “This is how God moves.”
Josh: Exactly. Yeah. And so it was coming to a place where the three-hour services and things like that were not reaching the people.
Jon: Well, it feels like there’s an element of, “Because God moved last week that way, and it was so powerful and so many lives were changed,” and they truly were, that it can get to where the pastor feels pressure to do it again. Or the people who were there feel like, “I want this to happen again, even if I have to manufacture something.”
Jon: Oddly enough, Josh, I went to high school in Irving and my dad pastored a little bitty old church. I can’t even remember the name of it. That’s terrible. But it was on Shady Grove Road.
Josh: No way.
Jon: In Irving. And it was called Shady Grove something. Pentecostal Church or whatever. And so my dad would actually go to Olen’s church on Saturday night.
Josh: That’s so cool.
Jon: Of course, I was a rebellious teenager so I had no idea what Shady Grove Road was. So anyways, that’s interesting. But my dad, similar. My dad pastored a Pentecostal church where I would lay down under the pews because the church services were so long. I would count how many pieces of gum were under the pew.
Josh: My mom packed snacks for us.
Jon: Yes, you had to have snacks. And nap time, lay my head on my mom’s lap and take a nap, because the church was that long. And I really saw some pretty powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen people get demons cast out of them. I’ve seen it all. Seen the Jericho Marches. I’ve seen it all. So that really shaped me in a desire to see the moving of the Holy Spirit. But then at the same time, we would see people get in the flesh and manufacture it and make it up. And I could tell. I could see that. And so I think that that shapes us. So even today, as a pastor, I am so hungry for a move of God and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but I want it to be so healthy. And so I have a radar, so to speak, up on anything weird. “Nope, stop that. That’s weird.” Because the Holy Spirit’s not weird. People are weird.
So how did that shape you? Because I want to get into when you launched the Table, your church in Austin. It was diabolically different. I shouldn’t… Maybe not diabolically. That’s a strong word. But it was way different. The style, more liturgical, things like that. So what shaped that in you? How did that happen?
Josh: Well, I guess, one element of that is that it’s pretty consistent throughout modern church history that we see ourselves go through these different cycles, where one thing is right for that time. And strangely, a lot of pastors, no matter which generation they’ve been pastoring in, they found success within pastoring people and growing their churches through finding what was new or what was next, or building in towards what was next and not just clinging to what was before. And so too often, I think what happens is that someone has a handle on what God’s about to do next, but the church can’t accept it and so they end up leaving, and going and planting another church. And then that grows and does really well. These churches either die or get consumed by the other churches.
And so I think it’s ironic sometimes. A pastor will find their path through that. You go, “How did it start for you?” And they go, “Well, I saw that we were having these three-hour services and we needed to adjust, and there’s businessmen coming and we wanted to respect their time and things like that.” All good things. But at the time it was scandalous. They did it, saw God’s hand on that, and now it’s time to succeed and pass something on. And they go, “The only requirement’s you got to keep things exactly the same.”
Jon: Keep it the same way. Don’t change. Yeah.
Josh: It’s always like, “It wasn’t that long ago that were preaching something different.”
Jon: “You were changing it.”
Jon: That’s so true. So true.
Josh: I think that’s just the nature of giving yourself to something, believing in it. And so when I came out of this very charismatic expression of church, and same thing that you’re talking about, I’d developed this radar, just as a kid, when you watch people falling out or shaking on the ground or things like that, you go, “Is this real? Is it genuine?” And in me evaluating it, I found that they were both true. There were some people who were genuinely having experiences. There were prophetic words that were given, that there’s just absolutely no way that that person could have known that without God revealing it to them. And some amazing things, amazing movements of God. And I also knew, as a kid, that if we had chapel for school, if we all fell out under the Spirit, that we didn’t have to go back to class.
Jon: That’s awesome. “You fall first, okay? And then I’m going to fall and then we can skip math.”
Josh: Oh, we had a plan and everything.
Jon: That’s awesome.
Josh: And the school was far more focused on our spiritual development than our educational development.
Jon: That’s so hilarious.
