Theological training is becoming less relevant to the Church, and that’s a problem. In much of today’s church culture, strong leadership traits and skills have replaced education and sound theology. The truth is, there’s a balance that must be achieved, and the answer might be found higher education.
In this week’s episode of Church InTension, Dr. Jon Chasteen talks with Dr. Dan Call about the disconnect between the Church and higher education.
Dr. Jon Chasteen: I’m really excited to bring Dr. Call on because he has both the background of pastoring. He has an affection for the local church, but he also bring in the higher education piece. He currently serves at The King’s University as the Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program here. So, if anybody out there is looking to get a doctorate of ministry degree, Dr. Call is your man and TKU is your place. He’s also the Associate Professor of Practical Theology here at TKU.
Jon: I want to brag on TKU for just a second. Imagine that, but what I love about Dr. Call and our faculty is many times what you find as seminaries and universities, there’s a reason pastors refer to seminary as cemetery. What I love about TKU is that our faculty is made up of people who, yes, are highly intelligent. They’re theologians, but beyond and more than that, they love the local church. I think that’s so important. I actually want us to get into that.
Jon: So, Dr. Call, I’m so excited that you’re with us on the show today. Welcome.
Dr. Dan Call: Hey, thanks. It’s great to be here. I come with greetings from my wife, my children, my grandchildren, who all knew I was going to be on here today and ready to hear some amazing things.
Jon: Uh-oh. We’ll have to be careful then because your grandchildren and your children-
Dr. Call: No, I don’t think so.
Jon: Well, I was telling Dr. Call before the show today that this is probably the least prepared I’ve ever been for a podcast. I usually have notes. I have questions. I have all the stuff. Dr. Call, you and I, we talk all the time about the local church and we have great conversations. So, I’m going in today with very little to none plan, which is fun and scary.
Dr. Call: Sure.
Jon: So, I just want to jump in. First off, I want the listeners to hear your background and get a framework for where you’re coming from. So, I know you’ve been a pastor and then you got on to the higher education scene. So, maybe just quickly tell us a little bit about what you’ve done, where you’ve been, where you pastored, and how you got to become a professor.
Dr. Call: Well, you’re right. I’m a mixture. I’m called a hybrid. I have spent 23 years in pastoral ministry at various stages. I was a youth pastor, started in the Bay Area California back in the day and then went back into the Midwest. So, I was a youth pastor for about 11 years, thought i would do that all my life, and then I started feeling a nudge to get some seminary training.
Dr. Call: My background was actually in business. I had a business degree, and I became a Christian later in my life, my early 20s, and felt called to ministry pretty early on, and thought I needed to go to bible college, frankly, because I didn’t have any seminary training. The Lord had other ideas. He’ll throw a curved ball your way.
Dr. Call: So, I ended up being in ministry for about 11 years with no theological training, whatsoever. I was a reader, so I read a lot. I knew what was going on in the Christian culture. I knew what was going on with some theology from a practitioners point of view. Then after going to seminary, I actually worked for the seminary for a while that I attended, and then went into higher education.
Dr. Call: I worked for a school called North Central University in the Twin Cities. I was there for nine years, served as the Vice President of University Relations, and then felt called back into the local ministry.
Dr. Call: So, my life has been really between two worlds. About half of my life has been in pastoral ministry. Last seven years, I was a senior pastor, and then about half of my life in higher ed, three different universities. So, I’m a mixture. You’re right. I love both worlds. I love the local church. I believe in the local church. I also sense in my heart that these days we need to have some people who are familiar with how a church really works to be back in higher education, if I could say it like that, because I think it does require academics.
Dr. Call: I don’t want to downplay that, whatsoever, but I do think that there’s a place for people like me that have been actively engaged in ministry and have that voice heard by students as well.
Jon: Yeah. I think it’s critically important, and I actually think that’s a really good place to start, in fact, because you and I share that same passion. I have one foot in higher ed and one foot in the local church, and I share a passion for both. Really, it’s become one of my great passions that it seems as though in many ways and you’ve been around long enough to see maybe how this started or maybe it got worse, but there was a day where if you didn’t have a seminary degree as a pastor, then you really weren’t qualified, if you want to use the word or you weren’t positioned in a way, and it’s become a thing of the past.
Jon: I’m not saying somebody can’t be a great pastor that doesn’t have a seminary degree. I know some and they’re great pastors, but there’s been this effect where it seems as though the local church has turned its back on higher ed, and almost as a response, higher ed has turned its back on the local church. It’s like, “Well, fine. If you don’t want us, then …”
Jon: So, there’s this huge chasm between the local church and higher education, and it’s one of my greatest passions to try to bring that back. I don’t know why or when or how this dichotomy begin to happen. I know when mega church is burst on the scene and growth and campuses and all these things, it really begin to lean more towards leadership.
Jon: So, I’m not saying that it’s all the church’s fault. Maybe higher education didn’t keep up with the trends of what was happening in the local church and we became “irrelevant” and we were training people how to preach sermons, but we weren’t training people how to be leaders and lead in the local church and run the business side of the local church.
Jon: So, I don’t really know. I want to get your thoughts on that. You felt this urge to go back to seminary. We still see people do that. Obviously, our seminary is doing very well here at TKU. So, it happens, but what are your thoughts on that? What do you think some of the dichotomies of that?