Josh: So I knew distinctly that there was a very real side to it and there was a very manufactured side.
Jon: “To this day, that’s why I’m bad at math because… But I know how to fall.”
Josh: Exactly. I’m ready.
Jon: That’s so good.
Josh: And so I think that out of having this free-flowing, “It’s a movement of the Spirit, we don’t need very much structure, order, or anything like that,” I was left craving something that was very grounded, that was rooted in history. I like context. I like to know where we came from, where our faith came from. I like to know that things do move in cycles, and to learn those cycles and to study church history and things like that.
Jon: Not just be all emotion.
Josh: Yeah. It started for me because I asked my friend, Chad Sykes. He’s a brilliant guy and studies everything, and I knew he was someone who I could go to with answers. Not somebody who just accepted whatever was being taught at our services or whatever, but somebody who had really done their research. At that time, I was listening to a bunch of Piper and Driscoll and I was drawn to their certainty. And so I had decided… I was raised more on the Armenian side and now I’m discovering Calvinism and I’m trying to decide, “Where do I land on this?” It was really the first moment, since childhood, where I had this overwhelming desire to decide what I believed and not just carry on the beliefs that had been passed down to me.
Jon: Which really is the key to us really establishing the foundation of our faith, and not doing it just because dad or mom or somebody told me to.
Jon: And going through this own discovery. And I think that’s where this word “deconstruction” has gotten a little bit of a bad rap, because I think it sounds like there was a season of your life where you had to deconstruct a little bit. Not that even what you were deconstructing was bad. You just needed to go on a discovery journey and figure out-
Jon: …your faith.
Josh: Yeah. My faith is so much stronger after going through that. And of course, we’ve all seen people who have deconstructed their faith and totally lost it, and some of those people, that would probably happen with either way. It begins with some sort of deep-seated doubt and it starts to-
Jon: Or a wound.
Josh: Or a wound. Yeah. Most of the time, it is a wound. And it was probably partly true for me as well, but a lot of it was about discovery. So I think that the people that we see, that fall away after their deconstruction, I genuinely believe that one of the biggest contributing factors of that is that they didn’t get to walk through it with their church and their community. And that’s what I experienced when I started to question certain things. I never felt like I was like, “I’m struggling to believe.” It was that I was struggling to accept what I’d always been taught to believe and I was thinking, “It’s got to be bigger than all of this.” And so I had questions, but they felt like threats to other people and so I found that I really didn’t have very many people to talk to.
And I met with a guy named… Well, first, my father-in-law is great. He pastors at a church in Amarillo, Texas, and he always was willing to discuss things with me. He didn’t make me feel bad about it or anything like that. And then Philip Jones at All Saints Anglican in Dallas started mentoring me and meeting with me. Those two people were comfortable with my questions and I think that’s what saved me through my deconstruction process, was because I got this weird feeling that every time I’d ask a question, it’s like, “Don’t ask that. Just believe.”
Jon: Wow. Wow.
Josh: And that felt so shallow to me.
Jon: It seems like, “What are you hiding?”
Josh: Yeah. And it scared me.
Jon: “What’s the conspiracy here that you’re…?” Yeah. We had Dr. A. J. Swoboda on, a long time ago, talking about deconstruction. And we talked about, the key to that is the questions. We have to be willing to let people ask questions. And even in parenting, we’re both raising teenagers, as kids start coming to question their faith and question God, question the existence of God, letting them discover, guiding them along that way. So I think that’s so important to-
Josh: They never seemed threatened by my questions, and it gave me an assurance that their faith isn’t rocked by these things.
Jon: That’s so good.
Josh: And that stood as the example to me of, “It’s okay. I can go and question these things. God can handle it. I can let Him know what my doubts or insecurities are.” And out of that, I ended up preaching a message, here at Gateway, about Thomas. We typically call him Doubting Thomas and I called him Faithful Thomas, because he was faithful to needing ask those questions, needing to question those things. And what does Jesus do when he shows up? He doesn’t chastise him.
Jon: He doesn’t beat him over the head.
Josh: Exactly. Yeah. He gives him… In fact-
Jon: He shows him.