Dr. Call: Yeah. I think you’re raising great points. I think in terms of that pendulum swing, that we saw a real move, especially in mainline churches, to add education to the component to be a pastor. So, what you saw in a lot of those churches is a minimum of a master divinity to even get a look.
Dr. Call: Then over time, I think it was the convergence of several things, but one is the charismatic Pentecostal renewal around the world. People that were gifted by the Holy Spirit and with some leadership ability began to see explosive growth in churches. I think what happened is people began to wonder how important is the seminary education. So, I think it’s both of those things.
Dr. Call: I’d tell you what I think is bringing them together, though. I have a thought. I think part of that is driven by such a fast-changing culture that we’re going to have to work together to figure out how to make it work in the future. I think it’s one of the reasons, frankly, why I really wanted to be a part of this particular school and seminary because we are a seminary that is embedded within a local church. So, there is a conversation that’s always going on. We’re always talking about the role of the church and the role of education.
Dr. Call: I think it’s just that conversation that’s going to be needed in the days ahead. I mean, COVID has brought a lot of this to the surface, and part of it is that we’re not sure what it all means yet. How is this going to impact the church long-term?> we know what it’s done short-term, but what impact is going to happen. I know that you pastor church and the way that you pastor that church is influenced by the culture, but it’s also influenced by the fact that you have some education. You have friends that live in both communities that you’re able to dialogue with, right? That conversation helps you to know how to navigate.
Jon: Yeah. Well, I think hard times, it’s easy, I say easy, that’s really not the right word, but you could start a church. I tell my staff this sometimes. You can have church without God. As sad as that is, and as scary as that is, you get a good band, you get a good singer, you can steal a sermon from any preacher you want to, and get up and preach it, and have a pretty good church. So, you can coast, so to speak.
Jon: I agree with you that what’s happening in our times is there’s something happening that can bring the two together because when hard times happen, and you can’t just get up and preach a canned sermon or a self-help sermon, people are confused, they’re scared, they’re worried, they’re fearful, and it’s really when you have to start tapping into some of that theology that … I mean, I’ve had times where I’ve had to sit down with some of our people here at TKU. I’ve sat down with Dr. Call many times and said, “Hey, let me flush this out with you before I go up on a pulpit and preach this. How does this feel? How does this sound? It must be preaching something that’s not true.”
Jon: I think when times get hard is when pastors have to go, “Oh, wow. Okay. I can’t just get up and phone it in. I really have to bring some meat to encourage my flock.”
Dr. Call: Yeah, and I think it’s also knowing how to pastor a church in the midst of a storm. That really helps define, I think, you as a pastor. I think you’re probably a better pastor now because of COVID.
Dr. Call: I think that you’re more aware probably of the struggles and the pain of people because it’s right in your face. You can’t get away from it. So, the skills that you need aren’t going to be just getting the next latest sermon and preaching it because it’s not enough, right? I mean, people are hungry for real help.
Jon: You really have to dive in and make really hard decisions. You’re right. When hard times come, we have this picture of this metaphor used with the shepherd and the sheep, right? There’s the shepherd and there’s the sheep. When times are good, the sheep are just eating grass, and the shepherd is just off chilling. The shepherd is just sitting on a rock, whittling a stick or whatever the shepherd is doing, but when a wolf comes in, it’s time for the shepherd to do his job. When the sheep are starving and there’s no grass, it’s time for the shepherd to step up and do his job. So, you’re right. Shepherds become better shepherds when there’s hardship.
Dr. Call: I think there’s a story that I heard once that really touched me. A particular guy who I knew years ago that was a life coach said to me one day, out of the clear blue, he said, “When are the most difficult times for rural policemen, sheriffs?” It was so random that I didn’t have an answer. I have no idea.
Dr. Call: He said, “It’s always during drought.” I said, “Well, why is that?” He said, “Because during drought, the lake waters go down to where you can see the tops of cars.” I said, “Okay. Fill in the blank there for me,” because I still was not having a clue. He said, “All of those cars represent people that are mysteries to be solved, and once you see it, you have to do something about it.”
Jon: You have to deal with it.
Dr. Call: Well, that’s what COVID is, Jon.
Jon: That’s really good. Yeah.
Dr. Call: You see, we now have a need to know what it means to touch God. I know we’ve talked about this. It’s one of those times where as a pastor, we really have to know how to personally connect with God, right? I mean, this comes out of who we are. We have to have our own spiritual lives, in order, don’t we? I mean, we can’t … Is it okay to say this? Sometimes you can fake it in ministry. I mean, you can sometimes fake it.
Jon: 100%. Yeah.
Dr. Call: You don’t have your spiritual life together. As much as you want to portray that image, we really don’t. So, it forces us to get right with God. Then secondly, it’s going back and asking questions like, “Lord, what is it that you need from me? How am I going to pastor this group of people that you’ve called me to pastor?” I know for you we’ve talked about things like, gosh, an old term like altar calls. That’s a word you don’t hear a lot.
Jon: I know.
Dr. Call: Yet, what is it that people really want? They need a way to be touched by God, and altar calls are ways for that to happen. If we’re not familiar with those, let’s refamiliarize ourselves with it because this is about us helping people to get in a place where God’s grace and mercy can be felt.