Josh: Exactly what he asked for.
Jon: Exactly. Showed him.
Josh: Exactly what he asked for. And so I thought, “Well, maybe that is Jesus’s example.” That if we ask those questions and we say, “I need to see you. I need some sort of proof of your existence,” that that’s the type of question He likes to answer.
Jon: I love that. I want to give some stats real quick, to set up this next continuation of this conversation. We all know the different generations and we’ve all heard the stats on this, but I want to give just a couple of ones. So the Silent Generation are those born anywhere from 1928 to 1945. A little bit of Barna research, also a little bit of a research called Springtide Research. 86 percent of the Silent Generation call themselves Christians. 86 percent. When you go all the way down to Gen Y, it goes to 56 percent. Now, I skipped baby boomers and Gen X, but I’m trying to get to the core here. 56 percent, Gen Y. Gen Z, 30 percent would call themselves Christians. Did you know what the next generation after Gen Z is going to be called?
Jon: Have you seen this? They’re called Generation Alpha.
Jon: Because they got to the end of the alphabet. I guess they’re starting over.
Josh: And now they’re going back. Yeah.
Jon: What a terrible name.
Jon: Alpha? How crazy narcissistic and prideful do we want this generation to be? “We’re the best generation of all.” So you and I both have Gen Z. So Gen Alpha is going to be anyone born after 2010.
Jon: Gen Z, it all differs a little bit, but Gen Z is like ’97 to ’10-ish, something like that. So with this trend, obviously those are kind of alarming stats, but why do we think that is? I think this segues well into what we’ve been talking about. So what does the next generation value? These next generations. The Silent Generation was a very, “Just put your head down, do the work. Stay quiet. Believe what people tell you to believe. Work what people tell you to work. Work in the factory the way they tell you to work in the factory. Do it for 50 years and shut up.” But these new generations are very… Some may call rebellious, but maybe that’s not the right word. Maybe they’re just questioning. They don’t want to just know what, they want to know why. Do you think that a lot of these things we’re talking about as playing into this, or what do you think is happening in these younger generations? You’re Gen… How old are you?
Josh: I’m ’82, so I’m actually right on the line.
Jon: So you’re on it, right on the line, depending on which you look at.
Josh: Yeah. I feel more like a Gen X than a millennial because I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 18, 19 years old. I learned to drive by printing out MapQuest.
Jon: Yes. MapQuest.
Josh: To me, the difference in those two generations is whether you had a cell phone when you were young.
Jon: It totally is. It totally is. Yeah. I think Harvard studies call Gen Y starting in ’84. A lot of them say starting in ’82. But you’re right on the… I’m ’79, so I’m right close to that too. But yeah, what do you think is playing into this a little bit?
Josh: Part of me feels like the biggest key to this next phase of Christianity is that we’ve been through kind of a scientific revolution, and the church has either denied science or pushed it away or degraded it. And the general idea of the average person has been, “I’ll believe only the things that can be absolutely proven.” So we’ve been through this phase where it’s like, “Well, I’ll believe in Christianity if you can prove it to me.” And that, to its very core, is the opposite of what faith is. It’s believing in things that we can’t see or can’t be proven to us.
And so I think that out of that scientific time, at least what I hope happens is that there’s a rediscovery of mystery, is that there’s a rediscovery that there’s a lot out there that we don’t know, that we don’t understand. I think there’s going to be a pull back towards understanding the ancient church, getting an idea of what our history and our roots are, and that there will be a… “Mystical” is kind of a dangerous word, I guess, in the evangelical community. But I simply mean, even though we’ve been through this new move of the Holy Spirit that wasn’t that long ago and we’re kind of figuring all that stuff out, I think it’s going to be a new awareness of the supernatural, but not done in the same way that it was done in ’80s and 90s.
Jon: The mystery. Pursuing the mystery, so to speak.
Jon: What’s ironic, Josh, to me… And I agree with what you just said. It’s like they want to know, “I’ll believe it if it can be proven to be true.” So it’s like this scientific deal. But even lately, we’ve seen the opposite as well. “I won’t believe what you’re saying unless you prove it to me scientifically. But I want you to believe what I’m saying with zero truth.”