Jon: Yeah. It’s the difference between Jesus talking to the crowd and feeding them information in parables and all the teachings that He did versus the woman with the issue of blood walking and touching Him with his garment sheets. Some heard Jesus, others experienced Jesus, right? So, we’re having great crowds come back to our church, and I think it’s because we’re giving moments for people to experience it, not just hear about it, not just hear a cute sermon, not just see cute graphics, but, “Can I respond? Can I hear the word of God, and then respond to the word of God?” because you can hear the word of God from home online and you can hear the word of God from your phone, through a YouTube video or through an Instagram 60-second clip, but can you truly experience the presence of God?
Jon: I think that’s going to be key for the body of Christ moving forward is not just having church, but giving moments of experience. Can I experience the presence of God? I think that’s going to be so critical to the future of the church.
Dr. Call: Yeah. People can get great speakers anywhere. I mean, honestly, some of the best you’ll hear may or may not be from churches. I mean, you have people that are great speakers, have great content. You also have such a wealth of information. You can go anywhere and get good information. If you go to your computer and pull up anxiety, you can get plenty of help. I mean, it’s there.
Jon: It’s so true.
Dr. Call: The question is, where do we go in the church to help people to get what I call beyond good information because the church is about connecting with God in ways that go beyond just a good speech, right? So, the good speech is part of it, and I think we have, as a church, maybe focused on that aspect of ministry to the point where we have maybe focused too long, too hard on that aspect, and not relied on the work of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Call: As many people that I know are discovering, it’s the post-TED era that we’re moving in to. TED was great and we learned a lot about communication.
Jon: TED talk, yeah.
Dr. Call: Oh, we learned a ton. We learned that you can say a lot in 15 or 20 minutes. We learned from great communicators that can inspire and move people, but that’s as far as human interaction and human communication can take us.
Dr. Call: There has to be something more that we offer. It’s that’s something more that I think is so important for people like us who have been in pastoral ministry to ask, do we know how to do that?
Jon: Yeah, and we’re even talking about that. We’ve been having meetings here at TKU, where we’re sitting down with the faculty and saying, “Look, if the church is changing, then how are we going to change with it?” I think that’s so critical for seminaries. We can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done and assume that that’s always going to work. It’s the definition of insanity. So, we have to shift and change, too, with that.
Jon: So, I want to even talk to you about that. Why do you feel like it’s important, shifting gears a little bit here. Why do you think it’s important for a pastor to consider … Let’s say somebody is out there pastoring or they’re not a senior pastor yet, they’re an associate pastor or maybe they are a senior pastor, they planted a church, they took a church over, it’s been two or three years, that gotten over the humps so to speak, and they got a little more time on their hands. Why would you highly encourage a pastor to pursue more education?
Dr. Call: Because we need help. Frankly, there’s a lot of reasons for it, but one is that we really need to come around other people and have conversation about what’s going on in the world, where are the hot button issues not only for today, but, Jon, can we dialogue about what’s on the horizon? What’s out there 8-10 years from now? Can we begin to talk about it now so that when it happens and we’re going to be right at least part of the time, that we have an answer, that we have a game plan? If we don’t have those kind of discussions, that’s not going to happen, but I think there are more reasons than that.
Dr. Call: One of my favorite people in the world that passed away last year, I once had him in to speak to a group of preachers that I was teaching. I said to him, his first name was Si, I said, “Si, if you could give them one bit of advice,” because he was an internationally known speaker, I said, “what’s the one bit of wisdom you would give them?”
Dr. Call: He said, contrary to what I thought he would say to pray more and read the scripture, which is important, and it will always be important. What he said to the students that day as, “Remain an interesting person.” That struck me. That’s odd. Yet, what he was trying to say is as you continue to read, as you continue to grow, as you continue to develop, you remain engaged in learning yourself.
Dr. Call: As you learn, and as you’re growing, what comes out of you is interesting. What comes out of you is going to connect ways. The analogy used was like a river versus a pond. A river is fresh water that’s flowing through you, that’s going to go out of you and touch people because you’re energized with what you’re learning. So, what comes out of you is fresh, it’s alive.
Dr. Call: If you’re working out of a stagnant pool of water, if all your stories are old stories, if your only conversation points are connected to what happened in the past, what is that going to be like for you as a communicator? Well, it’s going to sound a lot like the same thing.
Jon: Yup, over and over and over and over.
Dr. Call: Over and over again. So, I think it’s we need help, but I think it also helps you to stay connected with the latest textbooks, the latest things that are being discussed-
Jon: Yeah, and connect with other pastors.
Dr. Call: … and other pastors, which is important.
Jon: I’ll tell you, a thing that I’ve learned more than anything, maybe that’s not the right way to say it. Something I’ve learned a lot becoming a pastor and meeting other pastors is how lonely pastors are.
Dr. Call: Absolutely.
Jon: They’re some of the most lonely people, and sometimes for good reason. I know it’s hard. It’s difficult to connect. It’s hard to have meaningful relationships with people in your church, “How do I be vulnerable? How do I open up?” Sometimes as a pastor, what I learned from being a pastor very quickly was the only people that ever come up to me are people who want something from me. So, the automatic human response is to just disconnect, right?
Jon: Every time I see a human’s eyeballs, somebody wants something from me. It’s a drain. So, I’m going to become a green room pastor or whatever the case may be. So, I think there’s this loneliness. So, I’ll meet pastors all the time who if I give them just the tiniest shred of a sermon idea, they cling to it. They’re like, “Send me the graphic. I’m just ripping the whole thing. Send me all four weeks of the notes. I’m just going to rip the whole sermon,” and there comes this time where … This is why I think one of the greatest reasons to go to seminar, and not that they’re not hearing from the Lord. I believe that in some ways they are, but it really teaches you how to, like you’re saying, become a river, just to continually be something be flowing through me that I’m not always looking for the trendy. I’m not always looking for the cute or the polished or the great sermon idea.