Jon: “I am a female and I want you to call me a female, even though I’m scientifically not a female.” So it’s like this weird, “If you want me to believe what you’re saying, I need scientific proof. But you should believe everything I’m saying, regardless of truth, regardless of scientific-“
Josh: Yeah. Yeah. It’s all sort of an illusion right now. It’s like, “We’re the most tolerant society ever, unless you’re a Christian.”
Jon: It’s so true.
Josh: It’s like, “We’re super tolerant of Muslims now and look at all the progress we’ve made.” And as soon as you go, “I’m a Christian,” they’re like, “Ugh, I’m done with you.” We’re really not that tolerant.
Jon: It’s true.
Jon: It’s bizarre.
Josh: Yeah. These are weird things that are going on.
Jon: Is it our own fault? Have we been hypocrites? Have we hated when we were supposed to love? Have we rejected when we were supposed to accept? I wonder why that is. Why are Christians now the bad guys? And maybe, in the background you and I grew up in, it’s a demonic attack. I’m not discounting that. There obviously is a demonic aspect to this. But there’s also cause and effect. What have we done in the past two or three generations that has all of a sudden caused…? Like you just said, you’re tolerant of everything. You must be accepting if people want to be homosexuals. To Muslims, to you name it. Every religion. If you say you’re a cat, Josh, you’re a cat, man. You need a litter box, tell me where to put it. We’re tolerant of everything but Christians. Why is that? Have Christians brought this on ourselves, or is it just a-
Josh: Yeah. Part of it is, I think the accusations are the same as they were when Jesus was walking the face of the Earth, in that when he was loving people, they were saying or taking that as an endorsement of that person or their behavior. And so we’ve somehow now gotten to the place where the church is not viewed as the place of love. And as soon as you start saying, “Hey, we’re going to love these people…” My wife works for a ministry-
Jon: It’s called Embrace Grace.
Josh: Embrace Grace.
Jon: You can’t remember what it is but I’m telling you, Josh. Your wife works at Embrace Grace.
Josh: I couldn’t remember the word “nonprofit”, for some reason. But it’s a ministry, a nonprofit called Embrace Grace, and they help women who find themselves in unexpected pregnancies, that don’t have a good support system around them. And it’s so crazy when they go to different churches and say, “Hey, we’d love for you to have Embrace Grace within your church,” some of them, ones we know in this area, say, “We like what you’re doing, but when are you going to tell them what they’re doing is a sin?”
Josh: And Amy, the leader, the president of the organization, she’s always like, “Trust me, they know. We’ve seen them. They walk in and they-“
Jon: Do we have to rub their nose into it?
Jon: They know they’ve made a mistake.
Josh: They know that what they need is to experience the love of Christ. And I think that that’s part of it. If we get to the place where we’re not known for love… And for me, a lot of it goes entirely back to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We cannot help but constantly try to live out of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We want to decide what’s right and wrong. We want to enforce what’s right and wrong.
Jon: That’s so true.
Josh: We say, when it comes to voting or leading a church or anything else like that, “We must govern morality.”
Jon: “This is the way.”
Josh: “This is the way. Only act this way.” And we’re really judgmental towards certain sins. We give a pass on divorce and whatever else is common within our church, or whatever. And it’s because we want to be God. We want to choose what’s right and wrong.
Josh: And so I think as soon as the church gets out of that, stops just trying to preach, “Do this and do that, and act this way and don’t act this way,” and instead goes back to the true mission of loving people, in a way that doesn’t compromise what our beliefs are, a love that pulls people towards health and restoration. And that’s easier said than done, obviously.
Jon: It is. Yeah. But you’re right.
Jon: So let’s talk about your church in Austin. When you planted it, what was your vision? What was your heart? If you were sitting me down right now and I was considering joining your church and I said, “Man, tell me about the Table. What’s it all about?”, what would you have said?