Jon: I’m like, “Lord, what are You saying to me and how are You developing me and using me and challenging me?” and that is going to flow through me to my sheep. I think seminary does a great job of teaching us how to hear from the Lord, get biblical hermeneutics, get the pneumatology aspects, just get all of those aspects of being a pastor, and then begin to let that flow through us to become everything that God has created us to be.
Dr. Call: That’s really good. I think another thing about the connection is you are surrounded by other people who are in the same place as you. What happens in those environments is that you can begin, the old term is let your hair down. Mine’s gone, a lot of it. So, I can’t do that anymore.
Jon: You got a decent amount up there.
Dr. Call: I still do, but the idea is where can you go to have those kind of honest conversations. I remember one time we were talking about church and you were talking about LED lights on the back wall. Do you remember that conversation?
Jon: I do. Yeah.
Dr. Call: Do we have enough money and should we spend the money that way? Where else are you going to have those conversations? Because if you had that conversation in certain rooms, they would think-
Jon: Judge you.
Dr. Call: Oh, yeah. “You’re going to misuse the money. That’s not what you should do,” and then you got another set of people going, “Hey, go for it. You’ll have better lights, better sound. Better places do that.”
Dr. Call: So, where are you going to have those conversations but around a table. I think that’s the other picture of seminary I would like to do to help people to see is that this isn’t a classroom. It’s a rounded table. It’s conversations. It’s what do you know, what do I know, how can we help each other.
Jon: Yeah. One of the things that I think is so important about it is I’m a younger, no, I can’t really say I’m young anymore, but I’m a younger pastor.
Dr. Call: Yeah, you’re young.
Jon: I think one of the things that higher education does for pastors is it lets us look back into history. So many times, young pastors, all we look at is laterally. We look at Mike Todd. We look at Steven Furtick. We look at whoever the pastors of today are. I’m not saying that those pastors are missing it, but they’re missing something, right?
Jon: So, sometimes we need to look back at pastors and theologians that have gone before us and what can we learn not from what’s happening today. What can we learn from what’s happening yesterday? I mean, I’m no theologian. Dr. Call, you’re far more, you are a theologian compared to me, and you are a theologian. I learned from going back in time. One of the guys that I’ve learned a lot from is Eugene Peterson.
Dr. Call: Yeah. Me, too.
Jon: He died recently, but looking back and reading some of his books and getting a better understanding of what it really means to be a pastor because if you look laterally today at today’s pastor, I’m not sure we always hit the mark on what it means to be a pastor. I think we’re never more a pastor. I think I’ve said this on the show, but we’re never more of a pastor than when we’re sitting on the side of a hospital bed with a family if someone passes away, and we’re singing, we’re praying while they sleep into eternity. That’s pastoring.
Jon: I’m not sure lights and traveling circuits and conference speaking, I’m not really sure that’s the true meaning of a pastor. So, i think the importance of seminary is it gives you perspective. It lets you look through a different lens to discover what it truly means to be you as a pastor. I don’t have to compare myself with modern day people. I don’t have to try to be anybody else. I can get a better lens of how I’m supposed to be the pastor I’m supposed to be.
Dr. Call: Yeah. I think what we hopefully do here and other seminaries, for sure, is to talk about the different models of how to do ministry, how to pastor because Eugene Peterson had a very unique calling. Again, I keep feeling like I should say we’ve talked about, but we’ve talked about-
Jon: We have. We have.
Dr. Call: … that Eugene Peterson pastored churches of 300 or less.
Jon: What would be considered a small church, which isn’t a small church, but today, it would be considered one.
Dr. Call: Would it have been considered big enough to be at the Catalyst Conference or the major conferences today? Probably not.
Jon: Probably not.
Dr. Call: Because, “Okay. You only pastor 300,” but his argument would be that, “My idea of pastoring is to have the ability to personally minister to people.” So, for him, he found great excitement and joy in doing the big aspects of marrying people, being involved in baby dedications. That brought him life because-
Jon: Day-to-day life.
Dr. Call: … it was the day-to-day stuff. He had his hands on those things. When the troubling events of life would happen like divorces, he had them in his office talking with him. With the death of somebody in the family, he was the one doing the funerals.
Dr. Call: So, one model, a very important model that we need to remember is what I call that Eugene Peterson Model, where his idea of ministry was to find great contentment in being able to pour your life into a few. He knew all 300 of those people’s names. He knew their histories. He served them for nearly 40 years. So, he knew them over a long period of time.
Jon: Same congregation.
Dr. Call: So, it brought a depth, right? So, here at the church, I mean, here at the school, I look at the local church today and I know there are a lot of people out there who are listening to us today who have churches that are 100 or less and what I want to say to them is if that’s what God’s called you to do, embrace it.
Jon: Embrace it.
Dr. Call: Love it. Find contentment in what you’re doing because you’re doing something valuable for the kingdom.
Jon: I even said this at the time we’re recording this. It’s January. This past Sunday, even in my sermon, I talked about it because I actually love that model of ministry. I think this is going to be really weird for me to say because I pastor mega church, but I actually think that that is truly pastoring. Actually, I think that that’s a beautiful model of ministry.