Josh: A little bit of what we were trying to do was that there’s such thing as a cultural Christian. I’m a Christian because I grew up to be a believer, and all my friends, and this is where my community is, and we go to church together, whatever. And all their beliefs are shaped by whatever the pastor preaches on that weekend. They view that as their primary time to learn about their faith and don’t necessarily do a lot of research outside of that. So if you start talking to them about other denominations or what they believe, or whatever, it’s sort of like, “I got my way.” It’s very cultural.
A cultural person, just in their life, is like, “I like to stay in my one little area. This bubble is the center of the universe for me. I’m all about my hometown, my state, wherever I live, or whatever.” A cultured person is well traveled, understands there’s different cultures, understands that the way we do things isn’t always the right way or the perfect way. There’s a lot of other things going on in the world. They’re cultured because they’ve tasted other things.
Jon: They’ve experienced other cultures.
Josh: They’ve experienced other cultures.
Jon: And they have an appreciation for all cultures.
Josh: Exactly. And so that was part of the goal, was take people from being cultural Christians to cultured Christians, Christians that understood that we come from a long history. So that was part of our plan, was to restore liturgy and have a really solid blend of that with the Spirit. This gets into a lot for me, but some churches are typically, sometimes reformed churches, very much on the law, behavior, “We have everything figured out.” It’s appealing to God the Father, in that sense. God the Father we view as being the ultimate judge, brings down judgment, things like that. So God is an angry God and we have to appease His anger. And luckily, Jesus stepped in and took all of His anger for us, or whatever.
Then you have churches that are similar to what I grew up in, which is all Spirit. It’s entirely in the Spirit realm. There’s not a lot of order or structure because we’re just free-flowing in the Spirit. Then there’s Grace churches, seeker friendly churches, that’s all Jesus. That’s all, “Jesus died for you. There’s Grace for everything. He wants you to thrive and succeed and prosper in everything that you do.”
So I’m seeing this and I’m going, “Well, there’s these kinds of churches, these kinds of churches. But we live within a Trinitarian Christian model, so what would it look like if we had three streams?” And those three streams translate into the liturgy, which is our practice. And it matters. You look at the way God commanded the Israelites to build the Temple, the amount of care and passion that He had, the way that it goes into that. And so we wanted to be this blend of having the Word and the Spirit and the sacrament, the liturgy. And so if we could blend those three, we felt like that was a very Trinitarian way of looking at that. So that was our goal. That was what we set out to do. Finding that right blend is challenging, but I felt like we were getting there.
Jon: For sure.
Josh: And so that was our vision, passion, was to bring back the liturgy but not to neglect the Spirit with it. So it was a blend of all of those things that looked a lot like Gateway, where we came from, and also looked a lot All Saints Anglican, where Pastor Philip had been mentoring me. And so we blended all of those things together, and what we ended up with was a lot of people that had felt or been disenfranchised by the church. People who had similar experiences to me, where they had a lot of questions, but they weren’t getting answers. We had this distillery type place that we would meet, and oftentimes, my small group where we talked about theology was larger than our weekend gathering. So there was a hunger to be able to say, “I have a lot of questions and I want to know if it’s okay to talk about it.”
Josh: So we just became that place. It’s very hard to survive as a church like that, because if we played the game and brought in all mature Christians who were looking for a church, they already-
Jon: They pay the bills.
Josh: …understand tithing, giving.
Jon: They pay the bills.
Josh: Yeah. Exactly.
Jon: You bring in people that are searching in their faith, they don’t know about tithing, they don’t believe in tithing or don’t trust it.
Josh: And a lot of distrust. Yeah. A lot of distrust towards giving to the church.
Josh: So it’s not the best model for starting a church.
Jon: For church growth.
Josh: Yeah. For sure.
Jon: That’s such an interesting dynamic there. Because we have a lot of pastors who listen to this and so I think they’re totally getting what you’re saying, that there is a little bit of a game to play. And I hate to say it that way, but you really do have to have a church, have systems. And you were coming from Gateway Church which has lots of resources, lots of staff, lots of money, going to a place where, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have any resources. I don’t have what I need.” And so you’re wrestling through that.
So what are some of the things you learned in that process? Would you do anything differently if you had to go back? You picked a great time to plant a church, right before Covid. It’s really genius on your part. And then also, you’re going to plant a church in some of the hardest ground, which is needed. We need more churches in Seattle, and LA, and Portland, and places like Austin. So you had two things going against you, right off. One was the season at which you planted, which you didn’t know, with Covid around the corner. But also you were going in some hard ground. You’re trying to plant seeds in fallowed ground. So what were some of the things you learned during that season?
Josh: Coming from Gateway, we ended up taking three full-time employees as part of the staff. We did things in a very Gateway way, where we’re trying to offer the best childcare of anywhere. We’re trying to have the best music every weekend, so we’re paying for the musicians that we have. We are paying for children’s care workers. We’re running everybody through background checks. All things that typically happen in larger churches. It’s just what we were used to. So our costs were high, our labor costs were high because of how many employees we had. And a friend of mine asked me… Randy Phillips, he’s a pastor in Austin. He asked me to go to this church planting group that he had. A lot of young guys that were planting in the Austin area, and he would mentor them. There’s seven or eight pastors in the room and everyone goes around and talks about what they’re doing, and I realized, “I’m the only person in this room that’s not bivocational.”
Josh: Every single pastor that was planting a church in Austin, that was in that group, was working a job and also pastoring, and some of them have been doing it for 10 years or more. And I realize, “We have a tough road ahead of us to get to the place where we’re financially able to keep this going.” And it’s not just me that’s on staff. It’s two other people, full-time staff, all the practices that we carried over from Gateway. So I think one thing that we would’ve seriously changed, in doing it again, would be to just change our expectations of what growth was going to look like, to go down as small and nimble as possible-
Jon: That’s so good.
Josh: …to be able to change and morph. My sister and Ethan, they planted in Houston and they also are just killing it. They’re just doing a great job. But Houston’s a very different area than Austin.
Jon: Very different.
Josh: And they-
Jon: And they weren’t launching a church, trying… They’re doing their own unique thing, and every church is unique in its own way. But you were trying to do something that was really breaking the mold completely and starting over.
Josh: Yeah. And maybe too, a little bit ahead of its time. I do think that there will be a pulling back towards liturgy, a craving for that, within the younger generation. But we were a little bit ahead of its time. Part of the problem with trying to mix those two worlds, the charismatic and the liturgical world, is that if you stand in the middle of a road, you get hit with cars going both directions. So we weren’t quite liturgical enough for the people that wanted that, and weren’t quite charismatic enough for the people that wanted that.
Jon: That’s so true. I never thought about that before. Because the people that are charismatic that are coming, they’re like, “Why are we doing these weird chants?”
Josh: Oh yeah, totally.
Jon: And the liturgical people are like… You’re so right. You’re getting it from both sides.
Jon: So with all that we’ve talked about today, what do you think the church of tomorrow looks like? You see generations leaving. You see the temperature of our culture and our nation. We’ve talked about, every generation, the church changes. It went from pews to chairs, and every cycle changes a little bit. So if we’re to try to look into the crystal ball, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, what are the churches that are killing it? What have they figured out, do you think?
Josh: I think that I’m biased a little bit. It’s hard for me to really pick what it will look like next. But my bias leans toward that there will be hyper-local expressions. I remember sitting down with some of my friends that had left the church. Not Table.
Jon: Just in general.
Josh: They just were friends that had just left being at church in general. And I’ll never forget. It was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. When they were in church, they’d been through a miscarriage and things like that. And he told me, he said, “When we went through all those hard times,” he said, “our CrossFit community was there for us and our church community was totally absent.” One of the side effects of church quickly growing, there’s a desire by some people to be able to quietly walk in and leave and not really be noticed, and some people do want that, but then as soon as-
Jon: Until they need something.
Josh: As soon as something goes wrong in their life and they go, “Well, where is everybody?”