Jon: What I think, if you pastor a large church, this is the way that I have started filtering this is saying, “You know what, God? If my church never grows, I’m okay.” I think that was really a purification for my heart. There was a time where I was wanting this and that, and grow, “We got to do this. We got to do this.” The measure was how many campuses do you have, how many people do you have. I felt like God really took me through a purification process to where I was really able to say, “I’m okay. I’m okay. My identity is not wrapped up in how big my church is.”
Jon: What I felt like the conviction for me was it’s as if the Lord was saying, “When you get to heaven, Jon, and you stand before Me for judgment, I’m not going to judge you based on how big your church was. I’m not going to be like, ‘Well, Jon, you’re over here, and Craig’s over here, and then Eugene Peterson is over here.'”
Jon: Why are we consumed with this? There’s a pull there because we want to bring more people to Jesus and I’m not discounting that. I think that’s valuable and we should have that evangelistic pull as well, but if it takes my heart, I think that’s the difference. It’s okay to have that push and have that draw, but it’s always this, Paul would always say, “Examine yourself. Examine your heart.” What’s the why? What’s the true why? Is the true why so I can have more influence and have more value or is it really to advance the kingdom? I think that’s something that every pastor has to answer for themself because I’m not responsible. This is what I told my staff just this past week. I’m not responsible for the breadth of my church, I’m responsible for the depth of my church.
Dr. Call: That’s good.
Jon: So, I want to be consumed with how do I take these people to a deeper level in Christ and disciple them, and then God determines the breadth. I think many times we are really tempted as pastors to do the opposite of that. We’re tempted to grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, and then we never really look back to see what the result is of our people and how the pre-test/post-test or is anybody growing here or is the church just growing. I think that’s a filter that every pastor needs to walk their heart through.
Dr. Call: I think you’re right. What I would say, Jon, is as you’re going through that process, one of the things that I know that you do extremely well is build teams. I’ve seen that here at the school. You build great teams. You invest in those leaders. I’m wondering if that’s not part of your answer-
Jon: Absolutely. Yes.
Dr. Call: … is that your heart, to do that kind of personal touch ministry, is going to be filtered down to those who are on your team here at the school. It would be your directional leadership team. Those people have to hear that from you on a constant basis so that every student matters, right? So, you’re filtering that in, and then at the church, you’re teaching your staff that ministry looks like this. Even though I may not have as many opportunities to go to the hospital, I still want to be able to go to the hospital, and I need you to go to the hospital with that kind of pastor’s heart. So, as you grow, you have to spread your influence.
Jon: Have to.
Dr. Call: So, this is the part of why I’m not scared about growing churches. So, your church is growing. You have a big church. I’m not so worried about it because I hear from you saying, “I may not be able to do all of that for the size of the church that I have, I can’t. I need help. So, we add staff so that we can pour into those staff members,” so that the people that come on your team get that Jon: Chasteen flavor of what ministry. That’s part of what you do as a leader, right? Here’s what I would say is keep enough of that for you to never forget it.
Jon: Yeah. That’s good.
Dr. Call: I think you’ve got to do some. I know some pastors that say, “I’m too big. I’ve got to delegate.” I get that.
Jon: “I can’t go to the hospital.”
Dr. Call: I think it may be that you need to be able to do that because it keeps you connected.
Jon: It keeps you grounded, too, and it keeps you grounded into what your true call is. Isn’t this what Jethro did with Moses?
Dr. Call: Yeah.
Jon: Comes to Moses and says, “Hey, look, man.”
Dr. Call: That’s right.
Jon: “You’re trying to pastor three million people. You’re going to go crazy.”
Dr. Call: “You can’t do it.” So, build teams.
Jon: Moses laid his hands on people and anointing was transferred, and so pastoring was transferred, so to speak. So, I think that is the key, for sure, because there is a group of people that I truly pastor, but if I try to say that I’m pastoring these thousands of people, it’s a guilt trip. You’re going down a rabbit hole as a pastor that you’ll never be able to climb out of. So, I think that’s really, really good.
Dr. Call: I think that’s where some organizational skills have helped us, and we learned that from people that talked to us about organizational things that we talk about here at the seminary because there is an aspect of that, right?
Dr. Call: So, I think it’s this idea that we want to be pastoral in heart. You said it, right? It’s motivation, isn’t it? It’s heart. I remember talking to a mega church pastor when I was in ministry a few years ago, and he pastored a huge church. In a very confidential conversation once, he said, “I wish I could go back to pastoring a church of 300 or 400.”
Dr. Call: I said, “Tell me about why.” He said a lot of the same things we’ve talked about because, “I felt called to touch people, and now all I do is I run an organization. I feel like I’m more of a CEO than a pastor.” I get that. So, I guess my question back to you, if I could do that and be so bold, Jon, how do you find living with the sense of, “It’s a big church and I need to do a good job or organizing well and yet, I want to keep my heart sensitive to people,” how are you negotiating that?
Jon: Yeah. It’s definitely a challenge and even tugged from both sides. Now, I feel like I get to lay on a couch and talk to Dr. Call, and he’s going to counsel me here.
Dr. Call: Well, and I was thinking about you also is the president of the school, and so there’s just a little bit there.
Jon: Yeah, but what’s cool is that I started my ministry as a campus pastor at this church, right? So, I was a campus pastor first before I was the senior pastor. So, even I got a flavor of pastoring a smaller group of people. So, when I launched, I actually launched the campus as the campus pastor. So, started with 200, then went to 300, then went to 500, then went to 600, and now that campus is 800, 900.
Jon: So, I got to launch that campus and have a core group of people that I was their pastor. As a campus pastor, I loved these people. I did life with these people. So, now, even becoming the senior pastor of that church with other campuses, there’s still this pocket of people within this church that I really feel like I truly pastor them. This is where I wrestle back and forth with sometimes is I feel like I’m a pastor to some of the people. Really, it boils down to what’s the definition of a pastor.
Dr. Call: Sure.
Jon: Right? That’s the bigger questions. What’s a pastor? Some of us are preachers, not pastors, but we’re pastoring pockets of people within the church. So, we’re still pastors. I think that’s the wrestle. I don’t know if there’s any listeners that are listening to this that understand what I’m talking about, but there’s this tension within a pastor who preaches a church large enough where people call you pastor. When somebody calls you something that you don’t feel like you’re being the fulfillment of, there’s guilt that comes with that.
Jon: So, there’s a pocket of people that I would say, yes, 100% I am their pastor. They can call me at midnight. They can call me at 2:00 in the morning. I’ll be at the hospital. I’ll be at their wedding. I’ll be there when their babies are born. Then there’s other people who come up to you that say, “Hi, Pastor Jon,” and I’m like, “I have no idea who you even are.”
Jon: I was at lunch Sunday after church. I just got done preaching and I’m having lunch with my family. Somebody comes up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and just starts talking about how great the sermon was. I’m like, “I don’t even know who you are,” and they’re calling me pastor.
Jon: So, there’s just almost a guilt you feel like, “I want to be the fulfillment of what you’re calling me,” and that’s the wrestle within, I think, for pastors that have churches that are getting to the size where I can’t touch everybody, but I think it’s okay to carry that tension. I don’t think we should write that off.
Dr. Call: No.
Jon: I think that’s … Craig tells me all the time. One of my pastors is Craig Groeschel. I’ll come to him and I’ll say, “Hey, this is something I’m struggling with.” Many times, he’ll say, “That’s not a tension to be solved. That’s a tension to be managed.”
Jon: What he means about that is don’t let that tension go ever because that tension is what’s keeping you grounded and humble. So, letting it go enough towards not driving me into the ground with guilt because it’s the Jethro-Moses principle, right? I got to delegate. I got to let campus pastors pastor people that I can’t touch. So, that’s the tension that we’re wrestling with within as the church grows and as the influence grows and all those things.
Dr. Call: As you feel that, as that comes to your heart, I think it serves as a motivation, doesn’t it, that we want to make sure that that person that just said hello to you that you don’t know really has someone in their life that is touching them at a deep level, which makes us more, I guess, energized by making sure that we’re pastoring our teams well.
Dr. Call: I mean, if you’re going to pastor, then you’re going to have to, and as it grows, you’re going to have to learn how to pastor your leaders. That could be volunteers all the way up to staff pastors. That coaching they have to feel a sense in which the people they’re pastoring they have this love for, this deep connection to, so that when you’re having lunch out there, the beauty would be, “I may not have that, but I know there’s somebody on my team that does.”
Jon: That’s right. That’s right.
Dr. Call: That gives you that assurance. So, the motivation moves you to do something that can provide-
Jon: Right, that spreads it.
Dr. Call: Right, spreads it through your team.
Jon: That’s the key. That really is the key.
Dr. Call: Right now, that’s where you live, and that’s a good place to live is feeling that tension, but having the tension be used in a manner that’s going to help produce an environment where those needs can be met. They just may not be met by you, just like they didn’t get met by Moses forever.
Jon: That’s right. That’s right.
Dr. Call: Moses became the cork in a bottle that had to be released because he was backed up with lines of people trying to talk to him.
Jon: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. He had to reproduce himself, spread that culture.
Dr. Call: I think you can do that. I think people can do that, and that’s part of what we talk about is there are transitions, right? I mean, as you went through the various numbers you’re going through, at 200, you could pastor that group. At what point could you no longer be the pastor for everyone?
Jon: I remember when it was. I remember whenever my phone was getting to the point where it was exploding so much that my wife said, “This has got to change.” That’s when it became apparent to me that, “Okay. Now, being a pastor is causing me to neglect my own family.”
Dr. Call: That’s not a good thing.
Jon: I think that that’s the crucial point that pastors, when your job as a shepherd begins to impede on your responsibility as a father or a husband or a wife, that’s really when your bells need to start going off. The alarm needs to start going off and I say, “Okay. I need to start duplicating myself because this is now impeding on my wellbeing as a person, and if I can’t be a whole person, then I could never be a pastor.”
Jon: That’s what we were talking about, when you’re trying to lead out of a depleted self. So, that is really the … You know that when your gas gauge gets to empty, you better stop and get more gas or you’re not going to get where you’re going. I think that’s the gas gauge for pastors. When I don’t feel complete and whole, something’s got to change or I’m going to take this whole church down with me. Who do I have that I can talk to to be honest with and share my heart and my struggles and my issues?
Jon: That’s where, again, going back to … It’s all looping together, but pastors are lonely. When we don’t have anybody we can pour our hearts out to, man, we end up leading depleted, and it’s devastating.
Dr. Call: One of the things we talk about is a funny little axiom. It’s changing the narrative, the story that we have ongoing in our head. At a certain point, Jon, you had to change your narrative about what a pastor was all about.