Josh: And so I think it’ll go more to hyper-local. You can find a CrossFit gym just in about every little neighborhood and so I think it’ll move a little bit more towards that, where you really have community. I live within one mile of three or four of my closest friends, and we’ve intentionally done that. I don’t like my house at all, but I like that I’m close to my friends. I think there is a movement towards that, of, “I want to be in community. I want to live close to my friends.” Proximity, especially in a metroplex like this, means a lot. Because I’m not going to hang out with you as often if you’re 45 minutes away.
Jon: I couldn’t agree more. I think the churches of tomorrow that are going to be the most successful, so to speak, are the ones who figure that out. We’ve been going through some of this at Victory Church, even, where we’ve had a season for about the last year or two, where we would find out that someone left our church. We’d call them. They say, “Man, we love the preaching, we love the worship, we love Victory Church. We didn’t really want to leave, but all of our friends go to Blank. All of our kids’ friends go to Blank Church.”
And so it really woke us up to say, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, whatever, somebody may have said, “Number one priority of church, preaching. Number two priority, worship, whatever.” I think that’s changing, because they can get good preaching anywhere. Used to, you’d have to get a cassette tape to listen to somebody else’s sermon. Now they have access to every sermon on planet Earth, whenever they want it. And so if they want good preaching, they can get that every day, anywhere. But what people are really craving is community.
But also I think the reason for that is, this younger generation, they lack community. They’ve lived on technology for so long. Covid amplified that, where we just want to be with people, and church is one of those areas that people look at that way. So actually, even at Victory Church, we just completely started changing our emphasis and we started calling our services “gatherings”, because the Bible says, “Don’t forsake the gathering of the saints,” and in Acts, it says that every day they would gather at the temple courts. But then the very next sentence says, “And then they would meet in homes and break bread.” And so we’ve kind of went, calling everything we do as a church, “A gathering.” But really the focus of the gathering is not the gathering. The focus of the gathering is to get them in a home, and we call those “circles”. We just say, “Hey, you need to get in a circle. Life change happens in circles, not rows.”
And I don’t think it’s the end of the megachurch. I really don’t. I’m a pastor of what would be deemed technically a megachurch and so I feel like I can say this, but I think the church of the future are the ones who figure out how to make the macro feel like the micro, and how do we take big gatherings but make it not about the gatherings? Like at our church, we’ve stopped all conferences. We are doing no more conferences because we don’t know that it moves the needle. It’s just like a Sunday morning. We’re getting in rows and staring at the back of the head of the person in front of us, not talking to anyone, listening to a talking head on stage. So how do we get them from rows to circles? And so we’ve just completely changed our focus.
So I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the churches of the tomorrow are the ones who figure out how to get people face to face. Like what we’re doing right now. We’re facing each other. If we tried to do this podcast and you were sitting in front of me, facing the wall, and I’m talking to the back of your head, it’d be weird. So I agree.
Josh: Well, you said breaking the bread too, and I think that’s going to be a really big key. I think as we start to remind people of the importance of receiving communion, the Eucharist, that now we can listen to podcasts from any church, anywhere we want, at any time, but we can’t forsake the gathering of the saints. We can’t stop receiving the body and the blood of Christ together, as a community. I don’t have anything. I don’t have a problem with people saying, “Me and my family, we sat together and we received communion at home.” Great. That’s totally fine. But to do it… I really struggle a lot with this movement of, “Well, I have a personal relationship with God.” We’re at fault for saying that too often, because we really don’t. It is the church… Not that we don’t have a personal relationship with God.
Jon: I know what you mean.
Josh: But we are Christians because of us being united as the body of Christ.
Jon: We’re each a part of the body.
Josh: We’re a part of that body. So I think it’s crazy to say, “Well, I’m the hand, but I’ll just be off on my own and I’m totally fine with that.” Just because sometimes it’s hard and it hurts, we’re forgetting the importance of gathering as the body of Christ, us being united. Since the Reformation, really, we’ve continued to divide into thousands of different denominations, and that division just continues to happen until, soon enough, “I can’t really worship with anybody except for myself in my home because I’m so divided from everybody else.”
Jon: Yeah, exactly. Well, there’s a lot of people that don’t come to church at all because of that reason. They stay home and they attend church online, which I’m not opposed to. I’m thankful for online. That’s their church, but that’s not a church. It’s getting in community in those ways. So anything else you want to share, that was on your heart, before we get out of here?