Jon: That’s good, yeah.
Dr. Call: There came a point where you had to change that to remain healthy. You had to change the narrative that was in your brain of what it meant to be a pastor.
Jon: So true. So true.
Dr. Call: Changing that narrative can change a church, but it has to start with you. So, you have to change your own narrative. You have to change what you view as a successful pastor. When you make that change, then you’re able to move forward into new arenas and you’re going to leave some old arenas behind, but that has to start in your head.
Jon: That’s so true.
Dr. Call: Once you start believing that, then you can impart that.
Jon: You can lead that way.
Dr. Call: You can lead that way.
Jon: You can lead that way. Well, this is going to be one of our longer podcasts, but that’s okay. We’re having a great conversation. I want to ask you a couple more questions. What do you love about being a professor? What do you love? What are some of your favorite classes to teach?
Dr. Call: Yeah. It’s funny. I love it all, but I think the one I gravitate most to is in this school, we have a strong connection to Jack Hayford and his ministry. He wrote a book. He wrote several books and talked a lot about the spirit-formed life. So, as you know, every aspect of the university, both at the undergrad, grad, and doctoral level, we teach on spiritual formation. That’s my sweet spot.
Dr. Call: I’m currently in a program of study at another seminary, and I’m studying again about spiritual formation, spiritual direction. I do think spiritual direction, learning how to listen well to people and write their sheep, so to speak, in the storms and helping them to know how to process through spiritually is really a key to our churches moving forward because I think more and more people are coming to us from such a variety of backgrounds that they’re no longer just a part of one denomination. I mean, the people in your church didn’t all come from one denomination.
Jon: That’s right.
Dr. Call: So, we can’t do a cookie cutter thing anymore. So, to be a spiritual director is having the ability and the skills to bring out of those people’s lives how to move to continue to grow in the Lord. So, I think that is going to be a part of our discipleship journey for local churches, and we’re going to have to figure out how to do that because it’s slow. It’s messy. It doesn’t produce the numeric stuff.
Jon: That’s right.
Dr. Call: It’s more the going deeper.
Jon: It’s deep, not wide.
Dr. Call: it’s deep, not wide. So, that’s my heart. I also love teaching preachers. I actually love preaching. I love teaching how to preach and helping people. I say, find their voice.
Jon: That’s so good.
Dr. Call: So, tomorrow, we’re going to be listening to about four or five really, really good preachers, and we’re going to dialogue. What makes them attractive? What is it about them that appeals to you and look at the positives to accentuate because if you’ve never really had the opportunity to preach, find your voice is knowing what you like, knowing who you are. It’s being very self-aware.
Jon: Being you, yeah.
Dr. Call: It’s being you. We’ve talked about being you, and being able to incorporate who you are and how you’re going to communicate the greatest news that can be told, and do it with the best ability you can.
Jon: That’s so good.
Dr. Call: So, I would say those two. I also like what would be more of ministering management ministry skills because I think, again, you need to know how to do basic things in the church. You need to know how to read a balance sheet. That’s where my business background comes in. So, managing people, small groups, and those things are all important. Team building, I like those classes. Anything that’s practical, that’s what I’m here to do, and that’s the part that I think God’s called me to do. So, the joy in that is if I can help one student understand the joy, the absolute joy-
Jon: That’s so true.
Dr. Call: … of pastoring, I’ve done my job.
Jon: That’s so good.
Dr. Call: Because we tend to think of the negative, and there are challenges always-
Dr. Call: … but there are incredible joys that you can’t get anywhere else.
Jon: So true. So true.
Dr. Call: When you’re right in the middle of what God wants you to do, there is nothing like it.
Jon: Knowing that you planted a seed, right? So, you sent out a students and you said, “If I can just teach on student, if I can touch one student,” that student is going to go out to produce more fruit, which will produce more seeds. So, knowing that you get to be a part of that.
Jon: So, as we wrap up, just give us a good … I know that you’re a contemplator. You’re a brilliant thinker. As you’ve digested the craziness of this world, we’re creeping up on almost a year of just insanity and I don’t even have to list the things because everybody listening to this already knows all the insanity that’s taking place, and at the time of this podcast, it’s the second week of January, so who knows what’s going to happen by the time this podcast airs?
Jon: So, what is your take on maybe what God is doing or what God is trying to shift in the church or what is going to happen? I know nobody has a crystal ball, and nobody knows. So, we’re not saying you’re the expert, tell us, but what are you sensing?
Dr. Call: A couple of things. My first is I think a lot of what’s happened should be working humility in all of us because we don’t know what’s coming, and we don’t have all the answers, and it’s okay to be humble and say, “God, I need you.”
Dr. Call: I think the other thing is to acknowledge that we’re anxious. I know that we can act like, “Well, we’re Christians, we shouldn’t be,” but I think the key of anxiety is to be able to cast our anxiety on Him. He’s not saying, “You’re never going to be anxious.”
Jon: It’s what you do with it.
Dr. Call: It’s what you do with it, and I think there are a lot of people in ministry today that are anxious, “What’s the future going to be about? What’s the new thing? What am I going to do to pull out of this?” I think it’s to be honest with God and say, “God, I’m feeling these things, so I’m going to put my trust in You in a new way this year. I’m going to trust You. I’m going to delve more deeply in these things called spiritual disciplines, things that will draw me closer to You, so that I can hear clearly Your voice because it’s Your voice that I want to hear above all the others. A lot of opinions are going to be floating out there, but, God, I really just want Yours. So, help me to get to a place where I can silence myself, quiet myself, slow myself down because a lot of us are hyperactive, and that’s what makes us successful on one end because we’re busy.
Jon: Always doing.
Dr. Call: Richard Foster said, “Busyness is the curse of our age.” I think he’s right. I think we have to slow down. Listen for that still small voice and be humble. I think those are the ingredients to moving forward, which doesn’t sound like the strong leader. It doesn’t sound like the person who’s going to charge ahead, but I’m not sure if that’s not part of the lesson that we’ve got to learn.
Jon: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of tension and a lot of division and there’s a lot of the Christ followers, the local church who have become consumed and this is the Church InTension Podcast, we might as well talk about some tension stuff, have become seemingly, seemingly more consumed with advancing the United States than with advancing the kingdom.
Jon: I’m not saying that I’m not a patriot. I’m a patriot. I love the United States. I love that we’re one nation under God, and I’ll always stand for those values, and I’ll do what I need to do to stand up for that, but if we ever become more staunched in standing up for the patriotism of our nation than we do for the kingdom of God, then I sense something maybe wrong.
Jon: So, I feel like 2020 caused all humanity to curl into a ball like the hedgehog principles. You curl into a ball to protect your vital organs. We become very prickly like a hedgehog, so nobody wants to come near us because we’re trying to protect ourselves. As we come out of our curling, so to speak, that I really pray and I believe that’s there’s going to be a turning back to the kingdom.
Jon: I talk to a lot of Christ followers nowadays, a lot of people who are just saying, “I don’t watch the news anymore. I have just turned it off. I don’t care. I can’t watch it anymore. I just want to know what God has to say. I have to have some truth because I can’t find truth anywhere else.”
Jon: So, if there’s one thing I do know and you could speak to this, too, is that when times are bad, churches are full. So, if God is turning up the heat, He is refining God. If we want to be pure as gold, the heat has to be turned up. So, my perspective is, no, I don’t want some of these to happen, and what’s happening in our nation and the division and the struggles and the rumors that could be what be, but what if God’s turning up the heat to turn the hearts of men back to Him both Christ followers and non-Christ followers?
Jon: Every knee should bow, every tongue will confess. Well, usually, when that happens, it’s because we have no other option. So, I think people are going to becoming more and more in tuned or the pursuit of God. So, in my quiet time this past week, last week, I was praying for the nation and praying all those things, and I felt like the Lord said to me, “Well, you’ve been praying for revival, haven’t you?”
Jon: It was almost like the Lord was saying, “Well, revival doesn’t come in times of prosperity, Jon. Revival comes in times of persecution.”
Jon: So, if you really want revival, you better be careful what you pray for because in order for people to turn their hearts back to the Lord, it means that their earthly things of comfort have vanished and so I have no option but to turn to the Lord.
Dr. Call: This is what we are learning that many churches in the rural countries have known. You see, a few years ago, the growth of the Christian church was most resonating in the southern hemisphere. So, in South America, in Africa, you began to see churches exploding. This is what I think we, part of this humility thing I was talking about, is that, are we able to hear from our brothers and sisters in third-world countries that would say to you COVID for you is changing everything. We live with this kind of disease and pressure all the time.
Jon: All the time, and their dependency on God is so great because of it.
Dr. Call: Right. So, we actually have something that can help you. If you will just listen, it’s the taking this listening ear, I wonder if we could learn from some brothers and sisters in places where this kind of life of disease and pandemic. We call it pandemic because it’s worldwide, but some pandemics we’re not even aware because it never touched out shore, but it did touch three-fourths of the world. So, could we learn from those?
Dr. Call: So, I think part of it is saying, “Teach us,” not only Lord, but our brothers and sisters in Christ that can say, “Let me tell you how to make it through these really difficult times.”
Jon: Welcome to suffering. We’ve been suffering for years.
Dr. Call: Welcome to the suffering.
Jon: They see miracles and signs and wonders, and we hear stories in these third-world countries of, “Yeah, I saw someone’s arm grow back,” and as Westerners, we’re just like, “What?” We can’t even wrap our minds around that because our dependency on the Lord is so limited because we have everything we need.
Dr. Call: Yeah, and we can handle anything our own.
Jon: So true.
Dr. Call: Until we can’t.
Jon: That’s so true.
Dr. Call: Well, we’ll have to have you back on and we’ll see what this world came about and we’ll be able to reflect on what we were saying today. So, Dr. Call, thanks so much for coming on the show today. Thanks for being a friend. Thanks for being such a great asset to this university and to the body of Christ.
Dr. Call Hey, man. It’s great being here. Thank you.
Jon: So, if listeners want to get in touch with you, I know they can go to tku.edu and find you there. Is there any other way? I’m not asking you to give out your cellphone number. Please don’t do that, but what’s the best way they can get in touch with you?
Dr. Call: Yeah, email@example.com. It’s very simple, and it’s on the website, too. So, please, yeah, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help or maybe some of you are thinking about going back to school. This is not going to be used car sales job. I’ll talk to you and say maybe it’s time, maybe it’s not, but let’s talk about it.
Jon: Yeah. You love that. You really love pastors. So, he wants to help you, pastor you through that process. So, I appreciate that about you. Guys, thank you for listening today. Thank you for being a part of this episode.