Josh: No, I’ll just mention that on the mystery side, I think that another element of that is that we have also taken that scientific approach to scripture. Was there really a flood? Can this be proven, or whatever? And so when we step into the mystery, I think we also start to discover the imagery that is within scripture.
So that’s my hope for pastors, is that we still preach about the factual truth. Absolutely. Jesus died. He rose for our sins. All of those things are true. The Old Testament stories, these are tellings of real events. But the imagery that is woven into them, I think is what’s next for awakening people to… Especially something like the Old Testament where they see violence, they see what they perceive as an angry God. You watch the imagery there and you start to realize, God has been working for a long time to be able to reunite Himself with us, to be able to take His bride, and the imagery has been telling us that story this entire time.
Jon: So what does that mean to us now? Is it, we look at the imagery then, correlated to imagery now, things happening around us? Unpack that a little bit more.
Josh: As someone who was deconstructing and going through a lot of things, I’m like, “Hey, why did God order the murdering of every man, woman, and child? Don’t we normally call that genocide?”
Jon: Why is that?
Jon: Can we pause there and discuss this for a moment?
Josh: It was like, “We don’t ask that question.” I’ve never been met with more fear than that.
Jon: Why did God smite thee?
Josh: Exactly. It was the story of Moses that ignited everything for me. I was reading some stuff and I was telling myself to look for the imagery, to look for the truth that’s embedded within the story, and that was when I started to realize, if there is a staff with Moses, that represents the Cross.
Jon: Yes. I see what you’re saying. Yes.
Josh: So when Moses is told to put up the-
Jon: The snake. The bronze serpent. Yeah.
Josh: The bronze snake. And I struggled with that for years. I’m like, “Why is…?” Because later, then, in John, we see that it says that Jesus now must be lifted up just like the bronze snake. I’m like, “Why is Jesus compared-“
Jon: To a snake?
Josh: “…to the snake?” Yeah. And I started realizing, “Well, it’s because He became the curse.” The curse was being bitten by the snake.
Jon: He was lifted up. Yeah.
Josh: He became the curse.
Josh: And it’s a perfect imagery. So then I started to take that to a deeper level, where I’m looking at, remembering that He throws His staff down.
Jon: The bitter waters. I was just thinking of that.
Josh: He throws a piece of wood into the water.
Jon: The bitter waters is the Cross.
Josh: That is a sign of the Cross turning bitter water into pure water.
Jon: Yeah. Absolutely.
Josh: And the living water. Striking the rock with the Cross. I think Moses never got to make it into the Promised Land because he struck the rock again. And you go, “Well, that seems like a really harsh punishment.” But if the imagery mattered-
Jon: It only had to be struck once. Yeah.
Josh: Jesus can only be struck once.
Jon: Only be struck once. Yeah. That’s so good.
Josh: And so when He throws the rod down and it becomes a snake and it devours the other snakes, this is an imagery of Jesus becoming the curse and eating away all of our sins.
Jon: Yeah. That’s so good. I see what you’re saying.
Josh: So I think people will reignite a love for the Bible when they start unpacking the imagery.
Jon: Yeah. Look at what the symbolism is in the scripture and how everything in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of a coming Messiah. That’s so good.
Josh: I mean, the odds are astronomical of all of those things coming true in such a way. It’s powerful, to go back-
Jon: It brings it to life. Yeah.
Josh: …to read it at a deeper level.
Jon: Man, Josh, thanks for being on today.
Josh: Thanks for having me.
Jon: It was life-giving. Thanks for being… I almost said, “Thanks for being a stud.” But I will say thanks for being a stud. You’re a stud. Don’t tell Hannah I said that. Hannah would agree with me.
Josh: Yeah. No, I love what you guys are doing. I listen to the podcast often and I think it’s great.
Jon: Thanks, guys, for listening. Thanks for watching. As always, give us a review. Share this on social media. Help us spread the Word. Thanks for doing what you do. We love you. We pray that this podcast is a blessing to you. Until next time.